The Revisited Frontier

I’d like to tell you a story, a true one, about Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

STTMP was released in December 1979, a decade after the TV show was canceled. Up until then, those of us who loved Trek had been subsisting on reruns and novels. The first Trek novel was fittingly written by James Blish, who had novelized the TV episodes. Spock Must Die was derivative but with a twist and it was an enjoyable read. I recall tremendously enjoying The Price of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, a book that made clear the untapped potential of Star Trek.

But then word came that a movie was in the offing, and fans held their collective breath. This was in the wake of the massive success of Star Wars, and the studios were looking for intellectual property they could leverage to reach similar heights. Science fiction movies, after all, were suddenly “in”, and a Star Trek movie must have seemed a no-brainer.

Ottawa’s Elgin Theatre

And so, after a long buildup and a seemingly endless wait, it was released. In Ottawa, Star Trek: The Motion Picture opened at the Elgin theatre downtown. This was in the days before cineplexes. When you entered a movie theatre, there was a small area in which you could purchase tickets and snacks, and then you proceeded directly to the auditorium. When there was a lineup, you waited outside. Now, we’re talking about Ottawa in December in the 1970’s. Winters were very cold. There was a lot of snow. And the night my roommate and I walked to the theatre, it was cold and dark with tall piles of snow all around us. As it turned out, although we arrived early, the showing was sold out. So we and a lot of other people stood outside and waited to get into the next one. Why? Because this was STAR TREK. And we were highly motivated. And young. That helps too.

I want to emphasize, in case it isn’t obvious, that the audience was really was up for this. I don’t mean that expectations were sky high, but rather, that it would have been easy to make us happy. An above average episode would have done it.

After a long wait in the cold winter night, we took our seats. The lights dimmed, and there was applause before the movie even left dry dock. The opening credits rolled on the screen. William Shatner. YAY! Leonard Nimoy. YAY! And so on.

Sadly, that enthusiasm waned rather quickly, and at times the audience laughed at the movie. Not with the movie. At the movie. “[Bones.] I need you. Badly.” Laughter. Later on, “You mean this machine wants to physically join with a human?” Decker and Illia exchange longing glances. Laughter. There were probably other examples, I don’t remember. In the end, as the grumbling, disappointed audience left their seats, the feeling was that the plot was derivative (see the episode “The Changling”), the script was wooden, and the actors spent far too much time staring out the window in wonder.

William Shatner was among those unhappy with the result. After The Wrath of Khan was released to near rapturous reviews, he pointed out that STTMP had a much higher budget (in fact, it was the most expensive movie ever made at the time) but “it wasn’t a good movie.” His words. TWoK, he said, had a smaller budget, but was a much better one.

There are some positives, of course. One review at the time said that STTMP was nearer in tone to 2001: A Space Odyssey than to Star Wars, and that this was the ultimate compliment. In retrospect, it’s quite something to see the cast looking so young and fit. William Shatner had gained quite a bit of weight after Star Trek was cancelled, but to his credit he got himself back in fighting trim for the movie. There were certainly some amazing visuals. In the Director’s Edition, the special effects were completed and missing scenes reinserted. These helped to make sense of the thing. In particular, the scene where Spock realizes that V’ger is incapable of understanding the simplest (of human) feelings was one of the best in the revised movie.

If you like STTMP, I’m not trying to tell you that you’re wrong, not by any means. Obviously, there is no concept of wrong. Art touches everybody differently. But I have to be honest and say I’m puzzled by the number of very positive comments I’ve seen lately, particularly since the 4K version was released. I’m well aware that a movie shot on film can appear quite spectacular in 4K, but improving the visuals does nothing to solve the problems listed above. For a generation who was hungry for more Trek, we who viewed the film upon its release felt that STTMP limped out of dry dock on impulse power alone. The Enterprise didn’t achieve warp speed until the release of The Wrath of Khan.

On the Passing of Queen Elizabeth II

I first saw Queen Elizabeth in a motorcade while she was on her way to Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. I was outraged. “She’s not wearing a crown!” I screeched in disappointment to my mother. I was four years old. I’ve seen her at least a couple of times since then, and with my expectations set, have not since complained about the absence of a crown.

The Red Ensign

Elizabeth gained her crown in 1952, and she was the longest reigning Commonwealth Monarch in history. The only one, in fact, that many of us have known. When I was growing up, Canada had much more of an English colony mentality, and wore those trappings proudly. Photos of the Queen were everywhere. We sang “God Save the Queen” every morning in class. The mail arrived courtesy of the Royal Mail. That changed over time in an effort to give Canada more of an identify of its own. The Red Ensign, the flag used to represent Canada from Confederation through to the 1960’s, was replaced by the current Canadian flag. “God Save the Queen” was largely replaced by “O Canada.” The mail service was rebranded as Canada Post.

Throughout, the Queen was never far away, even if she was a bit more out of sight. To this day, trial prosecutors in Canada are referred to as Crown Attorneys, contractors to the Canadian Government are to deliver their goods and services to Her Majesty, and legislation only becomes law by virtue of Royal Assent. The Crown remains Canada’s Head of State, represented by the Governor General at the federal level, and by Lieutenant Governors at the provincial level. In other words, the Crown, as it always has been, is an inescapable and essential part of life in Canada.

As for the monarchy as an institution, some people love it, some hate it, and the more pragmatic simply shrug and move on. For the most part, it has worked for a long time and has been viewed as alternatively harmless or even potentially beneficial. For instance, former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker made the case that the American Watergate scandal couldn’t happen in Canada. If the Prime Minister was embroiled in such a scandal, Diefenbaker opined, the Governor General could dissolve parliament and call an election. The thing is, we now know that this wouldn’t happen.

A few years ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did something that no other Canadian prime minister had done. He requested that the Governor General prorogue parliament. His minority government, you see, was certain to lose a non confidence motion in the House of Commons. After consulting with constitutional lawyers, the Governor General assented. The reasoning was that the Prime Minister was elected and the Governor General was not. The problem with this precedent is that it removes important checks and balances from our system of government. The Prime Minister shouldn’t have the power to suspend parliament whenever its convenient. If Royal Assent is virtually guaranteed no matter the request, we would be better served by an elected head of state who could legitimately say no when that was appropriate. So, to make it explicit, I do wish Canada could move towards an elected head of state.

But now pragmatism rears its ugly head. Changing the Canadian constitution requires the agreement of at least seven out of ten provinces representing at least 50% of the population. The fact is, no one can get the provinces to agree on the day of the week, let alone major constitutional changes. So, at least as far as Canada is concerned, the monarchy will be around for a good while yet.

It’s been interesting to look at the varied reactions of people in response to the Queen’s death. Some are sorrowful, some are flinging vitriol at her and the institution, and some use the occasion to attempt jokes. So what do I think about it all? I think that nobody asks to be born into the royal family, and that, basically, it would suck to be them. Because their future is written. Yes, they may be rich and famous, but they can’t grow up to become astronauts or authors or doctors or carpenters. They lack many of the freedoms that the rest of us take for granted. When the Queen was young there was little chance that she would become monarch. Perhaps that allowed her a slightly more normal childhood. That changed of course, when King Edward abdicated and George, Elizabeth’s father, became King. Not only had Elizabeth not expected to become monarch, she was thrust into the role while in her twenties. And yet she did so with grace and elegance and along the way became one of the most recognized and beloved leaders in the world.

In my opinion, it’s disingenuous to rail at the monarchy, and the Queen specifically, and visit upon them the entirety of the sins of the British Empire. Firstly, they didn’t ask for the job, it was thrust upon them. And secondly, someone has to do the job. You can’t deride a member of the royal family for assuming the crown when the fact is that there has to be a head of state. I think all that energy would be more usefully spent in promoting the idea of a republic using reasoned arguments. Raise the subject at political meetings. Lobby political parties to add support for an elected head of state to their platforms. Until there is broad public and political support for such a change, it’s not going to happen. So if you feel strongly that change is needed, you’d best get to work.

Some of the little things I loved about Queen Elizabeth: her infectious smile, and her calm, reassuring presence that’s been a constant throughout my life. She always strove to bring people together by highlighting what we had in common. And there was also her sense of being a good sport. My eyes nearly popped out of my head during the opening of the 2012 Olympics when she calmly said, “Good evening, Mr. Bond.” Then there was her tea with Paddington Bear at the Platinum Jubilee. Priceless.

The thing is, I’ve been around long enough that, with precious few exceptions, nearly everyone who was an adult when I was a child is gone. The loss of Queen Elizabeth marks one more lost connection with that time of my life. And for all the reasons listed above, I shall mourn Elizabeth II.

Doctor Who: The Alternative War

Art by @VIIIJohannes

About a year ago, I connected with Alia E. Torrie (@TheWeegieDoctor) on Twitter and was was quite blown away by what I found on her YouTube channel: musical compositions, acting, narration, singing, you name it. There’s more about Alia on her Spotlight page. Among many other things, she has voiced characters in assorted Doctor Who fan audios released by TT Productions 23. That being the case, I thought it would be quite something to write a Doctor Who script for her. I had a couple of story suggestions but she countered with the concept of playing an alternative version of the Doctor during the Time War. Oh yes, I thought, I can work with that…. The result was Doctor Who: The Alternative War, release date August 17, 2022. Here’s the trailer, and I’ll provide an update when the full release is … released. And here it is.

I finished the first draft of the script near the end of November 2021 and, with Alia’s help, assembled the rest of the cast. Companion to Alia’s Doctor, the multi-talented Abi Louise (@AbiLouise230) plays a young Time Lord, Aliana, who’s destiny collides with the Doctor on Karn, shortly after her regeneration. Jack Reeves (@JackReevesDW), well known in the Doctor Who fan community, plays Mattlin, a human who is trying to rally his people to unite in the face of an imminent threat. Jack also plays one of the soldiers. The cast is rounded out by Zak Rosenfeld (@ZakR1998), who plays some of the soldiers, and Marcus Cotton (@SirJediSentinel), who plays another Time Lord. And I have a line! My acting debut! A blink-and-you’ll miss it line!

I love to hear Alia sing, and thought that it was time we all heard at least one incarnation of the Doctor break into song. I left a placeholder in the script and basically said, “The Doctor sings here.” Alia took the challenge to heart and composed and performed a beautiful, heartbreaking lament that you won’t be able to stop replaying.

The second and final version of the script was finished on December 1. The actors did the recording early in 2022. I found myself facing quite a learning curve as I needed to select takes from the actors and stitch them together. I’ve learned a lot about Audacity this year. Finally, the sound design was provided curtesy of the amazing Jaspreet Singh. I really think sound designers don’t get nearly enough credit, the way they magically place the actors performances in the world. I’d worked with Jaspreet previously on the fan audio, Doctor Who: The Eighth Day.

This script effectively marks my first full-cast audio play. Even my stories for Big Finish were in short story format, not script form. Writing it was a very enjoyable experience, and yes, it’s very different from writing prose, but I think it turned out pretty well. I hope all of you who listen agree. The best part of writing a script, of course, is hearing a cast of very talented actors bring your words to life, wringing emotions out of phrases that you hadn’t realized were buried in there.

In this story, the TV Doctor Who universe and this universe diverge at the moment when Paul McGann regenerates into Alia E. Torrie rather than John Hurt. Alia’s Doctor is very much a Doctor, though is wrestling with a newfound darkness which she is afraid might overtake her. After meeting Aliana, they begin their first mission, encountering unexpected obstacles along the way. As one does.

I can’t wait for you to hear The Alternative War, and if the band is willing to get back together in the future, I’d like to write a sequel.

Mirror Mirror

Following the passing of beloved Big Finish colleague Paul Spragg in 2014, the company initiated the annual Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip competition. Like many Big Finish listeners, I entered the first competition in 2016.

I lost.

After listening to the winning entry by the great Joshua Wanisko, I immediately understood why. Aside from any other deficiencies, the tone of my story, a light-hearted tale in which the Fourth Doctor encounters Alice Liddell, wasn’t appropriate.

My entry was a story called Mirror Mirror. As per the rules, I provided a one-page summary and a one-page excerpt from the story. While awaiting the results, I completed the story. After Forever Fallen was selected, I posted Mirror Mirror on FanFiction.net.

Time passed, and I recently re-read the story and found I quite liked it. Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the Lewis Carol stories, finds herself in a pocket universe after crawling through the looking glass in her parlor at home. The Doctor’s TARDIS is apparently dragged along by the temporal undertow of Alice’s journey. To escape, they must foil the Red Queen, who is determined that Alice should stay.

Having recently dabbled in audio editing, I thought it would be interesting to narrate the story myself, bringing it to life so to speak. I removed Mirror Mirror from FanFiction.net and installed it in the fanfiction section of my blog. The spoken version is available on my YouTube channel.

Some notes about the narration: Mirror Mirror is very much a Doctor Who children’s story and is narrated as such. Also, I made no attempt whatsoever to “do” Tom Baker. That is beyond me.

As for the art, it clearly makes use of the classic Through the Looking Glass artwork by John Tenniel. I’ve added to it to convey some of the elements that appear in Mirror Mirror.

Having said all that, do please give it a listen. I hope you enjoy it.

Putting Yourself Out There

It can be scary, putting yourself out there. Sharing with the world something you created. Because when you do that, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. Open to criticism. To ridicule, even. No one likes to be embarrassed.

But if you’re of a creative bent, there’s little choice. Yes, you can create things just for yourself. Horde them like Scrooge McDuck, and open the vault once in a while to play with your darlings. That’s a lot safer. But not very satisfying.

We create is for ourselves, but we also create to communicate with others. That communication goes both ways. We communicate with the world via our art, be it writing, illustration, sculpture, acting, sound design, or what have you. And the world communicates with us in the form of criticism, praise (if you’re lucky), or indifference. To say nothing is to speak volumes.

For those of us who write, many began their journeys in one fandom or another. Yes, I’m talking about fan fiction. It’s an attractive place to start because the characters and setting are already established, leaving you free to focus on story. You might also find yourself cultivating a number of friends in the community who support you while you support them. But to make that first step, to post your first fanfic, that’s a hard thing to do. After all, not everyone online is supportive. In fact, there are plenty out there who seem to thrive on spreading misery. They are to be ignored. For what it’s worth, in my fan fiction experience, I never had haters, just supporters, and I count myself very fortunate .

As you grow as a writer, with practice and with the support of your writing community, you might find yourself branching out to original fiction. Or not. We write, after all, for the love of it. There are, at the time of writing, about 76 thousand Doctor Who fan fics posted on FanFiction.net. Several tens of thousands more are posted on archiveofourown.org. There are sites where you can post original fiction and interact with community members of similar interests. Examples include Wattpad and Inkitt. You can also go the self-publishing route if you’re so inclined. I happen to know at least one pretty good self-published book …

This is truly the golden age of creative output. With the tools we have readily available at home, we can easily create all manner of works and make them available to others. And you never know what will come of it. Anyone remember this tweet from Emily Cook?

After organizing this event, plus a number of others, as well as producing outstanding extra content from Doctor Who alumni, Ms. Cook is now a Big Finish producer. Jonathan Carley, who put himself out there as, among other things, an interpreter of the War Doctor, now has two Big Finish box sets in which he has starred. Jaspreet Singh, who has produced, edited, and sound designed a number of Doctor Who fan productions (including my personal favourite, Doctor Who: The Eighth Day), has been doing editing and sound design work for Big Finish. (He also does a pretty mean Third Doctor.)

Let’s be honest. Commercial success in the arts is hard to come by. So while it’s fine to hope for that, don’t make it the sole driver for your output. Create what you create for the love and fun of it, and if nothing else, you’ll be making the lives of those around you a little bit brighter, which is perhaps the greatest success of all.

The Tinselator

The Tinselator
by Selim Ulug

Copyright © 2021 Selim Ulug
All rights reserved

The characters and events portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or to other fictional characters, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

It was the steady beat that woke her.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

Kaylee sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. With the night light on her bedside table, she could make out the clock on her wall. Five minutes after twelve. After midnight.
It couldn’t be. Could it? Was Santa Claus in the house?

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

It didn’t sound like any Christmas music she’d heard. But Mommy said there were new Christmas songs every year, so … maybe?

Lifting the covers off, she swung her legs round, stood on the hardwood floor, and put on her slippers. The big toe of her left foot wriggled in the open air. Mommy said that maybe she’d get a new pair for Christmas.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

After grabbing Panda, Kaylee stuck her head out in the hallway and listened. There it was again.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

It was coming from the living room, which was to her left. To her right was Mommy’s room. She should wake Mommy up. Yes, that would be the right thing to do. Except … Kaylee was curious. Very curious. She would tiptoe and be very quiet and just have a peek and then come back and wake up Mommy. If anything was wrong.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

Peering around the corner, she noted that the living room was dimly illuminated by streetlamps through the thin curtains. There was the Christmas tree in the corner, sparse of limb and decoration, but Kaylee loved it. Beneath the tree were presents in wrapping paper or stuffed into bags and topped with colourful tissue paper. They’d been there for a few days. Santa just fills the stockings, Mommy had told her, and the empty stockings were lying on the floor against the outer wall. Kaylee’s friends had told her that Santa wasn’t real, and she believed them. But she hadn’t told Mommy yet.

Something moved from a dark shadow in the corner of the room. A man! A tall man. He was wearing a black leather jacket, dark pants, and boots. His hair kind of stood up on end and, even though it was dark, he was wearing sunglasses. And he had a really, really big gun.

“You’re not Santa,” Kaylee observed as she stepped into the living room.

The big man swung around and fixed his gaze upon her.

“Correct,” he said in a flat monotone.

“What are you doing here?”

“Your home has been targeted for tinselation,” he answered in the same monotone. He had an accent of some sort that Kaylee couldn’t place.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

“What’s that noise?”

“My gun needs to charge,” said the man as if that was an explanation.

There was silence for a moment while the man and child regarded each other.

“What is your name?” the man monotoned.

“Kaylee.”

After another period of silence during which the man cast his eyes about the room, he said, “You are poor, Kaylee.”

This was a sensitive topic. The kids at school teased Kaylee for all she didn’t have compared to them and their rich families.

“No, we’re not!” she said, her foot stomping the ground to emphasize the point.

“The curtains have been patched by hand seven times. The furniture is scratched and old, probably purchased second-hand. Your slippers barely fit, and one of them has a hole at the toe. This room is tidy, but judging by the amount of dust, your mother doesn’t have time for housework. Likely because she has more than one job. She does this to provide you with what she can. Conclusion, she loves you. You defended your mother by denying that you were poor. Conclusion, you love your mother as well.”

The anger Kaylee felt left her, leaving her teary-eyed. “Mommy does have two jobs. She works at Walmart and Loblaws for lots of hours every day. She tries really hard. And she’s good to me when she’s here. She helps with my homework, takes care of me when I’m sick. My mommy is the best mommy there is. Even if we’re poor.”

“Remember: if you are loved, you are rich by every metric that matters. If a child is not loved, even though their family is wealthy, they are the worst kind of poor.”

Her eyes wide, Kaylee said, “You’re very smart.”

“Of course. I am a tinselator”.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

This time the sound was followed by a soft chime.

“It is time,” said the man, hefting his gun and pointing it at the tree.

“You … you’re going to shoot the Christmas tree?” Kaylee’s voice quivered as she spoke.

With the ghost of a lopsided smile, the man said, “Trust me.”

Kaylee heard a whoosh, as from a strong breeze, and a ball of silver emerged from the gun. It rose to just above the top of the tree, then fell onto it, breaking into long silver strands that covered the tree from top to bottom. Tinsel!

The tinsel glowed, even in the dim light. Kaylee’s face glowed as well. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

The man turned and stepped toward the shadows from which he’d emerged. As he did, he spoke in a voice that echoed and faded. “I’ll be—” And then he was gone.

Kaylee was soon nestled back in bed with Panda, her eyes wide with wonder. Sleep seemed a long ways away. Still, she eventually found herself starting to doze. But another sound jolted her awake. It was coming from above. Were those … hooves on the rooftop?

Just Another Day

I was in the mood for some multi-Doctor silliness. This bit of fanfic is the result.

This is a work of fan fiction. No copyright infringement is intended.

From redmangoreviews.com/

“What?” said Ten through clenched teeth.

“Oh, this isn’t good,” said Eleven.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Twelve, taking in the twelve figures gathered with him on the grassy hilltop. “We’re all here. Same place, same time. Even Not The Doctor over there.”

The Warrior swiveled his head. “Are you referring to me?” he growled. Then, with a haunted look on his face, he added “It’s true. I’m the Doctor—“

“No more!” Nine through Twelve chorused together.

“Well I for one think it’s smashing that we’re all here,” said Thirteen, who had suddenly appeared. “I mean, dangerous and potentially universe-ending, but totally smashing.”

“Now see here, young lady, ” said One. “This matter is extremely serious. It’s no time for feminine frivolity.”

Doctors Two through Twelve whistled silently, shook their heads, and stepped back a couple of paces. After a moment of speechless silence, Thirteen said, “I … I don’t even know where to start with you. Okay, first off — young lady? Seriously? Next to me you’re a babe in arms. I’m thousands of years older than you, so a bit of respect? Or you might find yourself on Skaro without a TARDIS.”

“Skaro?” said One, gripping his lapels. Her words appeared to have had as little impact as rainwater on a duck. “What’s Skaro, then, hmm?”

“Spoilers,” said Eleven as he adjusted his bow tie.

“Look, enough of all that,” said Three. “We need to address the situation. Might I suggest we begin by attempting to reverse the —”

“No!” chorused Four through Thirteen.

Nonplussed, Three glanced at the other Doctors and shrugged his shoulders.

Two retrieved a recorder from his coat pocket and had just put it to his lips when Six snatched it away. “Don’t. Even. Think about it,” said Six.

As he observed Four playing with a yo-yo, Eight cast his eyes outward. The grassy hill upon which he and his other selves stood rose some 50 meters above the surrounding flatlands. And the horizon ….

Nine noticed the same thing. After making eye contact with Eight he said, “Oi! You lot. Care to guess how far it is to the horizon?”

“That must be about seven kilometers,” said Seven.

“Yes,” said Eight. “But have you noticed the gravity? The horizon suggests a small world and yet the gravity suggests a much larger one.”

“Perhaps this is simply a very dense small planet,” said Two.

“The little fellow may be right,” said One, “but I suspect that something else is happening here.”

Two’s eyes widened. “Oh dear,” he said. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

“What?” said Three. “Confound it man, just say it.”

“This may not be a planet at all,” said Two. “This might be a pocket universe. Look above us. There’s no sun, so where’s the illumination coming from?”

Eleven turned pale. “I’ve just had a thought.”

“Oh really?” said Twelve. “Well, don’t worry, it’ll die of loneliness in there.”

“Funny,” said Eleven, not smiling. Turning his back on Twelve and addressing the others, he added, “This might not be a pocket universe. This might be a simulation.”

Two’s shoulders slumped. “And here I was having a perfectly splendid nap.”

Five’s eyes widened. “Having a nap you say?” Puff. “Odd.” Puff. “I was napping as well.”

“Look,” said Six, “Why are you always so short of breath?” Shaking his head, he added, “As it happens, the last thing I recall is laying down for a nap.”

It was true of all of them, the Doctors confirmed.

“We really need to put our heads together for this one. Agreed?” Noting the nods from her other selves, Thirteen said, “Contact.”

“Contact,” mirrored the others.

With their thoughts connected, the collected minds of the Doctors reviewed the facts and analyzed countless paths of possibilities, dismissing some, examining others more closely until a thought intruded upon them that was not theirs.

“Oh good, you’re here.”

Releasing themselves from their mental connection, the Doctors gaped at the newcomer. It was a woman, her hair arranged in dreadlocks, dressed in a blue frock coat and waistcoat, kente shirt, with dark trousers and shoes.

Thirteen’s face fell. “Oh no,” she said. The new arrival gave her a wink.

“Do you know this young lady?” queried One. “Is she another one of us?”

“You can just call me … Ruth for now. Thank you all for coming. With your help, I’ll be able to escape this place. We all will.”

“Where are we?” said Ten.

“Who brought us here?” said Eleven.

“And why?” said Twelve.

“The purple man over there was right. We are within a simulated environment. It’s generated by a dying TARDIS trapped within the Vortex. Like a drowning swimmer, it was grabbing for a life buoy, anything to help it. It needed a Time Lord. At last, it detected me, but didn’t have enough energy reserves to transmat me here physically. Instead, it uploaded my consciousness while I slept. The TARDIS created this simulation for me to interact with it. I haven’t been able to help it by myself. Not enough psychic energy. So I suggested that it seek out another Time Lord that I’d met recently.“

At this, Ruth cast her eyes at Thirteen.

“So you are a Time Lord,” said Four.

“That’s not possible,” said Eleven.

“And yet here we all are,” said Ruth with a patient smile. “The thing is, I hadn’t counted on also uploading some of her other selves. So I’m sorry I dragged you away from your sleeping bodies, but when we’ve finished, all of this will seem like an odd dream.”

“Of course, if we fail, if the TARDIS dies while we’re still trapped in this simulation, then we die as well,” said Nine.

“That won’t happen,” said Thirteen. “We won’t let it.”

“The answer seems obvious to me,” said the Warrior. “Set a delayed self-destruct and send our consciousness back to our respective bodies.”

There was silence. “That’s cold,” said Twelve. “Even for you, that’s cold.”

“Is there an alternative?” said the Warrior. “I’d be happy to hear it.”

“We need facts,” said Seven. “How can we access the TARDIS systems?”

“We simply ask,” said Ruth. “Like this.” Looking up and spreading her arms, Ruth said, “TARDIS, please show us your control console.”

A familiar octagonal shape started to appear, but it was blurry, streaked with jagged black and white lines like a CRT display in need of adjustment.

“It can’t stabilize the simulation,” said Ten. “We need to help it. We need to focus all of our concentration on that console.”

The Doctors closed their eyes, faced furrowed with effort, until finally the simulated console solidified on the hilltop.

“Excellent,” said Ruth. “Well done. And now—”

But before she could finish, thirteen Doctors were in a scramble for the console. A shrill whistle from Twelve stopped them in their tracks. “Older and wiser heads, perhaps, eh?” said Twelve, casting a glance at Thirteen.

“Sure,” said Thirteen. “Thanks.” Thirteen and Ruth proceeded to examine the settings and readouts upon the console for several minutes. When they were done, they stopped, made eye contact, and nodded.

“What have you learned?” said One.

“It is possible to save this TARDIS,” said Thirteen. “It needs to regenerate, but can’t. The systems to trigger a regeneration have been damaged. However, with our combined psyches, we could bypass those systems. We just need to pre-program the instructions to first transmit our consciousness back to our bodies.”

“Perfect,” said Five. Puff. “An excellent solution.”

“Are we all agreed?” asked Thirteen. All the Doctors nodded. Glancing at Ruth, Thirteen said, “Good. Now let’s get to work.”

Ruth and Thirteen spent some time programming the TARDIS to return them to themselves just prior prior to regenerating. When it was done, Thirteen addressed the other Doctors.

“Okay, this is the crucial bit. We need to join again and use the console’s telepathic circuit to trigger a regeneration.” Thirteen placed her hands upon the circuit and said, “Contact.”

“Contact,” the others chorused. “Contact,” echoed Ruth.

Opening her eyes, Thirteen sat up. She wasn’t in the simulation any more. It must have worked! Well done us, she thought. She was back in her TARDIS, though the room didn’t look immediately familiar.

Wait a minute. What was this around her neck? A scarf? A very long scarf, in fact. Oh no.

Getting to her feet, the Doctor looked at her reflection in a nearby mirror. She saw a familiar face. Just not the right face. Long curly hair, bright eyes, tweed coat, and, um, she was male again. A female mind in a male body. Well, she wouldn’t be the first. Her eyes opening wide, she realized that meant that he was …. And Yaz was due for a bit of a shock.

Dropping into a chair, she rested her head in her hands and thought, Right. Just another day in the life of the Doctor.

Self-Publishing: Some Lessons Learned

If you’ve been reading my blog or following my Twitter posts, it won’t have escaped your attention that I’ve recently self-published a collection of short stories called Something Special. It’s available at Amazon in eBook and paperback formats.

One of the first things I learned along the way was the difference between anthology and collection. An anthology contains stories by multiple authors. A collection contains stories from one author. Something Special, then, was going to be a collection.

Lets start with some lessons learned from publishing the eBook version.

One of the first things that surprised me is that, even though you’re the author of the eBook, you need to purchase it like anyone else to get it into your Kindle library. If I’m mistaken, let me know, but I couldn’t find any other way to do it.

If you use Kindle Create to put together your eBook, then you must never, ever, compose text within that tool. Ever. Instead, write text in a word processor and then copy-and-paste it into KC. Why? KC does not have a spell checker. My published eBook ended up with a typo on the dedication page. I mean, of all places ….

I was concerned with making the text as perfect as possible before publishing. However, in the back of my mind I thought that, even if there was a mistake, I’d be able to upload a corrected manuscript and that my readers would receive an update. That’s not the way it works, unfortunately. Amazon seems to keep track of which version of the eBook you purchase, and even if you delete your local copy and re-download, you end up with the same version you started out with. My early readers, then, are stuck with the version that has the typo in the dedication as well as some other formatting glitches. As the author, I wanted the corrected version but couldn’t get it. I’d even permanently deleted and re-purchased the eBook, and still had the original version. I had to contact KDP support so that I could get the corrected version in my Kindle library.

And now some things to consider when publishing a paperback on Amazon.

In preparing the paperback, it would have been very helpful to be able to get a copy and review it before it went “live” and was available to everyone. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, and being in Canada, I got my copy after some others in the US had already received it. And as it turns out, I wasn’t completely happy with my first go at it.

But let’s start with Microsoft Word. It’s best to use that tool since the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) site has detailed instructions on how to configure a Word document. I’ve had a lot of experience with Word, off and on over the years. As is the case with many of you, my relationship with it can best be described as love/hate. While preparing the paperback version of the manuscript, I would have sworn on some occasions that Word gremlins were busy making changes after I closed the document. Section breaks that were to begin on the next page became continuous breaks, headers that had been disconnected with the previous section’s header were suddenly connected. It was maddening. I had to make a lot of passes through the document to get it (mostly) right.

One of the things about the paperback version that was tricky was the gutter margin. This is the inside margin of the page that is bound to the spine. The first version of the paper had too wide a gutter margin. In the end, I’ve gone with half inch margins on the left and right plus a quarter of an inch extra for the gutter. This for a roughly 300 page book. I’m much happier with how that turned out. I did something a bit different for the front matter, eliminating the extra margin space altogether. For those few pages, the space lost to the binding was negligible and, with the change, the text that was meant to be centred actually look like it was centred.

Speaking of centring text, here’s something I learned about centring header text. They default style, Normal, includes a paragraph indent on the first line. Unfortunately, as I learned the hard way, Word centres your text in-between the start of the indent and the right margin, and not between the left and right margins. You have to manually remove the indent (or apply a different style, I suppose) for the text to be centred properly.

Although this post is basically a collection of “gotchas”, I don’t want to leave the impression that it was a negative experience. On the contrary, there is nothing more magical than holding a book you wrote in your hands.

That’s about all I can think of at the moment. I’ll update if anything else comes to mind.

21st Century Who

Spoilers for Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon

Doctor Who, the BBC show that first aired in 1963, defines its own genre rather than fitting into a pre-existing category. It’s not purely science fiction, fantasy, historical, or mystery, though a given episode might have elements from one or more of those genres. Mostly, it’s just … Doctor Who. Which is fine, and we love it for being itself.

Yet as much as I love Doctor Who, there are things that gnaw away at me. Particularly the limited technology the Doctor has at their fingertips. Technology that’s not too far beyond what came with the show in 1963. Let’s assume that the following are canonical facts and go from there.

  1. Gallifrey is among the most ancient, the most advanced planets in the universe (when it isn’t busy being destroyed).
  2. From “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”, we know that the Doctor’s ship can manufacture pretty much anything. Plus, given (1) it stands to reason that this would be the case.
  3. The TARDIS is not only intelligent, we know from various episodes, particularly “The Doctor’s Wife”, that it is sentient.

Given all this, I think it’s fair to ask why the Doctor doesn’t make use of, say, drones. Weren’t they invented on Gallifrey? Suppose we materialize on a planet whose identity, time-period, and politics is unknown. What would you do? Stroll merrily out the door, or perhaps deploy some insect-sized drones to scout out the vicinity and get the lay of the land? I know what I would do.

For another thing, why, oh why, can the Doctor not radio the TARDIS to come fetch them? How many times have we seen the TARDIS materialize, the Doctor & companions go wandering out, only to find that some insurmountable obstacle has separated them from their ticket to ride. If not radio, pick a Time Lordy technology that, say, channels thought waves through the Vortex or some such thing.

Here’s another scenario. Let’s say the Doctor and their companions have run into trouble of the deadly sort. They’re captured and scheduled for execution. Why can’t the Doctor ask the TARDIS to manufacture a platoon of robots to free them? They wouldn’t be allowed to kill anyone, of course. After springing our heroes, the robots would dutifully march back to the TARDIS where they would be disassembled and reabsorbed into the manufacturing apparatus.

Did you notice, in Fugitive of the Judoon, that the Ruth Doctor transmats back into her buried TARDIS? A very useful feature, and it certainly saved a lot of digging. Has a post-Hartnell Doctor ever done that? And by done that, I mean use their own transmat, not something conveniently available on a planet, or a companion’s vortex manipulator.

The Doctor has to push a lot of buttons and pull a lot of levers on the TARDIS console to make anything happen. Wouldn’t a voice interface be simpler? “Hey TARDIS, take me to London, England on November 23, 1963.” They could give the TARDIS voice interface a different personality with every control room revamp. I’d love it to have some snark, and make cutting comments when the Doctor is about to do something dangerous or just silly. In fact, why not give it holographic form and have an actor play the holographic interface. They’ve already done this in the episode, “Hide.” (In that case, the interface took the form of Clara.) They could literally make the TARDIS a character in the show.

The one bit of technology that the Doctor does employ regularly is the fabled sonic screwdriver, which, let’s be honest, bears more resemblance to a magic wand than a technologically advanced device. After all, it can do everything from picking locks, to reprogramming computers, to dropping forcefields. Mind you, to be fair, Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote may be applicable here: “Any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But this begs the question, why the screwdriver and nothing else?

If Doctor Who were to bring truly advanced technology to bear, would that damage the kind of stories it could tell? I don’t think so. I think it would open the door to some very interesting story possibilities. Besides, the best stories have always been about how people are affected by their encounters with the Doctor.

Excerpt from “Remember Me?

My collection of short stories, Something Special, was released last week. It includes tales of fantasy, horror and mystery, and it’s available at the Kindle store in ebook form. A paperback version is forthcoming.

The “Peek Inside” feature lets you read the first story, “Lizzy and Me”, and a good chunk of the next story, “Don’t Ever Change.” The cover is based on a scene from another story called “Remember Me?” What follows is the introduction and a brief excerpt from a few pages in. Hope you enjoy it.

#

The way in which Will meets Sam (the cat) is similar to something that happened to me. I was walking by the waterfront in Kingston and a cat came out of the darkness. It walked alongside of me, slowing when I slowed, picking up the pace when I did. Finally, I knelt down and said to the cat, “I can’t take you home with me.” Which I couldn’t. The cat’s eyes widened, and then it turned and disappeared into the darkness.

“Oh, this is good,” you said, sipping your dark roast. I’d chosen my favourite, an Americano, which was an indulgence, but it seemed like that kind of day.

As usual, the shop was bustling with patrons coming and going, and the tables were jammed with people talking or working on laptops. Throughout the space, the delicious smell of coffee mingled with the sweet odour of chocolate.

“You said you were looking for someone,” I reminded you.

“Right. Yes, I am. And you’re the link, but I’m not sure how.”

I was probably looking at you expectantly, waiting for you to say more. After taking a couple more sips of coffee, you did.

“Have you heard of the multiverse theory?”

I smiled. I was getting the sense that keeping you fixed on one topic at a time was going to be a challenge.

“Changing the subject?”

“Not really, no. Have you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Great. So somewhere out there, there are other places, other realities, reflecting different choices, different events, and even different laws of physics.”

“Okay, sure.”

“And sometimes, there are cracks between the realities. And sometimes, people can fall into them.”

You seemed quite serious, so I went along. “So, people literally fall through the cracks. From one reality to another?”

“Exactly! Well done. The person I’m looking for has done just that. I’m here to help them get back to their own reality.”

“And you think I can help?” I said.

“I’m fairly sure, yes.”

“So what happened, exactly?” I said, deciding to suspend my disbelief for the moment. “How did you end up here?”

“I came upon a crack in reality. It was closing. And the way it was humming, I could tell that somebody had passed through. The only way that I’d be able to help bring them back was to follow them before the crack closed, so that’s what I did, and I barely made it. Half a minute later and it would have been too late.”

“So that’s why you said ‘that was close’ earlier.”

You nodded. “Sometimes, the crack, the doorway, whatever you want to call it, it takes me right to the person who crossed over. Other times, not so much, and some detective work is called for. I’ve done this enough times now that I’m turning into a regular Sexton Blake.”

“Sorry, who?”

“Ah. Never mind. Just me showing my age.”

We were both quiet for a time. “Well,” I said, resting my head on my hand, “I’m not sure what to say to all that.”

#

End of excerpt.