Star Trek Turns 50…And I Ain’t Feeling So Young Myself

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So, What do you think? I know, I know…a Starfleet admiral? Kind of egotistical, right? Well, I sure as hell am too old to be an ensign these days, so what else was I going to wear to Comicon?

Star Trek just turned fifty and I grew right up with it. In fact, I was born the day the episode “Friday’s Child” first aired. Yes, that’s the episode where McCoy delivers a baby…weird I know. Naturally, I was too young to catch Star Trek on the first pass. Instead, I grew up watching the re-runs on late night TV. Saturday Night Live would end, then we’d watch Star Trek and finally an old Flash Gordon serial before Channel 19 ended its broadcast day and the national anthem would play.

I’ve got to say, I’ve always loved the show, and it formed much of the framework for what I think science fiction is, or at least should be. Intellectually, I’m aware that SF encompasses cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, and mad scientist stories. But, for me, if it ain’t got spaceships it ain’t sci-fi. To this day I gravitate to star-spanning adventures with strong human elements and a powerful moral theme that runs through ‘em. That’s what good SF is to me, that’s what Gene Roddenberry conceived when Star Trek first aired on September 8th, 1966, and that’s the kind of stuff I put in my books.

So, my point here is simply to say, “thank you.”

Thank you to every Star Trek, writer, actor, director, producer, costume sewer and right down to the guy who swept the floor. Also a hearty thanks to every fan who kept Star Trek alive for the past five decades. My imagination owes a debt to you folks that I cannot hope to repay.

So thank you. Thank you very much!

Somthing “New” For A Change

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You may have noticed my affinity for old science fiction. It seems most of the stuff I like to read is thirty to forty years in the rear view mirror and, honestly, that’s fine. Folks like what they like. However, I despise the notion of “the good old days” that never will come again. Because human imagination and creativity go on and older does not always mean better. Frankly, there was just as much crap back then as there is now, we have only forgotten it.

Newer authors also deserve a chance, and it’s not just the Carter/Regan era SF I like. So, allow me to introduce you to Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, vintage 2006-2010…Okay, so the first book came out ten years ago. Sue me. Firefly is older than these books anyway.

The Lost Fleet series is a collection of six novels by Jack Cambell (John G. Hemry) about a space naval fleet that is trapped behind enemy lines and has to fight its way home. The books are also about the fleet’s commander Captain John Geary who has a bit of a back story, as told in the first book Dauntless.

It seems that the fleet was once commanded by Admiral Botch, who’s grand plan was to use “hypernet” gates to sneak this massive fleet deep into enemy territory for a surprise attack on their homeworld.  While traveling to his fateful battle, Admiral Botch’s ship discovers a lost escape pod with a survivor in cryo-suspension. The survivor is Captain John Geary, the legendary hero of the first battle of this war that has by now raged for over one-hundred years. Geary was believed dead and his return from this navy’s mythic past is seen as a good luck blessing by the more superstitious crewmen. But any luck he brings comes too late for Admiral Botch.

The fleet is ambushed and the surprise attack is a total failure. The enemy insists the admiral and all officers above the rank of captain get in a shuttle and come to their flagship to discuss surrender. The enemy, being rather treacherous, execute the senior officers instead and then  insist the rest of the fleet’s captains surrender unconditionally. What the enemy fails to realize, however, is they just put a hundred-plus-year-old war hero in charge of the fleet by reason of his seniority to all the other captains.

Now the stage is set. Captain Geary must acclimate himself to the new age he finds himself in, take charge of a fleet he knows little about, save an impossible military situation from complete disaster and do so without preparation of any kind. What could possibly go wrong?

Campbell does a great job in creating a flawed and very human protagonist. Captian Geary is an excellent officer but not a perfect one and has a lot to learn. Thankfully for him, he is a product of a civilized age that provided first class education to its military and he was trained by the best. Unfortunately for him, one-hundred years of war has yielded a barbaric age where military officers are unschooled in the finer points of strategy and tactics. This rough mob of new captains chafe under Geary’s tutelage and resent his insistence on rules of war. It seems that since Geary has been asleep in a life pod, practices such as the execution of prisoners and the bombardment of civilians has become commonplace…and that’s something he won’t stand for.

I seldom read series, but I devoured every last book in this one.  The descriptions of space battles are highly realistic and superbly well written. But my favorite scenes are the ones where Geary faces moral dilemmas. He must not only convince his captains that obeying the law of war is moral, but it is also essential to victory.

I served in Iraq, and I can attest that moral behavior is key to victory in any war. Enemies will not surrender when they believe they will be abused, a population will not submit to cruelty, and information gained under torture is always tainted with falsehoods. To win, the good guys MUST act like the good guys and Cambell seems to understand this (and I’m not surprised as the man did serve as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy).

To put it simply, these books are awesome. I highly recommend these books to any fan of military science fiction. My only complaint was that all the action takes place on the flagship, and I would have liked to see Geary visit some planets from time to time, but oh well.

Enjoy the books.

A Tale As Old As It Is New 

Medieval Storyteller

Once upon a time, I performed on stage as a professional storyteller. I would get gigs at bookstores, libraries, historical re-enactments and such; where I would tell folktales to audiences big and small. Frankly, it was a lot of fun and perhaps I’ll do it again someday.

Most of my material was traditional tales that dated back hundreds of years or more. Versions of Robbin Hood, Jack and The Beanstalk ,and other such stories were my stock in trade. However, one piece I did was 100% original…a poem.

The inspiration for this little opus came at a party when the topic of Charon came up (which tells you what kind of parties I got invited to back then). Charon is the mythological boatman who carried the dead across the river Styx in Greek mythology. He would require coin for such services and had no pity for those who could not pay. As I often portrayed an Irish sailor when I did my act, friend of mine asked how such a character would solve the problem of a penniless crossing.

So here it goes, my one and only poem…

ANGUS McHUGH & THE FERRYMAN

by Clayton J. Callahan

Now Angus McHugh did sail the great blue, he knew the raging main.

A man of the sea, tradition loved he, and about it took great pain.

To Poseidon he swore and an earring he wore. For he knew when his time did come,

The Ferryman’d be there, and demand his share, the earring to be the sum.

Now Angus loved a game, and would never complain when handed a pair of dice.

One night he played and from tradition strayed, as he lost his shirt ‘bout twice.

But the very worst thing, he lost the gold ring, right out of his ear.

On a starless night, when the seas weren’t right and his charts were not clear.

His ship went down, and Angus drowned. He was in his very worst fix.

A penniless man, he was left to stand, alone by the river Styx.

“Ah, Ferryman, please, can you find with ease any pity in your bone?

Would you leave me to stand in limbo land when yonder is my home?”

But the Ferryman said as he shook his head, “All men do come my way.

You have erred it’s true, ‘tis a pity for you, but in limbo you will stay!”

So the Ferryman would come and the Ferryman would go all that sunless day.

And Angus would stay, and watch a display of the Ferryman’s shoddy ways.

“You calls that a sheepshank? How much have you drank? Is that how you hold an oar?

Oh bother it man, you’re the sloppiest hand I’ve ever seen before!

That boat would go faster, you know, if you knew how to reeve the rigging.

Now fresh trim the sail, you rusty old nail, or take up truffle digging!”

The old Ferryman was not a patient man, he took it only a day.

When he had all that he could stand he shouted, “Angus, go away!”

“And where should that be? You know as well as me, I am stranded here on the shore.

All I can do is look at you, in disgust forevermore.”

 Needless to say, Angus was soon on his way to that far and shining shore.

And the Ferryman knew, he’d see Angus McHugh, truly nevermore.

So if you are drowned, and penniless found, alone by the river Styx.

Think to Angus McHugh, you’ll know what to do, for I have just gave you the fix.

 

Just Saw Star Trek: Beyond

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So, I finally went out and saw Star Trek: Beyond. Why did a life long Trekkie like me wait so long…well.

To be honest the first two films in the reboot series left me wanting. I thought JJ Abrams’ first Star Trek was a pretty good ride. And by that, I mean that it was  a roller coaster with a Star Trek theme. There were twists and turns to excite and plenty of action but no real substance in the plot or storytelling. Now, on the plus side, I thought JJ put together an amazing cast of very talented people who captured the characters perfectly. I also liked the production design, special effects, and loved the music.

But like I said, it was only a ride with a Star Trek theme. I hoped Star Trek: Into Darkness would provide a more nourishing meal but was sadly disappointed. The plot was garbage, and I felt the new film did not pay proper respect to the original Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.  So, yes, I was weary of this newest movie.

After reading a lot of positive reviews, however, I decided to give it a chance. And I’m glad I did. As in the last two films, the acting was spot on and the production design, special effects, and music were wonderful. This time, however, somebody decided to give it a decent plot! Although not overly complicated, the plot fit well into the two-hour movie format and remained internally consistent throughout. Also, kudos again to the writer for giving every character several moments to shine (this was not the Kirk and Kirk alone show). I also felt that they did a fine job showing respect to the original Trek, even integrating Lenord Nimoy’s passing in a  tasteful way.

Movies need to tell a story visually and have about two hours to unfold the plot. Star Trek was intended to be a TV show, requiring each episode visually to tell a short story  with a fairly simple plot. Novels, naturally, can take their time and explore a plot in depth but have to work harder to allow the reader to visualize the story. The first Star Trek was a TV episode stretched too long. The second was a novel crammed too short. Star Trek: Beyond…is just right.

No Higher Complement 

I recently received a five-star review for Tales of The Screaming Eagle on Amazon and was totally blown away by it. Not because it was five-stars (Screaming Eagle had quite a few before) but because “Kindle Customer” compared me to Spyder Robinson.

5 stars

It reads: Reborn Spyder Robinson!
August 8, 2016
     What are the chances a Callahan writes the best space yarn bar story since the many tales of Spyder Robinson? Well written, flowing and inventive. Can’t wait for sequels!!
This is not my first comparison to a Hugo Award-winning author. I am humbled to say that another Amazon review compared me to Arthur C. Clark. Now, to be clear, my head can only get so big. I will flat out declare that I am not as good as these science fiction greats, and on a more basic level I’m just glad somebody likes my stories.
Callahan's Place But here’s the thing: Spider Robinson (who is NOT dead) is one of my personal SF heroes. True, Arthur C. Clark is amazing, but his books can be a bit dry. Clark focused heavily on the science and not so much on the human aspects of his fiction. Spider Robinson, however, was all about people. His rich and textured characters leaped off the page and his stories were well-paced, humorous, romps with an underlying ethical message that I strongly relate to.
Again, I am humbled and flattered by every fan who takes the time to read one of my books. I also appreciate getting feedback through Amazon reviews. But as good as I may be, I will never match Robinson. If you get the chance, look him up. His work is mostly out of print, but through the magic of the internet, that’s really not a problem at all.
I even did a video on him. Feel free to check it out.
PS: I’m NOT Spider reborn…he’s not dead yet.

Do You Dorsai?

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Once long ago, science fiction fans turned almost exclusively to novels to get their fix.

How long ago? I’m talking about the 1970s to 1990s–what your dad would call “the good old days.” Sure, there were good SF films and television back then. I will grant that even certain comic books were crafting some well-done stories. However, for every film like Star Wars, there were a dozen movies like Star Crash, and the same can be said for TV and comics. So, when fans gathered at SF conventions back in the good old days, they tended to talk books. And number one in military SF books were the Dorsi novels.

Gordon R. Dickson was a World War II veteran, so it’s safe to say he knew something about the military. He referred to his most prestigious series as “The Child Cycle,” but his fans often just referenced the most notable subjects of the books- the planet and people called Dorsai.

Of all the worlds spinning in the 24th century, Dorsai was unique. That planet produced for export the greatest mercenary soldiers in the galaxy. In fact, their entire economy was dependent on selling the martial skills of its sons and daughters to fight in other people’s wars. This opened up myriad story possibilities, and Dickson took full advantage of that fact. But this was not a mean series of books about brutes killing across the cosmos.

The Dorsai’s success was not based on might alone. Because Dickson focused on war as a thinking person’s dilemma.

Question: What do you do when an overwhelming force takes over your town? Answer: Find an excuse to get all the young and healthy out of town while leaving the aged and infirmed behind to poison the air, and once everybody is dead and the air is clear the war is won. Simple and ingenious, but not classically heroic.

Yes, the Dorsai were that ruthless, and in a society where everybody is a soldier casualties among the aged and infirmed are as acceptable as any other (not that I view that as a good thing personally). I do, however, find the Dorsai’s approach thought-provoking–and isn’t that what good science fiction is supposed to do?

A good SF story, like any other kind of literature, provokes thought. It challenges us to look at problems in new ways to develop unique solutions. I appreciate what Gordon R. Dickson did for military SF and recommend his works to anybody who would bost an understanding of the genre. Besides, not everything in SF movies, TV or comics today is a gem. So why not take the time to crack open a good old book or two?

 

 

Just One More Ghost Post: Where Do Great Creative Ideas Come Form?

So, Ghostbusters…great idea, right?You have a team of mortal humans, hunting ghosts with technology in a modern setting- genius! I mean, Aykroyd and Ramis did write a great script and obviously put a lot of work into getting the thing to work on the big screen. The movie was a smash success, inspiring two sequels, two cartoon

You have a team of mortal humans, hunting ghosts, with technology, in a modern setting- genius! I mean, Aykroyd and Ramis did write a great script and obviously put a lot of work into getting the whole thing to work on the big screen. The movie was a smash success and inspired one sequel, two cartoon shows, and a reboot (see last post). But where did they get the initial idea for the ghostbusters?

Well, simply put, they got it from the Ghost Busters.

Old TV Ghost Busters

Back in 1974, the creative crew at Filmways came up with the idea for a Saturday morning, live-action, TV show about a team of mortal humans, hunting ghosts with technology in a modern setting. Only fifteen episodes were made on a budget not quite big enough to keep the lights on in my house for a year.quite frankly, it was crap.

And, quite frankly, it was crap.

Not that I knew it at the time (I was eight years old). Heck, I clearly remember running around my back yard with an old broken camera, zapping my brother out of existence as he came around the house with a sheet over his head. So, as a kid, I liked it. But to watch the Ghost Busters TV show as an adult was to put my head in a cheese grader…it’s THAT bad.

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The acting is terrible, the production design is abysmal and the writing is unforgivable. Apparently, all fifteen episodes were taped in just nine weeks and it shows.

But was it a good idea?

Well, obviously YES! It was so good in fact, that after Aykroyd and Ramis knocked out their script, Columbia Pictures went to Filmways with a wad of cash to buy the licence. So, if good things do in fact grow in questionable ground, where does that lead us?

Today, I know quite a few writers who are always on the lookout for inspiration. They have the talent, and they have the skill to be great authors. Yet they struggle to come up with a good idea for a story. My advice? Go digging in the trash! Look for the gems of goodness in otherwise bad movies, TV shows, or books. Take a stale idea and make it fresh, and more importantly, make it your own. After all, it worked out okay for Aykroyd and Ramis.

Just Saw Ghostbusters For The First Time Since 1984

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So, here’s the thing, I’m old. Not ancient, mind you, nor over the hill. But I ain’t as young as I used to be and that’s for damned sure. For instance, the first time I saw a Ghostbusters movie I was sixteen years old and hadn’t even had my first car accident…yet.

Straight to the point: I loved the original movie. The creative team behind the film found a wonderful kernel of joy that propelled a great movie. I laughed, I cried, I kissed six bucks goodbye (and that included popcorn).

So now I’m forty-eight years old, just saw the reboot, and I loved it. NOT because it’s the old Ghostbusters, but because it’s the new one. Here’s a secret, and I hope you’re listing Hollywood, reboots, and sequels can NOT be plain old rehashes of the original material. While giving a respectful nod to the original material is important, something fresh and wonderful must be brought before the audience or just don’t bother.

Is this an easy balancing act to pull off? Hell, no!

Fans are fickle and it can be hard to figure out what tripped their trigger in the first place. However, with Ghostbusters, the new team seemed to nail it (perhaps because they were fans of the original, to begin with). The 2016 Ghostbusters did not try to be the same 1984 movie in female form. Instead, they gave us a completely different set of characters with different personalities. However, the camaraderie and friendship that endeared us to the old team is also alive in the new. In other words, they found that kernel.

Forget the ghosts and the gimmicks. The original movie was about misfits. The ghostbusters were losers who nobody would believe and nobody would hire. Nevertheless, they had a lot to offer the world and each other and, through friendship, they overcame evil and saved the city. That’s what made Ghostbusters great and that kernel was front and center in this new film.

Sadly, Hollywood gets it wrong as often as they get it right. Exhibit A in this case would be Men In Black II. In MIB II, we got a sad rehash of all the gimmicks of the first movie with none of the heart. I have also, so far, been unimpressed with the Star Trek reboot.In the new

In the new Star Trek, we have great actors who do a fine job of recreating the original characters, but JJ Abrams has shown he has no understanding of what makes Star Trek great (here’s a hint–it has to do with good stories to tell). Now, to be fair, I have not seen Star Trek: Beyond yet so I can not judge that film–the other two, however, needed another director badly!

As I write this, I know that I am soon to be judged by this same standard. Crazy Lucky: A Space Romance is due to be released by Double Dragon Press next month. It is a sequel to another book of mine, The Adventures of Crazy Liddy, that came out last year. The first Liddy book was a straight up adventure story, and I purposely decided not to do another adventure plot for the new book. Instead, I wrote Liddy into a romantic comedy to shake things up. She’s still Liddy, and I think my audience will still connect with the great kernel of who she is as a character–without my having to rehash old plots and gimmicks. How successful will this attempt prove to be?

Time will tell.

Anyone for a game of Star Flux?

Me & Star Flux

So, on a whim, I bought a pack of Star Flux cards for our family vacation. We were camping, and I knew we’d want something to do with our evenings. As my family are all nerds like me, I figured a space opera card game would be worth a try. And boy, did I pick the right one!

Star Flux cardsFirst off I like simple games. My game Ground Pounders is only 13 pages and I’m quite proud of that brevity. Put simply, I don’t want to waste a lot of time pouring over rule books and then arguing with fellow players about what they mean. Nope, I just want to dive right in and have fun, and the sooner I can do that the better.

Star Flux has all the basic rules printed on one card. As you play, New Rule cards can be put down to make the game more interesting, but play never slows down as all those new rules are pretty simple as well.

Next, I have to say, I love the game’s sense of humor. Every SF trope I can think of is mocked without mercy. From the redshirts of Star Trek to the monolith of 2001:A Space Odyssey. For instance, the Goal card that combines the Unseen Force and the Robot is called “These Aren’t the Droids.” Combine the Captain and the Doctor and you get “He’s Dead”…Jim. You get the idea.

Flux, apparently, also comes in other genres; such as Zombie Flux and Monty Python Flux. Aside from the variety, there is one last thing about Flux I have to celebrate–price. When I wrote Battlefields: From Broadswords to Bullets, I did so with HO scale models in mind because their the cheapest on the market. I believe games should not be priced out of reach of the players and the makers of Flux seem to agree. Star Flux cost under ten dollars for the whole smash. To me, that’s the perfect price for a game that’s going to bring my family together for a long, long time to come.

 

Space: 1999, A Missed Opportunity

Space 1999

Have you ever found yourself hating something not because it was so bad but because you know full well it could have been so good? Well, that’s me and the 1970’s TV show Space: 1999.

First off let me set the stage. The show first aired in 1975, Star Trek re-runs were still a thing on daytime TV but there was really nothing else on the boob-tube science fiction wise. On the big screen, the Planet of The Apes movies were still going strong with their tragic endings and hamfisted social commentary. It would be a full two years before Star Wars reset the calibrations on science fiction in a big way and NOBODY saw that coming. So, science fiction fans frankly didn’t have much meat to chew on outside the printed page in those days and there was an obvious vacuum to be filled.

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson were a husband and wife producing team who already had some science fiction credits under their belts such as The Thunderbirds and another show called UFO. Together, they dreamed up Space:1999 and, frankly, they were off to a decent start. That is, before everything went to hell storywise

In charity, I’ll start with what was good about the show.

The sets and special effects were top-drawer for the time. In fact, the shows whole production design concept was very smoothly executed. Moon Base Alpha, where the show was set, had a style that was influenced by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey but sill had its own signature look. The costumes, special effects, props and sets all formed a believable and holistic universe that worked well for the show.

Gerry and Sylvia also hired some great actors. The commander of Moon Base Alpha was played by Martin Landau, and its doctor by Barbra Bain. Both were veteran TV actors who did some fantastic work on the original Mission: Impossible show. In fact, most of the cast was rather good because, outside of Hollywood, the Andersons drew from Great Britain’s theater community for talent.

So, great production design and a great cast, what went wrong, you may ask.

Flat out, the writing sucked! The one element that killed the show was the one that cost the producers the least amount of cash, the writers. True, the writing staff was hampered by the ridiculous premise. As dictated by the Andersons–in 1999 the moon is blasted away from Earth in a nuclear accident and sent plummeting through space.

I will grant it is hard to write a consistent narrative for such an oddball and unlikely plot. However, the writing staff seldom really gave it much of an effort anyway. Instead of trying to construct a smooth and interesting narrative, the lazy bums simply lifted plots from old Star Trek shows or even older movies like Lost Horizon. Episodes didn’t connect with one another unless a new character was introduced. And the crew of Moon Base Alpha never changed as a result of any given ordeal (although some actors did up and quit, their departure never explained).

The shame is, if the producers had just consented to leaving the moon in orbit and hired a few decent writers, I can almost taste the great show this could have been.

I can imagine Moon Base Alpha as an international colony, built with American and Soviet resources. The crew could have been a mixed bag of Warsaw Pact and NATO people who are trying to get along and do some real science in the shadow of the Cold War (Yes, in 1975 we thought that thing would last forever). Perhaps the writers could persuade the producers to allow aliens to have contacted mankind in this future. However, the aliens are only granted an embassy on the moon due to Earth’s “quarantine restrictions.” Add to that, civilian corporations could have been mining the moon for resources, and who knows what they might find in those dark tunnels? Not a monolith, of course, but perhaps something equally compelling.

As a science fiction author, my mind keeps jumping at the story possibilities that such a production design and cast  could have brought to life on the small screen…but it was all wasted.

The moment is past. It is no longer 1975 and a Cold War on the moon would not work with modern audiences. Also, the alien embassy thing was done superbly by the show Babylon 5, and there is no need to rehash that. To be sure, I expect many fans of Space: 1999 will sharply disagree with my assessment, and yes, there is a small and dedicated group of fans of this show. But when we think of the legions of fans that are dedicated to Star Trek and Star Wars a sense is gleaned of how large a fanbase Space: 1999 might have had if the show had just been better written.

As it was, the show floundered for two seasons and then winked out into the night. The star that could have burned brightly through the ages has collapsed into a black hole, and what a damn shame that is for science fiction.