Total Pageviews

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Alberta Liberal Caucus Website

The Alberta Liberal Caucus website has been updated and streamlined. For those of you with an interest in politics (and what I do all day), I invite you to visit


Back when I worked at Hole's, I helped write a book on bulbs. This poem was composed during an idle moment between chapters, and it's gleaned from the knowledge I gained working on the project. Enjoy! (Or not.)

Bulbs and tubers and rhizomes and corms
What an array of splendiferous forms!
I cover each one with some helpful bulb dust
To stave off the foes like bulb rot and bulb rust
Into my garden I plant them with care
The fresh virgin soil is their comforting lair
Then I bring out my watering hose
And irrigate them from their tops to their toes
Sometimes if I must I will fertilize –
With 10-15-10 – that’s just right for bulb size
Then I must wait for spring to arrive
Tulips in June make me feel so alive
Here come the crocuses and daffodils
In planters and baskets and on windowsills
Hyacinth, scilla, and amaryllis –
The all grow from bulbs that continue to thrill us
Is there a bulb I can say I don’t love?
Nope, they all fit, like a gardener’s glove.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Great Moments in Absent-Mindedness

About an hour ago Sylvia asked me to "water the big plant" while gesturing toward the living room. Distracted by a phone call, I obeyed and poured a containerful of water into the closest pot.

Naturally, Sylvia started shrieking "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" halfway through, and I suddenly realized that I was watering her horrible artificial tree rather than the actual vining plant in the other corner.

So I had to drag the artificial tree into the kitchen to drain the pot, and now Sylvia is phoning all her friends to share my humiliation, cackling like a madwoman.

I blame society.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Drinking the Literary Kool-Aid

Leslie wrote a terrific, absolutely searing essay over at, on Peter Ackroyd's book 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Go read Leslie's piece, then return here.

Done? Okay. So now you know that establishing any sort of literary canon - or, as Leslie puts it, "class-based standards for cultural knowledge and participation" - has its downsides, to put it mildly, including exclusion of those folks less well read than thou and the constant repetition of antisocial memes, intentional or not. Having read Harold Bloom's The Western Canon a few years ago - and coming to the same regrettable conclusion as Leslie, that I've read not nearly enough so-called great works to consider myself "well-read" (at least according to the intelligensia) - I'm forced to agree that elitism's snooty hand (snooty snoot?) has created yet another class division humanity can ill afford.

Dividing people into the well-read and the ill-read (read: ill-bred?) is a pernicious act that I've fallen victim to myself, if only in the darkest corners of my mind. It's hard not to be judgmental when few people read for pleasure with any regularity, turning instead to entertainments I disdain.

But then I remind myself that any creative act has value, and so does any act of engaging with that creation. Or at the very least, we have to be open to that possibility. Yes, on the surface of it it seems ridiculous to compare the act of reading a Harlequin romance to that of cracking open Ulysses (if only so that you can say you've read it), but the essential act of communication between artist and reader remains the same. And if the reader's imagination is engaged in both cases...isn't that a good thing? Should we censure people for reading Clive Cussler or a Superman comic on the bus? (Certainly I have no right to judge, having read and enjoyed the Space:1999 novelizations of Michael Butterworth - and far worse!)

On the other hand, when we insist on putting art on a level playing field, do we risk devaluating greatness? What serves the greater good of living, breathing citizens - pop art or high culture?

Hopefully there's still room for both. And room for us to take our noses out of our books once in a while and look to our neighbours to forge more direct connections.

* * *

On the other hand, these "best of" collections are always handy for directing avid readers to new material. So in that spirit, I offer you an article I wrote back in 1999, originally published in The Peak magazine for its turn-of-the-century issue.

1000 Years of Wonder
By Earl J. Woods

1000 years – a blink in the eye of time, but an age to mere mortals. When the last Millennium came, the Chinese were putting the final touches on a new invention called gunpowder. In India, Sridhara was discovering the mathematical significance of the zero. On the Yucatan peninsula, the Mayan civilization was at its peak. Leif Ericson was exploring the shores of what would become, much later, Nova Scotia.

And in Britain, men told the tale of mighty Beowulf and his battle with the demon Grendel, even as Millennial fear of the Last Judgement and the Apocalypse brought terror and worry. Perhaps Beowulf’s heroism and courage inspired them to face those fears.

With Beowulf began a thousand years of wonder – 10 centuries of imagination and argument, the best and the worst that human thought has yet produced. While the sheer volume of literature produced since AD 1000 is far too vast to do justice to, there are certain works that everyone should read – or at least, intend to read. To choose a mere ten books from a thousand years worth of writing is nearly an exercise in arrogance; in my own defence, I can only say that my choices were informed by my own experiences. (For those who are curious, I excluded Shakespeare only because his influence has been so pervasive that it has become almost trite to repeat the assertion. None can dispute that the Bard’s impact continues to be felt every day of our lives, from the movies we watch to the books we read to the catch phrases we use. Ay, there’s the rub.)

13th Century
The Arabian Nights
Though modern Western audiences may find elements of The Arabian Nights misogynistic, the stories themselves remain wondrous escapades. They describe a world of magic, mystery, capricious spirits, witches, fools, warriors, and, of course, the incomparable Shahrazad. One cannot help but admire her beauty, her charm, and her brilliance as she saves herself from a gruesome death by weaving amazing tales to enchant the vengeful king, Shahrayar. Though it is not explicitly stated in the text, tradition has it that Shahrayar was eventually smitten by the magnificent tale-spinner and took her as his queen. The Tales are certainly the most popular and accessible way for Westerners to begin to familiarize themselves with Islamic culture.

Circa 1400
The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer
Though Chaucer recanted The Canterbury Tales before he died, his ribald, hilarious tales of a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury continue to enlighten and amuse modern readers – or torture undergraduate English students, depending on one’s point of view. Modern authors are hard-pressed to match the definition of Chaucer’s characters, a diverse group of folk from all classes and many walks of life. Like The Arabian Knights, the tales in Canterbury are told within a framing story – the pilgrimage itself. The stories are spun as the weary travellers stop to rest, prompted by a bartender’s suggestion of a contest. The ensuing anecdotes are as entertaining (and sometimes shocking) to modern audiences as they doubtless were to Chaucer’s contemporaries.

The influence of the Tales is still felt today - check out Stephen King’s multi-volume “Dark Tower” series.

The Prince
That the term “Machiavellian” still describes a coldly rational, often cruel course of action designed to further one’s self interest is proof that The Prince continues to hold sway over political and even personal discourse to this day, nearly five hundred years after its publication. Machiavelli is often thought of as something of a cad, but perhaps unfairly; he does state, for example, that “a prince must show himself a lover of merit, give preferment to the able and honour those who excel in every art.” However, “A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. Therefore, it is necessary…to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.” Clearly, Machiavelli would have scorned altruism. For all that, Machiavelli genuinely sought to improve the state of his native Italy, and his brutal honesty shines through in his writing.

Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes
The image of Cervantes’ hero, Don Quixote is printed indelibly on the Western collective consciousness. A ragged knight, tattered and old but still somehow elegant, charges a field of windmills, lance in hand, believing he is slaying giants. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Quixote refuses to give up the battle, having to be dragged off in the end by his simple but loyal retainer, Sancho Panza. Quixote is a pathetic character, but Cervantes describes his pain in such a captivating manner that we come to cheer him on, to endorse his mad quests though we know they can end only in failure and disillusionment. The term “quixotic” is still used today to describe a hopelessly naïve, though noble, endeavour. Cervantes took a decade to complete Don Quixote – making the writing itself, perhaps, a quixotic task of its own. That Cervantes did indeed finish this monumental work is perhaps a message in itself – that sometimes, naïve nobility pays off.

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Worldly but still fundamentally decent, Elizabeth Bennet is one of the prototype characters for the modern feisty heroine of the 90s. (Most critical to my own experience: without Elizabeth Bennet, perhaps there never would have been a spunky Lois Lane for Superman to woo.) The story of Lizzy’s love affair with Darcy is full of sly humour and laced with commentary on the values of the times – many of the characters are more concerned with wealth and social status than finding true love. Were Austen alive today, she would no doubt find that courtship, though much changed, still retains some of those fundamental flaws she stabbed at with the keen blade of her wit.

Mary Shelley
One could argue that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been more influential than her more famous husband Percy Shelley’s poetry. Certainly the image of the monster – referred to as the wretch in the novel – has been thoroughly ingrained upon the public consciousness, if not by the novel itself, then by countless movie adaptations, James Whale’s 1931 version chief among them. Boris Karloff’s monster – with towering brow, pathetic moan, and inexplicable bolts at the neck – may not be completely faithful to Shelley’s vision, but it does manage to elicit the correct mixture of sympathy and horror.

The tragic consequences Dr. Frankenstein suffers for daring to usurp the role of God have become a standard for cautionary souls, who often invoke the doomed doctor’s name when crying out against scientific advance. For good or ill, Frankenstein colours the language of scientific debate today – the current battle over genetically engineered crops (called “Frankenfoods” in many circles) is but one example. Cloning, transplant technology, grafting of embryonic tissue – all have been given the Frankenstein label. Doubtless proponents of any controversial procedures of the coming millennium will continue to do battle with Shelley’s prophetic vision.

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
More than the ultimate chronicle of the Great Depression in America, The Grapes of Wrath forces its readers to care about the Joads, the simple but genuine clan that abandons the dust bowls of Oklahoma to seek out a better life in the orchards of California. Along the way the book delivers a powerful message about justice – or lack thereof – in an unfettered capitalist system, though it is never pedantic. Most Canadian high school students read Steinbeck’s most popular novel during their teenage years; I read it for the first time only two years ago, and even at the jaded age of 29 I was moved to tears by the unswerving nobility of the Joads in the face of agonizing, dehumanizing conditions. Their dignity continues to inspire in an age of uncertainty. Steinbeck won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for this novel.

George Orwell
Possibly one of the most depressing and wearying novels of all time, Orwell’s dark vision of a world divided into three oppressive totalitarian regimes is nonetheless powerful. Winston Smith’s futile rebellion and ultimate embrace of monolithic dictator Big Brother serve as a chilling warning for any who believe that dictatorships are something that exist only “over there,” in the land of the enemy.

I first read 1984 as a boy of 15 – in, as it turns out, 1984. It was assigned to a select few “gifted” students in our school’s enrichment program for advanced students, and no doubt our teacher had high hopes for our answers to his question: was our world of 1984 at all like Orwell’s dystopian 1984?

Unfortunately, our status as gifted children did not necessarily imply advanced wisdom. To us, the world of 1984 seemed far too bleak, too nightmarish to bear any resemblance to the comfortable surroundings we enjoyed. But in an era when news and opinion sources are being concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer multinational conglomerates, how long before the truth becomes the exclusive domain of a powerful few? How long before Orwell’s doublethink-the acceptance of contradictory ideas (like “fight for peace”) as absolute reality - becomes so ingrained in our minds that we cease to notice it?

…or has it happened already?

Joseph Heller
An anti-war novel for the ages, Catch-22 captures the utter insanity of war through humour that is as likely to induce weeping as laughter. Yossarian is a combat airman, doomed to fly a set number of deadly missions over German territory before he will be rotated out of the service. Each time he returns from another bombing run, he is one mission closer to rotation back to the United States, to freedom. But even as he dutifully throws himself into the path of Nazi antiaircraft fire, the generals keep increasing the minimum number of missions – so that no one can ever go home. Eventually, Yossarian decides that he’ll never get out if he continues to play fair, so he tries whatever he can to find another way. He attempts to convince the powers that be that he is crazy, and therefore unfit for duty:

“From now on I’m thinking only of me.”

Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way?”

“Then,” said Yossarian, “I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?”

Unfortunately, a catch prevents Yossarian’s insanity ploy from working. To wit: you have to be insane to be allowed to leave the service. Indeed, the air force is required to ground anyone who is crazy. But going insane in order to leave is an inherently sane action, since to stay means almost certain death. Or as Doc Daneeka, the base psychiatrist puts it, “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

Yossarian’s struggles to avoid combat duty, to escape the insanity of the Second World War, are pathetic, wretched, and heartbreaking, and certainly the inspiration for the movie and TV series M*A*S*H, not to mention inspiring countless numbers of American students to question the war in Vietnam.

Silent Spring
Rachel Carson
US Vice President Al Gore calls Silent Spring “a cry in the wilderness, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched, and brilliantly written argument that changed the course of history. Without this book, theenvironmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all.”

The book was initially met with fierce resistance from groups and corporations who benefited from the continuance of the status quo, and many continue to label Carson’s landmark ecological work “hysterical” and “extremist.” But with well-reasoned arguments and research, Carson called the attention of the world to an increasingly fragile ecosystem. She died of breast cancer only two years after the publication of the book, and now no one can say if she would have been proud of its effects, or devastated at how far humans have yet to go in rebuilding their damaged environment.

One wonders what these authors would have thought of the year 2000, with its hurtling spacecraft, bewilderingly complex politics, fractured social structures, unequalled wealth, and spirit-crushing squalor. Whatever their feelings, they all helped shape the world we live in. Their legacy informs our thoughts, our actions, and our future.

As the world’s information continues to expand logarithmically, chances are that the authors of the coming millennium will find it much more difficult to have a strong impact on human consciousness. Though print runs are higher, so is the sheer volume of works published, and the number of books people have read in common will diminish. In some ways, the explosion of literature is a boon; more books on more subjects than ever before are available to any who can read. There are hundreds of thousands of excellent books being published today. But excellence may become irrelevant. The days when large groups of people will have read a particular author may be vanishing quickly. In an era when there seems to be an author to suit any taste, books that retain their greatness while appealing to mass audiences may be in short supply. Will the books of the Third Millennium inspire future generations to greatness, or will they be lost in the infinite slush pile of history?

Only time will tell.

Ten More of the Greats
1000: The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagan
1350: “The Chalk Circle,” Li Hsing Tao
1759: Candide, Voltaire
1812: Fairy Tales, The Brothers Grimm
1859: On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, Charles Darwin
1859: A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
1898: War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
1953: Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
1957: The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss
1988: A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Star Trek: Season Four

For a few months in the late 90s I maintained a website called The Earliad. The following article, a Star Trek episode guide for a season that never was, was one of the mainstays of the site.

What if the original Star Trek had lasted for seven seasons, like its sequels? What if, in an alternate universe, fan attempts to resurrect Star Trek a second time succeeded? In the alternate reality I suggest, third season producer Fred Freiberger moved on to other projects, so Executive Producer Herb Solow persuaded Mission: Impossible producer Bruce Geller to join the Trek staff. In this reality, Geller became co-executive producer of the show, and Gene Roddenberry, absent during Trek’s third season, returned. NBC decided to give Star Trek the coveted Monday at 7:30 PM time slot, buoyed by growing fan interest and the addition of Geller to the production staff. It was a move that changed television history…at least, on a parallel Earth.

The actors and writers I have assigned to these episodes are real people, some who really worked on Star Trek, others who I speculate may have wound up on the series had it lasted. Casting was especially fun, and I made extensive use of the Internet Movie Database to make sure that each actor I chose was the correct age for the part.

Naturally, I have no way of knowing whether or not the real people I mention in this article would have cared to work on Star Trek; many of them might have had little interest. Essentially, this is one fan saying “wouldn’t it have been cool if...?”


To kick off the fourth season, new producer Bruce Geller surmised that a crossover with the more popular Mission: Impossible series would give Star Trek a much-needed shot in the arm after the lacklustre third season. Since Geller produced both shows, a crossover was relatively simple to arrange – though not so simple to execute. The production of this two-part episode was nearly half a million dollars over budget, but the results were worth it – for the first time, Star Trek managed to break into the Nielsen top 20.

The fourth season is distinguished by an abundance of stunt casting and tighter continuity, with several episodes that are outright sequels to earlier stories. Secondary characters Scott, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura received much more screen time and character development, much to the delight of actors James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols.

The ISS Implacable, a starship from the Terran Empire of the Mirror Universe (seen in the second season’s “Mirror, Mirror”), appears in our universe. Having been alerted to the existence of the benevolent Federation, the Empire is eager to gather information on a potentially dangerous rival. Such is their paranoia that they have worked ceaselessly to perfect a “space folding” technology that allows Imperial ships to travel between the two universes at will.

The Implacable’s commanding officer, Captain Alexander Regis, and his first officer, Commander Artemus Strange, disguised as Starfleet officers, infiltrate Federation Starbase 11 and gather historical and strategic data. They return to the Implacable armed with all the knowledge they need to ensure that the Federation will never again cross into the Mirror Universe to threaten the Terran Empire.

But shortly after the Implacable speeds off, destination unknown, a small shuttlecraft appears in its place – with one life form on board. Drifting, damaged, the shuttle sends out a distress call and is picked up by the USS Enterprise. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock crack open the shuttle to discover the goateed visage of the Mirror Spock, here to warn our heroes of the Implacable threat. Following Captain Regis’ steps and examining the data they stole, the Enterprise crew surmises that Captain Regis plans to use the Guardian of Forever (from “City on the Edge of Forever”) to travel back in time to 1969, where they will sabotage the Apollo program, ensuring that humans in our universe never reach the stars.

“We must reach the Guardian before Captain Regis,” Spock urges, “or he will change history and, possibly, erase us from existence.”

The Enterprise makes flank speed for the Time Planet, resting place of the Guardian of Forever, but they find the Implacable already in orbit. After a fierce space battle that leaves both ships crippled, Regis beams down with a landing party. Captain Kirk, both Spocks, and Lieutenants Uhura and Sulu are hot on their heels, but Regis and his team leap into the Guardian of Forever. Our heroes, insulated from temporal changes by the peculiar properties of the Guardian, find themselves trapped on the Time Planet, for history has been changed, and the Enterprise is gone, erased from existence. Even worse, the Implacable is still in orbit, since it is from another universe and wasn’t affected by the altered history. With little choice, Kirk and the rest jump into the Guardian…

They appear in Washington, DC, circa 1969. While the crew takes stock of their surroundings, Lt. Uhura gasps as she notices a newspaper headline: “Red Chinese Set for Moon Launch this Wednesday!”

“Fascinating,” notes Mr. Spock. But before anything more can be said, policemen leap from a passing patrol car. The futuristic uniforms of the crew – and the alien appearance of the two Spocks – leads to a quick arrest. Our heroes are robbed of their weapons and tossed into a holding cell in a top-secret bunker, their protestations of innocence ignored by their jailers. “You’ll get a chance to explain everything once the boss arrives,” a guard tells them. Sure enough, moments later, a tall, handsome, white-haired man enters the holding area. Kirk gasps, recognizing the man.

“Jim Phelps!” he gasps, as the “To Be Continued” title appears.

Written by:
Bruce Geller and Gene Roddenberry

Guest Starring:
Bill Cosby as Captain Alexander Regis
Robert Culp as Commander Artemus Strange
Peter Graves as Jim Phelps

As part two opens, Mr. Phelps demands to know who Kirk and his people are. Kirk, recognizing Phelps from Federation historical tapes, knows that Phelps led the IMF – the Impossible Missions Force – through the latter decades of the 20th century. Knowing that history has already been changed, Kirk decides to tell Phelps the truth about their presence. Phelps, in turn, explains the history of the last few years. The American lunar program has been crippled by sabotage – most notably Apollo 1 - while the Chinese program is leaps and bounds ahead. Until five years ago, the Chinese space program was non-existent, but that changed with the recent launch of Floating Swan, a reusable space capsule far in advance of American or Soviet models. In days, Chinese cosmonauts will take Floating Swan all the way to the Moon and back.

“Regis must have arrived years ago, and he’s been interfering in history since then,” Kirk surmises, “but why help the Chinese get to the moon?”

“He wishes to reform your universe in the image of ours,” the Mirror Spock guesses, “and by helping a totalitarian state reach the Moon first…”

“Regis makes it that much more likely that an Empire will rise instead of a Federation,” Kirk finishes.

It takes time, but eventually Phelps realizes that history has been tampered with. He reports to his shadowy supervisor, who tells Phelps that “your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to destroy Floating Swan, capture or kill Regis and Strange, and wipe out all traces of Chinese space research. As always, if any of your IM force is caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

In classic Mission: Impossible style, Phelps and his team infiltrate the Chinese rocket site, destroying it and capturing Regis and Strange. (In a memorable scene, Martin Landau impersonates Mirror Spock to fool Regis – a tip of the hat to rumours that Landau was once considered for the role of Spock.) Kirk shares a warm moment with Phelps, telling him that the adventures of he and his Impossible Missions Force are legendary in his time. The Guardian of Forever, sensing that history has been set right, draws the people of the future back to the Time Planet.

Kirk immediately calls the Enterprise – which, sure enough, has returned, “You’ve only been gone a moment, sir,” Scott reports from the bridge. Suddenly, Regis and Strange vanish in a shimmer – the Implacable has beamed them back up. Kirk orders Scotty to destroy the Implacable, but it’s too late – the ship is already folding itself back into its own universe. The landing party returns to the Enterprise.

“What will you do now?” Kirk asks the Mirror Spock.

“I shall return to my own universe,” he replies, “After I repair my shuttlecraft. Beyond that, I cannot say – warning you has certainly betrayed my intentions towards the Empire.”

“Just remember what I told you,” Kirk says, referring to their first meeting, “One man can make a difference. And you have – for billions of Federation citizens.”

Mirror Spock considers this, then turns away, heading off to his uncertain destiny.

Written by:
Bruce Geller and Gene Roddenberry

Guest Starring:
Bill Cosby as Captain Alexander Regis
Robert Culp as Commander Artemus Strange
Peter Graves as Jim Phelps
Martin Landau as Rollin Hand
Barbara Bain as Cinnamon
with Greg Morris and Peter Lupus

Dr. McCoy’s daughter Joanna visits the ship, but his happiness turns to fatherly rage as Captain Kirk takes a little too much interest in the beautiful young woman. Meanwhile, a surprise Romulan attack, (led by the same commander disgraced by Kirk and Spock in “The Enterprise Incident”) cripples the ship – and the vengeful Romulans don’t seem too interested in taking prisoners.

Written by:
D.C. Fontana

Guest Starring:
Yvonne Craig as Joanna
Joanne Linville as Romulan Commander

(In our reality, “Joanna,” a story by D.C. Fontana, devolved into the third season episode “The Way to Eden.” In this synopsis, I have combined Fontana’s Kirk-Joanna love story with my own imaginary sequel to “The Enterprise Incident,” another Fontana episode.)

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to planet Abrascon, a potential candidate for Federation membership. Abrascon is a well-ordered, stable society, much like 23rd century Earth – there is no war, no crime, no hunger. But McCoy accidentally stumbles across Abrascon’s greatest secret: that any wrongful act, no matter how minor, is punished by painful, gruesome death, as dictated in an ancient religious text. McCoy is put on trial for heresy when he calls the Abrascon’s system of justice barbaric, their good manners only “virtual virtue.” When Spock finds himself defending the doctor, he must bring all of his logical powers to bear to secure McCoy’s freedom.

Written by:
Walter Koenig

Guest Starring:
Donald Sutherland as Father Hain
Roy Thinnes as High Prosecutor

(Walter Koenig, of course, played Russian navigator Mr. Chekov. What many people don’t know is that he’s an excellent writer – his novel Buck Alice and the Actor-Robot is a scream, as is Chekov’s Enterprise, Koenig’s look at the making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Koenig also wrote “The Infinite Vulcan,” an episode of the Star Trek animated series.)

Harry Mudd returns, this time with a dessert that’s taking the sector by storm: Mudd Pie, a seemingly harmless confection that turns out to have highly narcotic effects. When a pie fight breaks out on the recreation deck, Kirk decides that enough is enough and goes after his piece of the pie. To complicate matters, Kirk’s old flame Dr. Helen Noel returns to the Enterprise, and she’s cooking up a scheme of her own: winning Kirk’s heart for good.

Written by:
Stephen Kandel and Gene Roddenberry

Guest Starring:
Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd
Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel

Lieutenant Uhura and Ensign Chekov are taking the shuttlecraft Copernicus on a routine scientific survey when a capricious alien flings them into the far future. Trapped at the end of time, will Chekov and Uhura be caught in the Big Crunch as the universe collapses – or can Captain Kirk and the Enterprise track down their lost crewmates?

Written by: Harlan Ellison

Guest Starring:
Lorne Greene as Cronarch

(In our reality, Ellison left the Star Trek fold in disgust after the revision of his classic “City On the Edge of Forever” script. In this alternate reality, I surmise that Roddenberry promised not to interfere with Ellison’s story, luring Ellison back for another groundbreaking tale. Would Ellison have returned to write for Trek, under any circumstances? Well, according to Stephen King’s non-fiction account of the history of horror, Danse Macabre, Ellison did indeed submit a story treatment for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Though the story is just a footnote in King’s book, his brief description of Ellison’s treatment makes is sound a whole lot cooler than the V’Ger story we eventually got in the movie. )

Klingon Commander Kor returns, but with hands outstretched in peace – and treachery. When a new Klingon peace initiative turns out to be a trap and the USS Islamabad is destroyed, Kirk must hold off an approaching Klingon fleet until reinforcements arrive.

Written by:
David Gerrold

Guest Starring:
John Colicos as Kor
Michael Ansara as Kang
James Hong as Captain Leopold Wen

(On our Earth, the producers of Star Trek wanted John Colicos’ Kor, first seen in “Errand of Mercy,” to become a recurring character, but for a number of reasons these plans never materialized. However, decades later, Colicos did return to play Kor in several episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.)

As tensions between the Federation and the Klingon Empire mount, Lieutenant Uhura struggles with grief over the loss of a lover on the USS Islamabad (see “The Kor Contingency”). When Spock suggests he and Uhura collaborate on a piece of music to honour the fallen, she uses the chance to reflect on the choices that led her to a career in Starfleet.

Written by: Gene Coon

Guest Starring:
Michael Barrier as Lieutenant Vincent DeSalle
William Campbell as Koloth

Once a popular vacation destination, the planet Timshel has cut itself off from the Federation. Kirk and company discover that a new technology that delivers pure pleasure to all who desire it is to blame for the disappearance– and the effect is so addictive that it threatens the very existence of the Federation. When Kirk tastes the fruit of the Joy Machine, he must choose between perfect bliss and the struggle of his life as a Starfleet officer.

Written by: Theodore Sturgeon

Guest Starring:
Linda Harrison as Danielle Du Molin
Sylvester Stallone as Stallone Wolff

(In our reality, Theodore Sturgeon wrote an outline for a Star Trek episode titled “The Joy Machine,” but the episode was never produced. Decades later, novelist James Gunn used Sturgeon’s outline to write The Joy Machine, #80 in the Star Trek novel series. My episode synopsis is based on Gunn’s book.)

On a spy mission deep into Klingon territory, Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov find themselves caught up in the plight of a peaceful band of Klingon secessionists. It’s the perfect opportunity to stir up trouble for the Empire – but can Chekov and Sulu bring themselves to use these farmers as tools of the Federation? Meanwhile, Captain Kirk engages in a tense battle of nerves with Commander Kor.

Written by: David Gerrold

Guest Starring:
John Colicos as Kor
Bill Bixby as Kruse
Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel

The Enterprise once again braves the Great Barrier at the edge of the galaxy, this time accompanied by a Betazoid empath who hopes the shield the crew from the Barrier’s disruptive telepathic effects. But when the experiment backfires, the entire crew begins to evolve beyond the boundaries of human potential. Can the crew resist the temptations of Godhood?

Written by: Harlan Ellison

Guest Starring:
Raquel Welch as Taleen Myrandis

Sulu discovers that his pet plant, Beauregard (seen in “The Man Trap”) is in fact a sentient life form – and so are a number of other botanical specimens Sulu has brought to the ship after a recent planetary survey. But before Sulu can inform the captain, the plants have taken over the botany lab – and they’ve sealed Sulu inside. His only hope of escape is to take advantage of the power struggle that slowly grows among the vegetables.

Written by: Walter Koenig

Guest Starring (voices only):
Milton Berle as Beauregard
Jack Palance as Irrational Carrot
Mary Tyler Moore as Petulant Artichoke
Lucille Ball as Radical Beet
James Doohan as Polluted Potato, Arrogant Radish, and Brutish Brussels Sprouts

(Believe it or not, Milton Berle was actually considered for a guest starring spot on the Star Trek of our world. The episode was never produced.)

The Enterprise and one of her sister ships, the USS Encounter, undertake a dangerous mission: perform a surgical strike against a Klingon dilithium cracking station. The mission is successful, but there is a price. When Kirk allows the captain of the Encounter to sacrifice her ship for the sake of the Enterprise and her crew, he must wrestle with his decision. Winner of the 1970 Emmy award for special visual effects.

Written by: Richard Matheson

Guest Starring:
Peggy Lipton as Captain Twilight Barnes
Michael Ansara as Kang
Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel
Michael Barrier as Lt. Vincent DeSalle

At the edge of explored space, the Enterprise discovers a pristine class M planet, ripe for colonization. But if no one has been here before, who can explain the detritus that litters the world – detritus that looks suspiciously like 20th century Americana? And what does a half-finished crossword puzzle have to do with the mystery? This episode features the famous “Burma Shave” scene, where the landing party walks along a two-lane blacktop and reads the following signs:

Your phaser blade
Has had its day
So why not shave
The modern way?

Written by: Walter Koenig and David Gerrold

Guest Starring:
Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel
Abe Vigoda as Tourist

Klingon agents have planted a doomsday bomb at the core of a neutral planet, and the crew finally discovers why the Organians have failed to stop the escalating conflict between Federation and Empire. In this episode, Spock engages in a thrilling martial arts duel with guest star Bruce Lee while Scotty races to defuse the doomsday bomb.

Written by: Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana

Guest Starring:
Bruce Lee as Kolchak
William Campbell as Koloth
Bruce Hyde as Lt. Kevin Riley
Jon Abbott as Ayelborne

The Enterprise runs afoul of an ionic storm that overloads every system in the ship. With rescue days away at best, the crew struggles to maintain life support, eventually moving the entire crew onto one deck to conserve energy. “A claustrophobic exploration of the limits of human tolerance,” wrote TV Guide at the time, granting Star Trek the cover story for the first week of January, 1970.

Written by: Gene Coon

Guest Starring:
Bruce Hyde as Lt. Kevin Riley
Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel
Michael Barrier as Lt. Vincent DeSalle
John Winston as Lt. Kyle

Dr. McCoy and Nurse Chapel attend a medical conference on Adigeon Prime while the Enterprise faces off against a task force of Orion raiders. Remarkably, the primary focus of the episode is not on the space battle, but on the interaction of McCoy and Chapel, who reveal to each other for the first time why each entered the field of medicine.

Written by: Robert Bloch

Guest Starring:
Graham Greene as Dr. Geoffrey Two Trees
Leo McKern as Orion captain

While Captain Kirk contends with a capricious admiral on an inspection tour of the Enterprise, Mr. Spock becomes dangerously obsessed with a curious mineral sample that may hold the key to the origin – and ultimate fate – of the universe.

Written by: Richard Matheson

Guest Starring:
Patrick McGoohan as Admiral Breton
Adam West as Commander Zahn

"X, Y, AND Z"
While exploring an isolated star system in the void between two of the galaxy’s spiral arms, the Enterprise runs across the archetypal mad scientist and his equally archetypal beautiful daughter. When the mad doctor kidnaps one of Kirk’s crew, the captain must depend on his wits, a clever but hot-headed officer, and the good intentions of an innocent but brilliant woman.

Written by: Jerome Bixby

Guest Starring:
Keir Dullea as Lt. Xavier Tamosevich
Lee Meriwether as Yolanda Zemyatin
Vincent Price as Professor Yuri Zemyatin

(The title of this episode is, of course, an homage to “A, B, and C,” an episode of one of my favourite TV shows, The Prisoner.)

Kirk is pushed to the limits of his patience when a rambunctious throng of students from Terran University signs up for a three-week tour of duty. An attractive reporter for the Federation News Bureau turns up the heat when an exasperated Kirk confines the visiting students to quarters…and then, without warning, a Klingon attack force puts the Enterprise in jeopardy. A notable episode, since the students, not Kirk and his stalwart crew, save the day.

Written by: Theodore Sturgeon and Bruce Geller

Guest Starring:
Angie Dickinson as Special Correspondent Grace Fairfax
Martin Landau as Commander Kelleran
Erik Estrada as Miguel “Chip” Corva
Lindsay Wagner as Jessie Winters
Ron Howard as Derek Taylor
Mark Hammill as Mark Peterson
Catherine Hicks as Angela Kilosinaskewich
Angelica Houston as Radha Mehta

(In our world, an older Catherine Hicks guest-starred in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Also, William Shatner and Angie Dickinson appeared together in the film Big Bad Mama.)

Ensign Chekov is delighted when one of his favourite Academy professors visits the Enterprise. But the day after his arrival, the professor vanishes – and only Mr. Chekov seems to think he ever existed. This episode has been the focus of decades of analysis because of its ambiguous ending. Solomon Mirsky is never found, and Mr. Chekov remains the sole proponent of his existence, coming to doubt his own sanity.

Written by: Norman Spinrad

Guest Starring:
Donald Pleasence as Solomon Mirsky
Michael Barrier as Lt. Vincent DeSalle
Elizabeth Rogers as Lt. Palmer
Barbara Baldavin as Angela Martine

A pair of wisecracking pop stars beams in – with attitude to spare. Fans Chekov and Uhura are delighted, but when Spock discovers that the stars are actually sophisticated androids and that the real “artists” have been living off their talents for years, a musical controversy explodes.

Written by: Gene Roddenberry

Guest Starring:
Lee Majors as Dr. Heckle
Scatman Crothers as Mr. Jive

(I thought that the Milli Vanilli story would make a cool Trek episode. So sue me – every season has to have at least one bad episode. One that sounds a sour note, if you will.)

The Klingons enlist the help of the Tholians in their war against the Federation, dangerously tipping the scales of war in the enemy favour. Spock and Chekov head deep into Tholian territory with an ethically dubious plan to scuttle the alliance. Chekov, his nationalistic pride wounded by heavy Federation losses during the war, begins the mission with a fierce sense of righteousness. Spock is less certain they are taking the correct course of action, but “sometimes ethics must make way for logic.” An encounter with a Tholian dissident faction complicates matters. Meanwhile, the Enterprise engages a Tholian attack squad in order to test a new weapon, one that may make the dreaded Tholian web obsolete.

Written by: S. Bar-David

In the midst of the Klingon conflict, the Enterprise gets an urgent order from Starfleet Command to travel at top speed to the farthest end of the Klingon/Federation border – where they are to meet with a Klingon ship, commanded by their old enemy, Commander Kor. It seems that a threat greater than either government has ever faced is about to slouch towards our part of the galaxy…and an end to war may be the only road to survival.

Written by: Bruce Geller and Gene Roddenberry

Guest Starring:
John Colicos as Kor
Jim Goodwin as Lt. John Farrell

With the Klingon War over, the Enterprise returns to Earth for some much-needed repair work and a touch of shore leave. On a whim, Captain Kirk asks Lieutenant Uhura to accompany him to San Francisco; Kirk takes Uhura out for a spin on his yacht, and feelings long hidden start bubbling to the surface. Meanwhile, Chekov, Sulu, and Scott throw a party that gets a little out of hand.

Written by: D.C. Fontana

Guest Starring:
Bruce Hyde as Lt. Kevin Riley
Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel

Just as our corner of the galaxy begins to settle back into the rhythm of peace, invaders from the Mirror Universe return. This time, Captain Artemus Strange and the ISS Implacable are accompanied by the ISS Enterprise, full of dark reflections of Captain Kirk and company. Strange and the Mirror Kirk have a diabolical plan – one that sets the real Enterprise on the run from the Federation…

Written By: Jerome Bixby

Guest Starring:
Bill Cosby as Captain Alexander Regis
Robert Culp as Commander Artemus StrangeBarbara Luna as Lt. Marlena Moreau

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Retro Review: Poisoning Paradise

In the late 90s, I wrote a freelance review of the documentary Poisoning Paradise: A Native View of the Swan Hills Waste Treatment Centre. I don't recall if it was ever published, nor who I was writing it for...funny how these details slip away with age.

In 1996, Edmonton filmmakers Barb Allard and Kelly Reinhardt presented Poisoning Paradise, a disturbing and compelling vision of the battle between the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council, led by Chief James Badger, and Chem-Security and Bovar Inc., managers of the controversial Swan Hills Special Waste Treatment Centre. Two years later, the film is still worth a look, especially given recent developments. Is the Centre a key element of a more environmentally friendly way of doing business, or does it create more pollution than it eliminates?

Allard and Reinhardt’s film follows the story of the waste treatment plant and the First Nations people who are most affected by it, from its beginnings in 1980 to the announcement of the Northern River Basin Study, the first baseline environmental impact study using traditional Native know-how to be recognized and implemented by the Alberta government.

The film is unsentimental, but still manages to evoke a sense of the frustration and loss the peoples of the region are feeling as they are trapped between two monoliths: ChemSecurity and the provincial government. The natives feel that the Waste Treatment Centre has affected their way of life - for the worse. “Let me walk in beauty,” one Native pleads, recalling a lost lifestyle, while others tell ominous tales of trapping game that turns out to be rotting from the inside out. “Companies take things out of the ground…but they don’t put anything back. When everything’s gone, we’re going to end up with…what?” The balance between man and nature is upset; the equilibrium is thrown off. Badger wants the plant closed; with no spin-off jobs or positive economic impacts for the region coming from the plant, there are no benefits to offset the pollution of the land. But getting rid of toxic waste is environmentally responsible, isn’t it? Why would First Nations people, traditionally viewed as being environmentally conscious, be opposed to the plant?

Disposing of toxic waste is obviously an idea that most people can support, but the way that the Swan Hills facility does it is to burn the waste-which some scientists say can actually produce substances more toxic than those which were burned in the first place. Chilling testimony from Toxic Watch, an Edmonton environmental watchdog, offers scientific data to support the anecdotal evidence of the First Nations tribespeople. (One group not mentioned in the film, ToxicAlert, alleges that burning hazardous waste can actually result in a net gain of toxic materials-as much as 43%!)

To make matters worse, ChemSecurity proposed an expansion in 1989-even though demand in Alberta was not high enough to support even the then-current size of the operation. This proposal to expand seems explainable only if the intent was to import toxic materials from other provinces-something the government denied would happen when the plant was originally proposed. And, indeed, a second proposal for expansion included the intent to import hazardous materials. Obviously, the peoples of the Lesser Slave Lake region didn’t want more toxic waste polluting the area, so they attempted to block the expansion through the National Resources Conservation Board. Their attempt, predictably, was unsuccessful, and the expansion was complete by 1992.

To add insult to injury, the operation isn’t even a good deal for taxpayers; since the government guaranteed ChemSecurity a high rate of return through 1996, the operation is estimated to cost the government some 540 million dollars. After 1996, the company was on its own, and hasn’t shown much of a profit since. The filmmakers muse aloud, wondering if Bovar will abandon the plant when their commitment to stay operational expires at the end of 1998. If that happens, Alberta taxpayers will be left holding the proverbial bag, while Bovar and Chem-Security suffer nothing but poor public relations-if typical Albertans are even conscious of these goings-on. The film does end on a high note, with the announcement of the Northern River Basin study, but the story doesn’t end there…

In April of 1998, Chem-Security and Bovar pleaded guilty to three charges of violating provincial environmental regulations, in relation to leaks of PCBs, dioxins, and furans into the atmosphere in October of 1996. In return for the guilty plea, the province dropped three other charges, all of which alleged that Bovar failed to report other spills and to warn residents of the danger. While this may seem like something of a victory, out-of-court settlements like this may send the message that the province does not take violations of Alberta’s environmental protection laws seriously enough to defend them to the full.

Today, the Swan Hills Special Waste Treatment Centre continues to burn tens of thousands of tons of hazardous materials, including shipments from Quebec that began to arrive in July of 1998. The aboriginal peoples scored a victory, though, when Bovar and the LSLIRC made an out-of-court settlement: Bovar has agreed to pay $ 100 000. 00 per annum to set up and maintain an environmental monitoring panel that will be run by the band’s elders council. Continual legal challenges and fear of poor public relations seem to have pressured Bovar into making some concessions...

Finally, two independent native trappers from the Lesser Slave Lakes region have managed to get a appeal of the decision to grant the plant their “environmentally safe” license and their right to import toxic wastes-an ironic turn of events, since Bovar made the out-of-court settlement so that the LSLIRC would drop an identical appeal. The hearing is set up for the Fall of 1998; the story isn’t over yet.

In short, Ballard and Reinhardt’s film is an excellent introduction to an issue that is of vital importance to all of us, not just to an isolated band of First Peoples.

As it turns out, Bovar wound up getting out of the waste treatment business back in 2000 and handing control back to the provincial government; the operation had become unprofitable. It wasn't a great deal for Alberta taxpayers either, costing over $440 million taxpayer bucks between 1987 and 2000. Just as the film imagined, the public was left holding a very noxious bag.

Currently a company called EarthTech is operating the plant, under a ten-year contract with the government. According to their very slick website, the Swan Hills treatment plant is a model of environmental friendliness. My Google-fu hasn't been strong enough to determine if the plant's reputation has improved since the early aughts, nor if it's still costing the government buckets and buckets of cash to operate. One wonders if EarthTech has finally made the site profitable, or if we're still subsidizing the plant to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Of course, if it's actually helping the environment, I'm all for spending the cash. But given its history...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


An earlier version of this story, titled "At the Border," remains my only fiction sale. When I read the story again about a week ago, I was a little pained by its clumsiness. So here's a new version. I'm still dissatisfied with it, and I don't feel like the story hangs together with the emotional punch I wanted, but progress is feels like a tiny improvement.

Standing at the border, one almost feels safe, even with assault rifles pointed indiscreetly in your direction. After all, you're behind an imaginary line that serves, through bureaucratic magic, as an invisible, impenetrable force field. Hey Presto! Thaumaturgy by committee, and just like that, the Party can't touch you. Theoretically, at least.

I've come here, to this invisible line in the asphalt, every year since we ran for it back in '22. That was after the Party won the last election – in both senses of the word “last” - and declared certain lifestyles illegal. My roommate and I made the run together, just before the Party got the barbed wire up.

This year Brad has come with me to the border, finally overcoming his fears. If Brad and I step over the faded yellow line that kisses our toes, the unsmiling guards are authorized to take us into immediate custody. This is because we wear brightly coloured pins with catchy slogans on our lapels, and we carry reactionary literature under our arms. Slogans are unpopular back in our old home, unless they're transmitted on one of the Infotainment channels, the only media approved by the government.

The two of us come every year to make fun of the sentries' uniforms - flat blue-green with day-glo orange and gold piping, the Party colours. At least the stormtroopers of old had fashion sense; not these guys. We flash insubordinate smiles as a tank rolls by.

It's hot. Oppressively so. Two of the guards sit in their air-conditioned checkpoint booth, watching television.

Back before the really bad times – during the merely terrible times, I guess you’d say - Brad and I had a house filled to the rafters with books on every subject, in every genre: politics, history, art, the classics, pop culture, gay and lesbian studies, feminism, science fiction, post-modernism, psychology, political economy, romance, sex. We didn't own a TV. TV was the K's weapon, his window into the pliable minds of the people.

The Party leader was in our conversations so much that we needed a shorthand way to refer to him; first, King Rafael, then just K, an ironic play on Kafka's hero in The Trial. Our K wouldn't have understood the reference. I suppose the analogy didn’t work anyway; after all, he wasn’t the one being judged, or not by anyone that mattered.

In September of 2022 all the K's horses and all the K's men came to visit Brad and I. The K had been upset by the latest round of demonstrations, so the Truth Police were out in force, aggressively stamping out the myths and lies that were destroying opportunities for economic development. They were conducting house to house surveys, taking careful notes, producing warrants to examine homes for suspicious paraphernalia.

"Mr. Peter Resnick?" the Truth Officer in blue and orange asked when I answered the door. I nodded. He and his cronies stepped inside, and Brad and I didn't resist, didn't demand a search warrant, didn't call the police. The police cooperated. They were the Living Will of the People, according to the brochures and the posters and the commercials.

In a way, the propaganda was only truth. Most people truly did support the Lifestyle Surveys and the Truth Police. The Party had an 89 percent approval rating if you discounted the stubborn liberals and socialists remaining in the capital city – easily dismissed as loonies, communists, and wackos. In the rural zones and conservative southern cities, the Party could do no wrong. Resistance to the K collapsed simply because the steady erosion of medical care and educational services kept the population so ignorant and sick that they couldn’t be bothered with anything as mundane as human rights. Kids today have never known classrooms or lectures that weren’t sponsored by Coke or Nike or the Gap.

The Truth Police looked askance at our clothing, our hairstyles; one took down the titles of every book in our collection, carefully itemizing them to be sorted into categories later. They made no effort to hide their disgust when they ran across anything of a feminist or sexual nature. In fact, they approved of virtually nothing in our collection but a copy of Atlas Shrugged and two of Anne Coulter’s hysteric turn-of-the-century screeds, all of which I’d bought for laughs.

Of course I had a copy of Fahreinheit 451, and of course they burned it. Not right in front of us, not right away, and not, I’m sure, without at least one too-clever Incinerator musing silently but impotently on the irony. Her last flicker of conscience a tiny spark, dying in the same instant as the last embers of the fire that engulfed our collection.

At least, that’s how I imagined it would be.

"We'll have to come back tomorrow to do some additional checks,” their leader said as they left, “we won't keep you long. But I warn you, from what I’ve seen here, you gentlemen will likely need to attend a full series of adult education courses to avoid a fine or lengthy community service."

I smiled weakly. Dark rumours about the nature of “community service” had been circulating for months, and the blood began to pound in my ears as I imagined the awful possibilities. “I’m sure the courses will be very enlightening,” I said, trying to keep my voice from cracking. The constable gave me a sour grin and left, bootheels clicking smartly on the sidewalk.

Brad and I packed all the books we could fit into the station wagon and left in the early morning, racing the dawn. We didn't stop until we were a hundred kilometers on the other side of the border, our car’s gas and batteries both drained. Our licence plates didn’t take long to attract attention, and soon a sympathetic BCMP officer was directing us to the closest refugee centre.

We were in the local papers (newspapers! What a novelty!) the next day, along with hundreds of others like us. Our actions made us wanted men, but thankfully our new home and our old share no extradition treaties. We were safe, even if we were now exiles.

Brad and I were tried in absentia and convicted of bookrunning. We can never go home.

So today we watch the tanks roll by, as we carry placards displaying obscene slogans like "Freedom to Read.” We have armloads of pornographic magazines and comic books to tempt the guards with. They pretend to be illiterate; it improves their chances for promotion in the Party heirarchy. But if we can get just a few to start reading again, perhaps it will catch on, an unstylish hobby made attractive again by its very forbiddenness. Maybe a guard or political officer with a little more curiousity than most will look past the airbrushed models and sneak a furtive glance at a short story. Perhaps a junior functionary will get hooked on Archie and Jughead, making him a ripe target for more subversive fare.

Brad and I know it’s close to futile. The immersive qualities of television, Net and VR narratives are tough for mere ink and paper to contend with. Net stories are laced with addictive sensory input that utterly engages the user, requiring none of the thought and interpretation that reading a conventional book requires. But at least here reading is still legal, and there are even a few independent bookstores left – with real paper novels, not just kiosks for downloading the latest AI-generated EyeBook.

Just as we’re about to give up for the day, a lean officer of the guard, a fiftyish man with austere features and perfectly groomed black hair, approaches me. We stand on on opposite sides of the border, regarding each other coldly. He tries to hide his contempt; I try to hide my fear.

“I’ll take all you have,” he says, too casually, and just loud enough for the closest guards to hear. “I’m not afraid of your trash. These tawdry magazines will serve as examples of bibliographical decadence.”

The Party line – villainous dialogue that would be laughable if it weren’t delivered with such sincerity. I’ve heard it before. But to disseminate the reading material is why we’re here, so I hand over the Archies and the Asms and a fify-year-old paperback copy of Synthetic Men of Mars with a shrug. Before the officer turns away, I catch something in his eyes.

It’s a glimmer, an ember of some long-dormant flame struggling to find the fuel that will allow it to roar to life again.

Or perhaps it’s only the last stubborn embers of hope that still cling to life within me. Even so, I dare to believe that his stilted dialogue was an overwrought act, and that not every book in his arms will find its way to the Incinerators. Three or four will be carefully tucked into clever hideaways…secret places.

I don’t allow myself to smile until my back is to the border, and Brad looks at me with a question in his eyes. There’s a campsite just a few metres away from the checkpoint; with night descending, it’s time we started a fire.

I gather up some loose twigs for the purpose as Brad retrieves the firestarter from the car. When he joins me next to the firepit, his unspoken question still evident in his eyes, I answer him with a dimly remembered quote:

“‘Tyranny dies; freedom endures; the pages of history turn and turn brighter as long as citizens care enough to write upon them with integrity and truth.’”

I read that somewhere - in a book.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Errant Thrust

Jeff Pitts, years after the accident.

This is a story about a boy, his friends, a pencil and a nostril. It’s a story about trust, betrayal, resentment and forgiveness. In short, it’s the infamous story of how I jammed a pencil up Jeff’s nose. And now it’s time to put that story in perspective.

I spent my teenage years in the 1980s. Trudeau was out, Mulroney was in, the space shuttle was flying high (or flying apart) and nuclear war seemed all too possible. Even in Leduc, Alberta – a small town on the outskirts of Edmonton – these concerns loomed large in my angst-ridden mind.

But in truth, most of my worries were closer to home. Grades were no problem – schoolwork came pretty easily – but my social life was another story. Girls were a huge and very attractive mystery, and my clumsy efforts to explore this new territory bore no fruit but embarrassment and humiliation.

Fortunately, I had friends, friends with whom I could escape the pain of adolescence and journey to other, better worlds. Like many kids growing up in the 80s, we had been mesmerized by the possibilities of Dungeons & Dragons.

For those of you not in the know—the non-geek crowd, that is—D&D isn't a board game; it's played out with pencils, scraps of paper, a score of thick rulebooks, and dice—not only the normal six-sided kind you find in the Monopoly box, but arcane geodesics with four, eight, twelve, twenty, or even one hundred sides. Dungeons & Dragons involves creating an alter-ego and stepping into an imaginary world jointly created by the game designers and a Dungeon Master. A Dungeon Master is the guy who does the most work in the course of the game, setting up storylines for the other players to follow and keeping track of mundane housekeeping chores like how powerful a particular monster is and whether your sword thrust will be powerful enough to penetrate its hide or if the blade will just snap in two. Dungeon Masters are like referees, only less macho.

I played Dungeons & Dragons with a tightly-knit group of other guys: Vern Ryan, Paul Ravensdale, Jeff Pitts, Ray Brown and Kevin Kelly. A bespectacled band of brothers, in spirit if not uniformly in fact.

Vern was a freckled kid from a large Catholic family, incredibly soft spoken most of the time, but prone to outrageous bursts of insight—such as his "Plate Theory of the Universe," which was so brilliant that it's been seared from my mind, as if the Creator felt that such knowledge Was Not Meant For Man.

Paul Ravensdale was a shy giant—I think he reached 6'8" when he finally stopped growing. He had a bit of a temper, but always carefully controlled.

Jeff Pitts was another regular—a swimmer and athlete, but also notoriously accident-prone; we often called him "Crash" or "Wipeout."

Ray Brown turned up to play fairly often, too. Ray had the thickest glasses of the lot, and, as if to live up to the stereotype, he was certainly the smartest of us in the hard sciences; Ray excelled in chemistry and biology.

Kevin Kelly joined our geek circle relatively late, entering the fold when we started Grade 10. An army brat, Kevin impressed—and disturbed—the rest of us with his in-depth knowledge of military practice and weaponry.

And then there was me, a painfully shy kid, the goody two-shoes adored by teachers and hated by bullies. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why I loved D&D—where else could I get the chance to be more than I was, to defeat villainy through peerless swordsmanship and clever trickery? Not to mention rescuing the princess…my favourite part of any adventure.

More often than not, we met at Paul’s place for our adventures, out on the back porch on summer afternoons or in the basement during the winter. We’d gather round, character sheets at the ready, dice of many colours scattered across the table, Cokes, Twizzlers and potato chips by our sides to fuel our quests.

And, of course, we had pencils. Even today, character statistics are often written in pencil because they aren’t static. According to the actions you take in any given role-playing game, your penciled-in intelligence of 17 might have to be scrubbed out and marked down to 16. Or, should your character be struck by an arrow, sword, or even a simple fist, your vital Hit Point tally would drop.

The pencil remains one of the most vital tools in the D&D player’s arsenal. But it is a tool not to be used without care, as I discovered on the day a carelessly wielded pencil nearly led to brain damage…

Vern usually served as our Dungeon Master. Hidden behind a DM screen (a three-fold piece of cardboard, with D&D themed art on one side and charts and rules on the other), Vern would chart the course of our characters’ destiny.

So it was on the day of the pencil. I don’t remember the adventure itself; too many years have passed, and the memories have been overshadowed by other trivia. But I do remember how the dreadful incident started.

Vern had placed our characters in one predicament or another. As usual, we debated what to do; stand and fight against insurmountable odds, or use our wits to come up with a more peaceful solution?

I wanted to fight. And so, holding my pencil as if it were the bastard sword held in my character’s mailed fist, I cried, “What if I went like THIS?” and, miming the actions of my character, I thrust my sword – that is, my pencil – skyward.

The pencil’s unfortunate trajectory bore it on a painful course. The world seemed to move in slow motion as the pencil thrust deep into Jeff’s nose, drilling into the dark cavity – “Nothin’ but nostril,” a basketball fan might have said. My eyes bulged in shock, and yet I was powerless to stop awful destiny from fulfilling its dreary mandate. The pencil violated Jeff’s nose until it hit something hard but pliable, jabbing against it with such force that Jeff’s head snapped back, a mournful “AIIEEEEEEEE” bursting from his horrified lips.

I gasped in shock, yanking the pencil out, thanking the God I didn’t believe in that I’d thrust eraser-end first. Even so, the shock of impact reverberated along my arm. Surely, I thought, the eraser must have bruised his brain.

“OW OW OW OW Son of a BITCH,” Jeff cried, clutching his nose. Paul and Vern laughed hysterically, and though I was filled with guilt and horror, I too, was quickly seized by devilish, inappropriate mirth. Gasping apologies, red in the face, I struggled mightily to contain myself. Through tears of laughter, I managed to ask Jeff if he was all right; at least, I thought, there was no blood.

Jeff, naturally, was unimpressed. But the damage couldn’t have been too bad, because we resumed our game as soon as we were able to control ourselves again. Jeff’s intelligence score did not in fact decrease from 17 to 16, despite the brain bruising, and our characters went on to defeat the villains, rescue the princess, hoard the gold, etc.

Today, Jeff maintains that this tragic accident of fate was, in fact, a deliberate and malicious act on my part. I can only protest my innocence. I’m not in the habit of violating orifices with writing instruments, unless metaphorically via this blog. I do, however, regret the physical and psychological wounds inflicted on Jeff.

On the other hand, the story itself has been a big hit at parties, and perhaps I’ll even tell it at my wedding. After all, Jeff has agreed, despite everything, to serve as my best man. Who nose why?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Persistence of Vision, or: Jeepers Creepers, What Happened to My Peepers?

I haven't had an eye exam in about a dozen years, so I popped in today for a checkup. And apparently it's a good thing I did, for the good doctor told me that my vision has...improved. My spectacles are two steps too strong, he said; you're now 20/15. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but he told me "Your vision is very sharp."

I was too intimidated to ask why, if my vision is very sharp, I need glasses at all, but I did manage to ask whether or not such improvement is normal.

"Well, it's pretty damn unusual for someone your age," he said. Apparently folks in their 50s do sometimes experience improvement in their vision, but it's very rare for a 37 year old.

So I feel pretty lucky today. Of course I have to get new glasses with a weaker prescription, but that's a price I'm very willing to pay.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dark Reflection: Kevin Willmott's CSA

Many authors have imagined how history would have been different had the Confederate states won the civil war, but few filmmakers have approached the subject.

CSA is a false document, a documentary from a parallel universe. Director Kevil Willmott cleverly apes the style of Ken Burns, the filmmaker responsible for hugely influential works such as Jazz, The Civil War, Mark Twain, Baseball, and others. Like Burns, Willmott incorporates photographs, audio recordings, paintings and early film footage to build a compelling historical narrative - but in Willmott's case, it is an imagined history.

In CSA, the Confederacy triumphs by successfully enslisting the aid of Britain and France; Lee wins at Gettysburg, the North falls, and a black-faced Abraham Lincoln is captured while attempting to use Harriet Tubman's underground railroad to escape to Canada.

A scene from the allohistorical DW Griffith classic, The Hunt for Dishonest Abe.

Tubman is hanged; Lincoln is jailed for two years and then exiled to Canada. The Confederate flag is raised over the White House, and for nonwhites living in the former USA, this image is a nightmarish harbinger of a bleak future.

History unfolds as you might expect. Chinese labourers in the American west are enslaved; war is waged on the plains Indians, as in our history; the CSA builds an empire, invading Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America and enslaving their populations. Canada becomes the only non-slave state in the western Hemisphere, and a black exodus to Canada begins, leading to a north-south Cold War; the "Cotton Curtain," a concrete wall thousands of kilometres long, is built along the Canada-US border, and Canada benefits from the influx of blacks; rock and roll is born in the north, while US culture stagnates. There are moments of progress; Republican John F. Kennedy defeats Democrat Richard Nixon and promises emancipation...with predictable results for the charismatic young President.

But all in all, Willmott presents a bleak future for this alternate Earth, one perhaps best revealed not in the documentary that makes up the bulk of the film, but in the commercials broadcast over the San Fransisco television station broadcasting it.

Watch Runaway, a reality show depicting dedicated CBI agents capturing runaway slaves. Obviously modeled on Cops, this short segment is profoundly disturbing - because the shows are so alike. Just as on Cops, blacks are pursued, shackled and carted off by grimacing whites. The obvious question: is our reality really that much better than the one presented in the film?

Darky toothpaste, for a "jigaboo bright" smile.

Satire? Yes. But, unbelievably, Darky toothpaste, Sambo oil, and the Coon Chicken Inn were all real products and services. Darky toothpaste is still marketed today in some parts of the world, and the Coon Chicken Inn operated until the 1950s. I knew about the Coon Chicken Inn, but the other products lampooned in the film were unknown to me. The film's coda, a brief explanation of the differences between the false history presented in CSA and history in the real world, points out that the commercialization of slavery remains with us today, in the form of products such as Uncle Ben's rice and Aunt Jemima's pancake syrup. (Before watching this film, I didn't know that "Aunt" and "Uncle" were common antebellum terms for household slaves.)
CSA is dark, funny, and educational. Little heralded, it's well worth a viewing.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Strange New Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh...

Well, the winners of the Strange New Worlds X contest have finally been announced, and as I anticipated, I wasn't one of them. I thought going in that the story was a little too cute and self indulgent, so this result isn't really a surprise, but it's still a bit of a bummer.

On the plus side, now I get to inflict the story on all of you. Hooray!

For those of you not immersed in Star Trek lore, this story is a sequel to the show's first pilot, "The Cage," and its followup two-part episode, "The Menagerie." In those stories, Captain Christopher Pike, who commanded the starship Enterprise before Captain Kirk, discovered a planet of mentally advanced but physically decrepit aliens, and a human woman named Vina, survivor of a spaceship crash. The aliens, called Talosians, create a world of illusion for Pike and Vina, hoping that they will breed a new race of slaves for the aliens, for the purpose of rehabilitating their barren world. Pike foils this plot in "The Cage," but he is later crippled and disfigured in a terrible accident, and convinces his old friend, Mr. Spock, to take him back to the Talosians so that he can live in an illusion of youth and vitality with Vina.

My story takes place years later, after the death of Pike, and finds the aliens he left behind in mourning.

Waking Moments

Long ago, he had been known as the Keeper. Now, his colleagues called him the Kept, for the Talosian who was First Among Equals had exiled himself from the company of his peers and ensconced himself in the Library of Thought, his mind wrapped up in the vast recorded memories of an alien culture – and no one was certain why.

This quiet crisis had its genesis in the recent deaths of two guests of the Talosians: a male named Pike and a female named Vina. At first prisoners, the two humans had eventually become honoured guests, admired teachers, and finally dear friends. It had taken many years, but Vina and Pike’s mortal bodies finally surrendered to entropy – first the female, and then just a few weeks later, the male.

The Talosians were all saddened by the passing of the humans, but the Keeper’s antisocial reaction was unheard of within recent Talosian memory. To isolate oneself from telepathic communion was unprecedented, and no one knew precisely how to deal with the Keeper’s behaviour. Worse, no one was certain if the Keeper’s self-imposed solitude was helping him heal, or merely disguising some deep and dangerous emotional wounds.

The Archivist had been charged with discovering which, if either, was the case. And he wasn’t certain if he was equal to the task.

When Captain Pike and Vina had at last died, the Keeper had changed. Relieved of the responsibility of maintaining the illusions that kept the two humans happy, safe and intellectually challenged, the Keeper seemed lost, without a reason to justify his continued existence.

Lost, at least, until he had asked the Archivist to set aside an alcove in the Library of Thought for his own exclusive use. The Archivist saw no reason to decline – the Library was not used often enough to make such exclusivity a burden to others – and so the Keeper found his new purpose.

It was a purpose that mystified the other Talosians. For months now, the Keeper had spent nearly every waking moment in his alcove, staring fixedly at the irregular-shaped viewer laid into the alcove’s rocky wall.

It was an outdated but still operational piece of technology, one Pike had often used for education and amusement during those rare times in which they chose to experience the reality of their life on Talos rather than the illusion. “I need to be myself every once in a while,” the captain had said before the shell of illusion fell away to reveal his silent, broken body, “I need to remember that pain is part of the human condition, and that not everyone has the luxury of living forever in a dream.”

Pike’s insistence on spending time, however brief, in his broken husk of a body confused a few Talosians at first. But in time they understood. In his own way, Pike was encouraging the Talosians to rediscover the power of their own bodies, to experience the joy and the struggle of physical existence. To a species that lived mostly in a realm of unlimited possibility – the seductive trap created by their own incredible mental powers – the lesson was perhaps the most important Pike had imparted in all his years among them. Though his wasted nervous system was barely able to signal simple binary commands through his Federation-built life support chair, Pike found the will (with a little hidden assistance from the Keeper when the human’s strength faltered) to operate the Library’s control system.

On these occasions, the Keeper or the Archivist – but more often the Keeper – would offer to ease Pike’s self-imposed burden. “I can retrieve whichever records you wish,” the Keeper once said, his eyes wide with genuine alarm as Pike’s exertion became more and more obvious. “Why risk damaging yourself in this manner?”

Pike could not respond, of course, until the Keeper restored the illusion of youth and health. And even then he only said, “Sometimes it’s good for the soul to do things the hard way.”

The Archivist paid little attention to the records, books and video images Pike spent so much time reviewing. The Keeper, on the other hand, was fascinated, and Pike didn’t mind if the Keeper read over his shoulder from time to time. The human’s interests were varied, and of course he spent a good deal of his time studying Talosian history, but inevitably he returned to images of his homeworld and the Federation Starfleet ships and outposts he’d left behind.

The Archivist hadn’t been as close to the humans as the Keeper had been, but he did once share an encounter that not even the Keeper knew of; once, many years ago, the Archivist had witnessed the midpoint of an emotional conflict between Pike and Vina. It was an accident; by that time, the Talosians understood the importance these humans placed on their personal boundaries. But the Archivist had entered the humans’ current illusion – an outdoor picnic that seemed one of their favourites - for a scheduled lesson on Terran agricultural methods.

It was an appointment the couple had clearly forgotten. The female was in tears; the male’s lips were pressed into a thin line, his eyes narrowed, face flushed. Vina, her fists clenched, turned and ran, vanishing into an illusion of her own choosing, one the Archivist imagined would fulfill her desire for solitude.

“I’m sorry,” the Archivist said, “Your mate is distressed. I will return later.”

“It’s all right,” Pike said. “She needs to cool off.”

The Archivist was confused. “I thought humans offered comfort to each other in times of emotional turmoil,” he said.

Pike sighed. “We do,” he admitted, “But there’s a time to give a girl a hug, and a time to let her have a good cry. You choose the wrong response at the wrong time, and boy, you’re in hot water and you know it.”

“How do you know which action to take, and when? Without the ability to touch minds…”

Pike smiled, but it did not touch his eyes. “Intuition. Empathy. And luck. It might not be as accurate as telepathy, but we manage. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a feeling that it’s just about time for me to run after Vina and apologize.”

And then Pike, too, had vanished.

The Archivist wasn’t certain if he would ever attain the high degree of intuition and empathy that humans seemed to take for granted. And Talosians didn’t believe in luck. But the Archivist sensed that his time to gently confront the Keeper had come.

So now the Archivist found himself approaching his friend from behind, feeling like an intruder in his own domain. The Keeper sensed his presence, of course; among telepathic species, it was very difficult to startle one another.

To the outside observer, the Keeper seemed to be staring at a blank screen, but every Talosian knew that the Keeper himself was using his telepathic abilities to browse through the Library of Thought’s vast codex. The screen would only come to life if the user wished to share the materials he was accessing with others. In truth, it had only been used this way for the edification of the humans; and of late, the Keeper did not seem inclined to share.

Such eccentricity was tolerated, even embraced. Pike and Vina had helped the Talosians rediscover certain universal values: humour, compassion and respect for privacy among them. But their bemused indulgence had changed to concern, even worry. Though the Keeper appeared healthy, he had completely forsaken the congress of his fellows. His thoughts were shielded, and the only outward expression of emotion was the occasional thin smile.

“Your studies have distanced you,” the Archivist said. “We do not wish to intrude, but…we have grown concerned.”

The Keeper turned in his seat and smiled up at the Archivist.

“There is no cause for concern. I am merely adjusting to the deaths of Christopher and Vina.”

The Archivist tilted his head, thought-vesicles pulsing atop his bulbous skull. “How is the library helping you adjust?” he asked.

Without moving, the Keeper brought the ancient viewer to life. He could have shared his thoughts in direct mind-to-mind contact, but at this moment he felt more comfortable using the screen, as he would have with Christopher. Its primitivism was somehow both more and less communal than telepathy – like the ancient humans and Talosians who used to gather around campfires or electronic televiewing devices to share their stories.

The Archivist’s eyes widened in surprise as he beheld the events taking place on the screen. A Vulcan known to them both was stumbling down a corridor, and his face was wracked with sorrow.

“Spock,” said the Archivist. “But Vulcans do not typically display their emotions so blatantly.”

“They called it ‘the naked time,’” the Keeper said, “A contagion temporarily removed all inhibition and logic among the crew of Spock’s ship. It nearly destroyed them, but a cure was found before ultimate disaster struck and they went about their normal duties soon enough.”

“I see.” The Archivist was disturbed. Was the Keeper so distressed that he felt he was about to experience a similar loss of control? Was he seeking some kind of cure?

But the Keeper sensed his friend’s thoughts, and gently shook his head. “That is not why this particular memory interests me. Watch as Spock enters the next room.”

The Archivist watched. Spock stepped toward a set of pneumatic doors; they slid open at his approach. The Vulcan stepped through, paused as the doors closed, and leaned back upon them, sobbing.

The image froze. The Archivist looked at his friend, confused.

“What is the significance of this particular moment?”

The Keeper replayed the memory. Again, the Archivist failed to understand.

“The doors obviously have motion sensors; you approach, and the doors open. They close once you pass,” the Keeper said.

Now the Archivist was baffled. Why was the Keeper obsessing over such minutiae?

The Keeper explained. “Once Spock passes beyond the threshold, the doors close, as you would expect. But then, he leans backward – and rests against the doors. If the doors are controlled by a mere motion sensor, should they not have opened once more, and should Spock not have fallen backward into the corridor?”

“I fail to see…”

The Keeper stood, and he was beaming, a finger held high in the air. “Indeed he should have! And yet, the doors remained closed, as if they were supporting someone in need of comfort! The doors, Archivist, are context-sensitive!”

“Context sensitive doors..? But why…?”

The Keeper continued as if his friend hadn’t spoken. “Another example, from many decades later, on another Federation ship named Enterprise.” He pointed, quite unnecessarily, at the viewer. The Archivist watched as an older, pale-skinned human male picked up a young, dark-skinned man and flung him across the length of a room. The younger man flew straight into a set of doors – much like the ones Spock had leaned upon moments ago – and crashed through them, falling atop the derailed doors in an adjoining hallway.

The Archivist was speechless, and appalled. Why was the Keeper showing him this scene of distasteful violence?

“Do you see?” the Keeper said, “The doors should have opened as the one called LaForge flew toward them. But they remained closed! Why? To break the human’s fall! Context-sensitive doors!”

The Archivist spread his hands, a gesture he’d begun to use in unconscious mimicry of Vina. “But…but even so…”

The Keeper returned to his seat and leaned back, eyes turning toward the rocky ceiling.

“Over the years I spent with Christopher and Vina, I absorbed a great deal of human wisdom and whimsy through their arts and history. They introduced me to adventures wilder than any fantasy Talosians could have imagined. Cities in the sky, terrifying mechanical demons, heroic sacrifice, epic battle, tragic loss. Christopher introduced me to the stories of the men and women who came before him, and then watched alongside me as we looked on in awe at the exploits of his successors.”

In one of their books of mythology, there is an aphorism which states, ‘By their works, you will know them.’ Throughout their growth as a species, humans have created works both great and small, works that express their best qualities: toys that serve no purpose but to bring joy to children. Complex arrangements of wood and metal that when used properly create the most exquisite sounds. Bubbles of silicon blown into existence with nothing but the tender breaths of a meticulous artisan, created for no purpose but their intrinsic aesthetic beauty. Machinery that gives mobility to the immobile, sight to the blind. They have even learned to create virtual worlds indistinguishable from the illusions we create, but unlike us they have not succumbed to the lure of perpetual fantasy. Instead they use these worlds to teach and create as often as they use them to escape reality.

Their smallest works – their afterthoughts, like these context-sensitive doors – are perhaps the greatest expression of their humanity. From the sublime to the ridiculous, their primary motivation in all things seems to be to protect each other and to inspire and enable each member of the species to reach their full potential. Something as seemingly ridiculous as a portal that understands when to open and when not to is a reflection of the force that drives them toward greatness.”

The Archivist was silent for a while. He hadn’t realized the depth of the Keeper’s attachment to the humans and the culture that spawned them.

“You are aware of the less social aspects of humanity – their urge to do violence, their hatred, their selfishness.”

The Keeper nodded. “I am aware. And I have come to the conclusion that their ability to overcome their own nature speaks even more highly of them.”

The Archivist was beginning to understand why the Keeper had done what he had.

“You wanted to be sure,” the Archivist said, “You wanted to be certain that we had, after all, made the right choice when we drew the humans here.”

The Keeper nodded.

“Perhaps the greatest loss we Talosians suffered during our long period of stagnation was the loss of our sense of wonder. When we learned to create worlds at a whim, we forgot the value of the creative struggle, of any struggle. That is why Pike insisted that we allow the illusion to fade, if only for moments at a time, even though he knew it was likely to shorten his life in the long run.

Watching the struggles of human beings has made me realize that I need to do more for our world. Christopher and Vina’s help was invaluable; they have given us the knowledge and inspiration we need to heal Talos, and ourselves. But we must venture beyond the confines the intellect and put our imagination to work in the real world – out there, on the blasted lands above us.

I needed some time alone to consider the lessons of our time with Christopher and Vina – time apart from the community of thought that has made decision making so easy for us. Perhaps…too easy. The story of Pike’s life proved that sometimes you need to be stubborn to accomplish greatness, especially when faced with an abundance of easier choices. And no one is as stubborn as a single determined individual forced into a life-or-death struggle for survival, with nothing but the resources of his own mind and body.”

The Archivist turned away, the truth of the Keeper’s words chilling him with their implications. To leave the safety of their underground warrens, to build and live and grow on the planet’s inhospitable surface – to raise children again – the effort seemed vast.

He knew it was. And he knew it was necessary. Their species would have to rediscover the strengths of individuality and the value in ‘doing things the hard way,’ as Pike had put it. That might even mean relying less on their telepathic network and more on face-to-face interaction. Perhaps they would relearn how to read the complex signals of vocal tone, body language, eye movement.

“Have we learned all we can from the humans, then?” the Archivist asked.

The Keeper considered it. He knew the Archivist was really asking about his own recent struggles to deal with the loss of his friends, and he, the Keeper, appreciated his friend’s attempt to depersonalize the issue.

“For now,” the Keeper said. “At any rate, the exploits of the human species have grown harder to receive of late, as though some outside force has drawn a curtain between us and their stories. For some time now, I’ve been able to view nothing but repeated memories.”

The Archivist was disturbed. “Are the humans in any danger?” he asked.

The Keeper stood, and invited his friend to follow him down the hallway that led from the Library of Thought to the surface portal.

“They’ve only gone silent for a time. I have a feeling that the human adventure is just beginning – and thanks to the inspiration they have provided, our own adventure can at last resume as well. We’ll leave our world of dreams behind for a while, and when we have used those dreams as fuel to rebuild our world – why then, we’ll dream some more, and build something even greater.”

The Archivist and Keeper walked into the future they would forge together.


So, there it is. Given the perspective of time, I can see several reasons why Pocket chose not to purchase the story. Some of the prose isn't as polished as it could be, for instance. (This is why you shouldn't try to write a story over the last three nights before a deadline.) The plot references the previously unestablished death of a major character, which is against the contest rules. (I thought Pike might be minor enough for me to get away with this one.)

The largest flaw, however, is that it seems like a story in search of one high concept, the whole context sensitive doors thing, which longtime BHOB readers will recognize from a post I made here a couple of years ago. I fell a little too much in love with my own cleverness, and probably sabotaged the larger meaning of the story.

Anyway, that's my analysis. Still, I'm proud to have actually finished a piece of fiction, and to have put it in the mail for the unflinching eyes of others. My only regret is that Pocket has announced that Strange New Worlds X was the last such contest they'll run; there's no "better luck next year" for me this time.

On the other hand, maybe it's time to start seriously looking at some of those original stories I have on the back burner...