My video is reaching students!

NASA nebula

A still shot from NASA

Way back I took classes in “podcasting” and “movie-maker.” Afterward, I came home and practiced what we’d learned in class. I made three videos, which are a lot closer to Powerpoint presentations, if the truth be told. Anyway, one of them has had a bit of success—”A Brief History of Science Fiction.” This video was designed with a few still images, mostly screen shots from NASA such as the one I featured on this post, and two audio tracks. We’d been warned in class about using commercial music, so I downloaded a freebie track that I thought sounded dramatic. The second audio track is my voice, reading story boards, in my rather strong Southern U.S. accent. I did write the story boards, based upon my study of the science fiction genre, my training in English literature, and what of that matched up with the still images that I managed to acquire at the time.

Science fiction is an ever changing literary and film genre (with more than a dash of animation) so my video is already a bit dated. Still, I was most gratified when reading a very valid complaint about the loud musical soundtrack. The complainant stated that my little YouTube video was required for class. Gosh darn! My Brief History of Science Fiction is required by a teacher (somewhere?) for a class (in something?) I’m flattered. Really.

If you don’t mind hearing that awful musical track, head over to YouTube and see A Brief History of Science Fiction. While you are there, the link to my “book trailer” for The Gift Horse is still live also.

Born with Teeth—A Memoir; review and commentary

Born Mulgrew

Kate Mulgrew’s Memoir

My guess is the first I heard of Kate Mulgrew was when she starred in Mrs. Columbo, but that’s not a certainty. Like many fans of all things Star Trek, I was both thrilled and a bit concerned when Mulgrew was very publicly named the newest captain in the fourth iteration of that television franchise, Star Trek Voyager. And, I was rather amazed to by her character in Orange is the New Black, in a role that is far from her roots as a distinctive and attractive leading lady.

Regardless of when one first noticed Kate Mulgrew, she is a force on the screen. Recently, I read her memoir, which has the curious title Born with Teeth. Apparently, she was indeed born with teeth, which were extracted so she could feed properly. For Mulgrew’s fans , there may not be all that much new information, but the style of her prose does illuminate readers on her perspective in regards to matters that matter most. The narrative is mostly linear, although she skips a lot of years and events. First, the reader learns just how dedicated she is to her craft and how much work it has been. Second, readers will become better acquainted with Kate’s large family, and see how they have influenced her. One of my favorite passages is when, as a schoolgirl, Kate invited her artist mother to hear her recitation of poems she had written. Upon learning about the program, Kate’s mom, Joan, gives her a copy of a poem (The White Cliffs of Dover) to read, and during the school program young Kate not only read her poems, but she read the classic poem so well that her audience was almost in tears. Afterward, Kate’s mom told her that she could either be a bad poet or a great actress. Apparently, Kate took those words to heart, because from that early age, she put all of her effort into becoming an actress.

Fans of Ryan’s Hope (a soap opera that was Kate’s first big break in television) or Star Trek Voyager (perhaps her most influential role) will find a few gems, but she doesn’t concentrate on those stints. Instead, what Mulgrew writes about is relationships. While filming Ryan’s Hope, Kate became pregnant, and as she was not married and quite young, she assumed she’s have to leave her job. Instead, the pregnancy was written into the show, and her character gave birth a few days after Kate did it in real life. The Mary Ryan character kept her baby, but Kate gave up her daughter for adoption. Later, she expends both time and money in an attempt to find her biological daughter, and that search is a focal point of the memoir.

Certainly, Mulgrew has experienced quite a lot of grief, as one of her sister’s died of a brain tumor and another succumbed to pneumonia. Romance has not always been easy, either. Mulgrew also writes of her loves—her first husband, Robert Egan, and the sons that he fathered, and how divorce affected her and the boys. Later, she reveals how her love for her second husband, Tim Hagan, endured a rather on again then off again period. The memoir ends as she meets her daughter and her relationship with Hagan finally settles into marriage.

I’m a science fiction fan (and writer) so I was just a tad disappointed in this memoir. I’d love it if Kate would do as Shatner has done and publish a book about her time portraying Captain Janeway. Perhaps she will, when she has more time, for she does seem to be one busy lady.

Trinity is Free for Three (days)

Beginning at midnight on July 14, the giant-sized internet seller of books and other sundries will be offering the eBook version of my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, for free! I’ve seldom used this option, but as their Prime Day promotions will be going on, I thought I might get a few people to download it. If I’m really lucky, I might get another positive review, too. Anyway, here’s the book cover; just click for a link to the sale.

ToT_cover_final_webLG

Here’s an excerpt of my favorite review of the novel:

TRINITY ON TYLOS… is instead a thought-provoking book that will challenge one’s beliefs about the importance of motherhood, duty, and sacrifice. At times, the choices made by Venice and even Allie are ones the reader will disagree with and perhaps even be angered by them. However, one of the trademarks of a well-written novel is its ability to inspire others to debate. TRINITY ON TYLOS accomplishes this and so much more. Pamela J. Dodd has truly demonstrated her gift as a writer with this stunning book.” —

Rebel Princess by Blair Bancroft

The title of this yarn isn’t particularly original, as it makes me think of Princess Leia, but the story doesn’t lean on Star Wars very much. As the book opens, with a war game going on, rather like Star Trek— The Wrath of Khan, I was wondering if the author was going to borrow heavily from that story, but not really. Actually, Bancroft uses lots of science fiction and fantasy elements, but this is theme and variation, then more variation. As a writer, a reader, and an occasional viewer of science fiction, I see this story as fairly original, and since there truly is “no new thing under the sun” that’s a complement.

Oh, there are some aspects of the story that I don’t like. Most of the “alien” characters have an odd apostrophe in their names. I’ve come to view that artifice as trite, as so many science fiction and fantasy writers employ it. There are times when the narrative drags a bit, and the author tends to use too many sentence fragments. Especially. At times of high emotion. Oh wow. Get it? And, at least half of the main players have two names, because some are masquerading as someone else, which can get a bit confusing. Indeed, the author has a list of terms on her website, just to explain some of what’s going on in the story. Mostly, I didn’t need that, but it was nice to take a look at them all to see if I had guessed correctly.

Still, this story has lots to like, including a heroine (Kass Kiolani) who is brave but not at all prone to throwing caution to the winds. Since she was brought up as a royal heir, she thinks everything through. The hero (Tal Rigel) is mostly heroic and a lot less cautious than Kass, but vulnerable enough to be likable. Minor characters tend to be stereotypical, but there is some character building, especially the main character’s brother, who has some interesting “gifts.” The world building is better than some novels in the romantic science fiction genre, perhaps because this is the first in a series of novels set in this universe.

Star Trek Poetry

ritadoveA friend who knows of my love of science fiction in general, and Star Trek in particular, mentioned hearing a show called “Ask Me Another” on NPR where a poet (Rita Dove) was challenged to identify characters based upon reworking of famous poems with Star Trek: the Next Generation in mind. Those of you who like Star Trek will no doubt be intrigued by the puzzles presented to the poet. Anyone who likes poetry and Trek should truly enjoy this show. I certainly did!

Girl Power? Wonder Woman review and commentary

I’m not a frequent visitor to first run movies, as hubby and I enjoy our Netflix subscription (and homemade popcorn) more. Sometimes, however, a film comes out that piques my interest so we make the trek to our local multiplex and join a group of folks we’ve never met to see a movie. After reading some reviews and seeing a couple of trailers, I told hubby that I intended to see Wonder Woman, with or without him, so we went to see it.

Gal Gadot is fabulous in this film as the title character, as is Chris Pine’s side kick, Steve Trevor. Others do a good job, and Robin Wright is visually stunning as the Amazon general. Indeed, stunning is a word that comes to mind through the first half of the film. An superhero movie that is not a sequel must begin with some exposition, and that is a tricky phase. Too much detail threatens to bore the non-faithful viewer, but too little will disappoint those faithful fans who will show up regardless of what critics say. This version of Wonder Woman nails the exposition, with lots of action woven into the backstory. The costumes are simply amazing as are the settings and the action sequences. The characters do a great job of holding the viewers’ interest as the setting shifts from the island of the Amazons to WWI London. Again, the settings work well, as do the costumes, and it was easy to feel that we’d been transported back a hundred years.

(I am purposely leaving out details, as I do not want to ruin this movie for those who haven’t seen it, if there is anyone left in that category.)

Once the main mission of our heroine gets underway, the action is almost non-stop, and the villains are properly villainous. If I am totally honest, the final action sequence is a tad too long, but the overall effect is that this is a really good movie. Wonder Woman 2017 earns its fabulous score on Rotten Tomatoes.

I know nothing of director Patty Jenkins other work, nor have I seen Gadot in other films, but I have liked Chris Pine’s version of Captain Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek, and I thought he did a great job in the period action-adventure The Finest Hours (Theatrical). This super hero flick really hits on all cylinders: it is reasonably true to the comic book version, won’t disappoint fans of the old television series, and is so well made that newbies will enjoy it, too.

Please enjoy the links to these previous films available online, and consider going to see Wonder Woman.

Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant— a brief review

Okay, I am a sucker for a good title, and this book has a good title and a good cover. Win-win! And it is about Star Trek, which I like quite a lot. But it is rather deep at times, so I wouldn’t rate it five stars, but fans of Trek who have some knowledge of philosophy might award it a solid four, perhaps.

What is between the covers is a collection of essays edited by Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker. These essays use Star Trek’s various television shows and movies to explore philosophical issues, and it helps quite a lot if the reader is familiar with all forms of Trek. Since I never watched all of DS9 or Enterprise, I was sometimes a bit lost.

The first essay is a nifty one, as it is based upon a Next Generation episode, “Darmok.” Both the essay and the episode dealt with the difficulty of translating a totally alien language. Throughout most of the Trek episodes there was a “universal translator” which was a bit like Google Translate, but it depended upon languages having some commonalities. Of course, communication via such means can go astray quite easily, but what about an alien species that doesn’t communicate the way we do? The issues would be far beyond going from English to Chinese, and I understand that can be difficult.

As the essays in this book are by different authors, the tone and topics vary quite a lot. For me, it was a book to nibble at, but not a cover to cover read. I’ve always viewed Star Trek as more intellectual than Star Wars, but this book takes it to an even higher plane. For fans of all things Trek, there are some really delicious ideas to examine in this collection, so if that describes you, go for it!

Leonard Nimoy, one of the original stars of Trek, has died

Leonard Nimoy as Spock

Mr. Nimoy, in black and white, for that is how I first saw him, on my parents’ old console television.

That sucks. Really.

He was in poor health, but really, I am feeling loss right now. As a youngster, I enjoyed TOS when it was first telecast, and I enjoyed it even more in re-runs when it was in syndication and I could watch it without any disparaging remarks from my father. (Nothing against dear old J.R. but he liked westerns, and just didn’t realize that Trek was a western, set in outer space.) And, Nimoy’s character, Spock, was just a lot more interesting than Dr. McCoy, Scottie the engineer, or even the feisty Captain Kirk. Lots of girls swooned over the intellectual Mr. Spock, and maybe that was part if the attraction, but I really think it was his brainpower that made me love the character of Spock. During my life, I only dated two young men for any length of time, both of whom had very dark hair and lots of brainpower, and I feel very fortunate to have married one of them!

Anyway, I’m not sure how others will react to Mr. Nimoy’s passing, but for me his death touches my heart even more than the deaths of his co-stars, James Doohan and DeForest Kelley, or even the great bird of the galaxy, Mr. Roddenberry himself. I never met Leonard Nimoy, but I feel as if a long time friend is gone. Since I watched TOS countless times, as well as the movies, I suppose my feeling of loss is logical.

We’ll miss you, Mr. Nimoy!

Voyage Through the Stars—and Back in Time!

Image

My husband stumbled upon an episode of “Star Trek Continues” and after just a few minutes, we were hooked. This upscale “fan film” site is really something to see. There are only a couple of full episodes, but a fully funded Kickstarter campaign from last year should fund at least a couple more episodes. We really liked the loving homage of this effort. Seeing new episodes with the same music, similar storylines, familiar costumes and props, and amazingly original looking sets make this nothing like the “reboot” movies.

These free online videos, which do include some shorter “vignettes” are made by a not-for-profit-entity, filming in Kingsland, Georgia, in a warehouse with 10,000 square feet of sets built to look just like the sets from 40+ years back. The actors do not just dress and look somewhat like the original series characters, but add their own interpretations as well. And, get this: the actor portraying Chief Engineer Scott is James Doohan’s son, Chris. That casting choice is far more authentic than the reboot’s Simon Pegg. Kirk is portrayed by Vic Mignogna, a voice actor and director, and Todd Haberkorn is Spock.

At first, seeing these different actors portraying well known (and loved) characters seemed odd, but after a few minutes, we were more interested in the story line than the actor’s faces and voices. There are some new characters, too, as the premise is that STC is telling the tales from years four and five of the “five year mission” that was only three years long in the original series. Had the series continued, no doubt new characters would have come along, so this concept works well.

Fans of TOS should check out Star Trek Continues, because it is quite entertaining. My husband and I are hoping for many new episodes. And, as residents of Georgia, we are wondering if they are going to have another open house, as they did a couple of years back. I’d love to see those sets!

Star Trek Voyager— Still a Marvelous Journey

While exploring the science fiction archives of Netflix, I noticed Star Trek Voyager among the offerings. Not only did I watch most of those Star Trek episodes first run, I’ve seen the original series (TOS) and the next generation (TNG) many times since those now venerable shows went into syndicated re-run status. But I had not seen much of Voyager since it originally aired on the now defunct UPN network. I’m surprised at how well it has held up. That is the beauty of futuristic science fiction, isn’t it? Since no one knows exactly what our world or even our galaxy will be like in a few hundred years, this late ’90’s version is still worthy.

Basically, the plot of this version of Star Trek is that a new Federation ship, Voyager, is thrown some 70,000 light-years away from known space, while chasing a band of rebels. Due to the destruction of the rebel’s ship, as well as heavy casualties on Voyager, the crews combine, under the leadership of Captain Janeway, and set off for home. Star Trek Voyager combines many typical science fiction themes, but the underlying one is even older— the journey. Like Odysseus, the crew of Voyager meets new friends and enemies along the way.

When it was in production, critics complained about many aspects of the show, and some of those criticisms are still valid. Yes, the first female captain to command a weekly journey into space sometimes makes “silly” decisions. But Kate Mulgrew does a good job of portraying a new captain, on a new ship, in a situation that she is certainly not prepared for, shepherding her crew as they make their seven-year journey through the Delta Quadrant. The other characters were interesting, as well. For the most part, Voyager was blessed with extremely good acting and good special effects. The scripts are more uneven, but some of them are quite good. I think that, taken as a whole, Voyager is better than any other Star Trek series, apart from the original, which is set apart by its iconic status.

Voyager was not without its faults, however, and critics seemed to love pointing out the flaws. Yes, they should have run out of shuttle craft long before they built the Delta Flyer, because those little rascals kept blowing up. Maybe those fancy replicators which remain off-line except for emergencies were used to replicate shuttle craft. Running out of shuttles would probably constitute an emergency. And, despite what some critics have said, Captain Janeway does not threaten self-destruction in every episode. I know, because I have watched most of them in the past couple of months. She does have more than one episode where she bellows, “All hands, abandon ship.” Still, a weekly series calls for at least one crisis a week, so all that drama is necessary to keep viewers entertained.

One of the more interesting ploys by the producers of Voyager was eliminating one female cast member (the character Kes) and introducing a “sexy” gal in a catsuit instead (Seven of Nine.) But, if a science fiction show can intelligently use sex appeal, then the evolution of Jerri Ryan’s Borg sex symbol must qualify. As her character assimilates human characteristics, the writers were able to explore many aspects of humanity. And fiction has long served as a means of discussing human behavior without taking it on too directly. While this series stars an ensemble cast, Seven of Nine was a character with plenty of room for growth, and the writers did not disappoint. Apart from a few two-part episodes, each 45 minute story can stand alone, but there were many “story arcs” which allow greater character development (of villains as well as principals) and more complex plots. By the time the series ends, and I did not want it to end, each character is like an old friend.

For fans who discovered Star Trek via the big screen reboot of a couple of years ago, or for anyone who missed Voyager originally, this series offers great science fiction entertainment, without feeling dated. It is available on DVD and via online services such as Netflix. Viewers will be treated to action, adventure, and fascinating people.