If I were in charge of the new Star Trek series

November 5th, 2015

So: I’m kind of a huge Star Trek geek. When Disney announced a bunch of new Star Wars movies I was ecstatic, but when CBS announced a new Star trek series I went BONKERS. I pulled out all my old board and card games, read through some of my old RPG books, and reinstalled some of my favorite Star Trek video games. And, of course, speculated endlessly about how the new series might work, and what it would focus on, and who would be on the crew. This speculation has absorbed an unconscionable quantity of my time this week, so as a defensive measure I’m going to publish it here, and get it out of my head, and then it will be your problem instead of mine, and I can get some actual work done.

I warn you that this post might get long.

The first and biggest question, obviously, is “Will the new series be part of the old continuity from the TV shows, or the new continuity from the recent movies?” We could talk about the various merits of each for hours, but I think it comes down to two basic facts:
1) The show is coming from CBS, not Paramount, so the rights they own are exclusive to the old shows.
2) Cinematic universes are the law of the land in Hollywood these days, and it would be foolish of any media producer NOT to take advantage of Star Trek in that way. Star Trek was doing Cinematic Universe storytelling decades before anyone else, so why stop now?

How do we reconcile those two facts? With a new show that builds on the existing shows, but can cross over to the movies if and when they want to. So there’s our first creative guide post. It’s honestly not really much of a constraint: at minimum, we can do a show that ignores the movies completely and then just link them together with time/dimensional travel when we decide a link is necessary. On the other end of the scale, we can make time/dimensional travel a major theme of the show, crossing into the Abramsverse and the Mirrorverse and so on all the time. My solution is somewhere between the two extremes.

Next we look at diversity: the original series was shockingly diverse for its time, not accidentally but purposefully and aggressively. Star Trek had the first televised biracial kiss, and indeed Uhura became a major Civil Rights icon. In the second season they added Chekhov, a Russian character, as a specific rebuke to cold war paranoia and the American hatred of the Soviet Union. “The future is a place where we can all get along” was one of, if not the, primary theme of the show, embedded deep in its DNA. Following that kind of model in modern America means pushing the envelope just as much in 2015 as Roddenberry did in 1967. I interpret that to mean not just a racially diverse cast, but finding diversity in other areas: who are our modern Soviet Unions, and how can we showcase them? So there’s our second creative guide post.

Lastly, before we dive into the actual concept, is our final creative guide post: hope. The original Star Trek leaked hope from every pore. Many of the episodes were bittersweet, and some outright tragic, but at its core it was a show about discovery, teamwork, and problem-solving. Modern media is much more grim and gritty than it used to be, but I think the pendulum is slowly starting to swing back toward hope again, and I want the new Star Trek series to reflect that. The success of The Martian shows this shift in our attitudes, and in fact that entire story is a direct homage to Star Trek’s vision of the future: people are fundamentally good, and when the chips are down the entire planet can come together to accomplish something great, using science and innovation to explore outer space. You can see this spirit of hope all over the place in modern media. Our superhero movies are about standing up for what’s right and making the world a better place; our dystopian books and movies, for all their darkness, are about fixing the problems we see in society. Even our post-apocalyptic nightmare movies have happy endings these days, and if Mad Max can finally get a happy ending I think we all can. American culture is finally starting to crawl out of our post-9/11 depression, and our storytelling is no longer about surviving but rebuilding. Our world isn’t perfect, and we still have a lot of problems to solve, but we’re actively trying to solve them. I want our new Star Trek series to reflect that.

So, taking all of that into account, here’s my pitch for a new Star Trek series.


In 2387, as shown in the recent movies, a supernova destroyed the seat of the Romulan Empire. This forced them into a choice: to integrate with the rest of the galaxy, like the Klingons did in a similar situation so many years ago, or to start a war in a desperate bid for resources and supremacy. They chose war (partly inspired, no doubt, by the fact that new-movie Spock apparently caused the supernova with his wacky Red Matter), and for 24 years the galaxy has been wracked with conflict and torn to shreds. Old alliances crumbled, new alliances formed and fell, and all that was great and glorious about our vast space-faring civilizations was tainted or outright destroyed. Now, at the turn of the 25th century, the war is over by mutual accord: no side won, and everybody lost. The survivors use the uneasy peace to try to pick up the pieces and move forward.

nova classOur show follows the USS Meridian, a science vessel that was repurposed during the war for courier duties, supply, and search and rescue. I’m basing this on the general idea of the Nova Class, though of course we would want a new ship design to mark the new series. With the conflict over, the Meridian has been tasked with surveying the damage, reporting back, and helping out where possible. The crew consists of two distinct groups–the ones who served on the ship during the war, and the new wave who was assigned there when it received its new orders. Much of the character drama comes from their attempts to reconcile their differences and come together as a team. I don’t have names for the characters yet, but I do have dream casting suggestions for all of them.

Old Crew:
angela bassetCaptain: a human science officer played by Angela Basset. She hated the war, and the things it required her to do, but she did them anyway because they were her duty. Like the ship itself, her specialty is science; before she went into command she was a researcher, specializing in geology, ecology, and planetary survey, and she is thrilled to now be back in a scientific role, cataloging the vast reaches of space that have become, post-war, as unfamiliar as they were when the first Federation ships explored them centuries ago. She is a devout Muslim, and uses this focus on peace and discovery to keep herself focused. Her best friend aboard the ship is her first officer, who has served with her for years. She also feels a strong connection to the new helm/pilot officer, as they are both still haunted by the horrors of war. My plan is to make her a direct descendant of Uhura, and set up a potential movie cross-over that way. This might mean she has a little Vulcan blood, depending on how the movie decides to play out the Uhura/Spock relationship. Angela Bassett is absolutely my first choice here–she has a fantastic sense of presence and authority on screen, and could bring both gravitas and heart to the captain’s chair.

hiroyuki sanadaFirst Officer: a Cardassian tactical officer played by Hiroyuki Sanada. With the Klingon Empire fighting only for themselves, the Federation turned to the biggest ally they had left: Cardassia. Over the years they formed strong ties together, and shortly before the end of the war Cardassia joined the Federation officially. Now that the war is over, certain factions within Cardassia want the “alliance of necessity” undone, but others are happy to stay together. This character is a contradiction: duplicitous and underhanded with his enemies, but fiercely loyal to his friends. He and the captain have worked together for a while, and respect each other greatly. He has sharp conflicts with the new communications officer, a Bajoran who holds on to the old animosity between their people. He doesn’t trust the new Security officer, probably because she’s just as sneaky as he is. I love Cardassians dearly, especially the way that they looked like outright villains in the beginning and were eventually revealed to be just as noble, and with just as much potential for both greatness and evil, as any other species in the galaxy. With characters like Garak, Dukat, and the glorious arc of Damar, Cardassians are one of the most well-developed species in Star Trek, arguably the most well-developed, and I want to play with that potential here. A Starfleet Cardassian who embraces both Damar’s heroism and Garak’s cunning is a character I’ll follow to the bitter end.

paula pattonDoctor: a half Klingon, half Vulcan xenobiologist played by Paula Patton. Someone suggested a klingon/vulcan doctor on Facebook, and while I changed the casting I love the idea: someone calm and soft-spoken, but ready to explode when pushed to the edge. I think Paula Patton could kill this role, contrasting stately elegance with righteous fury. I want to break away a bit from the standard Star Trek trope of mixed race, which always shows them as struggling with an inherent conflict of identity: am I vulcan, or am I klingon? This character is comfortable with both, following the less common Vulcan decision to ignore the banishment of emotion (a ritual called Kolinahr) in favor of a more balanced acceptance of emotion and logic as equal forces. In many ways her klingon side helps to keep her vulcan turbidity in check. She has found new friends among the incoming crew of scientists, particularly the gregarious exocultural officer, and they serve as nice foils to each other: one warm and calm, the other effusive and bubbly. Her greatest personal conflict comes from their Romulan liaison.

ajay naiduEngineering: a Trill engineer played by Ajay Naidu. He’s been with the Meridian for several years now, in two different host bodies, and held her together through thick and thin. He’s not about to abandon the ship now that she finally gets to do what she was built to do, so he specifically requested to stay, and to bring his spouse aboard now that wartime restrictions have been loosened. This body is the Trill symbiont’s fifth host, and its first male, and while he’s determined to make things work with the previous host’s husband, the changes in circumstance–both physical and situational–create big problems the couple has to deal with. He takes to the new communications officer and the new security officer quickly, the former because they get along as buddies, and the latter because her empathic abilities help him to understand his own emotions better. In the future, the new host may even become attracted to one or both of them. I toyed with the idea of using a new kind of alien, instead of a Trill, partly just to be new and also because I think that Trill hosts are kind of an easy button for stories about gender identity, and well-trammeled territory for Star Trek already. I wanted to try a little harder. The more I thought about it, though, the more I loved the opportunities a Trill presents us for telling stories specifically about gender transition, which is an area that Star Trek has only hit in passing. The very first Trill story was about gender transition, but that was one episode, and then Jadzia (and Ezri) were both devoutly female, with most of their “previous host” stories focusing around the humor of a young, attractive female being friends with old grizzly warriors. This character gives us the chance to dig into something deeper, including fully fluid gender spectrum, and the various ways that he, his husband, and the entire crew can react to the changes. So I’m keeping him a Trill :)

New Crew:
ki hong leeAstrometrics: a young alien genius played by Ki Hong Lee. Every show needs a new alien–something we haven’t seen before, who can show us a reflection of ourselves in a new way. This character comes from a species that is, for lack of a better term, emotionally cold-blooded: they can’t regulate their own emotions, and instead take on the general emotional state of whatever situation they’re in. Kind of like an empath that only works one way, but I don’t want to get too Counselor Troi-ish with this, and instead want to play it as something that is primarily negative, like a crazy space version of bipolar disorder. He’ll surround himself with happy people, which will make him happy, but when something goes wrong and the people around him get sad or scared or depressed, he follows along, without any control over his own emotions. When he’s alone he becomes emotionally inert. This can be treated with medication, which is the only way he made it through the Academy–surrounding himself with a bunch of stressed-out science students made him an absolute basketcase, but the medication and proper social therapy helped, and his natural genius allowed him to graduate at an exceptionally young age with a massive array of mathematics degrees. He’s eager to be out on the Meridian, his first assignment, and see in person the kinds of things he’s thus far only studied in theory. Because of his emotional issues he finds numbers and theories to be simple and comforting, and spends long hours studying. He avoids the more emotionally volatile members of the crew, like the exocultural officer and the helm/pilot, and he doesn’t like who he becomes when he hangs around the darker, more intense characters such as the security, communications, and the XO. That leaves him with precious few friends aboard the ship, though he does like the doctor and the engineer. The net result is that he is drawn to the Romulan liaison, who seems to genuinely like him; the fact that he likes the Romulan back is, for the captain, the first and best sign that the Romulan might actually be trustworthy.

jewel staiteInterspecies Relations: a Bolian exocultural specialist and counselor played by Jewel Staite. She loves people: helping them, talking to them, getting to know them, being needed by them. She’s an extrovert in every sense of the word. Her field of study is primarily cultural, lying in the realm of “soft” science, but she has a passing familiarity with physiology and anatomy as well, particularly in how they relate to interspecies social interaction. She has become friends with the doctor, but tends to clash with the captain over disagreements in how alien contact situations should be handled–she will almost always side with her own feelings over Starfleet regulations, trying to help people no matter what the rules and the complicated web of political treaties says they can and can’t do. She’s kind of like a really bubbly female Captain Kirk in that sense, with just enough of that Kirk-like ego to be very angry when she suggests a course of action and the captain decides to do something else. Jewel Staite would be fantastic in this role, even covered in blue makeup and a bald cap, showing all the cheerful optimism of Kaylee from Firefly, mixed with all the self-confident ego we’ve seen from her in roles since.

diane guerreroHelm: a Human navigator and pilot played by Diane Guerrero. This is her second assignment: she graduated the Academy with top marks, looking forward to a glorious career as a pilot, but it was the height of the war, and in her first few years of service she went through absolute hell. She comes to the Meridian with a chip on her shoulder and a bad case of PTSD, which she does her best to hide from the others because she doesn’t want to admit her own weakness. Her previous commander will be an ongoing villain in the story, always trying to lure her back in to some of the more war-crimey stuff he got her tied up in before. She likes the communications officer, responding to his similar vibe of bitter anger, which doesn’t help her relationship to the XO. She also finds a kindred spirit in the security officer, whose “the end justifies the means” attitude seems to validate her own past actions and assuage her conscience. The captain is kind of trying to take her under her wing, which will be a huge boon if she ever decides to accept any help.

mitch pileggiCommunications: a Bajoran operations officer played by Mitch Pileggi. Loud and lovable and intense and determined and bitter and kind of a misogynist. He’s the Robert Baratheon of communications and sensors officers, grizzled by war and full of larger-than life stories, the first to buy a round for everyone in the bar, and the first to mouth off and mutter insobordinate things in the back halls of the ship. He doesn’t like the XO, and is in fact pretty racist against Cardassians; he doesn’t like the captain, and thinks he should have his own command by now. He gets along great with the engineer and the exocultural officer, and is a kind of father figure for the helm/pilot officer.

sela wardTactical: a Betazoid security and weapons officer played by Sela Ward. Most of the Betazoids we’ve seen have used their psychic powers to help people, but this character is all about manipulation: it’s her job to keep the ship safe, and she’ll do it any way she can, no matter how underhanded. Her empathic abilities make her an amazing negotiator and interrogator, finding all of her opponents’ mental pressure points and pushing on them with expert skill. Her tactical philosophy is simple: win before the fight starts, and she uses mind games and long-term plans to make this happen. That said, when it’s time to fight, she can fight with the best of them. She clashes with the XO, because they’re too alike to trust each other, but they do often see the wisdom of each others’ plans, and make a great team when they have to be. She works hard to earn the captain’s trust, but she does it so manipulatively that it’s hard to believe her motives are pure. The truth is that after so long, and after stepping over so many lines in the war, she doesn’t know how to come back to normal–she is in many ways just as damaged as the pilot, but she hides it so much better, even from herself.

Unofficial Crew:
matt bomerLiaison: a rogue Romulan gone AWOL from the Empire, played by Matt Bomer. They pick him up in the first episode, and distrust him instantly, but eventually realize that he can be valuable as a guide when dealing with areas the Romulan Empire occupied during the war. He is sneaky, manipulative, and full of secrets, but he’s also incredibly useful and has never actively betrayed them. They keep him around, but restrict his access aboard the ship, allow him no weapons, and work behind his back to figure out more about his past. Much like the doctor, he is a contradiction: a fun-loving scoundrel and a deceitful game-player; a loyal friend and a traitor. Everyone will instantly suspect him of divided loyalties, and the obvious move is to make him a member of the Tal Shiar, the Romulan intelligence agency, sent to monitor this Federation ship as it moves uncontested through former Romulan space. I want to avoid this precisely because it’s so obvious, but on the other hand it’s a great story, and I think we can use the audience expectations against them. We’ll make him a former Tal Shiar officer who was part of something terrible–a massive plot by certain factions of the Empire to break the peace treaty and win the war once and for all–and who went AWOL in a specific effort to stop that plan before it could go through. He doesn’t dare to tell the Federation, for fear that news of the treachery will re-ignite the war, so he has to solve it himself. This makes him act secretly and suspiciously, constantly trying to nudge the ship toward a location or situation that will allow him to do what he needs to do. He’s playing a constant mind game with everyone on the ship, but on the other hand he is a good person, genuinely trying to save the galaxy in the only way he knows how, and so the astrometics officer feels good around him, and the security officer knows something’s going on but can’t find any hard evidence of evil or betrayal.

So there you have it.

This is my proposal for a new Star Trek series. A group of people damaged by the past, but trying to work together to make a better future. They’ll explore, they’ll build, they’ll rebuild, and they’ll leave the galaxy better than they found it. They’ll use science to solve physical problems, and diplomacy to solve personal ones, and friendship and trust to solve their own problems aboard the ship.

Now I just need CBS to make it :)

Utah Auditions for A Night of Blacker Darkness

August 29th, 2015

As you may have heard: my sister and I have adapted my book A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS into a play! And we’re presenting two productions of it this Halloween, one at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, and one at Utah Valley University in Orem.

And we want YOU to be in them :)

I posted a link to the TN auditions two weeks ago, and those auditions have come and gone and we have an incredible cast. The UT auditions are just a few days away, on September 1 and 2, so if you’re interested please come and try out! This is a UVU production, but we’re opening the cast to the entire community: anyone who wants to audition is more than welcome, and we’d love to get as wide a range of people as we can. Here’s the information:

Tuesday, September 1: Auditions will be held at BYU, 4pm to 6pm, in room F-556 in the HFAC (Harris Fine Arts Center).

Wednesday, September 2: Auditions will be held at UVU, 4pm to 6pm, in GT 631 (aka “The White Box”).

1) Come prepared with a 1-minute comedic monologue.
2) Call backs will be on Saturday, September 5, at 10am at UVU.
3) The show will be the week of Halloween, Wednesday through Saturday, with TWO shows on Halloween.
4) We will perform in the Ragan Theatre on the UVU campus.
5) Rehearsals will be at 6-10 pm Monday through Friday, and 10am-1pm on Saturday, every week until we open.
6) If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the directors via email: Scott Twitchell (ScottETwitchell@gmail.com) and/or Landon Kraczek (LKraczek@me.com)

We will be casting the following parts:
1) Frederick Whithers, a Convict
2) John Keats, a Poet
3) Mary Shelley, a Novelist
4) Gwendolyn Gaddie, a Liar
5) Percival Gaddie, a Banker
6) Colin Gaddie, a More Important Banker
7) Inspector Tristan Herring, a Vampire Hunter
8) Chief Constable Barrow, a Chief Constable
9) Winston, a Carriage Driver
10) Sable, a Vampire
11) Gustave, a Gravedigger
12) Mr. Spilsbury, a Mortician
13) The Late Harold Beard, a Corpse
14) Vampire 1
15) Vampire 2
16) Vampire 3
17) Vampire 4
18) Constables

Not that you need another Hugo commentary, but…

August 23rd, 2015

Last night I posted this on Twitter and facebook:
“The Puppies obviously care a lot about the fiction they like. That’s good: they should use that passion to establish an award of their own.”

My friend Dan Willis responded with this:
“And here I thought the Hugos said for years that they were a fan award, representing the best fiction SF had to offer.”

I realized that my post sounded pretty exclusionary, which was not my intention. The Hugos ARE a fan award, and anyone can nominate and vote, and that needs to happen more, not less. My comments were mostly directed to the Rabid Puppy group, whose leader has stated unequivocally that he doesn’t want to change the Hugos, he wants to destroy them. Even Brad Torgerson has said in interviews that he doesn’t care about the award. They don’t like the way the award is being handled, or the kind of fiction it tends to celebrate, so I think it makes the most sense to take that energy and start celebrate the kind of fiction they do like–to creat something positive instead of tearing down something else.

It would be awesome if a single award represented the best that all science fiction had to offer. The Hugos certainly don’t: their refusal to consider most YA or tie-in fiction is a good example, and yes, they tend (at present) to swing fairly liberal and reward certain Chosen Ones. But the thing is, I don’t think a single award CAN represent the entirety of science fiction. That’s simply too big of a tent. The Hugo, and arguably every award ever, has an inherent bias, and that bias changes over time but it’s there, and it will always be there. If the Puppies want to celebrate old school, spaceships and ray-guns SF, as many of them claim, yay. More power to them–I like old school spaceship and ray-guns. So turn your creative energy and your obvious passion toward celebrating the fiction you love, instead of gaming and attacking and destroying an award that other people love. That way we actually gain something from this–two something’s, actually, because there would be two awards–instead of just losing everything and making people angry and sad.

I don’t want to exclude anyone from the Hugo: it should be, and needs to be, a fan-driven award. But the fans driving it need to be people who care about it. If people spent more time supporting the things they care about, and less time fighting over what they don’t like, the world would be a much, much happier place.

My WorldCon Schedule

August 19th, 2015

I’m going to WorldCon tomorrow! And you can come and see me at these many fine events:


11:00 – 12:15
Room 300C (CC)
Writing Excuses Recording
Sit in on recording of the popular podcast Writing Excuses
Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells

15:00 – 15:45
Room 302AB (CC)
Building a Better Tomorrow
Young adult science fiction is thriving, presenting an array of possible futures for humanity. While YA SF seems to be taking off, many of those stories feature dark futures. Why might teens be drawn to these types of settings that feature dystopic settings? Will there be a brighter or better tomorrow for us?
Laura Anne Gilman (M), Troy Bucher, Dan Wells, Fonda Lee

16:30 – 17:00
Room 303B (CC)
Reading – Dan Wells


10:00 – 10:45
Room 303A (CC)
Podcasts for Young Adults
Adults love podcasts and podcasting, but what about teens? Is there a market for YA podcasts and where can kids find cool new content? What topics, guests and issues should podcasts for younger listeners address? What about kids who want to create their own podcasts? Your in luck! Our panelists will also share tips for teens who want to create their own podcasts.
Mur Lafferty (M), Jason Snell, Dan Wells

13:00 – 13:45
Room 401C (CC)
The Future of Video Games
Video games continue to evolve in many ways: sophistication, emersion of the player, story telling, graphics, and platforms, to name just a few. What’s next in the evolution of video games.
Catherynne M. Valente (M), Trina Marie Phillips, Maurine Starkey, Dan Wells, Warren Frey

16:00 – 16:45
Grand Ballroom: Salon III (Doubletree)
SpoCon Presents: Sub-Genre Games
Are you deep for dystopia? Crazy for cyberpunk? Feverent for urban faerie? Soft on steampunk? We’re pitting ten sub-genres against each-other to see which should shed its “sub” prefix and become a fully-fledged genre alongside the towers of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Does YOUR favorite sub-genre have what it takes to stand alone?
Jessica Rising (M), Tim Martin (M), Taiyo Fujii, Caren Gussoff, Frog Jones, Nick Mamatas, Alan Smale, Kaye Thornbrugh, Dan Wells


11:00 – 11:45
Hall B (CC)

Eric Flint, Eileen Gunn, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Walidah Imarisha, Cat Rambo, Dan Wells

12:00 – 12:45
Room 202B-KK3 (CC)
Kaffee Klatche – Dan Wells
Limited to 10, requires advance sign-up (online signup enabled until 6am on Sat 8/22). Coffee and snacks available for sale on the 2nd floor.


July 30th, 2015

As you can see, I haven’t posted any new Poetry Summer stuff; it turns out I’m way too busy with work and travel to memorize any poems. As an example: I’m at
GenCon this week! Which is awesome, but makes memorizing and posting poems hard.

If you’re at GenCon, you can find me at the following panels:

12: Atmospheric Writing, room 245
4: Killing Off Characters, room 245
5: Researching For Writing, room 245

12: Plot Design, room 244

6: Writing Excuses, room 242

And if you happen to be here with a Warmachine army, an X-Wing fleet, or some Netrunner decks, so am I! Find me in person or on Twitter, and let’s play.

#PoetrySummer is back!

June 17th, 2015

A few years ago I decided to challenge myself to memorize a poem every week, and it was awesome. I worked with my friend Brian, a high school English teacher, and we put everything online to keep ourselves accountable. If you’re so inclined you can search through the archives of this very blog to find those old posts (look for “Poetry Summer,” or the hashtag #PoetrySummer). One of the things I loved about this was the way it helped me learn new things about the poems as I studied them and recited them out loud. My other favorite thing was how many people from the Internet jumped in and joined us, memorizing poems and sharing their thoughts in the comments.

So: we’re doing it again! The rules are simple:

1) You can pick a poem of any length, one per week, and must recite it out loud to someone on Sunday. Then you pick a new poem and start over for the next week.

2) This is all honor system: if you say you did it, we believe you.

3) No William Carlos Williams allowed. This is the only rule we will not bend on. Screw William Carlos Williams right in his stupid icebox.

I will start each week with a post, probably on a Monday, describing the experience of the previous week, presenting the full text of the poem I memorized, and announcing the poems Brian and I will memorize the following week. I will also try to recommend a short poem that newbie memorizers can work on if they don’t have any in mind.

This week I will be memorizing “Alone in Crowds to Wander On,” by Thomas More, because it’s the epigram of my new book, The Devil’s Only Friend, that came out yesterday! I always put a poem quote at the beginning of each John Cleaver book, and this is a great one. Brian will be memorizing “The Second Coming,” by William Butler Yeats.

Because we’re starting on Wednesday instead of Monday, I have an especially short poem for you, courtesy of the American poet Sarah Teasdale:

The Net

I wrote you many and many a song, but never one told all you are
It was as though a net of words were flung to catch a star.

It was as though I dcupped my hand, and dipped sea-water eagerly
Only to find it lost the blue dark splendor of the sea.

Good luck!

At Long Last: Brooke!

April 22nd, 2015

It’s been a month and a half since I was on set, and filming has wrapped, and I still haven’t posted the photos of Brooke and Lauren I promised to give you. Well WAIT NO LONGER! Here they are.

Lauren Bacall CleaverJohn’s sister Lauren is not a huge character in the first book, but she’s still an important one, and we are delighted to have Anna Sundberg in the role. Anna is a young actor with a handful of local MN credits, mostly in theater but some you might have seen, including an episode of Fargo. I got to watch her play a scene with Max–the two siblings together, not “close” but still relying on each other to navigate the world, and they were wonderful. She’s a fantastic Lauren, and if (knock on wood) we get a chance to do a movie of the second book, we’re going to be incredibly lucky to have her. Fingers crossed.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The deeper I dig into this series, and the more I write for it, the more I realize that Brooke is one of the most important characters, right up there with John and his mom as the top three. In the book I’m currently writing, #5 in the series, she’s a co-lead. Also, spoiler warning: Brooke survives until at least book 5 :) Even in the very first book, Brooke is a focal point for the story, and a great character that readers fall in love with. We needed to have someone awesome in the role, and Director Billy cast a wide net, looking at casting agencies, looking at local talent, looking everywhere he could. After a long search, he found Lucy.

Brooke1 No, I’m not going to tell you her last name, partly because this is her first real screen credit (she did a commercial once) so you can’t look her up, but also because she’s a sixteen-year-old girl, and I don’t want you to look her up. She’s going to be a big star someday, but let her have a few more months of childhood at least. My first thought when I saw Lucy was “Brooke is supposed to be blonde,” but Billy reassured me that she was perfect. “Don’t get distracted by stuff like hair,” he said, “just watch her act.” Her first day on the set she did a tiny little street scene: she met Mr. Crowley on the sidewalk, gave him some leftover pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving, and that was it. Twenty seconds of screen time. And she was PERFECT. She’s kind and cheerful and quirky and awkward and grounded and complex and believable and so overflowing with personality it’s amazing. I told Billy he was right. Lucy’s not just The Girl, she’s a character in her own right, ready to stand alongside John as an equal.

Lucy sat me down in the “stay warm between shots” room on her first day and asked me questions about Brooke: what is she like, what does she want, what does love and hate. I answered her questions mostly by turning them back on her: what do you think she wants? It was a fascinating experience to watch her pick the character apart, translating the tiny glimpses we get on the page or screen into a full person. At one point she asked me “Why does Brooke like John? I mean, aside from the fact that he’s a dark, dreamy loner?” I just laughed and told her she’d do fine.

In that same conversation I asked her if she’d read the rest of the books, and she said that she’d been cast so recently she hadn’t had a chance–she’d just finished the first one, and had the second in her bag, ready to start that night. I apologized in advance for the crap I put her character through, and we laughed, but that idea has stuck with me: I’ve met Brooke now, and I’ve met John, and I keep writing horrible, awful, nasty things that those characters have to survive, and it’s changed the way I think about it. Book 5, the one I’m writing right now, has a distinctly different tone than the rest of the series, and that’s partly due to my experience on the set: I’d had the plan for a very long time, but was never convinced that I could actually make it work. Now that I’ve met John and Brooke, I know that I can. And I’m very sorry for what I’m putting them through, but I’m just as inspired by the way they get through it. Very few people could do what they do, but the much bigger point is that very few people would choose to. John and Brooke do.

Meeting John and Brooke and the actors who play them was a highlight of my life. I can’t wait for you to meet them, too.

Daredevil and Agent Carter and Bellerophon

April 14th, 2015

The Daredevil series on Netflix was awesome. I loved it, and it stands alongside Agent Carter as the best (ie, “my favorite”) superhero-related shows on TV. Flash is fun but uneven; Gotham is increasingly mired in flawed characterization; Agents of SHIELD can’t decide what it wants to be or how it wants to get there. Their quality fluctuates so wildly that I have essentially stopped recommending them to people. Daredevil, on the other hand, was tightly written, start to finish, with a clear vision of who its lead was, why we should care, and how best to present that lead in a story and style that brought all its themes together; the same can be said, pretty much word-for-word, for Agent Carter. Both shows were strong ideas executed well. And it’s telling that those shows worked so well while SHIELD continues to fail so shockingly; my guess is that Daredevil and Agent Carter succeed because they’re allowed, if not actually forced, to stand on their own. SHIELD is presented as “the TV version of the MCU,” while Daredevil and Agent Carter are “Marvel stories connected to the MCU.” That’s a key difference. SHIELD has to carry this giant banner and connect all the movies and it’s never allowed to be its own thing, while the peripheral shows can do whatever they need to tell the best story they can.

The other thing Daredevil and Agent Carter have in common, however, is that they started to fall apart at the end, brought down, in part, by weird villains. Yes, I know, I know, Vincent D’onofrio was amazing as Fisk in Daredevil–he’s a great actor who showed us a fascinating, vulnerable, even tragic take on the Kingpin. He was a great character. But he was a really crappy villain. Agent Carter’s ultimate villain, the goofy hypnosis guy, was weird for different reasons, but still didn’t work, and still managed to bring down a show that should have gone out on a much higher note.

Why do the villains matter? Because a hero’s heroism is directly proportional to the obstacles he or she overcomes. The Greek hero Bellerophon is the classic example of this: he was described as the greatest slayer of monsters in the world, primarily because the monster he slew, Chimera, was described as the greatest monster in the world. Bellerophon could have used exactly the same skills and talents and courage and cunning and fortitude to slay a lesser beast, but no one would have cared; he wouldn’t be the Greatest Monster Slayer Ever, he would have been That Guy Who Killed That Goblin.

Agent Carter the show presents us with a number of compelling conflicts for Agent Carter the person: she’s fighting a vast shadow conspiracy of spies and assassins, her colleagues don’t trust her, and (more than anything else) she’s a woman in a society dominated by men. One of the first shots of the series is a crowded street full of identical men in identical gray hats walking away from the camera, with Peggy Carter in vibrant blue and red walking directly toward it. Not only does the framing make the men faceless and ubiquitous, it highlights the idea that Peggy is moving against the current and making her own way. This is one of the greatest visual statements of heroic identity ever made, and the show follows it up with story after story hitting these same beats and themes, over and over again. When Dottie is finally revealed as a villain she fits this idea perfectly–a funhouse-mirror version of Peggy, with all the same skills but controlled by men instead of rebelling against them, and hidden under a veneer of stereotyped, airheaded femininity. This was awesome…and then that hynotist showed up. He didn’t fit the story we’d been told all season because he came out of nowhere, related to Hydra but never a believable crux to their plan; he was brought into the SSR not because Hydra had a brilliant scheme but because Peggy made a series of impulsive, unpredictable decisions, and if Hydra was relying on that to carry off their grand scheme then their plot was doomed from the beginning. More to the point, his powers of super hypnosis came out of left field both narratively and thematically–nothing he did felt like the satisfying culmination of a series arc, he was just a monster-of-the-week who hung on for a few extra weeks and turned out to be the Big Bad. Instead of watching Peggy pull it all together and strike a major blow against the secret organization she’d been fighting, they just personified that organization and let her beat some random guy, using skills that hadn’t mattered to the rest of the season. The climax showed her talking down a hypnosis victim flying a plane, which was a tense scene and a nice callback to her climax in Captain America, but what did it have to do with anything the show had promised us? They teased a Chimera, but delivered a goblin.

Daredevil’s villain problem was, as I said, different, but just as frustrating. Wilson Fisk stayed right in line with the established series themes of Inner Demons and doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, but he failed as a villain because he simply wasn’t villainous enough. His criminal organization ran in circles, accomplishing no crimes aside from a self-eating snake of nested cover-ups, and then slowly imploded just in time for Daredevil to punch it in the face. Matt Murdock didn’t actually defeat him as a vigilante or as a lawyer, he just did flip kicks for twelve episodes while the criminals defeated themselves. Showing Fisk as a damaged little boy was great, and watching him stammer his way through a puppy-love courtship was an audacious choice for a story about a mob boss, but without any real villainy to balance it out he came across as weak and inept. Instead of a terrifying mastermind we saw an incompetent recluse whose super-mob conglomerate started falling apart literally the first time we saw it in action; he had lackeys do all the grunt work, a chief lackey who came up with most of the plans, and then he sat back flirting while his mismanaged empire dissolved around him. His occasional forays into mastermind-hood, like tricking Daredevil and the Hand Ninja into killing each other, were born from anger instead of brilliance, and despite their cleverness never actually strengthened his empire in any way; that one, in particular, started its final destruction. His one and only moment of unfiltered awesomeness came in the last fifteen minutes of the season, when he finally embraced his role as a monster. That makes this season an origin story for Kingpin as well as for Daredevil, which is cool in its own way, but in the process it made them both look pretty useless: Daredevil never had to defeat his Chimera, because the Chimera kept biting off its own heads, and thus Daredevil never became the Bellerophon we wanted him to be. And since the fight choreography, gorgeous as it was, never got back up to the bar it set in episode two, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the anti-climax. The final fight was just two guys punching each other, drained of tension because we knew who was going to win, and devoid of the artistry that had marked most of the earlier fights.

I want to reiterate: I loved Agent Carter, and I loved Daredevil. Even with lackluster finales, they provided the best stories and the boldest visions in our current bumper crop of superhero TV. But they could have been so much more than they were. Going out on a high note has always been a problem for TV shows, and genre TV shows in particular, but those few shining diamonds who’ve pulled it off have shown us that it’s possible. I want every other superhero show out there to learn from Daredevil and Agent Carter and up their game, and then I want Daredevil and Agent Carter, in what I dearly hope will be their second seasons, to pull out all the stops and really fulfill on their promises. If these shows have a chance to live up to their potential, next year’s crop of superhero shows will make this year’s sea of plenty look like a drought.

My four cents on the Hugo thing

April 7th, 2015

Here we go. I don’t like arguing, especially not on the Internet, so I don’t intend to say much about this topic. The short version is that I am somewhere in the middle, seeing merit and fault on both sides. The longer version can be condensed to four main points:

1) Larry Correia is my friend. I’ve known him for years, and he is a good guy, a good husband, and a good father. I don’t agree with his politics in almost any category, and I don’t like the way he’s handled the Sad Puppies thing (which is why I asked to be removed from it after he nominated me last year), but I am adult enough to see two sides of a person at once. It makes me sad to see people calling him a racist, misogynist, homophobe, when in reality I know that he’s none of those things–he’s an a-hole online, I’ll totally grant you, but let’s cool it with the character assassination. I realize that a lot of people won’t bother reading past this paragraph, or will just straight up hate me regardless of what the rest of this post says, but there you go. If it comes down to disavowing a friend in order to impress my readership, I won’t do it.

2) The other side of the fight has plenty of its own a-holes. One of Larry’s first and biggest complaints about the Hugo crowd was the way they ostracized him right from the get-go: he was nominated for a Campbell, came to WorldCon in Reno, and was treated like a pariah because he’s very, very conservative. It’s only gotten worse since then, and a lot of that is his fault for hitting back so viciously, but a lot of it is just straight-up unwarranted, and I didn’t really understand how much until my own Sad Puppies nomination last year. I was on the slate, didn’t take it seriously, and then when I actually ended up on the finals list for novella I was attacked almost instantly. Bloggers who’d never met me or read my work were calling me out as a racist based solely on the fact that Larry like my story. I’ve been going to WorldCons for years, been nominated for multiple Hugos, and even won one the previous year, but all of a sudden I was an outsider, intruding onto sacred space, based not on who I was or what I did but simply on my association with an undesirable element. To be fair, a majority of people reacted more evenly, and I was delighted by how many reviewers described my novella as “much better than expected,” but the attacks were real and they were prevalent. I’m a big boy, so I can handle them, I’m just saying that we can’t assume either side in this is perfectly good and right.

3) I do not like what the slate-voting model has done to the Hugos–I think it has removed any legitimacy the award once had, and reduced it to a two-party system that will, in the future, only nominate a narrow subset of the field. You’ll have Sad Puppies and Anti-Sad Puppies, and we’ll pick our ticket and campaign for it for months, and anyone not on the ticket will be out in the cold. I honestly don’t see how that CAN’T happen next year, unless we change the voting rules. And no, that’s not what it was before: what it was before was a group of like-minded people who tended to vote for the same authors and themes every time, which is pretty standard for any voting award anyway, and a far cry from a curated ticket of “this is the slate we should all vote for.” I am sad that this has happened, but I hope we can find a way to fix it.

4) No matter how much I hate the slate, and how sad I am for the people and stories the slate bumped off, I think that voting against everyone on the slate regardless of merit seems like a terrible idea. Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, was a favorite for the category going in, and probably got just as many normal nominations as Puppy nominations, but now we’re all going to vote against it as some kind of protest? Kevin Anderson and Jim Butcher are excellent authors–giants in the field, and mentors to half the authors working today–but now we’re supposed to shut them out completely just because the wrong people nominated them? Toni Weiiskopf and Anne Sowards are exactly the kind of brilliant, talented editors the “recognize more women” crowd (in which company I include myself) has been trying to recognize for years, but now we’re supposed to ignore them just because some conservative white guys got them on the ballot? THIS IS INSANE. Some of the people on the ballot are terrible people, and some of their work is terrible fiction, and I’ll be voting accordingly, but punishing Anne Sowards because I want to punish the people who put her on the slate is misguided and cruel. These people did good work, worthy of reward, and I’m going to reward them. Let’s fix this problem in a way that doesn’t trample innocents.

As a final word: I will be at WorldCon this year, not wallowing in controversy but celebrating science fiction and fantasy. I love the genre, I love the stories we tell, and I love the spirit of hope that those stories express about the future. Let’s try to be as good as the heroes we write about.