Other Stuff Exists

Don't get too comfortable with the familiar–other stuff exists, so go explore!

Spockanalia #1

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 16, 2017

Spockanalia #1, published in September 1967, is the first issue of Spockanalia, a fairly important Star Trek fanzine. You can get some more detail about the series as a whole (and fanzines in general) from my previous post on the subject, written in September of last year. Then, I wrote about the little bit of Spockanalia that I had access to, and noted that I’d revisit it if I could learn more. Good news: I’ve recently gained access to Spockanalia, thanks to the Sandy Hereld Collection at Texas A&M, so here is the promised update. In my previous post, I wrote about “The Territory of Rigel”, “Spock Shock”, “Vulcans and Emotions”, and “Kirk and Spock”. I’ll copy here what I wrote then, with any additions and updates, interleaved with the new material.

Since this is the inaugural issue, I will give a brief summary of every item published in this issue, with notes and quotations when something is of particular interest. I will probably not be quite as thorough in my posts on subsequent issues, unless there is demand for it.

Lettercol

The issue opens with a letter from Leonard Nimoy, wishing the editors luck: “I sincerely hope that your magazine will be a success, and want to thank you very much for your interest in STAR TREK and MR. SPOCK.”.

The Territory of Rigel

Following the lettercol is printed “The Territory of Rigel”, a song written by Dorothy Jones. She introduces it as “a piece supposed to have been written by Spock, many years ago.” She describes it as a “Vulcan form called ni var” which “means literally ‘two form’ . . . a piece comparing and contrasting two different things or two aspects of the same thing.” This term would get a nod 35 years later in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Shadows of P’Jem”, as the name of a Vulcan starship. “The Territory of Rigel” is reprinted in Verba’s Boldly Writing. It’s an interesting exercise, but not to my taste as poetry.

Off the Top

A news and editorial section. First, it speculates on the upcoming episode, “Amok Time”, the second season opener:

In the course of the program, Spock will meet his assigned wife, for the purpose of satisfying the Vulcan septennial mating drive.
Vulcans – or at least Vulcan males (at the moment, we’re not quite sure which) must experience sex every seven years, or die.

We have been told that the story is handled with the same care and skill that made Star Trek our favorite program in its
first season. Look out, September 15th – here we come!

After this, it is reported that certain broadcasters have been cutting material from the episodes in order to make more room for commercials, including a section of about thirty seconds from “Dagger of the Mind”. Readers are encouraged to write to WNBC-TV to protest.

After some trivia about Spock and McCoy, Leonard Nimoy’s album “Leonard Nimoy presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space” is announced, plus the upcoming single “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins/Cotton Candy”, and a movie is mention in which Nimoy starred (and which he co-produced), Deathwatch.

Readers are then exhorted to continue the letter-writing campaign to ensure Trek‘s renewal.

Last, it is hinted that there may be a Spockanalia #2 in the future.

A Most Illogical Song

A song by Shirley Meech, Kathy Bushman, and Sherna Comerford about wishing to be near to Spock. It begins: “I wish I was on board the Enterprise.”

Physiologica Vulcanensis

An article by Sherna Comerford, Juanita Coulson, and Kay Anderson concerning Vulcan physiology–skin pigment, the circulatory system, pon farr, and more. Amusingly, “The interesting theory has arisen that the sentinant species of Vulcan has an ancestry which is far more feline that simian.” It is also opined that Spock is likely to be sterile.

The length–about half a page–devoted to pon farr, given that “Amok Time” was yet to air (and, indeed, the term pon farr was not yet known) prefigures the substantial and sustained interest that this particular aspect of Vulcan physiology would have in the fandom.

A Proprosed Model of the Vulcan Heart

An article by Sandy Deckinger (with a diagram!) speculating on what the Vulcan heart might look like. Two articles in one issue touching on that subject–I wonder if it had been brought up in a letter in another zine, or if there were some other motivating element.

To a Vulcan

A poem by Sherna Comerford on Spock’s emotions, or lack thereof. The ending is poignant: “Is life worth this price? / A man-machine would pay no price. / Would die. What logic bids you live?”

Also to a Vulcan

A poem by Devra Michele Langsam on loving a Vulcan.

The Vulcan Gambit

An article by Shirley Meech offering an explanation to why Spock would lose to Kirk at 3-D chess: he loses on purpose, so the victory will put Kirk :into a frame of mind which is beneficial to his self-image, his efficiency rating, and the well-being of the crew in general.” Logical!

Vulcan Psychology

An article by Juanita Coulson, framed as a report by a psychologist analyzing Spock. Coulson speculates that Spock pushes himself so hard because he was never able to please his father, and that he may see Kirk as a kind of substitute father figure.

Spock Shock

A brief skit by Sherna Comerford, which was later performed at the 1969 Star Trek Con. An absurd bit of interaction between Captain Curt, Mr. Swock, and others on the bridge of the USS Undersize.

Vulcans and Emotions

An essay by Devra Michele Langsam in academic style (with citations in end notes!) considering whether Vulcans experience emotions. It concludes: “It is the firm conviction of the author that Vulcan emotions do exist, however unlike human emotions they may be, and that these cannot be ignored in dealing with that planet’s sentient species.” The essay’s conclusion turned out to be correct, in fact: later Trek indicates that Vulcans do not lack emotions, merely control them. This is the earliest example of serious investigation into the ‘facts’ of the Star Trek universe I’ve seen; many more would follow.

Kirk and Spock

A short poem by Ruth Berman (reprinted from Pantopon #17) about the titular characters, so different, who “even when they disagree / (And they generally do) / Seek out each other’s company.”

Thoughts on Vulcan Culture

An article by Devra Michele Langsam speculating on Vulcan culture. Langsam argues that Vulcan children must be raised in small family units and that they probably have no family names, and wonders how Vulcan children might be trained. She speculates on whether Vulcans, who are immune to the effects of alcohol, might have some other sort of drugs which do have an effect. Amusingly, she echoes some speculation mentioned in “Physiologica Vulcanensis”: “Those who support the theory of feline Vulcan ancestry have suggested that catnip might have an invigorating, not to say intoxicating, effect upon them.”

A recurring theme in fan fiction comes up when Langsam writes about mind melds:

And yet, one wonders. Perhaps, despite its unpleasant aspects, the mind-touch technique offers Vulcans
a possibility of emotional contact within accepted social patterns. Assuming that Vulcans do not repress
their pleasure in the physical, is it possible that in the moment of intercourse, at the height of physical intimacy,
Vulcans permit their precious barriers to slip, in order to enjoy the doubled pleasure of mind and body, of each
other’s delight?

Excerpt from The Young Vulcan’s Handbook of Emotional Control

An article by Shirley Meech. In a nod to Tolkien, Meech claims merely to be the translator: “The following is an excerpt from a Vulcan book-tape, obtained via the Baggins method from the possessions of Commander Spock, on his recent visit to Earth.” I believe that ‘the Baggins method’ is the best euphemism for theft that I’ve ever heard.

Printed following this article is a paragraph from Sandy Deckinger once more connecting Vulcans with cats. In part: “Mr. Spock’s ears meet the requirements set by the Cat Fanciers Society of America for the Abyssinian breed of feline.”

Record Review

A detailed review by Dorothy Jones of “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space”. Jones is not terribly impressed with the instrumental tracks, but finds the vocal tracks enjoyable, and is complimentary of Nimoy’s voice–though admitting he does need vocal training.

Star Drek

A story by Ruth Berman, reprinted from Pantopon #16, which places Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and McCoy in the world of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. It would be republished, the Trek references excised, as “Ptolemaic Hijack” in Worlds of Fantasy #4 in 1971. To be perfectly frank, I think that ‘drek’ gets it about right.

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Star Trek Log Four by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 13, 2017

Another day, another book of adapted cartoons. In February 1975 was published Alan Dean Foster’s fourth book of Star Trek: The Animated Series novelizations, imaginatively titled Star Trek Log Four. This volume contains adaptations of “The Terratin Incident”, “Time Trap”, and “More Tribbles, More Troubles”.

If there’s one unifying theme to these stories, it’s that they have very little plot to speak of. Just oops, here’s a bit of trouble for five dozen pages, and then they turn the crank or whatever and the trouble is resolved. For a bit more detail…

The Terratin Incident

The Enterprise receives a strange transmission in a long-obsolete code, the only intelligible word of which being ‘Terratin’. When they go to investigate, they are hit by a strange light, which destroys their dilithium crystals and–it turns out–causes the crew and all organic material on board to begin to shrink. They must find some way to fix things before they become too small to operate the ship.

This story is filled with interesting asides, satisfying bits of trivia about the characters, and an utter lack of developing plot. Just page after page of “and they got a bit smaller, so they had to rig up an extra-long pole to reach the coffee pot”, until finally they get to the end of the story and things are explained, and they solve the problem by sending everyone through the transporter to return them to their natural size.

Time Trap

Exploring a weird section of space, the “Delta Triangle”, a futuristic analog of the Bermuda Triangle, the Enterprise is attacked by a Klingon ship which promptly vanishes. Then they escape from that ship’s compatriots by following it through a pothole in space to a pocket dimension called Elysia where, for some reason, people don’t age and dilithium quickly degrades to uselessness (unreliable stuff, apparently).

This is another story in which there is precious little plot. The Enterprise gets stuck, so they glue it to the Klingon ship for an extra boost, and the problem is solved. The people living in Elysia exist pretty much solely for the sake of communicating to Kirk a last minute warning about a Klingon plot.

More Tribbles, More Troubles

The Enterprise, escorting ships carrying grain, encounters a Klingon ship chasing a small Federation vessel. They beam the pilot aboard just as his ship is destroyed, and what do you know, it’s Cyrano Jones, out selling tribbles again. This time, instead of reproducing rapidly, they just grow to immense proportions. Oh, but actually they still breed explosively, too. So… yeah. Tribbles, again. They beam them over to the Klingon ship, again.

In Summary

This is just not a good selection of stories. If it’d been just one or even two of them that were very light on plot, it’d be bearable, but for all three to be so mindless? It’s pretty bad. The writing is as good as usual, though, and Arex gets a fair bit of ‘screen time’ throughout, which is nice. The show could really have done with some more focus on the non-human (and non-vulcan) crew, so it’s good to see the novelizations correcting that. Even so, I wouldn’t recommend reading this one unless you’re a completionist.

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When a Wolf is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin and Kris Di Giacomo

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 6, 2017

How about another break from the long stream of science fiction? I’ve received a lovely children’s book, today: When a Wolf is Hungry, written by Christine Naumann-Villemin and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo. It opens:

One Sunday morning, Edmond Bigsnout, lone wolf, left his home in the woods with a great big knife in his paw.

Edmond had a hankering for some rabbit.

Not just any ordinary cottontail, though. What he craved was a grain-fed, silky-haired rabbit, one with just a hint of sweetness. A city bunny.

Edmond finds an apartment building where a likely meal lives, but forgets his knife in the elevator (where it’s found by another resident of the building, who was in need of a knife). No matter, he thinks, and returns to his home, this time retrieving a chainsaw. But when he gets back to the apartment building, he encounters a bear who mistakes him for a new tenant, and just so happens to need a chainsaw. Edmond lends the bear his chainsaw and returns home for yet another tool… and so it goes.

Eventually, Edmond has provided all the necessary tools for a rooftop party. If you can’t beat them, join them, so Edmond moves to the city and becomes a vegetarian–and president of the Good Neighbor Association.

When a Wolf is Hungry a a fun little story. I think I’ve usually enjoyed stories with wolves–Walter the Wolf by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, or The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka, for example–I wonder if there’s some connection? The art is very nice (you can see some more samples of it on the artist’s web site)–it reminds me of I Want My Hat Back, a bit–and the story is satisfying.

When a Wolf is Hungry was originally published in France in 2011, and will be published in English by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers on 2017-08-07. It is recommended for ages 4 to 8.

Disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for a review.

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Star Trek Log Three by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 18, 2017

Continuing, after quite some delay, my series of reviews of Treklit, we come to Alan Dean Foster’s Star Trek Log Three, another in his series of novelizations of Star Trek: The Animated Series. This volume contains adaptations of “Once Upon a Planet”, “Mudd’s Passion”, and “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”.

Once Upon a Planet

This story is a sequel to the TOS episode “Shore Leave”, in which the Enterprise happens upon a ‘shore leave planet’ that is designed just to satisfy, as Kirk noted, the need of complex minds for the simplicity of play.

The Enterprise has been overtaxed, lately (the stories in these novelizations are written as taking place in sequence), so Kirk asks for something special in the way of reward for the crew, and he gets it: approval for shore leave on the Shore Leave Planet, in the Omicron region.

Upon arriving, Uhura, Sulu, and McCoy beam down together and note that everything seems to be as it was when last they saw the planet, down to the appearance of Alice and the White Rabbit. They go their separate ways in order to enjoy their own–private–fantasies, but McCoy has scarcely come into view of the Southern mansion he dreamed up when he is set upon by armed playing cards, straight out of Alice, who attack him in deadly earnest. He manages to call for an emergency beam-up just in time to escape them.

Shore leave is canceled as the crew of the Enterprise strive to determine why the planet is attacking, why the Keeper didn’t intervene, and what has happened to Uhura, who has vanished without a trace.

This story is pretty good, and translated well by Foster.

Mudd’s Passion

Cutting shore leave somewhat short, the Enterprise is ordered to investigate the activity of an old ‘friend’, Harry Mudd, who we last saw in “I, Mudd”. He is up to his old tricks, swindling people far and wide. This time, he’s selling a love potion.

This story is very thin and no better for Foster’s efforts.

The Magicks of Megas-Tu

The Enterprise is sent to investigate the unusual phenomena at the center of the galaxy, including a ‘negative black hole’ busily ejecting matter, which they presume to be the source of all matter in the galaxy, drawing its energy from a multitude of other universes. Then they begin to be drawn into a cone-shaped vortex which is drawing in–and destroying–matter, from which the Enterprise cannot escape. They gamble that it may be safer in the center of the vortex, and, passing through it, they find themselves in another place, strange to them, operating by no known laws.

The delicate equipment of the Enterprise does not take kindly to this lawlessness, and begins to fail. The crew, dependent on this equipment, begin to fail as well. When the situation has grown most desperate, the Enterprise is suddenly saved by a strange alien–half man, half goat–who appears on the bridge. He restores their environment with what appears to be magic, then introduces himself:

“Who am I? Oh, you want a name! Call me Baal.” He paused thoughtfully. “Or Lucien. Yes, Lucien. But above all, call me friend.” One finger fluttered skyward as he declaimed, “Never could I abandon those who have come so far to frolic with me . . . for such purpose you must have been sent.”

Lucien introduces the to the planet Megas-Tu, where the physical laws correspond to what the humans would call magic. His people had ventured out of their own universe before and encountered Earth, but their welcome had not been so warm. When others of Lucien’s people discover the humans, they quickly put them on trial for the crimes of their species, as exemplified by the Salem witch trials, in which, weakened by the distance from their own world, the Megans were persecuted and even burned.

Kirk argues that if humans were once so savage, they have changed, and continue to strive to change, to be better and more noble. The Megans accept that this may be so, but declare that Lucien still must be punished for bringing the humans to Megas-Tu. Kirk defends him, as well, accusing the Megans of being as cruel as they accused the humans of being. In so doing, he passes a secret test, proving by his concern for Lucien, known also as Lucifer, that humans truly have changed. Should humans again visit Megas-Tu, they would find a warmer welcome.

Where to begin with this one? The adaptation is good–superior to the original. It spends too long on the setup and not enough on the resolution, but it’s still well done. As for the story, it was obvious to anyone just who a goat man named Lucien would turn out to be, but it was satisfying, all the same. Kirk and McCoy question whether Lucien was really the Lucifer of myth, and McCoy concedes that it doesn’t really matter, except:

“It’s just that–if he was, Jim–this would be the second time he was on the verge of being cast out. But thanks to you, this is the first time he was saved.”

The author of this episode, Larry Brody, indicated that originally, the Enterprise was to meet God out in space, but that idea was nixed by the censors. But meeting the Devil in space was fine, and so the episode was born. This episode must have been influential, indeed. In the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint”, Q puts the crew of the Enterprise on trial for the crimes of humanity, and Picard, too, argues that Q should consider whether humanity is presently as savage as in times past. Then in “Where No One Has Gone Before”, the Enterprise is taken to the edge of the universe, and find it a strange place where reality is impacted by thought. Then, in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the Enterprise (under Kirk’s command, this time) visits the center of the galaxy, where they find a godlike being who turns out to be evil.

In summary

The first and last stories in this are quite good, though the middle one is forgettable. That’s a pretty good ratio for novelizations of television episodes. “Once Upon a Planet” is perfectly like any Trek episode you’ve ever seen, and “Mudd’s Passion” is like most of the bad ones. “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” isn’t a top-tier story, but it’s pleasant enough, and interesting in how it presages later Trek. If you’re a Trek fan looking for a little light reading, this book isn’t bad.

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The Iliad of Homer by Richmond Lattimore

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 15, 2017

I’ve been trying to read the classics, and there’s nothing more classic than the Iliad. There are a wealth of translations available. As with my choice of translation for Aristotle’s Poetics, I wanted one that was as similar to the original as was reasonable. To that end, I selected Lattimore’s translation. As he says:

My aim has been to give a rendering of the Iliad which will convey the meaning of the Greek in a speed and rhythm analogous to the speed and rhythm I find in the original.

Rather than strive for poetical language, he aims for a plain and direct translation, as to better reproduce Homer’s directness of language:

I must try to avoid mistranslation, which would be caused by rating the word of my own choice ahead of the word which translates the Greek. Subject to such qualification, I must render Homer into the best English verse I can write; and this will be in my own “poetical language,” which is mostly the plain English of today.

So, what’s this Iliad thing all about, then?

In short, when the story begins, the Trojan war has been on for nine years. Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo, has been captured by Agamemnon, and he quite rudely refuses to ransom her back. As a result, Apollo punishes the Achaians. To placate Apollo, Agamemnon agrees to return Chryseis to her father, but only if he is given Achilles’ captive, Briseis, in her place. This offends Achilles greatly, so he asks his mother, Thetis, to entreat Zeus to punish the Achaians in order to demonstrate his worth.

The bulk of the epic is a description of the battles between the Greek forces (particularly a few main actors such as Agamemnon, Odysseus, Diomedes, Ajax, and Nestor) and the Trojans, led by Hector, over the course of which the Achaians are pushed back to their ships, as Achilles begged of Zeus. Afterward, Achilles’ friend, Patroklos, is killed by Hector, and Hector is in turn killed by Achilles.

When the epic ends, the Trojans have been driven back into their city, which is yet uncaptured, and Achilles, though still alive, is soon to die.

The story is usually entertaining, but there are several sections which present the genealogy of some character or other, which I found to be of little interest, and the battles are often long strings of “Foo, son of Bar, beloved of Zeus, was struck by the spear under the nose, and it pierced through. The darkness closed over both eyes, and he fell to the ground, thunderously, and his armor clattered upon him.” Even bloody battles can be made dull by too much of this.

The most interesting part, I think, is how recognizable the characters’ motivations are. Achilles is motivated by anger at being slighted, and in the end by grief and rage at the death of Patroklos. Or take Athena, who is upset with Aphrodite. She grants Diomedes the ability to recognize who among the combatants are gods, and tells him:

Therefore now, if a god making trial of you comes hither
do you not do battle head-on with the gods immortal,
not with the rest; but only if Aphrodite, Zeus’ daughter,
comes to the fighting, her at least you may stab with the sharp bronze.

Or when Diomedes is struck by an arrow shot by Paris, who brags of his success, and replies with this boast:

You archer, foul fighter, lovely in your locks, eyer of young girls.
If you were to make trial of me in strong combat with weapons
your bow would do you no good at all, nor your close-showered arrows.
Now you have scratched the flat of my foot, and even boast of this.
I care no more than if a witless child or a woman
had struck me; this is the blank weapon of a useless man, no fighter.
But if one is struck by me only a little, that is far different,
the stroke is a sharp thing and suddenly lays him lifeless,
and that man’s wife goes with cheeks torn in lamentation,
and his children are fatherless, while he staining the soil with his red blood
rots away, and there are more birds than women swarming about him.

Lattimore’s translation is generally very easy to understand, though his choices for writing names can take some getting used to: he renders Ajax as “Aias” and Achilles as “Achilleus”, for example.

The direct, unpoetical language has its benefits, I suppose. The translation is never confusing by fault of overly florid language. But all the same I find myself a little disappointed how much it reads like ordinary prose; I enjoyed the more lyrical style of Cowper’s translation, though it was a bit harder to follow.

Overall, I enjoyed the Iliad and was satisfied with Lattimore’s translation. Even if it weren’t an important work of literature, I think the Iliad would still be worth reading. It’s not a quick read, by any means, but it needn’t seem intimidating, either. If the Iliad is on your reading list, go for it!

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Aristotle’s Poetics: Translation and Analysis by Kenneth A. Telford

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 11, 2017

Returning to my long project of reading the classics, I read Aristotle’s Poetics: Translation and Analysis by Kenneth A. Telford. This particular version appealed to me because it is meant to be a very literal translation:

In this translation of the Poetics the primary concern has been to make as literal a reproduction of Aristotle’s words as is consistent with readability. I have not tried to give the treatise any grace or facility of expression which the Greek text lacks. Nor have I tried to make the translation an interpretive reconstruction of what might be presumed to be Aristotle’s intention.

This book must be considered in three parts: the translation, the work itself, and the analysis.

As for the quality of the translation, I find no fault (speaking as someone with no knowledge of Ancient Greek), and the footnotes were generally very helpful in identifying the works Aristotle refers to or providing references to other sections in the text which relate to the current argument.

The work itself is very interesting. Aristotle has much to say about the proper construction of a tragedy that is applicable to writing generally, and it is astonishing to me how much of what he says is still reflected in writing advice today. Following are a few excerpts I noted.

A plot should have unity:

A plot is not a unity, as some suppose, by being about one agent, for many and indefinite things happen to one agent, some of which do not make a unity.

Therefore:

[Plot] ought to be imitation of action that is one and whole, and the parts of the incidents ought to be constructed in such a way that when the parts are replaced or removed the whole is dislocated and moved. For that whose presence or absence makes nothing evident is no part of the whole.

Regarding characters:

There will be character […] if the speech or action makes it apparent that the agent has made a choice, and the character is effective if this choice is effective.

I’ll leave the excerpts at that, but there are many other interesting sections throughout. There are, though, several sections much more specifically concerned with the tragedy as such–details about its structure, the use of spectacle or melody, etc.–which are of perhaps less interest as they apply less to literature in general.

Finally, the analysis.

I feel like I had a better understanding of the Poetics before I read the analysis. It seems to have a good, coherent framework and supports its arguments well enough, but it seems to me that it is much more concerned with showing that the argument of the Poetics fits that framework than with elucidating the subject of the book. There is, no doubt, some understanding to be gained by doggedly viewing every statement in the book as relating to one of the four causes of whatever is presently under discussion, but how much? I would much rather see some deeper consideration of the argument, rather than merely its form. Is Aristotle right about what best serves the catharsis of pity and fear? What can we take away from his discussion about word choice? Is he correct in his assertion that the tragedy is superior to the epic in that it is shorter? The analysis is concerned with none of these.

On the whole, I think this book was well worth reading. I have no basis for comparison of the quality of the translation, but it seemed lucid enough to me. I’d recommend anyone with an interest in literature take a look at it. I wouldn’t bother struggling through the analysis, though. For what it’s worth, I grant any future readers dispensation to skip that.

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Princess Megan by Trisha Magraw

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 11, 2017

Catching up on a few non-Trek books, here’s a brief children’s book in the Magic Attic Club series, Princess Megan by Trisha Magraw, with illustrations by Janice Leotti and Rich Grote.

Megan is stretched too thin: she is meant to be directing a play, but her mother, who is forced to work late, has a conflicting task for Megan. Upset, Megan flees to the Magic Attic, where she tries on an outfit suited for a princess and finds herself transported to a medieval village where she is herself a princess.

All is not well for Princess Megan, either: a unicorn is to be killed, and there seems to be no way to save it. Somehow, Megan must save the unicorn and resolve her own dispute with her mother.

The usual device in a book like this is to draw a connection between the problems in the fantastic world and the real world, so that a lesson learned in the one applies in the other. This book doesn’t really do that. It just tells two stories, and both get resolved, and the only connection between them that I can see is that a solution was possible for each.

Well enough written, this book is probably fine for the intended audience (ages 6 and up), but is too simple to be of much interest to older readers.

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Short fiction read in 2016, part 2

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 11, 2017

A few more notes from last year’s short fiction reads.

“The Stars are the Styx” by Theodore Sturgeon

Humanity, in a very long project, sends out ships with volunteers to enable instantaneous transportation around the galaxy. This is the story of five such potential volunteers, and the man whose job it is to certify them for departure–who readies them, mentally and emotionally, to depart. And it is a story of love and murder.

“Down & Out on Ellfive Prime” by Dean Ing

A colony station is struck by disaster, and saved–barely–by ‘scams’, people living outside the system who know how to make the most out of the available resources.

Pretty interesting. The premise could probably support a longer story.

“The Great Moveway Jam” by John Keefauver

Black comedy, I suppose. A massive traffic jam persists for fourteen months. In the end, since there was apparently no hope of clearing the jam, the entire area is simply paved over, burying car and motorist alike. Written as journal entries by a man killed in the event.

Not too bad.

“Unaccompanied Sonata” by Orson Scott Card

People are observed and tested from the hour of birth to find the job they are most suited for, that will make them happy. Christian is a Maker, composing music with no other inspiration than nature, forbidden to hear any music but his own. A man smuggles him a recording of Bach, and Christian listens to it, so his compositions are irrevocably tainted–derivative. A Watcher comes for him and takes away his instrument, sending him off to other jobs, forbidden to compose or perform music. When he breaks this law, his fingers are cut off so that he cannot play a piano, and at last his voice removed so he cannot sing. Finally, he is made a Watcher, too, protecting the system that made him miserable, but makes so many others happy.

I am strongly reminded of a story by Asimov, about a boy who wants to be a computer programmer, but instead, IIRC, becomes a creator, inventor, whatever.

Very good.

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Short fiction read in 2016, part 1

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 16, 2017

I wrote this post late last year, but never quite finished it. Since it’s concerning short stories, it’ll stand well enough in this state–better published than forever held back.

The great danger of the internet’s astonishing availability of information is that you are likely to find only what you seek, so in order that I may not read too limited a variety of fiction, I’ve been reading a selection of old (science fiction, generally) short stories.

I’ve written book reviews longer than some of these, so I’ll not go into the usual detail, but here’s a sampling of what I’ve been reading. Caveat lector: given the brevity of the stories, I shall not try too hard to avoid spoiling the endings.

“Valley of the Kilns” by James B. Hall

A man who lives in a society totally devoted to making objects of clay realizes (perhaps incorrectly?) that their creations are not, in fact, being used to create grand cities in faraway places, but merely discarded as the people move on in pursuit of more clay. Interesting, unique setting. The plot, though, is lacking.

“Invisible Stripes” by Ron Goulart

A former serial killer–serial strangler–is to act as a consultant for a ‘nostalgic’ television program looking at serial killers of yesteryear. He was highly susceptible to being influenced by television, so that if he saw anything on a television he was driven to imitate it, even murder. Having been pronounced cured, he is free, so long as he doesn’t look at a television, but a jealous police detective frames him for a string of murders and has him killed by taking advantage of his affliction.

Not that interesting. This one, notably, features a future (2005!) with air not suitable for breathing, and TV tending toward the pornographic. Better as an example of high exaggerated future than as a story.

“Time Warp” by Theodore Sturgeon

Told from the perspective of an alien, Althair the Adventurer, otherwise known on his home planet Ceer as Althair the Storyteller. The problem of very lengthy transit times in space is solved, on Earth, by building a ship that can travel backward in time. This puts Earth at risk from aliens (“26 things, alive and awful which together are called Mindpod”) who desire the technology. Ultimately Althair plus some humans destroy the Mindpod, along with the whole planet they were on.

Average.

“Found!” by Isaac Asimov

Interesting. Here we have the idea of computers in orbit controlling space flight, with each computer calculating each result several times, and initiating self-repair if there is any discrepancy. Something similar was done in 2001, I believe. Anyway, it ultimately ends up that artificial life forms have begun attacking these orbiting computers in order to harvest materials for reproduction. A sort of grey goo story, I suppose.

The nameless (but apparently Russian) viewpoint character is probably female, since she is mentioned as having a husband.

“The Weariest River” by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

Interesting. Terminal patients are displayed for the entertainment of persons requiring ’emotional therapy’, who watch their suffering to supplement an otherwise emotionally empty life. Meanwhile picketers outside the hospital champion the right to die with dignity, and there is perhaps a threat from within.

“Whale Song” by Leigh Kennedy

Average. A story in a few scenes about the declining population of whales. Occasionally from the POV of the whale.

“The Chessmen” by William G. Shepherd

Good!

An anti-communist story. A Russian man carves a chess set with pieces modeled on communists and capitalists. Somehow, inexplicably, the ‘corrupt’ capitalist pieces always win, even when Stalin himself plays.

“Controlled Experiment” by Rick Conley

A very brief story with a–rather obvious–twist. A researcher trying to determine whether mice can exhibit psionics is unknowingly controlled by those mice.

“Count the Clock That Tells the Time” by Harlan Ellison

People who waste time–waste their lives–are pulled to a grey, empty world, occasionally accompanied by scenes from great battles–wasted moments of history. This is the story of one such man, Ian Ross. Reminds me of “The Langoliers”.

“Body Game” by Robert Sheckley

A future where the rich can live forever by buying new bodies, and the poor–can’t. Written as a letter to a senator, ultimately declaring an intention to kill the rich: all the rich, sinners as well as saints.

“A Thousand Deaths” by Orson Scott Card

An anti-communist story. A man, convicted of treason against a Russia that has taken over the entire world, is killed repeatedly (and graphically), his memories then transferred into clones, in order to induce him to sincerely–or convincingly–repent at his televised ‘trial’. In the end, he grows used to death and cannot be swayed, so he, along with other incorrigible criminals, is exiled to another planet. He resolves, as he is being prepared for the journey, that he, or his descendants, will one day return to free Earth from communist rule.

This story is, apparently, part of Card’s “Worthing Chronicle”.

“A Hiss of Dragon” by Gregory Benford & Marc Laidlaw

A fun little story with bioengineered dragons. Reminiscent of Pern, in that.

“New Is Beautiful” by Tony Holkham

Following a war, a ‘New Way’ is established, which somehow involves people living at thirty times the usual speed–a whole life little more than two years.

I’m not certain of the import of this story. Is it meant to parallel presently ongoing changes in society? Or is it a sincere wish for a future without war or base yearnings, as intended in the story? Perhaps it’s meant to cause us to question how far we should be willing to go–how much humanity must be willing to change–for peace.

“Newton’s Gift” by Paul J. Nahin

A time travel story with a predestination paradox. The twist is not unexpected. Some words are spent by the protagonist attempting to explain to Newton the working of a pocket calculator, in a scene reminiscent of my own past flights of fancy. Average.

“To Race the Wind” by Jack C. Haldeman II

In a future where humans have ruined the Earth, a man prepares to participate in a simulated skiing event at the Olympics. Virtual reality and environmentalism, hope and despair. An interesting story.

“The Hole Thing” by Dean R. Lambe

Two nuclear bombs are stolen by–as it turns out–proponents of peace. The twist was predictable, and the whole story was little more than so much moralizing. Only of interest as a sign of the times.

“And Whether Pigs Have Wings” by Nancy Kress

Alien beings–Uriel, Gabriel, and the nameless protagonist–strive to save the Earth by introducing wonder to people. The nameless one, with the aid of a bracelet with transformative power, becomes a mermaid, a rabbit, a UFO, and a ghost, by turns. Like the previous story (“The Hole Thing”), moralizing, hand-wringing about the future. Not unwarranted, but hardly enough for a story, by itself.

“The Ancient Mind at Work” by Suzy McKee Charnas

A man may be a vampire, or he may be ‘only’ a rapist. The POV character is interesting.

“Lobotomy Shoals” by Juleen Brantingham

Submarine scifi. Sharks (and other creatures) can be conditioned and have hardware implanted that forces them to obey commands. Using this tech, sharks are employed, at the direction of ‘herders’ to herd fish to fisheries. They say the ‘Voice’ which controls the sharks is one-way, but there are no old herders, and the protagonist feels as if she belongs under the sea, imagines she understands the sharks’ thoughts, begins to think like a shark herself…

“The Singing Diamond” by Robert L. Forward

Every bit of the writing is interesting, but the story not so much.

“The Blizzard Machine” by Dean Ing

A former employee of Lockheed builds a robot-driven snowmobile, with nearly-disastrous results.

“Third from the Sun” by Richard Matheson

A man, together with his family and their neighbours, abandons his planet to flee an impending war that he is sure will annihilate all life. The twist is that they are fleeing to Earth, not from it. Foreseeable, and the parallel with Superman’s origin story is obvious.

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Spockanalia

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 15, 2016

Though we’re up to August 1974 in my chronological investigation of Star Trek, we must once again step back in time to look at an interesting bit of history: Spockanalia, the first Star Trek fanzine, edited by Devra Michele Langsam and Sherna Comerford.

A few words on fanzines, for the uninitiated: before the internet and easy global communication, fans could be pretty isolated from one another, but the urge to form a community with other fans was no less strong, so what could be done? Telephone calls, letters, and meetups and conventions could go only so far to quench the fannish thirst, so the most enterprising of fans went a step further, collecting stories, essays, letters, poems, songs, art, and other forms of fan labor, arranging them into magazines, and duplicating and distributing them, either by mail (for a fee or an in-kind trade of another fanzine) or at meetups and cons.

Fanzines are discussed in David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek (1973), of which I’ve written previously, and in much more detail in Joan Marie Verba’s Boldly Writing (1996).

Five issues of Spockanalia were published, between September 1967 and June 1970. Its influence was substantial: in a letter to the editors (printed in Spockanalia 3), Gene Roddenberry wrote:

SPOCKANALIA is “required reading” for everyone in our offices, and I am most distressed that you were not told of this before. We have used all the extra copies to make sure that every new writer, and anyone who makes decisions on show policy have read your fanzine, and Juanita Coulson’s ST-PHILE. The reason for this is that if we all understand what the fans see in the show, and try to understand why they are fans at all, we can then continue to hold those fans. Certain fanzines, and yours is one of them, have a mature and well-written format that is very instructive to our staff.

Besides letters from the cast and crew of Star Trek, Spockanalia published a number of items whose authors might be recognizable: Juanita Coulson, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Dorothy Jones, Poul Anderson, and Lois McMaster Bujold among them. Two stories published in Spockanalia 4 were later republished in Star Trek: The New Voyages and Star Trek: The New Voyages 2, anthologies edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, published by Bantam. You can find tables of contents for each issue, a few scanned pages, and a wealth of other information at Fanlore.

I’d love to give a fully detailed review of these fanzines, but they had limited circulation and are collectibles, so copies (possibly illegitimate!) of the issues generally go for somewhere between ‘a bit expensive’ and ‘absurdly expensive’. I’ll write a few words about those items that are available to me, though, and I’ll revisit them, should I learn more.

There are many (so many!) other fanzines that are worthy of attention, but they suffer from the same lack of availability as Spockanalia. If I tried to track down every issue for this blog, I’d never get through the pro fic, and I’d run out of money besides. Still, I’ll try to mention fan works I’m aware of, when they’re relevant.

Without further ado…

Spockanalia 1

spockanalia-1

The first issue opens with a letter from Leonard Nimoy, wishing the editors luck: “I sincerely hope that your magazine will be a success, and want to thank you very much for your interest in STAR TREK and MR. SPOCK.”.

Following that is printed “The Territory of Rigel”, a song written by Dorothy Jones. She introduces it as “a piece supposed to have been written by Spock, many years ago.” She describes it as a “Vulcan form called ni var” which “means literally ‘two form’ . . . a piece comparing and contrasting two different things or two aspects of the same thing.” This term would get a nod 35 years later in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Shadows of P’Jem”, as the name of a Vulcan starship. “The Territory of Rigel” is reprinted in Verba’s Boldly Writing. It’s an interesting exercise, but not to my taste as poetry.

“Spock Shock” by Sherna Comerford is a brief skit, which was later performed at the 1969 Star Trek Con. An absurd bit of interaction between Captain Curt, Mr. Swock, and others on the bridge of the USS Undersize.

“Vulcans and Emotions” by Devra Michele Langsam is an essay in academic style (with citations in end notes!) considering whether Vulcans experience emotions. It concludes: “It is the firm conviction of the author that Vulcan emotions do exist, however unlike human emotions they may be, and that these cannot be ignored in dealing with that planet’s sentient species.” The essay’s conclusion turned out to be correct, in fact: later Trek indicates that Vulcans do not lack emotions, merely control them. This is the earliest example of serious investigation into the ‘facts’ of the Star Trek universe I’ve seen; many more would follow.

“Kirk and Spock” by Ruth Berman is a short poem (reprinted from Pantopon #17) about the titular characters, so different, who “even when they disagree / (And they generally do) / Seek out each other’s company.”

Spockanalia 2

spockanalia-2

“The Man in the Hero Suit” by E. A. Oddstad is a very interesting essay on Kirk’s character. An excerpt from the end:

Kirk’s morals are a set of words and actions imposed on him. They are not part of his character. The Kirk in the parallel universe had learned other words and actions. Though the mirror Spock has integrity and the mirror McCoy humanity, the mirror Kirk is (or was; he must be dead by now) a thorough going rat. The only redeeming quality in either Kirk is a deep-hidden humanity that occasionally, unexpectedly, surfaces. When it does, it’s like finding a diamond ring at a beach.

Fortunately, ‘our’ Kirk lives in a less repellent society and obeys its laws. And he has Spock for a logical conscience and McCoy as a humane conscience.

“The Allure of Uhura” by robert toomey (lowercase as published) is an essay–a paean–on Uhura. Uninteresting.

Spockanalia 3

spockanalia-3

“Visit to a Weird Planet” by Jean Lorrah and Willard F. Hunt is a story (a ‘real person fic’) in which Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are somehow accidentally beamed to the (then-) present-day set of Star Trek, filming in progress, and must pretend to be their counterparts (Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley) until they can be rescued. Great literature it’s not (and the more general premise of Trek characters traveling to present-day Earth had been done six months earlier in the TOS episode “Assignment: Earth” and a year before that in “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, and travel to 1930 in “The City on the Edge of Forever”), but it’s a serviceable bit of comedy. This story would have a number of sequels by different authors.

Spockanalia 4

spockanalia-4

“Time Enough” by Lelamarie S. Kreidler explores a brief relationship between Spock and a half-Vulcan member of the Enterprise‘s crew, Lt. Cmdr. Lian Jameson, otherwise known as T’Lian, during Spock’s pon farr. The device of pon farr would become quite popular in fanfic, continuing to the present day. This writing is clumsy in places, but perhaps not more so than some actual Star Trek scripts. Little story to speak of, but not a bad interlude.

Spockanalia 5

spockanalia-5

“Cave-In” by Jane Peyton, later published in Star Trek: The New Voyages 2.

“Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited” by Ruth Berman, a sequel to “Visit to a Weird Planet” from Spockanalia 3, later published in Star Trek: The New Voyages.

Since both of these are included in books I’ll be reading later for this project, I’ll leave description of them for that time.

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