• Writing

    Royalty in Writing

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    Story is King.

    That’s become fashionable to say. I don’t know if it was Pixar who started saying it, but I think that’s the first place I heard it articulated that way. The problem is, while it sounds great, it’s an oversimplification. They may mean it to cover everything that goes into writing, but in my eyes story usually means plot primarily, so I generally hear the phrase “story is king” to mean “a tight, well-constructed plot” is the most important thing about writing. I agree, although only just, and I flip-flop a little.

    Because while Story might be King, Character is Queen.

    And you need both.

    It really doesn’t matter how great the story is if the characters are boring or one-dimensional. Sure, that’s how things basically worked for a lot of the pulp era, but the pulp era didn’t last forever. There may have been a few authors who worried about character, but not many when I look back at what I’ve read. It was all about the story, the action. Excitement but no depth. Most stories forgettable unless they’d been sparked by a strange and original idea. And most readers wanted more, still hungry after turning the page to the next piece.

    Characters matter.

    But if you go too far in the other direction, you fall into he trap that most literary fiction lives in, a meandering journey with no sign posts, nothing really happening, and character interactions not enough to keep you awake. All character and no plot makes for a long, boring read.

    Story and Character. You need both together to make good writing.

    And that’s hard.

    But it’s also what makes writing fun, and challenging, and interesting.

    There are other bits, too, because story and character on their own don’t make up all the elements of writing. I have a list, you might expect, but not for today.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    My First Obituary

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    I wrote my first obituary last week. It isn’t very good, but I don’t know how to do better.

    It was for my wife’s uncle, a nice guy whom I didn’t know very well.

    I mean, I used to, sort of. He lived with my wife’s grandparents and for the first few years after we moved here, we saw them a lot. At least weekly and sometimes more often. All three of them were fond of our kids and our kids liked them, too.

    But then Olive died in 2008 and Cam started to go down hill, health wise (Alzheimer’s) and moved into a home not long after. We stopped seeing Stewart just before when Cam moved from one home to another, where we weren’t actually told. Stopped seeing, stopped hearing from, and eventually stopped hearing about.

    Stewart had a major problem with alcohol. He always did, but while his parents were alive he managed to keep a grip on it. As soon as he had no other responsibilities, I think that grip began to slip and he didn’t want any of us to know how he was really doing.

    When he died, at the far-too-young age of 57, he’d been living in a series of crummier and crummier apartments since 2012, or maybe earlier, and we didn’t find out he’d left us for good for two weeks, when the hospital staff where he’d passed finally came up with a more distant relative who led to my wife.

    It’s probably been ten years since I’ve seen Stewart. Maybe a little longer. I don’t really know him anymore, if I ever did. But I couldn’t let the generic, generated, three-sentence obituary stand.

    I just don’t know how to do better for him. The service is tomorrow.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

    It is with great sadness that the remaining family of Stewart Cameron Brooks announces his sudden passing on September 29th at the age of 57. Predeceased by his parents Cameron and Olive (née Delill), Brother of Marjorie and Barbara, Stewart is fondly remembered as Uncle to Lesli Schonberg (Lance) and Great Uncle to Erik, Melanie, and Amanda. Active with the local Legion for many years, an enthusiastic outdoorsman, known for a ready smile and a happy attitude, he will be missed by friends and family.

    Aquamation has taken place in preparation for interment service at Bethany Cemetery (2050 County Rd 9, Napanee) on Tuesday November 17 at 1 pm. All are welcome to attend.

    Memorial donations may be made in Stewart’s name to KFLA Addictions and Mental Health Services or the Heart and Stroke Foundation. To plant a tree in memory of Stewart Brooks please visit our Tribute Store.

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  • Life,  Philosophy

    Lest We Forget

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    November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada, and throughout most of the British Commonwealth. The UK itself has an additional observance on the Sunday closest to the 11th to make it easier for people to attend a ceremony.

    I’ve made a big deal in the past about how Remembrance Day provides meaning and support to any and every other holiday in the calendar, about how whole generations fought and bled and died to ensure the continuance of society as we’ve grown to know it. My father was born in an occupied country. My mother’s father and several uncles went overseas during World War II. She had a grandfather who served in World War I. My father joined the military here and I came of age at the height of the Cold War. Remembrance Day was a big thing when I was young and I’ve tried to hold onto it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also tried to never miss the opportunity to thank WWII vets when I find them, and they’re getting hard to find.

    I still think Remembrance Day is critically important, but I’m having a hard time with what it’s become.

    It’s hard for me to see it as more than performative activism by politicians anymore. Support the troops and the sacrifices they make, but don’t look too closely at what they’re being asked to sacrifice for these days. It’s become more important for public figures to be seen remembering than to actually remember. And it’s definitely become more important to show unwavering devotion to the poppy as a symbol in and of itself rather than what it’s supposed to represent.

    You only have to look at the political reaction to the manufactured controversy surrounding Whole Foods and their 11 Canadian stores to see that.

    As individuals, we wear poppies for individual reasons, to remember people, conflicts, history. But as a society, we’ve forgotten the point. The poppy is a mark of mourning and remembrance, a reminder that we need to do everything we can to prevent war from rising again and to care for its victims when it does.

    So maybe we shouldn’t ask too many questions about how our government conducts itself in the more difficult parts of the world. We won’t like some of the answers.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Writing

    Screw it. I’m doing NaNo.

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    The next paragraph is stolen from my October writing report. The rest of the post isn’t.

    November = NaNo = NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, where, contrary to the national piece, slightly insane writers worldwide decide to attempt to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. I just missed in 2010, with the original first draft of Arena making 50k by the end of November but still needing another 8k words to finish the story, which I stretched out a bit. And I “won” NaNo in 2014 with the first draft of Scattered on the Wind coming in at a little over 62k on November 26th, but I dictated about half of that novel and it took me a while to clean it up, so the final product first draft I officially count at almost 65k and on December 17th of that year. It’s a temptation every year, but I haven’t given in to that temptation since 2014.

    Screw it. I’m doing NaNo.

    But there’s a catch.

    Any work on the NaNoWriMo project has to come after all other obligations for the day have been met, including planned writing obligations. So if there’s a blog post slotted, and I’m supposed to edit 2 chapters of something, and I haven’t made any progress on one of this month’s short stories yet, those all have to come first. So do family obligations and appointments, necessary academics, paid work (if any), required housework and maintenance. Just because I don’t have a formal job at the moment doesn’t mean I get to chuck everything to put a couple of thousand extra words in.

    Oh, and the story I’ve decided on has a bare bones outline that I think is probably going to translated to a first draft that’s closer to 60,000 words than 50,000.

    Not exactly setting myself up for success, am I?

    But life, uh, finds a way. Even if I don’t finish the story during November, I’ll have made a great start on it and the words will still count.

    Right now, I’m 6,281 words in. And I haven’t touched it yet today. So, three days in and the track is good so far. No idea if I’ll be able to maintain it or not.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Entertainment,  Life

    Facebook on My Phone

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    Or rather, Facebook not on my phone.

    I took it off a week ago yesterday, barrelling past the various, “are you sure” questions and the reminders that it would be really easy to activate again if I wanted to. Yes, I’m sure. No, I don’t want to change my mind. I don’t really care if it’s easy to activate again. Get it off. Gone. Removed.

    And I’ve got to tell you, it’s done wonders for my mood.

    I’m on record as saying that social media has potential to be awesome, a great engagement tool, something to keep us in contact with people easily and build relationships with.

    I’m also on record as saying that I think it’s failing at a lot of these things. Maybe all of them. Remember the old adage that if you’re not paying for the service, you’re the product? It’s to a platform’s benefit to keep you scrolling as much as possible. You see more ads and are more likely to click on one, increasing the platform’s revenue. Tie that to being more likely to engage with things that make you angry, and the algorithms learn that showing you things that annoy you will keep you around longer.

    And so the algorithms develop to foster more division and anger.

    And I’m good, thanks.

    Over the last few months, I’ve really noticed those algorithms at work. Pages I’ve liked or groups I’m a member of, the notifications that come up are the ones that would make me angriest or argumentative or most likely to want to call someone out about something offensive/ignorant/wrong and the comments it picks to display under each post as I’m scrolling seems targeted to do the same. The more I resist those, the worse it gets. Look! See what someone said! How can you let such blatant evil stand?

    It works hard on us subconsciously and it works because, and here’s the problem, at some very small level of popularity, there’s always someone who wants to stop by and piss in the cornflakes just for the sake of pissing in the cornflakes.

    Yes, there have been times I’ve enjoyed the care and feeding of internet trolls, but typically only to help them draw attention to what giant assholes they are. I don’t argue with the troll to convince them, because that’s almost always not possible and their goal isn’t to have a rational discussion anyway, it’s for the people who might be looking on. Sometimes, silence implies agreement.

    But at this point in time, the people even peripherally connected to my friends of friends lists who fit into the category of troll have weeded themselves out. Oh, I’ve blocked a few, and unfriended a few, along the way, and I know I’ve been blocked by one and unfriended by at least two during the same time, but I’ve also seen changes in behaviour. Whether those were the result of interactions we’ve had or not is irrelevant. Even if I just planted a seed of doubt somewhere, I’m satisfied. Be reasonable, point out the behaviour, ask questions. The nature of social media means that there’s nearly always someone watching who isn’t the person you’re trying to have a discussion with.

    But those tactics work less with people you don’t have an existing relationship with, random strangers in public online spaces. Trying to effectively engage with those is pointless most of the time. However, there’s another old adage: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” Thank you, Elie Wiesel. Meaning, when something is wrong, speak up. But that doesn’t mean you have to argue with the trolls.

    And I’m tired of even seeing the trolls. They’re not adding to my social media experience. I’d suggest they’re not adding to anyone’s social media experience, even their own.

    Oh, I could take the time to curate things, to beat FB into submission so that it provides the social media experience I actually want instead of the one it wants me to have, and I’ve done a bit of this. I’ve divested myself of most of the pages and groups where the whining and trolling makes up any significant fraction of the content, and I’ve done it quickly, quietly, and fairly close to scorched earth level. Given enough time and effort, I could actually be successful in the short term. But the algorithms are still at work. It’s still more valuable to the platform to make me angry than to make me happy. And sooner or later, FB will make tweak to increase stay time and that will make the algorithm work even harder.

    What does all of this have to do with removing the FB app from my phone? Mostly, it’s providing background reasoning, but it also brings us to changing how I interact with the platform. More importantly, taking it off my phone affects when I interact with it. Now I need a computer to check on social media. No more hate scrolling while watching something, waiting for something, standing in line, killing time in the car during a family member’s appointment. Instead, I have to read or listen to a podcast or write or do something constructive or just be alone with my thoughts.

    And all of that is doing wonders for my mood.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Writing

    October Writing Accomplishments

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    As I kick the student thing into high gear, both in terms of the course content for TESOL and in prepping for becoming a full time student in May (not January 2021 as I’d expected until recently – acceptance is in hand although not completely registered yet), the writing is naturally a little more limited. Overall, October just barely crossed the 20k barrier.

    Still, it’s less about the numbers and more about what I managed to accomplish which, while less than I originally wanted, was still enough to justify the time I put into things this month.

    1. Warforge editing: while the original target was to get through the final draft all three of the books in the Caledonia triad, I finished that final draft on the first book and the second is about a quarter complete.
    2. Short stories: five of them this month, ranging from a 100-word Drabble up to 2400 words, so none of them fantastically long, but putting me back in the short fiction from of mind.
    3. The longhand story: the longest of those was the one I wrote a hundred or two hundred words at a time in a notebook. I’m about 1100 words into another one right now and pantsing it so I have no idea how long it’s going to be. That’s part of the fun.
    4. A total of 10 blog posts published, giving me a weekly average of 2.3 for the month. Lighter than I originally wanted, but life gets in the way sometimes.
    5. 1 journal entry. It could have been more. There’s probably still some to come out of the event that spawned that one.

    Due to other issues and family commitments, I didn’t publish much in October. Actually, I didn’t publish anything in October. That can’t, and hopefully won’t, continue. There’s so much I want to do.

    I’m hoping to accomplish a little more in November, and there are a couple of things I really want to get out before Christmas. One of those things might even be Christmas-related.

    I still haven’t missed a writing day since March 19th. Counting today, that’s 227 in a row, and I’m happy with that. Very happy.

    Targets for November:

    1. Warforge: Caledonia books. Let’s finish the final drafts on these.
    2. Finish the basic outline for the Draugr Rising sequel, Kami Falling. I’m down to the detail and scene level plotting at this point. Yeah, this was on the list for October. It’s possible it might spill over into December, too. We’ll see how it goes.
    3. Short Stories. I’d like to get the first drafts of three in, maybe including the handwritten one being completed.
    4. 3 blog posts per week. October was a miss here, but I have solid hopes for November. And a lot of topics.
    5. Publish 1-3 books or shorter works.

    As always, there is a grand plan, and I’ve started building the 2021 detail level plan. I always get a lot of joy out of planning things. Once the 2021 detail is more or less set, I’ll move on to the semi-detail level of the three-year plan, revise the rough five-year plan, and expand the high-level ten-year plan out to ten years again. Much fun will be had.

    And, of course, today is November first, so there’s always the temptation to say, screw it. I’m doing NaNo.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

    (Note: November = NaNo = NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, where, contrary to the national piece, slightly insane writers worldwide decide to attempt to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. I just missed in 2010, with the original first draft of Arena making 50k by the end of November but still needing another 8k words to finish the story, which I stretched out a bit. And I “won” NaNo in 2014 with the first draft of Scattered on the Wind coming in at a little over 62k on November 26th, but I dictated about half of that novel and it took me a while to clean it up, so the final product first draft I officially count at almost 65k and on December 17th of that year. It’s a temptation every year, but I haven’t given in to that temptation since 2014.)

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  • Life

    What does Halloween Mean at this Stage of My Life?

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    What does Halloween mean when your kids are all adults?

    When the average age on your stretch of neighbourhood is past retirement?

    When we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and a lot of what makes Halloween fun for kids is a lot harder to manage?

    When you’re fed up with the commercialization of absolutely everything?

    Well, in our case, it means Star Trek themed cocktails and stand-up comedy on a convenient streaming service while downstairs my daughters and two friends have non-Star Trek themed cocktails and play cards against humanity while no kids come to the door for the limited supply of Candy we laid in just in case we had trick or treaters.

    Our record in the 18 Halloweens we’ve lived in this house has been about 30 kids. Usually, it’s under 20. This year, I think we had 5.

    And yeah, the commercialization of everything annoys me more every year. So I participate less every year. Halloween is a mild exception to that. If we have candy, and you come to the door having made some effort to dress up, you get candy. I don’t much care how old you are. Think you’re a little too old to dress up for Halloween? You get candy. Teenager trying to hold onto your youth and your costume was thrown together at the last second? You get candy. Coming up on 40 and candy is the only thing that keeps you from deciding life isn’t worth living? You get candy.

    I don’t care.

    But I’m not buying all of the crap and scattering it all over my house and my lawn.

    Or for Christmas or any other holiday.

    Whole industries exist built around trying to sell me junk I don’t need for holidays that are either made up or don’t need decorations or gifts involved. Which is all of them, really.

    But if you want some candy, dress up and stop by on Halloween. I’ve got you covered.

    For as long as the candy lasts or until around 930.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Entertainment,  Television

    Star Trek Sunday: Chronological vs Series Order

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    I have a general preference for series order when it comes to watching Star Trek. Or I would if I were starting from the beginning for a re-watch at this point. At this point in my life, I’m more likely to take each series as a separate entity. My daughter and I are closing in on the final season of DS9 and I’m preparing to do an Enterprise watch of my own. More on that another day.

    Most people seem to suggest that if you’re going to start a watch of the entire universe, you go in series order. That looks something like:

    • TOS
    • TAS
    • TOS Movies
    • TNG
    • TNG Movies
    • DS9
    • VOY
    • ENT
    • Reboot Movies
    • DIS
    • Picard
    • Lower Decks

    There is, however, an argument sometimes made for a viewing order that’s in-universe chronological, which would go more like:

    • ENT
    • DIS
    • Reboot Movies
    • TOS
    • TAS
    • TOS Movies
    • TNG to DS9 to VOY with the TNG movies sprinkled in between
    • Lower Decks
    • Picard

    I’m going to leave out all the things supposedly in development at the moment. The TNG-era line is a bit murky. I’ve come across the argument lately that you should break it out by season rather than series. So Season 6 of TNG should be immediately followed by Season 1 of DS9 and then you do this sort of alternating season thing, inserting the TNG movies at the appropriate junctures, until VOY is the only series left running at the beginning of Season 5.

    I’ve even seen someone make the argument that you should go by the stardate in each episode across all three to get a better sense of the history of the Star Trek future of the time period.

    Personally, I come down on the side of series order. Watch the evolution of storytelling, technology, and social issues. Breaking things out by season for the TNG-era shows would make more sense if there was any real crossover in storylines or background events. For the same reason, breaking it out by stardate seems excessive.

    But that’s me. I also wouldn’t bother with the reboot movies again – once was enough for me – and I’d likely skip both Discovery and Picard. Actually, I mostly have skipped Discovery the first time around, but we’re not going to rehash any of those arguments again. If they’re bringing more people to Star Trek, I’m happy.

    However, at this point in my life, Star Trek viewing takes two forms:

    1. Hey, Star Trek is on.
    2. Watching a series in order from beginning to end over time.

    I’m doing the second of these with my oldest daughter and DS9. I’m about to start doing the same with Enterprise on my own, and for partly the same reason. I didn’t see nearly all of it first run and think I probably missed some good stories. Whether I missed some good Trek or not is a different question.

    What’s the right way to watch Star Trek? While I mostly like to have some kind of order in things, I don’t know what the right answer is for anyone else. How do you want to watch it?

    Live long and prosper.

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  • Life,  Philosophy

    Adults Today

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    I try not to make a big deal out of getting old. I’m not there yet, but I can glimpse it from here now and then.

    But when I see what the folks my age on social media are posting more and more of lately, I have to wonder if I’m looking at things wrong.

    There’s a whole lot of back in my day, kids these days don’t have any idea, my generation could handle things, we didn’t have all this fancy stuff, kids don’t understand how the world works, that’s the way it was and we liked it, young people today have it so easy.

    Enough of it that I’m starting to snooze and unfollow people.

    I’m a member of GenX, the supposedly selfish ‘me’ generation, the latchkey kids, the kids who had to learn to amuse themselves because their parents didn’t have time (or inclination) to interact with them. (Hey, all the experts say so, so it must be true.) The kids who, as a result of that, are more mentally ready for the pandemic crackdown than any other generation. (Experts are also saying this, apparently.)

    GenX is in its 40s and early 50s now and at least some of the people in that age group are adopting motivational habits demonstrated by Boomers and the Silent generation, something those generations inherited from their parents and grandparents, and so on, something that might be a partially universal, complaining about those who come after them.

    And I really don’t get how this works, so maybe it’s not quite universal.

    If I think back to when older people were making the same complaints about my generation or age cohort, I remember it came across as bitter whining. And you know what, it still does.

    Wah, wah, wah. Kids today have stuff that we didn’t have. Kids today don’t care about the things that were important to me growing up because those things don’t all apply to society now and I don’t want to admit it. Kids today sometimes even get the help they need. Kids today have it cushy and easy.

    Right. Easy.

    We forget how easy we had it. Partly because we didn’t and partly because we have it easier now.

    Parts of the two generations that came before us accelerated and enabled the gathering of resources and wealth into the hands of a few. Parts of the two generations that came before us enabled the erosion of the social fabric and safety net of our society. Parts of the two generations that came before us were the reason we grew up during the height of the cold war when the doomsday clock was always a few seconds from midnight and we half expected to wake up to a nuclear holocaust on any given day.

    We’ve reaped the shreds of what was sown before us because that’s what was left and struggled to pretend those shreds are good and right. Now we’re ready to denigrate our children and soon grandchildren because they aren’t grateful for the scraps of the shreds that are left because all of the ridiculous economic, social, and societal policies and practices that have gone on since the end of World War II continue accelerating in the background.

    If our kids get to go to post secondary education, they can expect to graduate not with a few thousand dollars in debt, but with tens of thousands.

    They bring that debt into a world where the cost of housing has gone up as fast or faster than tuition so there’s almost no way they’ll manage a mortgage until they’re 2/3 of the way to retirement, especially since that student debt counts against them. Never mind that wages and salaries haven’t remotely kept pace.

    They’re supposed to be grateful for entry level jobs that keep them barely above the poverty line. Alternately, they’re supposed to be grateful for minimum-wage jobs that don’t and work hard to get something better because those jobs are just for starting out, never mind that minimum wage was originally designed to be able to support a family.

    They’re coming with all of that into a world that’s increasingly full of waste with air that’s increasingly hard to breathe and a temperature that’s making existence increasingly difficult for every living thing on the planet. And why is that? Decisions that the major players in previous generations have made, and continue to make, without thought to long-term consequences. Because hey, I got mine, so screw you.

    Yeah, kids today have it easy. By all means let’s point the finger at people who had very little to do with the world they’re inheriting and try to make them feel bad about it.

    My message to the people who have picked up the habit of complaining about “kids today”, break the habit while you can. If you’re going to collectively whine about whole generations, try to do it somewhere I don’t have to listen. Because I’m sick of it, and I’m going to start calling it out more, and I think we all need to.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

    Mostly Cloudy: The subscription era
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  • Entertainment,  Television

    Star Trek Sunday: Lower Decks Revisited

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    Way back in August, I posted about my initial reaction to Lower Decks. The verdict at that point was that it was my favourite new iteration of Trek since Enterprise ended. We were only two episodes in at that point, but the first season is over now and it’s been renewed for a second season. I hope it gets more.

    Why? I’m going to steal most of the paragraph I wrote last time:

    Lower Decks is about friendship, loyalty, compassion, understanding, finding your way, coming of age, and expanding what it means to be a Starfleet officer and a sentient being, human or otherwise. The character interactions come back to the base of Star Trek: supporting each other in a strange but hopeful future and building towards it being even better while doing the right thing because it’s the right thing.

    Kind of what Star Trek is all about. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations and building a better world in every way you can.

    I’ve really enjoyed Lower Decks so far. It’s been fun, it’s been funny, and it’s been Star Trek.

    The reboot movies gave us action movies in Star Trek wrappings. They were beautiful, they were exciting, they were well cast, but only the third one tried to be Star Trek. It didn’t miss, but it didn’t really land, either.

    The first season of Discovery was beautiful but had a lot of questionable aesthetic and writing choices and didn’t give me anything in the way of actually being Star Trek other than taking place in the same universe. I’m told it’s better since, but I’m not ready to give it a second try yet. I felt similarly about DS9 in its first run. In the middle of Season 6, I still kind of feel that way.

    Picard tried to give us big ideas but mostly missed in the fuzzy, drawn out plotting and meandering storyline, a show that could have been a mini-series instead, told in half the amount of time while losing very little story.

    However, I’ve said it before and I’ll restate it now: if any of these have brought new people to Star Trek who will explore the roots and the concepts and the heart of the series, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t matter if I like any particular series or movie and it doesn’t matter what I think of the respect (or lack of it) that might have been shown for source material or characters or concepts. If it means Star Trek continues to get made, that’s a good thing overall.

    I’m probably not the audience for Prodigy (although will likely try it anyway), and I have concerns about Section 31 (nothing wrong with a little moral ambiguity in story telling, but I’m afraid this is going to push that off the deep end in search of the dirty, gritty universes that seem to be so popular in recent years), but I have great hopes for Strange New Worlds as a return to the episodic heart of things exploring the universe and what it means to be human.

    In that light, Lower Decks has given me star Trek back. It’s about people and ideas and making a better world. And sure, it’s given it to me in the form of a sometimes-wacky comedy series, but the deep stuff is there, too, and that’s what I really want from my Trek.

    Live long and prosper.

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