Roddenberry

JANUARY 4, 2009Public Memorial Service for the Late “First Lady of Star Trek” Majel Barrett Roddenberry

Cast Members and Fans Come Out to Celebrate and Remember Roddenberry’s Life

WHO:
Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, son of Gene & Majel Roddenberry and CEO of Roddenberry Productions, will host cast members, family, friends and fans to celebrate the life of his late mother. Fans are invited to come and pay their respects with the family and share their fondest memories of the late Trek icon.

WHAT:
Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry will hold a public memorial service for his late mother. Family, cast members, friends and fans will have an opportunity to remember the legendary “First Lady of Star Trek.” Fans are encouraged to share their favorite memory of Majel from her numerous roles in Star Trek. Expected to attend include members of Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and many others.

WHERE:
Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills
6300 Forest Lawn Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90068

WHEN:
Sunday, January 4, 2009
9:00 a.m. Press Check-in
10:00 a.m. Memorial to start

CONTACT:
Sean Rossall
BWR Public Relations
310.210.7586
srossall@bwr-la.com

The above is the public announcement from BWR Public Relations.

This is not new news that Majel Barret Roddenberry passed away recently after fighting Leukemia.  Like other icons of my youth, the original Star Trek cast and crew are passing on.  We have a new movie about to premier and after four decades of it, Star Trek has gone from movement to myth to parody to cliche and back again.

I liked the idea of Number One, the original “emotionless” crew member of the Enterprise Majel Barret played in the first pilot, The Cage.  (I thought she looked better as a brunette, too.)  I would have liked to see that.  Television history says the studio told Roddenberry to get rid of her because they couldn’t buy the idea of a woman being second in command of a starship.  Perhaps some of them felt it was too close to home, where undoubtedly many of them found themselves in marriages with women who were not only second in command, but often in charge in fact if not name.  But I don’t buy that story.  The studio after all was DesiLu, which was run by a woman (Lucille Ball) who would very well have known better.  Maybe even she decided that the general public wouldn’t buy it, but I would have bet she’d have taken the chance to try it, especially on a “sci-fi show” that no one was supposed to take seriously anyway.

No, what I believe is that no one could buy the idea of an emotionally in-control, intellectually oriented woman who was suppsoed to have more brains than even the captain.  That I believe the studio execs might have balked at.  Maybe if Gene had suggested that she had a thing for the captain, he could have sold it.

But that would have been a cop-out.

Below is an essay I wrote about Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the wake of Gene’s death.  I believe it bears repeating, if for no other reason than Majel was integral to the ultimate success of what he started.

The world can be a very off-putting place, especially to a kid who can’t seem to catch on to the rules.  Rules are very important.  We’re impressed with that fact from infancy.  If you don’t follow the rules, bad things happen.  If you can’t because you don’t know what they are…well, as the saying goes, ignorance is no excuse: bad things happen.  Not only that, but it’s all your fault.  Something is wrong with you.  Everybody else seems to know the rules, why don’t you?

For that kid—and there are many more such kids than we’re willing to admit—the world is a baffling, often malignant place.  Sometimes stepping outside of it is the only way to start to make sense of it.  Science fiction is very good at enabling that process.  Through the medium of extrapolatory fictions, future worlds, alien vistas, and an implicit faith that things ought to and can make sense, this world can be made less confusing, brought into some perspective that eluded us before, enabling us to cope a little bit better.

Gene Roddenberry was one of the most visible practitioners of this process.  For millions of kids—of all ages, 3 to 83—he was a sensible voice speaking in the midst of chaos.  Now that he is gone we wait to see if his voice will continue its patient plea for reason and optimism, whether he meant anything more than a source of entertainment for the masses and profits for the corporations.

Millions of words have by now been written about Star Trek—what it is, how it evolved, why it works.  The attention it has elicited seems disproportionate for “mere” entertainment.  What was it, after all, but a clever revamping of television westerns in a science fiction guise?  The Frontier (the final one, we are told), the Federation (law and order), and the marshal and his deputies (Kirk, Spock, McCoy).  What was the big deal?  There were other sf series that never came close to having the impact Star Trek did.  We had Lost In Space, Time Tunnel, Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, The Invaders—many of them had longer runs than Star Trek, but not one of them produced the cultural impact Roddenberry’s little “wagon train to the stars” achieved.  Why?

Among the thousands of different reasons, all of which came together in the years since the series aired, there are a few important ones, reasons without which the show would have been just another sci-fi series, like all the rest, assigned to the trash heap of discarded images from our pasts.
Roddenberry designed his show for adults.  Regardless how individual episodes came across, there was an underlying maturity to the concept that came across even through the most turgidly asinine scripts.  If there is any proof to this, look at the success of the new series.  The basic architecture Roddenberry cobbled together originally has not changed, yet it still supports itself admirably.  In fact it works better in support of the more intellectual scripts.  It worked in the original series, it worked in the films, and it is working in the new show.  None of the other television SF shows were so designed.  All of them were fairly standard Hollywood concepts that targeted the seven year old, even though disguised in formats apparently for adults.  The kids weren’t fooled and the adult audiences, while entertained, found nothing of lasting value.  Star Trek was designed to appeal to the adult in all of us, and Roddenberry did not underestimate the intellect of his audience —of any age.

The universe of Star Trek is a functioning model.  You watch the show, you know without being told that somewhere people are getting up, going to work, building homes, carrying on their lives, all in a world that hangs together with the same kind of cohesion as the one we inhabit.  This is art.  This is a level of communication hard to achieve even in shows set in the here and now.  As a result, the series might well have been set anywhere in the Federation, on any ship, on a station, a world, with any array of characters, and it would have worked.  Watching, you knew that.  Kirk, Spock, and McCoy did not comprise the universe of Star Trek, they inhabited it.  Compare that to any of the other sci-fi offerings of Hollywood.  The characters comprised the universe, laws unto themselves, with no connection to a larger universe.  Oh, perhaps a line or two referring to such a universe, but all sense of casuistry was utterly ignored.  Such series offered escapism without rationale, with nothing to believe in.  Empty.

Which leads to one of the most significant aspects of the phenomenon.  One of the hallmarks of a truly fine work of art, especially literature and by extension drama, is its ability to take us out of ourselves and transport us elsewhere in such a way that, while we’re on the ride, we do not question the mode of travel.  This is the escapist quality of stories.  Great art does this without severing the connection with the given world.  In fact great art gives us a new perspective to bring back to this world when we’ve finished the ride.  It enables us to see our world in a way we had not or could not before.  The best science fiction does this in a marvelously unique way.  Star Trek does this.  It is this that sets it apart.

I will not argue that any one episode of Star Trek is great art, although a few might be so described.  Several are quite definitely pretty shoddy.  But as a body of work it achieves the status of great art.

None of this was particularly meaningful to me as a boy watching the first voyages of the Enterprise.  I was eleven when the show premiered.  I had an interest in science fiction, but not a passion.  I was as much enamored of cowboys and soldiers as of spacemen.  I liked the collection of sf series then available, but I also liked the westerns and a couple of police shows and the war series.  I was also a boy scout, I took music lessons, and had various other interests.

I was also one of those kids who had an inordinate amount of difficulty making sense of the world around me.  I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t function well within my peer group.  I suppose you might have described me as awkward.  That’s the term used most often about adolescents who, because of hormonal changes and the subsequent shift of social expectations, clumsily stagger through high school to early adulthood.  But there are many who are awkward because they just don’t know what is expected.  They watch those around them and see the ones who learn the rules and acquire the enviable ability to integrate with their social circle with little or no clumsiness and pain and wonder what secret formula is involved, what set of passwords one evokes, and where to go to learn this arcane data.  They have difficulty socializing.  Some manage anyway, eventually achieving an adeptness at it even though they may not quite understand what is actually going on.  Others never quite get the hang of it, but as they grows up it becomes less and less an issue.  Some never fit in.  During these awkward periods, most of them are loners.  I was one of those.

I didn’t like sports.  I didn’t understand much about cars.  In 1967 I didn’t care much for pop music, including the Beatles.  I had trouble talking to other boys my age, it was impossible to talk to girls.  As a result my social interactions were limited and progressively more difficult to understand.  I also didn’t like school, although I was a bookworm.  While I had friends, they were not close and they as often regarded me as alien, the way I regarded them.
To me this was normal.  Confusion was just something you lived with.  Nothing made sense.  It is very difficult to convey the impact something like Star Trek had on someone like me.  I know I had trouble explaining it to anyone.  But Star Trek took hold of my imagination immediately.  Here was a world that made sense.  Things happened here for reasons and the reasons were discoverable and understandable.  It didn’t matter that it was a fantasy, it was the process that was important.  Star Trek ultimately taught me that the world has a rationale.

No big surprise, that conclusion.  But I wasn’t learning it from any other source, not in a way that made any difference.  Not in a way that suggested the future would be better.

And for many people the entire phenomenon must have appeared utterly bizarre.  I know in my case my father never quite understood.  After one season he had a son who was, for all appearances, a cult convert to a tv show.  I was one of those who went door to door in ’68 with a petition to NBC to forestall its cancellation.  I couldn’t explain it to him any better than I could explain it to my peers.  I didn’t understand it myself.

When Star Trek was cancelled I was in high school.  Other things vied for my attention and Star Trek took a back seat to the balance of my adolescence.
Except…

I went to one of the first Trek conventions in St. Louis.  It wasn’t like the present day ones.  It was a few hours in an auditorium listening to Roddenberry and George Takei speak about the show and about the future and an airing of the uncut pilot, The Cage.  I remember Roddenberry telling us that we were impatient for the future, that we were ready for the 23rd Century Now.  I felt that was true.

When the rumors of a film began circulating I tried my hand at a script.  It even went off in the mail.  I never heard back, but I didn’t know how such things worked then.

When the first movie did come out I stood in line in the cold to see it.
My own writing, while not in the Star Trek mold, has certainly been influenced by it.  I think I would have become a science fiction writer anyway, but probably not the same sort.  Because Roddenberry had done such a good job constructing his universe (stealing from the best), Star Trek taught me some very basic concepts of interconnectedness, taught in a way that provided a key to the understanding of how fiction works as examination of the human condition.

In terms of understanding how the world works, well…I still don’t understand it.  But that’s all right now.  I understand why I don’t, and that’s enough to be at peace with myself at least.  I understand more than I did and I credit the difference in perspective sf provides with enabling me to understand and providing me the tool—my writing—to keep exploring.  Star Trek, as a world, as a concept, as a way of hoping and dreaming and planning, gave me that.
That’s a hell of a gift to give someone.

It seems hard to believe sometimes that the original Star Trek was canceled because it simply didn’t have the ratings.  Yes, the networks killed it.  In these days of cable and Tivo, it’s hard to realize how important time slots were back then.  When they moved the series from Thursday night to Friday night, it was a deathknell.  You couldn’t time-shift your viewing then.  Friday nights, everyone knew, were the nights most people went out to dinner or movies or nightclubs or anywhere.  Friday nights were for dating, not watching SF on tv.

So the year ends with another tall ship being set to sail out into the bay, to be torched from arrows shot by those left behind, a Viking funeral at least in imagination for one of those who gave us a future to believe in.  Over the top?  Maybe.  But we build the worlds we dream.  We should have good dreams.  Majel Barret Roddenberry gave us some.

Daryl Gregory

Hey, it seems that a buddy of mine is going to have an interview in January’s Locus Magazine.

Daryl Gregory.

We attended Clarion together, lo some 20 years ago, and Daryl was one of the ones I thought would catapult to the top of the field.  He has the gift, the ability to rivet the reader, and get under your skin.  I highly recommend his first novel, Pandemonium —first-rate stuff, keeps you thinking.  Damned impressive first novel.

Daryl took many years off to raise his kids, but a few years ago I noticed his short stories appearing here and there.  Now the novel.  High Fives and kudoes to Daryl.  I wish him well in the coming year.

Myself, I’m contemplating going back into photography in a serious way.  I just photoshopped my first image here at home.  Not much, not a lot of sophisticated stuff, just cleaning up and a little contrast control and such.  With a little outlay for new equipment I suppose I could get back into it.  Maybe.

Koan

A note I jotted to myself sometime in the past.  I don’t recall the circumstances, but the question posed feels universal.

The spiritualists cringe and argue against any description of self-conscious life as mechanism, that any mere machine is necessarily only an accumulation of parts and processes that can never rise above its own origins.  They offer in its place a description that makes of us a vessel to contain an essential self that is gifted from without, a near complete something that a priori transcends the mechanistic.  From where?  Choose your own myth of origin.  But they all presume a Maker.  The question must then be put—what separates the divinely made from the “naturally” made or, later, the self-made?  Are they not in the end all simply made things and as such all mechanisms?

Chapter the Next

Yesterday, I stayed home from work again.  Nothing to do.  In a way, I like this.  I’d go on contract with the company if I could, go in only when there was actually something to do.  But it’s not that much money, so it’s a quandary.

On the other hand, I finished a chapter in a book that’s been teasing me for a couple of years.  I’d walked away form it to write something else, and I’ve been finding it difficult to go back.  I have a lot written—almost a third of it, at least—and I’m loathe to just give up on it, but with one thing or another I just haven’t been able to get any forward momentum.

Till yesterday.  So this morning I’m taking a stab at the Next Chapter.  And if that flows, if the words come, if the story proceeds, well…

Couple of things.  I posted a new piece over on Dangerous Intersection about one of my pet peaves with the Culture At Large.  Premature though it is, some folks are declaring that Intelligent Design as a movement is dead on University campuses.  Follow the links.

I pulled out an old piece of vinyl this morning to listen to, Todd Rundgren’s Initiation, which has some appropriately irreverant material on it—Eastern Intrigue, Initiation, A Treatise On Cosmic Fire—and a lot of good, solid rock’n’roll.

I’m going into work early this morning, just to wrap it up for the next four days.  I’m now looking forward to doing some actual fiction writing.  Maybe confession is good for the soul—or at least the creative muscle.

Have a good Christmas.

Procrastination

The end of 2008 approaches.  2009 is going to be…

Not more of the same, I sincerely hope.  Mea culpa, I am procrastinating.  I watch myself do it.  I’m doing it now.  I’m writing this instead of hammering out the classic fiction of the future.

I have tio admit, since the beginning of December I have been more and more depressed, which is a horrible, downward spiral, the likes of which I haven’t felt since I broke up with a woman I thought was going to be my wife, a long long time ago.  I was a mere 24 then, contemplated ending it all, took a lot of long walks, and came out the other end determined to do better.  A few months later I met Donna and the last 28 years have been a terrific ride with a wonderful companion.

So I know by experience that things turn around and get better.  It’s cyclic.

But you do have to do something to encourage the process, like maybe some real work.

I have been working, but it’s all peripheral stuff.  Procrastination.  A lot of it will end up being useful, I have a limited range of things I do while I procrastinate.

I have three novels I want to write in the next couple of years.  Two of them will be sequels, so writing them would be an act of faith that the first volumes to which they are connected will be published.  I just don’t know by whom.

I finally got a decent scanner, so I can start playing with Photoshop the way I’ve been intending for lo these many years.  (I’ve had Photoshop 7.0 on my system for some time now and once in a while I open it up and gaze at it…)

There is a model kit under my workbench I’ve had for several years now that I want to build.

I went to the Christmas coffeehouse last weekend, something I usually can’t do because there is an annual party we attend that always falls on the same night.  Well.  As you might guess, it was all—ALL—Christmas music, which I have a childish affection for.  But I ended up playing poorly, mainly due to a lack of practice, and, in myown ears at least, I muffed it.

I’ve fallen into a holding pattern, waiting for the world to change.  I know better.

So after I finish this post, I’m going to say a word or two on my MySapce blog, then turn my back on the internet for a few days.  I need to find a groove in my writing.  I need to stop feeling like a failure.

December is traditionally the month during which all publishing seems to disappear.  Editors are not to be found, switchboards are put on automatic, no one does anything much to speak of.  So when December 1st rolled around with no news, I sort of collapsed.  Expectations were once again not met.  I have to wait.  I am not a patient man.  I’ve never been good at waiting.  (I’ve walked away from grocery carts when it took too long to get through the line.)  It took hold for a bit.  Still does.  It’s bloody cold, the sky is grey, and I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next few months.

But I have responsibilities.  O have Center for the Book paperwork that needs tending.  I have to prepare a package by April for the transition of the presidency to someone else.  I need to walk the dog.

Mostly I have to stop acting like I’ve been defeated.  That’s hard.  But easier than watching everything else melt down and drift away.

Anyway, I’m going to fiddle around with getting a new version of WordPress so I can start uploading videos and the like.  I tend to learn a given level of software and then, because I don’t like constantly stepping outside my comfort zone, stick with it long past the time when everyone else has moved on to the new and improved.

I’m posting it here.  Mark this.  I’m not going to proscratinate anymore.  Really.  I mean it.  Cross my heart.  See if I don’t.  I’m going now.  Bye.  For now.  Till later.

Oh, hell.

Seekers and Sowhats

I don’t keep abreast of new television very well.  I’ve drifted into a mental space wherein I’m dimly aware of new things.  I hear about them on the radio or from friends or occasionally I see a notice on a website.  But I’ve long since lost the habit of keeping track.

So when I started hearing about this new fantasy show, Legend of the Seeker, it seems that it was already airing and I’d heard nothing about it beforehand.  I didn’t get much in the way detail from anyone, other than short recommendations (“Oh, you should see it, it’s good!”) or facial expressions that were difficult to interpret.

Normally, as I’ve said before, I can watch fantasy.  Movies and television, whatever, I can sit for an hour or two and suspend my disbelief, and just go with it.  I have a very difficult time reading fantasy.  My idea of really good fantasy is basically material that, if it had a more rigorous grounding in the plausible, would be science fiction, but doesn’t make the cut.  I liked the fantasy of The Twilight Zone (both the original series and the 80s remake).  Ray Bradbury comes to mind as a fantasist I can read.  Or Harlan Ellison.  Occasionally Ursula LeGuin.

In terms of epic, sword & sorcery, thud and blunder stuff, I have no patience.  I very much enjoyed Delany’s Neveryona books, but they were more anti-fantasy.  As was, in its way, China Mieville’s excellent Perdido Street Station.  I enjoyed Hal Duncan’s Vellum though I haven’t yet gone out of my way to read the sequel.  I look at my book shelf and see very little in the way of that sort of fantasy.  Mary Gentle’s terrific Ash saga, Avram Davidson’s Phoenix and the Mirror, Jack Vance’s Lyonesse…

It’s a short and elite list.  I receive this sort of stuff in the mail now to review and I give them a few pages.  You can see it pretty quickly, certain conventions of language and character, setting and conceit, that work their way between the cracks of the words to say “here there be no sense or reason, only action and portent.”

As I say, usually I can watch these sorts of things and just go with it.

I watched most of the premier episode of Legend of the Seeker last week online.  (I can do that now that I have dsl!  It’s cool!)

I say I watched most of the premier.  Did not finish.  Too much predictability.  Too much of it based on stupidity.

Let me just take the opening sequence, which is a chase.  We begin in media res with two women fleeing on horseback.  They are not exactly dressed for this, the one wearing a screamingly white gown that billows around her.  This gown is also a swoop neck affair that shows off her chest quite nicely.  Bridget Regan, playing the part of Kahlin, is nothing if not fetching.  More on that later.  I can forgive the wardrobe malfunction under the assumption that they didn’t have time to change clothes—at least until later, when they tell the story of the fall of their order, and you get the distinct notion that there was time not only to change clothes, but to make a better escape, one less fraught with the possibility of imminent capture.

But back to the chase.  Here are these two women—witches of sorts we learn later, but it is implied by their dress and demeanor—who weigh in at about 115 to 125 pounds, riding two fairly good-size horses.  They are being chased by four men in full medieval-style armor.  Assuming they are the best available, they’ll weigh in between 180 and 220.  Add 30 lbs of armor, a bit more if you include the swords and knives.  Their horses are no bigger.

But they’re catching up.  There’s a sequence of a bowman shooting from horseback at the two women.  Not a bad shot either, but at full gallop any accuracy would be pure luck.  Nevertheless, he hits one square in the back.

The wounded one tries to continue, but ends up falling off her horse, rolling down a hill to a stream bed, there to die after the other one—her sister—abandons her horse to minister to her.  The death scene takes a couple of minutes.  A secret book must be gotten to somewhere else.  Leave me, sister, I’m done for.

Meantime, the four soldiers, who weren’t that damn far behind—close enough, in fact, to hit one of these women with a bow shot—are nowhere to be seen.  Finally they appear at the top of the hill.  Pausing to watch.

Convinced to continue on, the surviving sister picks herself and runs.  And the four men on horseback, who had been catching up, can’t catch her now.

At this point I’m thinking, “oh, this isn’t good.”  Not about Kahlin’s plight, but about the story itself.  This is idiot plotting.

But Kahlin’s an eyefull and worth watching.

There’s a barrier, a mystical field of energy, which Kahlin manages to open with some magic.  She enters the rift and escapes her pursuers.  Who then sit and argue about whether or not to pursue, and then decide to.  Meanwhile this barrier has obligingly remained open, waiting for them to finish their ruminations, and as soon as they enter, it closes up.

How come it didn’t close up immediately after Kahlin entered?

Well, if that happened, then the rest of the show could not proceed along it’s absurd path.

We come now to the Seeker, who is a young fellow who doesn’t even know he’s special.  He was brought as an infant into this country to be raised by a good man and his wife, who had no children then, if the tangled thread of his origin story is to be understood.  They vowed to do their best.

They then had another son, who ends up being the guy in charge of the land.  But while dad tells this son that his brother isn’t really his brother, he doesn’t tell him anything else.

Huh?  Why tell the kid anything?  That would guarantee, of course, that sibling in charge couldn’t be tricked into thinking his brother (not) is evil and to be hunted down in league with the men who had been chasing the witch.  Who has come to find the adopted kid, of course, and the wizard who’d brought him here.

These people act like idiots in very specific and annoying ways.  The action carries the story as long as you don’t think too hard about any of this, but since motivation all hinges on what all these people know or don’t know, it becomes difficult to understand why they did or do what they did or do.  Simple things, like KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT ABOUT THE KID, HE’S IMPORTANT AND SOME BAD MEN WANT TO KILL HIM.

But furthermore, the faithful brother, who ostensibly grew up with this orphan as a brother, turns on him without too much deliberation on the word of a stranger who had come to this land from somewhere it should have been impossible to come from.  Because of the barrier, you see.  Familial feeling, presented as solid in the one instance, decays almost instantly.  Now the circumstances would seem sufficient, but given all the other idiocies to this point…

I said I would come back to the scoopneck gown.  Yes, yes.  Bridget Regan…she’s the stuff of fantasies (sexual in this case, at least in my case), a real beauty, fiery eyes, graceful, fine skin…and a nice bosom.  Would be a shame to hide that bosom.

Sp when everyone who is supposed to be hooked up for the quest finally is, it’s determined that she needs different clothes.  That white gown would stick out like a bonfire under the right conditions.  Better she wear something that would blend with the forest.  We’re in Robin Hood territory now.  So a friend takes them to his home and they get kitted out.  The wife makes an outfit for Kahlin.  She comes out to show it off.  Very woodlandy, now, long sleeves, leather, green and brown—with a scoopneck front, depending from shoulder tip to shoulder tip.

Everyone else, mail or female, is pretty much covered up to the chin.  Not Kahlin.  Can’t hide that cleavage, now, can we?

At this point I turned it off.  I was turned off.  The Seeker acts like a dunce—he’s been told nothing, but that doesn’t forgive his lack of any common sense.  The wizard doesn’t really want to be bothered with all this and thought he’d ducked it by coming to this land on this side of the barrier.  Silly wizard, he knew all about Destiny, which is what the Seeker is caught up in, and should know better.  Things catch up.  And they do.

There are any number of minor quibbles up to this point, but the major one I have is the rather unsubtle co-option of the religious subtext into a second-rate fantasy plotline.

The Seeker is Richard Cypher.  How clever.  A cypher, a code, as if we didn’t realize that this was pure allegory.  The code here, of course, is that poor Dick is Jesus.  Look at the plotline.  The evil lord Darken-Rahl took over the land where Cypher was born and, because of the prophecy that the Seeker would find him and kill him, he orders every firstborn male child slaughtered.  Jesus/Moses/Richard escapes, grows to manhood, and has to come back to fulfill the prophecy.  He’s the chosen one, the one who can read the cryptic language in the Book of Lost Shadows (cryptic = code = cypher) and can weild the sword of power (of course you knew there’s be a special sword).  Swords are always good stand-ins for the Cross, of course.

Richard’s brother is Michael.  I predict at some point in the series Michael will become Richard’s lieutenant—the archangel, avenger, etc.

Kahlin…intriguing spelling for a name whose roots are apparently from Catherine, which means “pure.”  Hence the white gown?  Her title is Confessor.  Well.  And the men who confess to her fall in love with her.  I’m seeing by circuitous paths a road to Mary here.  Mary Magdalene or the Virgin?  Does it matter?  When she touches a man she is able to make him do her bidding.  (I’m thinking, because of the nature of the effect of her Confessor role, she’s more Magdalene than Mom, but I doubt they’ll push it much past the platonic.)

It gets thicker, of course, but the bottom line is that whole Seeker saga is loosely based on Christian mythology.  No surprise, a lot of fantasy is.  But, as is also the case in much fantasy, it is Christian mythology through the lens of a Crusader, ala King Arthur, Percival, the knights, etc.  This is Jesus with a sword set to actually supplant the king and free the country.  Robust, aggressive Christian allegory, no wimpy sermons or anything like that, and Richard’s John the Baptist (the wizard Zed) kicks ass.

And of course, Darken Rahl is just plain evil, much the way Herod the Great was depicted.  He’s easy to hate.  (Darken Rahl…hmm…Darth Raul?  Would they dare?)

Why am I picking on this little tv show?  Because it is clear that a lot of money has been spent on it.  The acting is pretty good, the sets are nice, the special effects are none too shabby, and some effort was made to establish a story arc that has a lot of symbolic meaning.  Lots of money.  For what is essentially substandard fare.  We are to look at it and be awed.  Kahlin’s marvelous chest is to be ever on display and will probably be ever out of reach, so a degree of ongoing sexual tension will be permanently in place.  Likely as not, she’s a virgin, and probably at risk to lose her powers if she sleeps with a man.  That’s a cheap prediction, but so much else is so derivative in this thing that I’d almost be willing to wager real money on it.  So Richard and Kahlin will travel on, probably collecting a band of followers (merry men?  disciples?) along the way, and never consumate the quite evident desire already between them.

As I said at the beginning, normally I can watch this sort of thing with nary a twitch.  I can find all the flaws later, but when it comes to movies and television I’m a bit of a sucker.  I always turn into a ten-year-old and am willing to be amazed and delighted and generally that happens.  But sometimes it just doesn’t work.  It just gets more irritating, beginning with the essential idiocy of the characters.  It is a plot driven by people who seem incapable of simply asking a straight question.  Information is withheld for no good reason and the consequences are always dire.  Sure they are.  If you don’t tell someone that there’s a hidden pit with spikes at the bottom in the field they want to walk across, well how hard is it to predict their surprise, shock and horror at betrayal when they step in it?

This could have been much better.  They have a lot of talent, obviously, but alas no brains.

Oh, and that magic sword?  Didn’t do Richard a lick of good the first time out.  Is it possible that someone actually has to learn how to do something in this world?  He picked it up and the scrollwork along the blade glowed with promise.  But he lost his first fight, which also cost him the book he was supposed to keep out of Darken Rahl’s hands….

It may also do well.  But I think largely because the audience will care not a whit for anything other than how it looks and the allegorical buttons it pushes.  And after all, Richard has—wait for it!—A Destiny!  There is no way he can (a) get killed or (b) fail.  Really.  He can’t fail.  People in fantasies with destinies don’t.  It’s in the contract.  To agree to have a destiny commits the powers that grant such things to ensuring that, no matter how few brains the recipient of said destiny possesses or how little ability is demonstrated in using what brains exist, the recipient will, somehow, succeed.

A neat twist to this would be to discover that Richard is, in fact, Darken Rahl’s son.  That would be interesting when it comes to the final showdown.  Will junior axe dad?  Or will he “save” him?  Stay tuned.  I can’t wait.

But I won’t watch.  No, not even for Kahlin’s marvelous charms.

Changes For Another Year

Like everything else, publishing seems to be melting down.  Harcourt announced a buying freeze, but they aren’t the only one, just the only one that has bothered to make it public.  In other companies, salaries are frozen, lay-offs are rampant, and a general constriction is beginning.  The economy is in the tank and no one is getting out  unscathed.

So what does this mean for me?

2008 is coming to a close and, like 2007 and 2006 before that, I do not have a book contract.  I haven’t sold a short story, either, but to be fair I haven’t been writing any.  None to speak of, at least.  I’ve finished a couple that I’d been working on for some time, but every new attempt just ends up in the ditch.  But the books came along just fine, thank you, and since 2005 I’ve completed three.  As I mentioned a couple posts ago, I’m starting work on another.  I have no shortage of viable directions with novels, at least when it comes to writing them.

Selling them?

I had hoped to get out of the ranks of the unpublished by now.  Maybe it’s a good thing, since I suspect that the next several months will engender a massive shake-up in the industry.  We may see a number of Big Names handed walking papers from their current publishers.  Some may disappear altogether.  Certainly advances will contract.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The whole system of advance against royalty that has dominated publishing for lo these last thirty years, reaching in some cases ridiculous heights, has become untenable.  Where do people think publishers are getting that kind of money in the first place?  They’re borrowing it.  Rather than pay out reasonable advances and then be scrupulous about royalty payments, they have developed a practice of paying out money they don’t have and then trying to figure out how to cover the loans through creative bookkeeping.  You see ripples of this from time to time (remember when Stephen King sold a novel for a dollar to force his publisher to be honest about royalties?) but for the most part no one wants to really talk about it because, frankly, there’s too much money at stake.

Whatever the reality may be about financing of authors and books, it is obvious that current practices are unsustainable, just like so much else in our business dealings, and this kind of crash was inevitable.

I was talking to a writer I know the other day, someone who ought really have no problem selling his next book, who was caught up in this.  He’s talking about moving to small press.  Doing graphic novels.  Working on screenplays.  A variety of strategies, the impetus of which boils down to the fact that he might not get another big book deal.

He suggested that the coming years may be the time of the small to medium-sized presses, that regional publishers and niche publishers will reap the benefit, talent-wise, of the lunacy that is the Big Publishing World.  I agree, of course.  But that doesn’t exactly thrill me.  I’ve been through the small press grist mill and it has left me less than enamored of the idea.  I want a big book deal.  Just one.  Something that will get me recognized as a serious property.

Because I still don’t quite believe people see small press as legitimate.  Branding, at  least in this country, is an all-encompassing seal of approval.  People who don’t trust their own taste or their own ability to decide for themselves what is good or bad rely on branding to tell them what to buy next.  So when a book comes out from Doubleday or Random House or HsrperCollins, they have some way of knowing that the writer is Worth A Damn.  It turns out not to be a consistently reliable metric, true, but a book is expensive these days and time is precious and how else do you determine if the risk is worth it?  A book coming out from Huckypuddle Press just doesn’t carry that kind of reassurance.

Now, for an already-established author, it’s less a risk.  I just bought a copy of John Crowley’s novel Endless Things, which concludes his Aegypt series.  The first three of those were published by Bantam.  This last is from Small Beer Press.  Crowley’s name will carry over.  People might scratch their heads at the imprint, but it’s Crowley, so here’s my $24.00.  But what about Simon Andanshulter?  His first novel is being published by Joe Blow Publishing in East Chotawqua, Backabeyond.  (This is a fictional entity, from Simon to now.)  Is he ever going to rise to a level of name recognition that either he or his publisher will be able to Make It?

I don’t know.  It might work out.  There are so many factors invovled that the future is hard to predict.  I thought having at least one or two novels from a major house would garner me enough readers that a move to Joe Blow Press would make it viable.  It doesn’t seem likely now that this will happen.

So what am I going to do?

Well, I’m getting a four day weekend over Christmas and probably New Year.  I can jot down ideas, brainstorm, plot and plan.  Or just loaf.  But in January, regardless, it looks like I have to set my sights lower down the food chain—which, when all is said and done, may end up being fairly high on the food chain—and find a small press through which I can at least continue to publish.  Because I really don’t want to stop doing this.  But I’m tired of fretting and pining at No Word or Thank You Very Much But This Is Not For Us.

So strategies shift.  If I’m careful, I can make it work, just not the way I originally intended.  Part time day job, part time novelist.

For those reading this who may be interested, I do do public speaking.  I write reviews.  I have done occasional journalism.  I’ve taught workshops.

But meantime I have a new novel to write.  So I’ll be doing that.

And maybe ’09 will surprise me.

Quotes

The desire for social equality is not unmixed with a certain eagerness to be rid of the bother of pity.                               Jean Rostand

Intelligence would seem to exist primarily as a way to outrun natural selection      Samuel R. Delany, 1995

Romance and poetry, ivy, lichens, and wall-flowers need ruin to make them grow.   Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

Action is consolatory.  It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.  Only in the conduct of our action can we find the sense of mastery over the Fates                                                                                                       Joseph Conrad, Nostromo

Poetry For Sale

Last January, Missouri was granted its first official Poet Laureate.  At the inaugural celebration, Walter Bargen read a new poem for the occasion, a poem which spoke to Missouri and dreamers and possibilities, called Moonwalk Missouri.

The Missouri Center for the Book has produced a fine letterpress broadsheet.  It is now available.  Go to

http://www.columbiabooksonline.com/

and click on the Walter Bargen link on the left side.  There you will see at the top two versions.

The money will go to support the Poet Laureate program, which MCB hosts, and will ensure its continuity.  It’s a little late in the season, perhaps, but these would make good gifts.  They were produced by Little Truck Press on a 1960s era Vandercook SP15 Letterpress, using an essentially obsolete process.

As president of the Missouri Center for the Book I’d like to add that Walter Bargen has been terrific.  We could not have asked for a better poet laureate and as our first one he has been everything we could have hoped for.  This has been a great program for the state.  Walter has traveled to virtually every corner to date and this has only been the first year of a two-year term.  These broadsheets are excellent commemorations of what are too-rare instances of “official” support for the arts, especially the literary arts.

In any event, I wanted to let everyone know that these are available.