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21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden

A zombie anthology is dead from page one. Like most gimmicky anthologies it’s limited by its topic, and zombies, despite the 21st century deadsheer number of movies and comics about them are not very interesting.

21st Century Dead is supposed to be a more modern anthology. Forget those countless anthologies with punny names all edited by the same guy that you’ve seen on the spinner rack. This is trade paperback size. It has a splashy cover with lots of gore that looks like a movie poster. And it has a punny title. And its story quality is even worse.

There are the screenplay treatments that the authors and editor pretends are stories. There are zombies as a metaphor for poverty and for television. (Yes, there are a few of each.) There are a lot of stories about family members coping with their loved ones becoming zombies, including a few stories about people feeding other people to their family members who have turned into zombies. And there’s a novella in the middle about a ghost dog protecting a little boy from an evil alien spirit or something.

But it’s hard to blame anyone involved for 21st Century Dead. Christopher Golden has bad taste as the editor, but the topic is also on the hopeless side. What do you really do with zombies? Not a lot. There’s a virus. Everyone turns into zombies. Everyone else runs away or reacts in dysfunctional ways.

The Walking Dead can do a lot out of human reactions, but that’s not enough for an anthology, and there isn’t much that can be done. A few of the stories project a rebuilt society that finds ways to harness or cure zombies and that’s as clever as it gets. A few stories aren’t really about zombies, including Orson Scott Card’s initially funny story about a wife who comes home to her henpecked husband, but that then goes off the rails, but mostly they travel the same old territory. Virus. Bite. Depression.

There really isn’t much you can do with zombies and there’s not much cleverness on display in 21st Century Dead, an anthology that exists because zombies are popular, not because there’s anything more to write about them.

Revisiting Star Trek Enterprise

Last week I wanted to check something in one of my Enterprise reviews and found that Trekweb‘s directory links to my Enterprise reviews seem to be down and a lot of the reviews are infected with redirect malware. I pieced together the reviews, some from older links and archives and put them up. The experience was curiously uninvolving. I remembered some of these episodestar trek enterprise season 1s, but I couldn’t find myself caring about them.

Even when the show originally aired, there was a distance there. Today I have trouble remembering the episodes off the cuff. Looking at the reviews, I remembered them again, one by one, but it won’t take long for me to forget. That’s not true of any of the earlier series which stuck with me. It shows in the reviews.

Going back over some of my old Voyager reviews to try and put them into order, I find myself reacting in one way or another, good or bad. Enterprise episodes get a flat response. I remember faintly that I didn’t really want to review Enterprise. After a few years of reviewing Voyager episodes for Trekweb, the new show didn’t really appeal to me. Steve Perry was the original reviewer. I was asked to fill in when he couldn’t do it anymore. At first it was going to be alternating. But then before you know it, four years had gone by.star trek enterprise two days and two nights

The quality of the reviews is different too. I put more work into the Voyager reviews. They had more to say. The Enterprise reviews are shorter. Curt. Often they’re angry and dismissive. More so than I remembered. But on

some level I did care about the show, because it was Star Trek, even if it didn’t really feel like it or look like it. I went into every episode wanting it to be good, and coming away feeling nothing at all.

Was that my fault or was it the show’s fault? Enterprise seemed like the show that inspired star trek enterprise the crossingthe least passion and interest from… everyone.

When looking for images to stick into the reviews, I found a lot of pictures for every Voyager episode, but fewer and fewer pictures for Enterprise. Season 1 still had some people collecting graphics. By season 4, they had become hard to find. The most frequent Enterprise episode screenshots are usually T’Pol nude scenes. Jolene Blalock criticized the writing on Enterprise and while it improved gradually toward the end, she had a point. What she didn’t say, though I suspect she knew, is that before Enterprise, no Star Trek series had a character who was there to get naked. Over and over again. 7 of 9 came closest and that was a symptom of Voyager’s decline. T’Pol was a sign of complete desperation. Another emotionally dead woman, there tStar Trek Enterprise T'Pol naked Harbingero appeal to fleeing viewers by taking off her clothes. And it didn’t even work.

Despite the erotic massage arc of Season 3  (Yes, there actually was such a thing. It’s hard to believe. It’s even harder to believe that it fused into the show’s version of September 11.) the viewers kept losing interest. And that was also sad. Because Season 2 had been better than Season 1. Season 3 had been better than Season 2. And Season 4 was better than Season 3.

For all my criticisms of Enterprise, the show kept improving. Consistently from year to year, it got better. And still viewers kept leaving because it never got good enough. No other Star Trek series got better year after year. Some had a golden year, like Voyager’s Season 6. Some, like TNG, bounced up and down. Some like TOS, went into a decline.

But the writing was only part of Enterprise’s problem. Star Trek’s writing was always uneven. Every series has had great moments and a lot of average ones. And what people tune for isn’t the writing, it’s the characters.

Orson Scott Card wrote about Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs,

Here’s the great secret of literature: No matter how good a writer is, both language and fashion change over time, and what was once a vivid part of the culture becomes a footnote in literary history.

The stories and characters that endure do so for reasons having almost nothing to do with the talent of the writer.

It’s true of Star Trek also. Not completely. Talent has something to do with it. The star trek enterprise shuttlepod oneability to envision all this, from the setting to the characters, is also a talent. But writing original plots, gripping dialogue and compelling ideas… that didn’t matter as much.

Enterprise’s writing was uneven and trended mediocre, but it failed because the characters weren’t there. Because Bakula’s Archer was an erratic manchild, who only slowly became an adult and a commander to be admired. By the time his evolution was complete in Season 3, most of the viewers had left, never to return. The easygoing capable captain he played in Season 4 was the one that viewers wanted all along. Developing him as a character from a borderline idiot and bigot had alienated them. It was someone’s idea of “good writing” that did that.

T’Pol had potential. Blalock wanted to play Spock. Instead she was forced to play a repressed hysteric who was prone to explosionsstar trek enterprise north star and an unwanted intruder on a starship whose captain would rather hang out with his best friend. She was usually right, but was never allowed to be right. By DS9, the Star Trek franchise had developed a bizarre hatred of Vulcans. They began to show up as villains. By Abrams Trek, their planet was blown up to get them out of the way.

Tucker, a classic character out of place, that no one could figure out what to do with. On his own, Tucker seemed like a good idea. A throwback to the kind of men who went into space. He was meant to be McCoy, but he was more like Paris, another man child, on a ship that already had too many of them. Tucker hanging out with Archer felt like a grown up frat party. Tucker and Reed felt off. Tucker and T’Pol was creepy and not just because of the blue lighting and skin shots. Maybe it was star trek enterprise future tenseBraga’s touch, but there was sleaze all over Tucker. He seemed less like a great engineer and more like the guy who never finished High School, but hangs out in the parking lot throwing a football and trying to pick up High School girls. Tucker was McCoy without the sense of duty or old school gentleman habits.

Mayweather was a blank. Nothing. Harry Kim all over again. Bakula and Blalock don’t get the blame for their characters, but that’s not the case here. Mayweather got developed. And the role didn’t require him to act like an idiot.

Hoshi Sato, Reed and Phlox were good characters, but like the rest of the show they were muted. There weren’t enough people. The star trek enterprise singularityEnterprise always seemed deserted. There wasn’t enough life in it. Voyager and DS9 had felt crowded. The Enterprise NCC-1701E was a flying city in space. Enterprise NX-01 felt like a generation ship with too few people and none of them really worth paying attention to.

So many episodes were dark, visually, lonely and cramped. The show seemed to be going nowhere. The characters weren’t engaging. They were all lost in their own worlds. Archer, nursing his grudges, T’Pol, her secrets, Hoshi, her neurosis, Reed, his shyness, Phlox, his alienness, Mayweather, his emptiness, and Tucker went round and round, badgering them, trying to party with them, seduce them, cadge a drink from them. The only completely alive man on a dead ship. And somehow creepier for it.star trek enterprise future tense

Where the DS9 or Voyager crew pulled together in emergencies, it never felt that way on Enterprise. Not until the last season. That made the Enterprise crew feel real. Strangers passing each other in darkened corridors. But it wasn’t what people expected from Star Trek. The series had always been about a group of comrades blazing the star trails together, men and women who knew each other and felt comfortable with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Enterprise might have become that show in Season 5. But we’ll never know. And revisiting it gives me the same hollow feeling I had while watching. After writing this up and trying to think about Enterprise, I still come away feeling nothing at all.

John Kessel’s Misguided Attack on Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card’s right wing politics have inspired a certain amount of political hostility toward him. Of course branding the author of Pastwatch as a right winger is a touch simplistic, but Card’s position on the War on Terror and gay marriage stuck him in the right wing camp, and seem to have inspired some dubious attacks. Most notably from vastly overrated author John Kessel who tries to sell the rather weak argument that Ender’s Game is actually Orson Scott Card justifying genocide.

What should be obvious to a Science Fiction “author” is that drawing direct parallels between human history and a scenario taking place in an interstellar environment is a little two dimensional. Kessel charges Ender with genocide, but Ender had no way of being certain that he was taking out an entire race. And considering how easy it was to restart the species with an egg, it’s obvious that genocide wasn’t even committed here. Only the queen of the buggers represented an intelligent organism, which raises the question of whether genocide was even committed here, or can be committed against a hive mind at all.

The entire double blind setup in which Ender did not know he was fighting a real war and his commanders did not know what Ender was willing to do, was obviously intended as a commentary on war. Kessel instead uses it to psychoanalyze Card’s motivations. But if we’re to take Kessel and Card’s critics at face value then, in what humans thought was a zero sum game at the time, choosing humanity over the formics is a war crime. And that kind of attitude only contrasts Card with his critics. After all would we really want someone defending us who wasn’t prepared to make that choice?

If choosing to destroy the Buggers is genocide, isn’t choosing not to destroy them in a zero sum game genocide as well? If we were to take a less sentimental version of the war, in which only humanity or the buggers could survive, would Kessel argue that pulling the trigger is a war crime? And if so isn’t inaction the greater crime?

Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card review

When toward the end of Shadow of the Giant, Bean admits that he is not loved as Ender was, it is also the author, Orson Scott Card somewhat bitterly admitting the reality that although we have been repeatedly told that Bean is smarter and better than Ender, he was never really accepted by readers or gained the acclaim that the Ender books did.

Today Ender’s Game is an acclaimed classic novel to be adapted into a movie. By contrast the Bean books all too often seem like a case of an author trying to cash in on a successful franchise by drawing it out further. That is not true but the perception lingers because the Bean books are fundamentally different in nature from the Ender books. Where the Ender books, Ender’s Game, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, were really stories about space and human limitations, the Bean books read like warmed over Harry Turtledove mixed with some Timothy Zahn. They are far less about the characters and barely qualify as Science Fiction and are essentially wargaming books, a problem that became truly pronounced after Ender’s Shadow as the Bean books essentially became the narrative of the Battle School Graduates trying to conquer the world.

Ender’s Game certainly left open a great tale, the story of Peter rising to power and conquering the world. Unfortunately that is not really the story Orson Scott Card chose to tell. Peter’s conquests are a sideline to Bean who himself is a sideline to the absurd wars that are fought among the Battle School Graduates. Orson Scott Card is trying to borrow from that Timothy Zahn style of plotting out brilliant strategies that produce instant victory so devastating it brings an enemy to his knees while hardly ever firing a shot. This itself is part of the more elitist school of Golden Age Science Fiction writing that believed the abilities of the human mind could conquer any chaotic situation.

While Timothy Zahn’s writing may stretch this premise to absurdity, in the Bean books, including Shadow of The Giant, Orson Scott Card goes well beyond absurdity. In this world simple battle plans can bring down entire nations with ease. Despite the passage of nearly two centuries, the technology on both sides seems to have only marginally improved, so that even though Earth has interstellar warships, the average war is fought by groups of infantrymen and their supply trucks with occasional air power. This is the way wars may be fought today in the Asian theater where the wars in Shadow of the Giant take place but it isn’t too likely that this is how wars will be fought two centuries from now. Even today remote drones are changing the battlefield, insurgent tactics and military tactics compete in both strategy and technique and robotics is increasingly taking its place on the battlefield.

The highlight of this absurdity features Peter Wiggins waiting around while the wars slowly rage as all the nations line up to surrender their sovereignty in favor of a United Earth, without any real basis for it except for the army commanded by Bean, who has grown to a massive size. It is certainly not what readers of Ender’s Game had in mind when they pictured Peter’s rise to power. To properly comprehend the implausibility of this scenario, national governments in the FPE have no actual authority because the FPE stands for the Free People of Earth and is constituted only of the citizens. Considering the reluctance of even the European powers to give up some sovereignty to the EU, the FPE scenario as is portrayed in Shadow of the Giant is simply absurd. The conflict that supposedly propels the FPE signup takes place in Asia between Pakistan, China and India. It is unclear why so much of the rest of the world then joins up.

The result leaves Peter Wiggins a Hegemon who has lucked into power with a world it seems inconceivable that he could control for any length of time. Bean, who Card tells us is the real power behind the throne, departs… leaving Peter as an accidental boy emperor. And that is the real shadow which is cast in Shadow of the Giant, the shadow of Bean falling over Peter Wiggins.

Split between the political fallout of the wrangling between Caliph Ali and his Caliphate advisors, Han Tzu (Hot Soup) who has declared himself the Emperor of China, Virlomi, who has made herself a goddess is Bean’s search for his and Petra’s missing children, told primarily from Petra’s view. Petra was hardly the most interesting character to begin with and Orson Scott Card does what he can but despite her supposed brilliance, he instead chooses to write her as weak and vacillating, initially completely opposed to Bean’s departure into space and then giving up and acceding without any genuinely logical explanation or fight. Only Virlomi’s antics really lend anything interesting to the proceedings, her propaganda techniques and mobilization of the Indian peasantry forming a picture of a kind of violent teenage Gandhi with a goddess complex.

Shadow of the Giant in many ways brings a welcome end to the portion of the Bean books set on earth. With a spaceship and genius children at his disposal, Bean will no doubt have his adventures among the stars much as Ender did and it will be interesting to see if freed from Orson Scott Card’s weak attempts at political and military game theory, if he can bring Bean out of Ender’s shadow after all.

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