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Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Reading The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Young Adult Novels

I entered 2018—which marks the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s 25th anniversary—lacking the time to re-watch the series but nevertheless harboring a desire to spend time in its extended universe. To satisfy that impulse I read some of the Malibu DS9 comics, I listened to the various DS9 soundtracks, and I watched the supplemental features on the DVD sets. In mid-October I was fortunate enough to attend the L.A. premiere of the marvelous commemorative documentary What We Left Behind, where I had the pleasure of meeting some of the show’s cast and crew, a truly memorable experience. And all through 2018 there was another way in which I kept the DS9 flames burning: by reading some of the show’s tie-in books.

Including novelizations, anthologies, cross-overs, and the official re-launch stories, there are almost one hundred adult DS9 fiction books. These certainly merit a full discussion, or several—and indeed have been covered, piecemeal at least, elsewhere. I’d read some of these novels decades ago and enjoyed them, but as with the show itself, I realized I didn’t have the time to work my way through them now in any systematic way. That’s when I remembered that between 1994 and 1998 twelve young-adult DS9 novels were published concurrently with the adult books. I hadn’t seen much written on them. They looked breezy and fun; they promised a playful recreation of the show’s key characters, particularly Jake and Nog; and they were short enough that I could read the entire series. Also, DS9 itself can be somewhat gloomy, and the idea of a less grim, more high-spirited approach provided additional allure.

And so here we are.

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On Gardner Dozois, Short Fiction, and 150 “New” Writers For Your Consideration

On Sunday May 27th Gardner Dozois passed away. On Friday June 1st, essentially through happenstance, I ended up buying several boxes containing hundreds of used copies of Analog and Asimov’s, most of the latter from Dozois’s incredible editorial reign. Unpacking these and perusing their contents accentuated the sense of loss I’d been experiencing since Dozois died, but the experience also hit me in another way. The sheer volume of his editorial contributions was staggering. (And I wasn’t even thinking of his thirty-five years of annual reprint Year’s Best collections, or his many other anthologies, or his consistently interesting short fiction reviews in Locus). How many writers had Dozois discovered and encouraged and promoted over the years? How many voices had he amplified?

In a 2013 interview, Dozois said, “Even after all these years, finding a really first-rate story is still a thrill, one I want to share with others.” I know I’m not alone in feeling a deep sense of gratitude that Dozois did indeed share so many first-rate stories with us through the decades.

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Video Games and ’80s Nostalgia Worth Revisiting: Gillian Rubinstein’s Space Demons Trilogy

With Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One still dazzling viewers across the nation, I thought it might be fun to talk about one of my beloved childhood books, which is—as you may have guessed—about life inside a video game. Press enter for Gillian Rubinstein’s Space Demons!

Here’s the first paperback edition’s back copy:

They came pouring across the screen like alien and menacing insects. Excitement hit him like a fist in the pit of his stomach. Life suddenly seemed more interesting. He re-set his watch and began to play Space Demons again.

The description emphasizes the visceral reaction evoked by the game, and implies its habit-forming power, both of which the novel develops in memorable detail.

[A remarkable introduction to the possibilities of science fiction…]

The Most Human Star Trek is the One With the Most Aliens

Over the recent holiday season I found myself becoming nostalgic about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Maybe the mid-season break in Star Trek: Discovery made me long for Trek of some kind, and DS9 was the first series that came to mind; maybe the fact that my girlfriend is re-watching Babylon 5 made me think of space stations; maybe knowing that 2018 would mark DS9’s 25th anniversary heightened its importance in my subconscious; or maybe the nostalgia was brought on by inscrutable caprice that can’t be explicated.

At any rate, once I became aware of this nostalgia, I decided I didn’t have the time to engage it in the obvious way, namely re-watching the series. And yet I couldn’t resist the urge to get back in touch, however briefly, with its universe.

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What’s Your “Cinnamon Word”? The Stats on How Authors Use Language

Grady Hendrix’s recent stats-focused piece on Stephen King’s body of work reminded me of a volume I’ve been meaning to recommend publicly for some time. Back in May, browsing the “Essays/Literary Criticism” section of a local bookstore, I chanced upon a book that so thoroughly captivated me I spent nearly an hour turning its pages while standing in the exact same spot I’d been standing when I first pulled it off the shelf. Fortunately—or so I like to tell myself—it was a slow day at the lit crit section, and I didn’t impede access to these shelves while I rapturously bounded from one enthralling section of the book to the next, from one hypnotic table to another, from one dazzling bar chart to another.

Tables? Bar charts? In a book of literary criticism, you ask? Indeed, for this one is a rare specimen, a marriage of literary analysis and… statistics.

In Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing, statistician and journalist Ben Blatt seeks to answer a number of fascinating questions about writers and their various techniques through sophisticated statistical analyses. And for the most part, he does. Bravo!

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Reinterpreting “Encounter at Farpoint” — A 30th Anniversary Tribute to Star Trek: TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation beamed onto our screens for the first time on September 28th, 1987. I hope that amidst the enjoyment of the recently-premiered Star Trek: Discovery, our first new Trek TV show in over a decade, there will be plenty of celebration of TNG’s 30th anniversary. I’ve written a bit about TNG before and I couldn’t resist joining in the fun of this special occasion.

While “Encounter at Farpoint” doesn’t necessarily stand the test of time as well as many subsequent TNG episodes (to be fair, pilots rarely do), it nevertheless launched the series in grand style and ushered in a new Golden Age of Trek. As a syndicated show, it “beat its prime-time network competition in Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Miami, and Denver,” no small feat, and TV Guide called it a “worthy successor” to the original series. [*]

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Science Fiction Dialogues: Seven Stellar Interview Books

Science fiction is often characterized as being at least partially in dialogue with itself, as some authors explicitly respond to others’ ideas in fictional form, creating an ongoing “story conversation” in which notions are fictionally investigated and re-investigated from contrasting angles and differing sensibilities. Of course, there’s also another, more literal tradition of thought-provoking conversation within the field: probing interviews and books of transcribed conversations.

Today I’d like to highlight seven such volumes—in addition to illuminating the fascinating personalities and lives of their subjects, these books offer invaluable perspectives on the genre’s history and on the creative processes of some of its finest practitioners.

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Asimov Reads Again

Isaac Asimov would have been 97 today. In fact, this statement is somewhat speculative, since he moved to the U.S. at a young age without a birth certificate, and wasn’t able to locate such a record later in life. But based on what he learned about the timing and circumstances of his birth, he settled on January 2nd and celebrated that day as his birthday, and we’ll follow suit. (The obsessive among you may note that the first edition of his memoir I. Asimov [1992] states his birth date as “January 1, 1920” on the opening page, but this was corrected for the paperback edition, and the agreed-upon January 2nd date can be corroborated in many other places.)

Back in July, 2014 Michael Cummings wrote an interesting post titled “Isaac Asimov’s Reading List,” and I thought that to celebrate the Good Doctor’s posthumous birthday today it might be fun to expand on Michael’s solid primer and reference some additional books and authors that Asimov enjoyed, with source quotes. Besides using Asimov’s autobiographical writing, I’ll also quote some blurbs he provided for other people’s books.

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The Game Architecture: We’re All Living in a Cyber World

Death to cyberpunk! Long live the new flesh!

When I read Neuromancer at sixteen I was completely unprepared for it. Its dense prose, mystifying imagery and hard-boiled aesthetic bypassed my analytical circuits—where much of the science fiction I’d previously read had settled nicely, in a somewhat detached realm of ideas and thought experiments—and rushed directly to my limbic system. The text seemed to download itself directly into my amygdala, and it wasn’t an enjoyable process. In fact, I almost gave up on it several times.

The novel was too stylized, too ambiguous, too saturated in every way—and too discontinuous from the science fiction I’d experienced before.

But I couldn’t get it out of my system.

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It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times: James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History

If it’s true, as Alain de Botton has written, that “Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for us,” then maybe this wasn’t the ideal moment for me to have read James Gleick’s latest book, Time Travel: A History. On the whole, though, I did have a good time.

There’s much to commend. Gleick guides us on a fascinating survey of cultural attitudes towards time and how those have changed over time. He also recaps key scientific ideas about the physics of time and its most intriguing philosophical conundrums—such as the question of whether it actually exists. And, as promised by the book’s title, Gleick covers examples of time travel as depicted in literature and film, with particular emphasis on genre classics and enduring time travel tropes.

But this isn’t really a history of time travel, in the sense of charting the idea from its inception to recent instances. Nor is it a cultural history that uses time travel to probe social anxieties and trends, though there is some of that. Instead, Gleick’s book is a potpourri. Ideas are presented in a sequence that some may call adventurous and others will deem haphazard; some of Gleick’s book and film discussions outstay their welcome; and perhaps most surprisingly for a largely expository work, the prose is deliberately stylized, with healthy doses of attitude and editorializing throughout.

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In Praise of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Infamous “Reset Button”

A friend of mine who had never watched Star Trek in any form recently decided—my endless nagging may have contributed—to check out The Next Generation. Halfway through season two he asked me, “Why do the characters start each episode acting like none of the previous episodes ever happened?”

For our purposes that’s a good definition of the “reset button.” (Some might say it’s a “soft” version of the reset button. The “hard” version would be instances of timeline modification that actually erase the events we’ve seen, or something equivalent. Star Trek: Voyager was often accused of both types of resets—more on that below.) Accustomed to modern serialized shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Orphan Black and Breaking Bad, the fact that, for example, Picard could uncover a conspiracy at the highest levels of Starfleet (“Conspiracy”), or Counselor Troi could become pregnant with an alien (“The Child”), or Data could be “possessed” by an egomaniacal scientist (“The Schizoid Man”) and then never again address these experiences, was both perplexing and frustrating for my friend.

And yet TNG remains a beloved series, one that’s been painstakingly re-mastered and released in Blu-ray (2012-2015), and will surely be much celebrated next year, during its thirtieth anniversary.

Could the reset button be a contributing factor to the show’s success?

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7 Reasons Why Robert Silverberg Remains a Must-Read

Robert Silverberg, one of science fiction’s Grand Masters, is a fascinating guy to chat with. I recommend it, if you get the chance at the next WorldCon—and he’s attended sixty-two in a row, so, barring the unforeseen, the odds are good that he’ll be at Helsinki in 2017. He also does other events once in a while.

But let’s suppose that talking to him isn’t feasible, or not your style. The next best way to see his brilliant mind in action is by reading his work—here are seven reasons why it remains essential today.

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