Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Publisher of wonderous books talks

A word to begin this interview.

I met Kelly, the Cyberwizard, following a meeting with a wonderful editor of her publishing house. In addition to simply having conversations, we have a professional relationship, so if you are worried about bias in an interview, this one has plenty.

Kelly has given me brilliant advice, as well as offering me substantial wisdom regarding far more than simply publishing my work.

I could never have hoped for more right out of the box.

So I present here an interview with The Cyberwizard: Kelly, of Cyberwizard Productions

How did you become a publisher? Why did you become a publisher?

It wasn’t on purpose! It just kind of grew there. Seriously. It started with me not wanting to give up control of my own couple of books and self-publishing them. I’d been feeling like I was in a rut for a couple of years and wanting to start a business but I certainly never planed to start a publishing company. But in order to publish my books correctly I had to learn a large number of skills, and that lead to me buying a set of ISBN numbers and making an offer to publish Danny’s series, which lead to … where we are now.

What role do you see your publishing house as playing? Are you taking whatever space you can find in a fantasy publishing niche, or, do you see bigger things on the horizon? What are your goals?

What role do I see my publishing house playing in what? The future of publishing? My author’s lives? On stage? You know better than to ask me an ambiguous question like that ;) I can’t answer that though, until you clarify the question.

Am I taking whatever space I can find… umm no. I’m coming out this from a completely different angle than most publishers are. My first goal is to provide quality reading material in a wide range of subjects. I’m growing the poetry imprint right now, for example, not because I think there’s a killing to be made in selling poetry (there’s not) but because people NEED to be exposed to it. They need to see that poetry is a lot more than just random sentences spouted from the lips of drugged out beatniks in smoke filled coffee houses at 3am. One of my poets told me that the only reason that publishing houses ever put out poetry was to improve their “class” rating. Make themselves look a bit more high-brow. I publish it for the general public, not for a rating, and we have a nice selection of very good poetry – all the way from deep, soul searching poems to fun and imaginative sci-fi and fantasy poems. And who knows, we might even wind up with a beatnik or two ;)

The same goes for all the other books we’re putting out. The audience is the focus. There’s a wealth of good, entertaining content out there. There are thousands of authors writing it and people like to read it. But the major publishers aren’t putting it out. Maybe they should be. They don’t seem to be doing all that great these days on what they ARE putting out. When I read through a submission, the first thing on my mind is “will people want to read this?” not “how much money can I make off of this.”

What past authors are your favorites?

Roger Zelazny, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury

Have you any desire to perhaps reprint in stylish fashion any of the older greats who have works that have now become public domain?

Define stylish fashion. We already have a couple of reprints. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabotini and very old work called The Mabignion. I have several others started, just haven’t gotten a chance to finish them up. However they’ll be out in affordable paperback and e-book to read, not sit-on-the-shelf-to-look-at cloth bound.

Would you do a fine collection of art by a passed on artist if their works were similarly available?

I might. I haven’t run across any that are in that state.

Do you see any ethical reasons not to do so?

No. Do you?

Public Domain to me is fair, but, in modern publishing it seems less about quality presentation as a quick shot to make money. I think there are various authors and artists who deserve great presentation. I’d never accuse anyone of the quick buck, unless I had specifics, and I wasn’t aiming at you.

What is the hardest aspect about publishing?

Everything from the small frustrations of trying to figure out why the printer had a problem with a perfectly good file, to calming down an author who’s going over the edge because their first book signing is about to happen. But it’s fantastically rewarding too. To see someone’s face light up and their enter world suddenly change because the dream they’ve been struggling to achieve has happened, and to hear just how much of a difference a small, square object has made in some people’s lives (readers and authors both)… those are marvelous experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything else.

To what extent do you see publishing and the future being compatible in a paper free office/environment?

There’s nothing that requires paper in order to publish. E-books are picking up in popularity. I’m behind in that area, but I do at least create e-books for each book we publish and manage to get some of them into kindle format. I’m in discussion with Pressmart about their services for Abandoned Towers. Paper’s not going anywhere. People like it. But virtual is where everything is moving to. And virtual is a good idea. Virtual doesn’t require trees to be cut down, paper mills to run, waste to be created… even a 100% recycled paper book has waste and pollution costs.

Tell us about Abandoned Towers, how is it related to Cyberwizard, and where can it be found to buy?

Abandoned Towers is available from my web site. It’s the magazine that Cyberwizard Productions publishes. Abandoned Towers has 3 reasons for existence:

1 To provide a wide range of good, high quality content to the public and stretch their horizons if possible.

1. To provide a wide market for authors. A place that DOES want to publish all the cool things that people want to write, and people want to read, but no one else wants to publish.

2. To train writers and turn them into polished authors who can go on to get acceptances from the major houses. That’s the one job small press should always be doing and the one job apparently a lot of small press houses have forgotten about.

We’re seeing nice success on all three of those.

Where is the best place to buy products from your company, so that both you and the creative talent get paid? Amazon? Directly to your website? Stores like Barnes and Noble or Walden Books?

Directly from the CWP websites. If you want the magazine, then go to http://cyberwizardproductions.com/AbandonedTowers and click on the Print Issues icon on the home page. If you want books, go to the main page of Cyberwizard Productions, and click on the imprint that publishes the book you’re interested in, access the book itself, and read over the page.

You produce content on Abandoned Towers web magazine, in your print version of the magazine, is there a podcast for a trifecta?

No podcast as yet and I don’t know what a trifecta is.

Or do you have any other plans to expand the territory of the magazine?

Yes. But I’m not at liberty to tell what those plans are at the moment

Do you attend Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Renaissance Cons and Festivals?
Which ones?

FenCon and ConDFW. I’d attend others, but those are close and that’s important

What advice would you give to people desiring to submit work to you,

READ my writer’s guidelines and then follow them. Please! I didn’t spend hours writing them just because I wanted to practice typing.

And in a more general setting, what advice would you give aspiring creative talents who seek an audience for their work?

Don’t try to target the world. Figure out what audience you’re trying to reach and then be relentless till you reach it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


And perspective

August 29 1958 - June 25 2009

I was a young child when I first saw Michael Jackson sing, with his brothers in the Jackson 5. I could not believe that so much talent poured from his mouth, and danced through his body. Later when I was 19 years old I watched in amazement when Michael Jackson moon walk danced across the stage on the Motown 25 Yesterday Today Forever television special. I was speechless and my father, who didn’t like anything close to popular music (and nearly never cursed), exclaimed, “what the hell just happened?!”.

That moment was one that many fans and witnesses of his career remember. But his life was one of joy and pain, both from inside his family and from the outside world. Michael Jackson sang from an early age and performed incredibly, and started achieving hits with the Jackson 5 and moved to singing solo and never stopped creating hits. And there are reports that he was physically and emotionally abused. He was accused later in life of sexually molesting children. But he either avoided prosecution through settlement or was acquitted of the charges. I am not commenting upon his innocence, except to say he was never proven to be anything, except different.

For me Michael Jackson was a child who never grew up, with amazing talents, who was broken. For time beyond measure the mediocre have attacked the genius, and Michael Jackson was made to be even more strange than he already made himself into being. I do not, again, claim to know what he had done, or not done, but I do know, that he was prey for the media, and his talents became his sorrow, for if he’d been less gifted might he not have lived normally? This doesn’t forgive or forget things he might have done. Simply points to the question, but for this would that...

February 2, 1947 – June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcet was an icon of beauty, forever symbolizing American fascination with the glorious blonde, captured upon film and television, but through humankind’s memory I think, for a very long time through one iconic poster. She was in swim suit, apparently somewhat wet, and a bit cold, and beaming with a smile you couldn’t manufacture.

Her acting would have been considered weak if she’d only appeared upon the T & A fest CHARLIE’S ANGELS, but she didn’t end her career there. She went out of her way to find hearty roles that would display her talents. And in doing so she created a certain question mark, for while we seem to adore empty headed gorgeous people, she seemed to possess something more. Whatever that might be. Certainly she had talent, and beauty.

I was not particular to her iconic appearance, I have no particular fetish for hair color or hard nipples, but I do think she was a nice person from what I saw.

March 6, 1923 – June 23, 2009

A television presenter, comedian, comedian straight man, an announcer, and more Ed McMahon became a part of American television culture due to his presence there. It wasn’t just his voice, or his physical appearance, he didn’t dance, he didn’t sing, at least on camera. He was however someone we trusted, and seemingly loved.

He became famous as the “sidekick” to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, his work there was to give the brilliant Carson someone to bounce comedy off of, to pace the opening of the show, and to generally give the viewer a feeling that you too are a member of the fun.

It is the fate of such a person to be considered in the light of another’s success. His work was complimentary to Dick Clark, Jerry Lewis and the aforementioned Carson. However, he shined in an area lesser known but just as important. He flew as a training pilot teaching others to fly during WW II, and as a tactical air and artillery observer in the Korean Conflict. He retired as a Brigadier General in the Air National Guard, and as a Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was everyone’s friend so to speak, and more than one generation of viewers will remember his voice and presence upon the stage.


In amongst the tributes for recent celebrities who have died, I suggest we end with a sobering reminder that people die every day who are not famous and who are doing very important work...


Sgt. Justin J. Duffy 31 02 Jun 2009 3rd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division, MND-Baghdad Died June 2 of combat-related injuries after an IED detonated near a patrol in eastern Baghdad / DoD Rlease: Died June 2 in Baghdad, Iraq, when an IED detonated near his vehicle

Spc. Christopher M. Kurth 23 04 Jun 2009 3rd Bn, 82nd Field Artillery, 2nd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, MND-North Died from injuries received during a grenade attack on a patrol in the Kirkuk province of northern Iraq, June 4 / DoD Release: Died June 4 in Kirkuk, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an anti-tank grenade

Spc. Charles D. Parrish 23 04 Jun 2009 5th Engineer Bn, 555th Engineer Brigade, MNC-Iraq Died of injuries received during a grenade attack on a patrol in the Diyala province of northern Iraq, June 4 / DoD Release: Died June 4 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered earlier that day in Jalula, Iraq, when his vehicle was struck by an anti-tank grenade

Lance Cpl. Robert D. Ulmer 22 05 Jun 2009 1st Bn, 8th Marine, II MEF Headquarters Group, II MEF, MNF-West Died as the result of a non-combat related incident June 5 / DoD Release: Died June 5 as a result of a non-hostile incident in Anbar province, Iraq

Staff Sgt. Edmond L. Lo 23 12 Jun 2009 797th Ordnance Company, 79th Ordnance Bn, MNC-I Killed by an IED during combat related operations June 12 / DoD Release: Died June 13 in Samarra City, Iraq, when an IED that his explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team was acting to neutralize detonated

Sgt. Joshua W. Soto 25 16 Jun 2009 1st Bn, 77th Armor, 4th BCT, 1st Armored Division, MND-South Killed by an IED near the city of Samawah June 16 / DoD Release: Died June 16 in Iraq of wounds suffered when an IED detonated near his vehicle

Capt. Kafele H. Sims 32 16 Jun 2009 18th Engineer Brigade, MND-North Died as a result of a non-combat related incident in the Ninewa province of northern Iraq June 16

Spc. Chancellor A. Keesling 25 19 Jun 2009 961st Engineer Company, MNC-Iraq Died as the result of a non-combat related incident June 19 / DoD Release: Died June 19 in Baghdad, Iraq of a non-combat related incident

Originally posted at this link

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gay Heroes - Part Two

To belong or not to belong? That is the question. We all like to have our own individuality – that’s undeniable. Who wants to be exactly like the rest of the crowd? However, there’s something to be said for knowing there are other people out there like you. Being alone, or thinking that you’re alone, can be a paralyzing feeling. That’s why it’s important for us to know that there are others out there like us.

To say that all gay men are flamboyant or that all lesbians are masculine are both unfair statements. Just like heterosexuals come in all “flavors” so do homosexuals. Those stereotypes DO exist, but not exclusively. Sure, Boy George likes to wear more eye liner and mascara then Tammy Faye Baker… but that doesn’t mean I’m inclined to do so as well. And further more, I may not like to wear makeup, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support Boy George and his patronage of MAC Cosmetics – I say more power to him! The point is that he can be himself and he’s not afraid. Whether you’re a boy who likes to wear makeup, a girl who prefers Doc Martins or just your average Joe who happens to like licking windows, it’s good to know there are others out there that will lick windows right along with you. To be able to share this with people who want to share back is incredibly rewarding and comforting. Those are the moments that forge friendships, instill feelings of camaraderie and make us better people in one way or another. The alternative is to hide this inside – to do your best to bury it. I’m not saying that homicidal impulses are healthy necessarily and should be acted upon… but if you’re a boy whose impulse is to look like Mary Kay exploded all over your face, then go for it girlfriend!

Not that Boy George isn’t a good example (because he very much is) but another fabulous example of what I’m talking about it Rosie O’Donnell. She may be loud… she may be VERY direct… and she may also look vaguely like a man on occasion, but she is her own person, like it or not. She may not be exceedingly flamboyant or exceedingly manly, but she’s also a mom and a gay rights advocate. She’s got balance in her life – a great example for other gay and lesbian teens who don’t feel the need to wear high heels or have a Home Depot discount card. Have you ever watched America’s Next Top Model? Tyra Banks’ show has been a veritable treasure trove of gay-out-loud moments. One of the best examples is the constant presence of a fellow judge known only as “Miss Jay.” He is fierce, fabulous and can wear a wig & nails like no other man’s business. Miss Jay isn’t afraid to dress how he wants, with no apologies. Whether he’s dressing as a man today, a woman, or something in the middle he is himself and there is no one else like him (thank God, because there’s barely enough room up there for Tyra’s weave too!).

Another important way of feeling like we belong is to see gay and lesbian issues brought up and dealt with on TV and in movies. Would the world have ended if Golden Girls hadn’t have done an episode on dealing with gay family members? No… but the point is that seeing issues pertaining to our community makes us feel accepted, included and more like members of society as whole instead of disliked outcasts. To this end there have been several primetime shows over the years that have done this to a great extent. More recently we’ve seen the popularity of Will & Grace dominate prime time slots. Will & Grace featured multiple gay characters in main roles. This was new for us, and not only allowed gay teens to see people on TV like themselves but also allowed people who hadn’t had much exposure to gays and lesbians to see that we’re not quite monsters (unless you muss the wig… but I suppose that could be anyone...). In the past the gay community had to be happy accepting programming that may not have had gay characters. However, they did at least portray gay & lesbian people in a fair way and dealt with issues our community had. Two such important shows were Golden Girls and Designing Women. Both shows had the right combination of characters, the sharp wit that our community is known for, and a very fair and respectful way of dealing with our community. In Golden Girls, Rue McClanahan’s character Blanche had a gay, cowboy brother who made several appearances over the years. And in Designing Women, they tackles issues like AIDS, and it’s effect on our community. And if you’re ever looking for an impressive rant from a strong willed woman, Dixie Carter of Designing Women (as her character of Julia) delivered a rant that is now famous in the gay community of Georgia – it’s the famous “Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia” rant. Look it up on YouTube. As you watch it, imagine an ENTIRE bar full of gay men saying this rant/monologue right along with you (some may be dressed as the characters from the show too…).

There are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure there are some gay men who would disagree with me. There are also shows and people that deserve mention here that I haven’t touched on. Sure, there are consequences too all of this, but consequences are part of life. And if you’re not going to be yourself, then who are you going to be? And what long term benefits are you getting out of that? Safety…? Acceptance…? Being someone other than you gets you false safety… and false acceptance based on who you’re pretending to be. It feels good out here… it’s a feeling that most take for granted – getting to be yourself. Come on out… the water is fine!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I am not much on rants. Normally I give and get back, I take and try to be gracious and realize that other people have views, and most are every bit as right or wrong as my view. But...

I heard some kids in the Gamestop or Gamecrazy where my son was spending his money talking about how a certain game was cheap at only 50 dollars new. I am sorry to be sounding, here, like an old fart, I realize things have changed, and I am no longer young, at 45 years old. But you have to understand something when I grew up we read books. And now you can buy books from when I was growing up for half of their cover price, for a dollar or maybe two. You hear me? Exciting mind warping adventures, sexy heroes and babes, guns, swords, magic...

So, for a dollar or three, let us say $2 you could go and get a kick ass story. Yeah you can splurge, by something more expensive, and it would be good too. But here is the thing, the best fiction, the best books remain good. Meanwhile your fifty damn dollar game is done once you unlock the secret mojo. I am not, actually complaining about any video game. Or for that matter, the cost of such. I am not saying one is better than the other. I am saying, if you are comparing things, my imagination runs much better at $1.50 RE Howard fueled, than Halo Wars or some such thing for fifty damn dollars. And if you want to compare fine, I can read 25 books in three weeks for fifty dollars and you can play your one game. And then my brain will be bigger and yours will be animated.

Really, games are great. I am not so old that I don’t get that. But pick up a classic fantasy or speculative fiction book for cheap. Read the hell out of it, and share it. Check out Halfpricebooks.com or a local used book store. Seriously, reading classic stuff makes you smarter and happier. Or at least smarter.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I Dare You to Do Better (or Please Let My Friend Rest in Peace)

My good friend passed away ten years ago, today. I knew my friend for many years. We shared many good times together. We laughed together; we cried together. We battled side-by-side and celebrated arm-in-arm. My friend appealed to my interests and helped me look at them in a different way. My friend and I explored the cosmos together. On this very day, though, in 1999, my friend passed on.

That was the day Star Trek ended.

On June 2, 1999, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s final episode, “What You Leave Behind,” aired, and it signaled the passing of Star Trek. I didn’t realize, that day, that my friend was gone. I was in denial. I clung to the past; I existed there for quite some time.

As the years passed, I slowly began to realize.

In 2005, I visited the “Star Trek Experience” in Las Vegas. That was when it really started to sink in. As I walked through the area the Hilton had set aside for the exhibit, I jokingly made a comment that, even though it was created during Star Trek’s thriving prime in the mid-nineties as an attraction, it was now more a mausoleum of sorts.

In 2006, Christie’s auctioned off Star Trek memorabilia, props and set pieces. Actors and writers who had been a part of Trek’s history came back and said lovely things about my old friend, in the form of a TV special. That was Star Trek’s eulogy. It wasn’t until then that it completely sunk in. My friend had passed away.

It wasn’t a depressing realization. It was more of a pleasant relief. Star Trek had a great life. I still think back fondly and reminisce about the good times. The television episodes and movie that followed Deep Space Nine, I realized, were (with a few exceptions) merely life-support: the artificial tubes and pumps that others used to try to keep my friend alive. They couldn’t let go and, for a while, neither could I. Then, one day, I just did.

Unfortunately, others still could not let go, as I had done. That very same year, development on Star Trek, the eleventh film in the franchise, began. Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and, ultimately, J.J. Abrams were charged with breathing new life into my friend. I was apprehensive about this, because no one from Star Trek’s past – who had proven they understood the franchise – was involved. Ever the optimist, however, I kept an open mind. The finished product was still a long way off.

Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman are always mentioned together because their resumes are identical. Of note, they penned Transformers (2007), in addition to the sequel, due this summer. The former turned out to be shallow and one-dimensional. It is possible that (but unknown if) producer/director Michael Bay may have trumped Kurtzman and Orci and re-wrote a lot of the script, but they never protested. They didn't take their names off the script.

From a financial standpoint, inaction in that case is understandable. Transformers went on to make a lot of money. On the other hand, if one takes into account their resume, it seems they set out to write thin, shallow, juvenile stories in the first place. There is a place for that. It’s not invalid. Perhaps it is more forgivable in a franchise like Transformers.

What isn’t forgivable are the unfulfilled promises. For example, those of us who were little six-year-old boys during the Transformers hey-day were promised a lot of things by Kurtzman and Orci during development of the film, on which they didn't follow through -- chief of which being the classic relationship between Megatron, the leader of the evil Decepticons, and Starscream, his ambitious, delusional, chronically ill-fortuned second-in-command.

Megatron’s and Starscream’s original relationship was one of master and servant, with servant always trying to earn the master’s respect and, failing that, overthrow him, only to be put down at the last moment. It is one of the elements of Transformers (1984) most revered by fans. Kurtzman and Orci promised this relationship would be preserved. Ultimately, the two iconic ‘Cons share one scene together -- a scene which is so brief, it is missed if one blinks.

As if Kurtzman and Orci’s collective resume wasn’t enough, this example strongly suggested that they were incapable of treating a beloved franchise with the respect and dignity it deserves. How could Star Trek fans trust them to handle, properly, a franchise that's even more beloved and venerable, when they've already let down one group of fans? It was at this point that I realized it would be best to continue to let my friend rest in peace, rather than try to resurrect it.

Alas, the mission continued. Kurtzman and Orci wrote the script for this new Star Trek film. J.J. Abrams brought his vision to it by directing and producing. The misguided writers both claimed to be Trek fans (one more so than the other), but Abrams admitted he was not a fan, though he had watched the original Star Trek (1966). The three of them put together a creative team of fans and non-fans alike in an attempt to maintain credibility with the Trek base in the audience and simultaneously attract newcomers.

This notion is the holy grail for “The Powers That Be” which own the rights to the franchise. It has been attempted many times in the past, often alienating fans rather than retaining them. Only once did lightning really strike: Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) became the highest-rated syndicated television program at the time, and held that honor for the better part of a decade after the series ended. That show, and the creative team behind it, was able to create a Star Trek property that retained fans and brought in new blood and somehow still managed to maintain Star Trek’s soul.

What is Star Trek, though? A lot of fans focus on the framework: the ships, visual effects, aliens and even the history of that universe – down to the most miniscule of minutia. All of that is a part of Star Trek, but not the whole. Star Trek, at its best, deals with social issues, inspires the imagination, provokes emotions and may even persuade one to think about something in a way one never had before. Star Trek has always been character-driven. Great changes may have been happening in the universe Star Trek created, but the stories always dealt with how those changes affected the characters. This is what makes up Star Trek’s soul. All of these elements work together. When one is out of balance, the whole thing falls apart.

Most importantly, the majority of the adventures in the seven-hundred-plus hours of Star Trek content were born out of some sort of exploration. That is one of the fundamental elements that the creative team behind the new Star Trek film ignored.

In the film, James Kirk is a young, brash farm-boy who is oozing potential but lacks discipline. Captain Christopher Pike (Kirk’s predecessor as captain of the Enterprise), seeing Kirk’s potential, attempts to convince young Kirk to join Starfleet. As Pike lectures Kirk, he mentions that Starfleet is a “peacekeeping armada.”

Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the true nature of the United Federation of Planets’ Starfleet. While Starfleet vessels are certainly equipped to defend themselves and keep the peace, Starfleet’s primary goal, as an entity, is exploration. This is repeated time and again in countless episodes and is, in fact, stated, clearly, during the opening sequence of both the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation: “…to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

The second fundamental element ignored in Abrams’, Kurtzman’s and Orci’s film is the nature of humanity, itself. In the new film, a ten-year-old Kirk’s stepfather catches little Jimmy stealing his vintage Corvette. The manner in which Kirk’s stepfather speaks to the boy -- the vitriol injected into it and the language used -- is inappropriate in the Star Trek universe. Later, in the bar scene that precedes Kirk’s first conversation with Pike, a bar-brawl ensues that turns ultra-violent with Kirk pinned to a table, repeatedly and brutally punched in the face – by a Starfleet Academy cadet, no less.

These moments, in a film touted as Star Trek, are completely inexcusable. By the twenty-third century, in the Star Trek universe, all human conflict (among other afflictions) has been abolished. It is unclear if that means personal squabbles and similar friction still exist, and the realistic achievement of such a concept is questionable, especially given the current state of our society, but it is a clear element of Star Trek. It may be alien to us, but that is something that makes Star Trek so appealing. It shows humanity how good it could be. Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci missed that point.

So-called “reboots” allow movie makers to change and update elements of an original story, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were able to successfully do so with Battlestar Galactica (2003). Good reboots, though, always maintain the core essence of its predecessor. Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci seem to have ignored Star Trek’s core essence. They might as well have put a gun in Batman’s hand or written James Bond into a committed relationship with Moneypenny. Making those sorts of changes would change the very essence of the final product, and it could no longer be called Batman, or James Bond, or Star Trek.

Another important element in the essence of Star Trek is in the details. The intellectual challenge, the emotional provocation and character development make up the “meat and potatoes” of a good Star Trek “meal.” Clearly, though, a good dessert completes a good meal. Star Trek’s “dessert” is in its mythology and technology. Throughout forty years of stories, quite a bit has been established about the history of the universe and the technology.

Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci tried to “update” the technology in the Star Trek universe, particularly because the production values of the original Star Trek series were considered sub-par since it was filmed over forty years ago. Most of this effort was relatively successful. There were a few irksome points. The size of Abrams’ Enterprise is three times larger than its counterpart of forty years ago and really doesn’t need to be. The visual effects chosen to portray warp speed seemed to feel more like Star Wars’ hyperspace.

Adding to the irksomeness was the use of stardates. A stardate, in the Star Trek universe, is simply that: the date. During the original series, there was no rhyme or reason to them, other than to sound “futuristic.” Once Star Trek: The Next Generation aired, stardates had a loose structure to them, which carried through its successors. The important thing, though, was the stardate was not the actual year in the Gregorian calendar; it was a separate number (although the Gregorian year was used quite often, in tandem). In the newest Star Trek film, when the stardate is mentioned, it is actually the Gregorian year.

None of these minor points doom the film, but they all add up, with everything else, to pull this film further away from the essence of its source.

Other technical flaws involve the timeline of the Star Trek universe itself. It’s been stated that, early on, Kurtzman and Orci employed time-travel – a ubiquitous plot device in Star Trek – in their story to freely add elements they wanted in the film. In so doing, they created an alternate timeline in which they could do, essentially, whatever they wanted. Given the Trek stories that have been told over the years, rebooting in this fashion might be considered quite apropos, but this misguided team took it one step too far.

These days, multi-media tie-ins are a staple of films. For Star Trek, a four-issue comic mini-series was written. The comics were written by Mike Johnson and Tim Jones, but Kurtzman and Orci wrote the story. Most of the details are inconsequential, but it is supposed to set up the villain’s motivation in the new Star Trek film, as well as explain why an older Spock (reprised by Leonard Nimoy) appears in this alternate universe reboot.

The comic story accomplishes what it set out to achieve, albeit in a ham-handed way. What it also does, though, is fundamentally alter elements of the universe Star Trek fans already know – before any proof has been offered that the people involved in these projects are capable of treating the franchise with the respect it deserves. Main characters are killed, for no reason. Other characters were brought back to life, after being killed in previous stories, with little explanation. The entire Romulan Star Empire, major villains throughout all of Star Trek, and occupants of a rather large swath of real estate in the galaxy are completely wiped out for the sake of a plot device.

This establishes the motivation for the villain -- pure, unadulterated revenge -- but that motivation is very one-dimensional, unfocused and, frankly, insulting to the audience’s intelligence. As if to pour salt in the wound, this story left the continuation of the Star Trek universe that fans knew and loved in tatters – never to be visited again by film or television.

In spite of everything Kurtzman, Orci and Abrams got wrong, they did get some things right. Kurtzman and Orci took great care to portray the conflict between Spock’s Vulcan half and human half.

Vulcans, once upon a time, were very emotional people. At one point, that society embraced logic and learned to control their emotions. It is necessary, however, for all Vulcans to go through this same process as they grow up. It has been suggested that Spock, being half human, would have had extra difficulty mastering his emotions than other Vulcans.

When we first met him, forty years ago, he had already mastered his emotions. We never saw the process by which he accomplished such a feat. Kurtzman and Orci laid the groundwork for this process (though the speed at which they traveled through the process may leave some wanting) in the new film. It was the actor portaying Spock, Zachary Quinto, who made it work, though. He mastered Spock’s cold, logical side, added that raw, sometimes violent Vulcan emotion -- that has only been hinted at, in the past –- and, at the same time, showed the struggle of the two, sometimes in nothing more than a glance.

Another diamond in the rough was Captain Christopher Pike, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood. Pike appeared in the original series, forty years ago, and it was suggested that he and Kirk were relatively close. Spock definitely had a past with Pike: he served with him on the Enterprise for seventeen years before Kirk assumed command (in the original timeline, that is). Pike was written as a father figure for Kirk, recognizing his potential and attempting to nudge him in the right direction.

Kurtzman and Orci missed a great opportunity, though, to use Pike as the catalyst to jumpstart Kirk’s and Spock’s relationship. In the film, there is much friction between the two young officers throughout most of the film. Pike is kidnapped by the villain, midway through the film, and remains on the enemy vessel for much of the rest of the story, where he misses all opportunity to nudge Kirk and Spock together, perhaps realizing their strength as a team, much as he recognized Kirk’s raw potential. This task ultimately fell upon an older Spock, from the original timeline, a move that sacrificed storytelling for novelty.

If this new version of the franchise is going to continue (and if box office receipts are any indication, it will), Abrams and company would be wise to focus on these strengths (and hopefully correct the mistakes they made). It will prove difficult, though, as the story safely removes Pike from prominence and puts Kirk in the spotlight. This was its intent, so, next time, it might be wise to focus on the fact that Kirk and Spock work best together and that the rest of their team is ultimately what makes them the best.

It might be best for this creative team to look beyond the original Star Trek for inspiration – not for story ideas, but for tone, maturity and integrity. There are hundreds of hours of what can be considered good Star Trek. We all like dessert, yes, but perhaps Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci can look to other iterations of Star Trek to find more of the meat and potatoes.

The new Star Trek creative team did look to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) for inspiration and it’s, at times, very apparent. They could have drawn upon Khan’s greatest strength for a major piece of their film, though. In Wrath of Khan, a villain from Kirk’s past (and seen in an episode of the series), Khan Noonien Singh, comes back, seeking revenge.

It sounds familiar, but Khan’s need for revenge came from the fact that Kirk marooned Khan and his followers on a planet after his failed attempt to take over the Enterprise. Another planet in that system exploded between the point Khan was marooned there and when we next see him in the film, causing the environment to change on Khan’s new prison. He suffers hardship and loses some of his followers (including his wife). Khan blames Kirk for this and sets out to make Kirk suffer as much as he has.

Khan’s motivation in Khan is simply revenge, but there’s a personal connection between Khan and Kirk that makes it compelling. Kirk did these things to Khan and now Khan wants him to suffer. It’s personal, laser-focused and brutal. In the new Star Trek, the villain, Nero, is simply angry with all of the Federation. There is no personal connection. There is no focus. An attempt is made to make it personal, as Nero also blames older Spock from the original timeline, but there is never any interaction between the two on screen.

It’s clear that Star Trek and time-travel are forever intertwined, and Kurtzman and Orci were quick to jump on this plot device to suit their purposes. While it has been handled poorly, there are also very good examples of how to do it well. In Star Trek: The Next Generation’s season three episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the USS Enterprise-C travels through time by way of a rift and meets Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D, changing the time line. The Enterprise-C was instrumental in the peace process between the Federation and the Klingons. Since it was pulled through the rift, it never played a role in that process, and a war ensued with the Klingons.

Only Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) knew something was off, and once Picard finally listened to her, both Enterprises were able to put it right. There was a twist, though. The altered timeline also prevented the death of an Enterprise-D crewmember, Tasha Yar (played by Denise Crosby). She ended up on the Enterprise-C when the timelines were corrected, the ramifications of which were dealt with in other stories. Not only does this episode deal with time travel in a creative manner, it also reiterates the Federation’s (and by extension, Star Trek’s) credo: exploration – not war.

Star Trek has also dealt with inner conflict before. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, possibly the most under-appreciated of all the Star Trek iterations, dealt with inner conflict quite often. The best example of this was the sixth season episode “…In the Pale Moonlight.” By this point in the series, the Federation is embroiled in a brutal and bloody war with an enemy called the Dominion (a story arc that could be discussed in essays ad nauseum). At this stage of the war, the Federation is suffering greatly and Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), commander of Deep Space Nine, feels responsible for starting the war that led to all of this bloodshed (he and his crew were the first to meet the Dominion).

In the episode, Sisko realizes that the only way to win the war now is to bring the Romulans into the fight. At the time, though, there was no actual means to do so. He turns to Garak (Andrew J. Robinson), a former secret agent of the Cardassians (who also happen to be part of the Dominion, at this point), to try to find evidence that the Dominion will betray the Romulans. After none can be found, Garak suggests that they manufacture the evidence and Sisko has to balance his Starfleet morals against his desire to cease the bloodshed. He follows a dark path but comes out the other side ultimately believing that saving lives is worth sacrificing his self-respect.

All of these are examples of how elements in the new Star Trek film have been executed well, in the past, maintaining the essence of Star Trek. Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci missed the mark. Maybe not by as much as first thought, but they missed it by enough to be extremely noticeable. The whole film plays out like two people talking about Star Trek who haven't seen any of it for years. It's close, but they get some things wrong because they don't remember or never saw it.

Too much focus was put on action and explosions and empty pandering and not enough on the emotion or the challenges to one's way of thinking or interaction between the characters. Star Trek isn't any of these things exclusively; it's a combination of all of them. It just seems like those involved in this film do not understand that. They want to give us dessert, but we need the meat and potatoes, too.

With a producer/director who seems to have ignored fundamental elements of the franchise, in one hand, and a pair of writers who have, together, now proven that they do not understand the franchises for which they write, in the other hand, all fans are left with are two handfuls of mistreated American pop-culture. Star Trek deserves better.

I think they should have just let my friend rest in peace.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gay Heroes - Part One

Everyone needs someone to look up to. No matter who you are, what you’re like and what you do, everyone can benefit from having a hero. Sometimes these people disappoint us, but they’re human too – just like we are. Some heroes are so great that you respect them for simply how they live their life. Other heroes are selfless – willing to give all for something or someone other then themselves. Maybe our hero is an incredible business person, has bravery beyond compare, or maybe they just inspire us to live our lives a little bit better. Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, colors and sexual orientations.

For quite awhile the gay community lacked a good focal point to hold up to the standards of "hero." I’m lucky in some ways as being a 26 year old game man in 2009. I have gay men and women I can look up to. Men and women who live life to the fullest, strive for equality, continue to give back to communities who doesn’t always accept them and still manage to have dignity and grace in times of trouble. This wasn’t always the case though. I know the generation that came before me didn’t have such heroes. Yet they suffered just as much, and more, and still survived the best they could. I think this is what makes them heroes to guys and gals like me.

To "come out of the closet" can be a decision more harrowing then anything else some people will experience. Will people accept me? Will my family still love me? Will I still have a job? I know these sound like silly or strange questions, but to gay men and women across the world, this is reality. So for someone in the spot light like Elton John to come out of the closet in the 1980’s was completely unheard of. But that didn’t stop him. He wasn’t going to hide who he was anymore. So in 1988 he told the world who he was, and they’d just have to deal with it. He may have had problems with drugs and alcohol along the way, but he set and example for the rest of us. He paved the way for Ellen DeGeneres to come out in 1997 as well. Ellen came out at a time that I could identify as a gay adolescent. I will never forget seeing that cover of Time Magazine, and almost being moved to tears. At that point I couldn’t have IMAGINED coming out to family, let alone everyone in my life. Yet Ellen had done it – and done it with style despite what it could mean to her career. These days it’s not quite as big a deal for the media, but that doesn’t make it any less important for today’s gay adolescents.

Without a clear role model, or at least someone to identify with, gay adolescents can easily become depressed. How will mom and dad react? Because as often as we hear positive stories about supportive parents, every gay teen hears quite a few stories about NOT so accepting parents. The lucky ones will just get ostracized from the family. Others will get physically and mentally abused. Some even get disowned all together. The same can be said for friends, employers and co-workers. It can be very easy to suddenly see this "thing" inside you as a cancer that you don’t want to spread. When in reality what these teens have inside is a song – a beautiful melody that may not be very strong at first… but after being assured and loved, will one day be a beautiful song.