Saturday, November 7, 2015

David Gerrold's Jacob

As someone who was involved in a small way in the recent Hugo controversy, I have been looking for an opportunity to read something by the other side. I wanted to get a look at what they considered to be award worthy. Imagine my sense of surprise when I found out from an anonymous source that David ”You Should Never Campaign for Awards" Gerrold had sent out a letter promoting his book Jacob. “Awesome” I thought to myself, “I can finally get a look at what the other side considers to be award winning. Maybe I can learn a little more about how things are supposed to look.” Yeah, I was sadly disappointed.

Honestly, if this is what good Science Fiction is, I'll just read drek. I've never been so bored in my life. Nothing happens in this story. It is a conversation that takes place over years between two men. There is no action. There is no hint that action is coming. The vampire in the series spends his time describing things that happened in his life before he was turned. I love a good story in flashback but that's not what this is. It is a conversation in written form. Some would call this artsy I'm sure, but I just call it boring.

The best part about this book was the beginning of the prologue. It had me intrigued. It's told in first person from the part of the vampire and specifically mentions Twilight and The Vampire Chronicles. That's hardly surprising. Combine Bella's whining with Anne Rice's homoerotic touch with her vamps and you get Jacob. You just have to do it badly. And that is probably the most annoying part of the entire work.

I'm not a Twilight fan. I read about the first hundred-forty pages of the first book and gave it to my niece. She and her mother both enjoyed it. I saw the first three movies because my then-wife loved the series. Fortunately I divorced her before I got dragged off to the last two. My attitude toward The Vampire Chronicles is completely and utterly different. I was introduced to them via the Interview With the Vampire. I didn't find out until I bought the VHS that was even a book that went with the movie because Anne Rice's work isn't shelved with the SF/F stuff and I don't usually venture into any other part of the bookstore but I loved it. I loved all of the books. And so, when somebody does this poor of an imitation of one of my favorite stories it pisses me off. Anne Rice's vampires did things. They went places. They partied in New Orleans and robbed ancient tombs of their inhabitants. They fought. They cried. The fought some more. They made up. The Talamasca showed up. One of them got turned. Etc.

Gerrold's vampires kind of do all of that but it happens offscreen and the details are left out. It's all talked about later in a “well, there was a war but I don't want to go through it all.” type attitude. There's a bunch of emotional whining, a lot of “Oh, I want to be a vampire and they're all being mean to me by not turning me” and a lot of “Oh noes, the vampire just left. I may never see him again,” but again, no action. Not all action has to be violence. There were a few sexual encounters described but for the most part only in vague terms. Honestly, if Gerrold was going to go into the sex he should have done it. Barring that, he could have left it at the bedroom door. Instead, he decided to half-ass things and it sucked.

Honestly though, the title that comes to mind while reading Jacob is not Interview With the Vampire and it's not Twilight, it's Axolotl Roadkill. For those that don't remember that was a story, written by Helene Hegemann which led to a controversy about plagiarism. She admits to having mixed two other stories together using a technique called “blending.” Others said she committed plagiarism. Apparently, Hegemann won the argument because her book is still available on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites. Gerrold seems to have taken lessons from her because he used the same techniques. Granted, all Science Fiction and Fantasy stories are derivative in one form or another

Jacob is a book with no internal consistency. I'm sorry, but a character can have a background as a male prostitute who got paid to have sex with other men or he can have sex afterward with a boy he is supposedly in love with and not know how things work, but he can't do both. Likewise, his lover can either be a clueless newbie who doesn't know how things work or he can be experienced with a string of former lovers. It doesn't work both ways. I'm not offended by sex whether straight, gay or some other kind. It doesn't bother me. Being treated like an idiot does. If an author expects me to suspend disbelief, plausibility is key. I simply cannot bring myself to believe that someone who got paid to have sex doesn't know how to have sex. A little bit of continuity editing may have gone a long way here.

Once upon a time, Leonard Nimoy refused to do Star Trek Generations because he added nothing to the plot and was there simply as some type of exclamation point. Nimoy talks about it in his memoir I am Spock. I wish he could have had a conversation with Gerrold before Gerrold wrote the majority of his prologue. After the aforementioned good part, he goes into his writers' group. He lovingly details a bunch of characters (including one transgender person who was doubtlessly thrown in simply for box checking or, if you prefer, “the purposes of inclusion.”) who never appear again and have nothing to do with anything. It's a simple exercise in boredom and possibly revenge on people who were in a writing group with Dear Author at one point. It adds nothing to the story and should never have been included.

Then we're treated our lecture for the day: All writing must be not merely to entertain but to enlighten. That's a fascinating theory but one that falls apart in practice, especially since there is nothing enlightening about Jacob at all. That's alright though, because there's nothing entertaining about it either. Jacob is, put simply, a complete and utter waste of time. There is no reason to read it and my advice would be to save your time and money and spend it on something less painful. A root canal comes to mind.

Bottom Line: 0.25 out of 5 toothpicks (to hold your eyes open while you're reading this.

David Gerrold
ComicMix LLC, 2015

Jacob is available for purchase here:

Some entertaining stories that are worth your money are available for purchase here:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What I Want for the New Star Trek Series

There's a new Star Trek series on the horizon and we're all trying to figure out what that means, myself included. It's impossible to say what CBS Studios has planned at this point, but I have some definitely hope that some things happen and that others don't. I've watched every ST series, although there are still some episodes of Voyager that I haven't seen. I've seen every ST movie made. Legend has it that I watched my first Star Trek episode before the first time I slept in my crib. (To be clear, my father always claimed this. My mother said he was full of shit. She was never able to tell me what actually happened the day I came home for the hospital though, so I guess I'll never know the truth for sure.) I knew Kirk, Spock and McCoy before I knew my kindergarten teacher. I realized that this means that I haven't been watching ST as long as some, but still, I've been a fan for going on forty years so, unless you're a Worldcon member, that means that I've been around long enough to have an informed opinion.

Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation were the only two of the series to be directly overseen by Gene Roddenberry and they were, in my opinion, the two best. The reason for this is simple: They presented a bright future. Current fashions among New York publishing houses aside, most people like to believe that the future will be better than the present. The new Star Trek needs to keep this in mind. I don't care the leftist politics in many Star Trek episodes, but let's face it: Poverty has been eliminated. Disease is under control except on colony planets that need to the crew of the ship to save them. Humanity often faces threats from outside itself but it is internally united and has friends to help it along the way. Yes, there were lessons about racism included. Yes, we still have a long way to go. It is worth mentioning that the Enterprise crew was integrated when the show started in 1966. That was huge then, although it would go without mention now. I know that dystopic fiction is currently all the rage but that's not Trek. Trek needs to be and stay optimistic.

To me, the lack of racism displayed on the show is one of the most optimistic parts about it and it's done right. Sulu is the helmsman because he's damn good at being the helmsman. Uhura is the communications officer because she's good at the job. Geordi gets promoted because he deserves it based on his performance. Ensign Kim... You get the idea. Yes, there should be minority characters/actors present. There always has been. The series needs to not devolve into an SJW fest though. Have the dark skinned people there. Make them good at their jobs. This could be the first Trek to include an openly gay regular character. I would have no problem with that either. Regardless of any of that though, the point needs to not be “Look at me, I'm black, gay, Asian, etc, but that whoever they are they're an accepted member of the crew who does whatever their job is, has a personality with real problems/triumphs and continues on with their life and not “Look, I'm here for the sake of 'inclusion' and here is a list of why that's important.”

Exploration is, and always will be at the heart of Trek. The one thing I really don't like about the two movies in the Trek reboot series is that they both take place on or near Earth. I'm not saying that Earth the new series shouldn't involve Earth or that it shouldn't start there, but it needs to not be Earth centric. Deep Space Nine was a space station, but it was a Space Station on the frontier with a wormhole into the great unknown within hailing distance. Many episodes took place aboard DS9 but many other took us into the Delta Quadrant. The Original Series, Next Gen, Voyager and Enterprise all took place aboard vessels that were on a voyage of exploration. This cannot change. Trek is about “new life and new civilizations” and there is a reason why they “boldly go where no one has gone before.” It's not just a slogan, it's a mindset and it's the foundation of the Trek ethos. This has to stay.

I want to see a bad-ass captain. Picard was good in his series and Janeway was too but this time we need a Kirk, an Archer, or (preferably) a Sisko. Any fictional universe has to have good dialogue but at the end of the day action is one of the two key ingredients that make a good story. (We'll get to the other one next.) Say what you want about the latter group of captains above, they were men of action. Things moved when Sisko was along. Kirk probably rushed in a little too quickly at times, but he was always entertaining. Archer didn't screw around either. That's not to say that I didn't like the other two series (“All Good Things” is, in my opinion, the best episode of TV ever. Period. Dot. End of Sentence.) but I like it when things keep moving. I might take some for saying this but the one thing that the reboot movies got right is the way they keep the excitement level up. I want that when I stream every new episode.

The other key ingredient that any good story needs is good characters. They have to be people we care about. Whether it's the struggle between the Vulcan and Human halves of Spock's heritage, Data's effort to become human, Kira's fight to balance her love of and belief in a free Bajor, Archer's burning desire to be the first to see the universe or the battle that Sisko had to wage to accept his role as the Emissary there was always a reason to care about our heroes and always something they were dealing with. Kirk, Spock and McCoy were not friends in the first episode. Archer's crew was made up of strangers. Picard was an absolute douche toward Riker at the beginning of “Encounter at Farpoint.” The fact remains that by the time we became acquainted with these people we wanted to know more about them. This cannot change.

At the end of the day what this all adds up to is that the new series just needs to be fun. I want to want to turn on the newest episode of ST:2017 (since the name of the series hasn't been announced yet that I know of) and know that it's going to be an hour well spent. I want to one day think of the crew of the new ship the way I think of Scotty or O'Brien or Paris. Here's hoping that they get this one right. I'm a long way from being the only Trekkie out there who can't wait to see this. Please don't disappoint us, guys. We've supported this franchise for fifty years now. We deserve something that we'll enjoy.

Some Star Trek products can be purchased at the links below: