Category Archives: Review

Review – Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions

Review – Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions

Origins

Paving Stones was one of those stories that emerged nearly fully-formed in one quick session.

Titles

Barking Up The Muse Tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions
Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions

One thing that didn’t go so smoothly was the choice of a title.  It evolved as follows – The first title was Paving Stones Made of Bad Intentions, as it is a Mirror Universe story. However, I didn’t like the idea of going with a straightforward opposite. Instead, I wanted for it to be a lot clearer that the centerpiece scene was an act of love, albeit somewhat misguided love.

The second iteration was Paving Stones Made of Good Intentions, which corrected the idiom and better evoked the undercurrent of it being the road to hell. But I didn’t love how it flowed.

The final title was Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions. This title brings together not only the fact that the centerpiece scene is happening because people mean well but also because this is the road to hell. Furthermore, the title effectively denotes that the road to hell is actually deliberately and actively fashioned from these good intentions. This is rather than them being somewhat more passively made of them. A subtle difference, to be sure. But the idea was that the intentions are somewhat more refined. There are good intentions but they are perverted and shaped into the paving stones. This is opposed to just laying them down in the roadbed.

Background

When I wrote Reversal, one of the things I had Doug describe was his early childhood and how he was sent off to boarding school. But I didn’t go into a lot of detail. Hence I wanted a little more about that. In addition, this is Doug’s first real meeting with Lili. So, while he doesn’t necessarily sugarcoat things, he doesn’t go into a lot of excruciating detail. Plus, for Doug at the time, his going away to school occurred over four and half decades previously. Hence some detail or another may have been forgotten.

In Reversal, Doug also briefly mentions that he received his promotion to run Tactical in a manner where he did not have to murder his superior officer. It was important to me, given the way that the overall story arc was to go, that he not be the killer of Ian Reed, Malcolm‘s mirror counterpart. And so Doug had to be put in charge of Tactical on the Defiant, somehow.

Furthermore, the story was written as a response to Ad Astra’s January 2012 Pathways challenge, wherein the writers were challenged to come up with stories about formative stages or scenes in an older character’s life. I had originally considered writing about Lili O’Day and the house fire that had killed her parents, but I was thinking about that and suddenly one word hit me, and it wouldn’t let go. And that word was indoctrination. Once the word grabbed me, writing the story was a lot like taking dictation. I made very few changes, apart from minor cosmetic ones, after completing the first draft.

The Five Signs of Weakness

I wanted a kind of distorted version of the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule. Over time, I had already written several mirror universe stories, so there was already a framework. And in Reversal, Doug acknowledges that there are signs of weakness and that he cannot show them, for that’s a confession of vulnerability that could cost him his life. The signs, at that point in the progress of my writing, were somewhat underdeveloped but they did include not acknowledging an injury and not admitting to love. Doug himself sees the development of his nascent conscience as probably being what the mirror would think of as the ultimate sign of weakness. After all, in the mirror, how can you act if you’re tripped up by guilt?

A Child’s Memory Device

In order to convert these somewhat incoherent ideas into lessons digestible for a child, I created a maxim of five signs of weakness for all mirror children to learn, and have to repeat back to their elders.

  1. I will never show physical weakness.
  2. I will never show weakness in trade.
  3. (and) I will not show mental weakness.
  4. I will not show weakness in my dealings with others.
  5. (and) I will never show weakness when it comes to justice.

During the course of the story, Doug and his parents explain what each of the signs really entails. For example, mental weakness not only involves not knowing how to do something, but also not keeping apprised of rumors and intelligence. They tell Doug to keep his eyes and ears open, and not wait for people to impart lessons. They encourage him to have intellectual curiosity, but it’s not about books or mathematics. Rather, it’s about the various whisperings around an encampment or a barracks or a starship. In many ways, they are telling Doug to eavesdrop, as not knowing certain things could harm his career or even cost him his life.

 Influences

Review – Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions
Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is a favorite book and it was a definite influence. I liked the idea of a school where children would be intimidated (Lord of the Flies and Tom Brown’s School Days also came to mind).

Jane’s Lowood School and the school in Tom Brown’s School Days serve as models for the Triton Day School. This is where Doug would be, essentially, indoctrinated into the ways of the mirror. He was to forget he softness of his mother, Lena,. Or, if he remembered at all, that would be ridiculed and dismissed with a sneer. I even had a Mister Brocklehurst take Doug to school – a direct reference to Jane Eyre. The school was also portrayed as a place where Doug’s beloved stuffed toy would be taken from him and used to harm him. In Fortune, Doug confirms that gentler children were bullied and harassed. And so in order to survive, he had to become hardened.

The toy

Barking up the muse tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Stuffed Velociraptor Toy | Paving Stones
Stuffed Velociraptor Toy

Originally a giraffe, the stuffed velociraptor represents childhood innocence, but with a cruel twist. The toy shows up at the beginning. It is Doug’s sole comfort as he listens to his parents argue about his fate. The toy’s banishment from the breakfast table, and Lena’s inability to find it signify that Doug’s innocence is already, irretrievably, lost. Finally, I chose a velociraptor is not only to show menace behind the plush. It also foreshadows his predecessor at Tactical’s fate. That was death after a mauling by a Gorn, who resembles a velociraptor rather closely.

Tactical

For Doug, running Tactical is a useful promotion. However, he did not originally seek it. If Ian Reed had lived (in canon, there’s an even shot whether Malcolm’s mirror counterpart would survive a Gorn attack), Doug would have remained as CO of the MACOs on the Defiant. Instead, Doug is in direct competition with Aidan MacKenzie and Chip Masterson.

As is true in my fanfiction, the Defiant is a confusing mess, and Doug must figure things out quickly. Hence the flashback to his his parents sending him off to school. That’s because this is where he clearly also had to do a lot of fancy footwork  to get up to speed in a hurry.

Forgiveness

One thing that Doug learns from Lili is forgiveness, and so, off-screen, he does eventually forgive his parents. By the time of A Kind of Blue, they are already naming their first-born son after Jeremiah (Doug’s father) and Lena.

Review – Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions
Roots VS paving stones (Photo credit: Théo La Photo)

And by the time of Together, that son, Jeremiah Logan Beckett – who they call Joss – is carrying around a stuffed dinosaur of his own. But in Joss’s case, it’s a much gentler stegosaurus.

Story Postings

Rating

The story is rated K although it’s possibly closer to K+, given its disturbing themes.

Upshot

I love how this story turned out, and I am very proud of it. It won the January 2012 Pathways challenge at Ad Astra.

Review – The Light

Review – The Light

Light shines throughout the galaxy.

The Elevator Pitch

I have been working in the corporate world, in some capacity or another since 1986. Frankly, it was even before that, as I would temp as a college and Law School student in order to make some summer spending money.

Barking Up the Muse Tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | The Light
The Light

One of the things I have perfected over the years is what’s called an Elevator Pitch. The gist of an elevator pitch is that you have the time of an elevator ride (e. g. thirty seconds to two minutes, tops) to make your pitch to a prospect employer who you, presumably, meet serendipitously in an elevator.

This means  that you need to strip your resumé and work history down to bare bones. A doctor, for example, can’t go into the details of some operation she performed last year. Instead, she says something like, “I’m an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. The Boston Celtics call on me when their medical staff is stumped.” In a very short amount of time, you get a very good idea of what this woman can do, and how trusted she is in the medical establishment.

For Star Trek fanfiction writing, I think there is a need for what is essentially the equivalent of an elevator pitch. That is, it should be a short piece which accurately gives the reader a taste of your universe, your ideas and what you can do. The Light is one such story.

History of the Story

This Star Trek:Enterprise fanfiction story did not set out to be that way. Instead, I was in the middle of spinning out Reversal (pretty close to the end) when in late 2010 I was asked to provide a story for a project called the Trek Twelve Days of Christmas. The only catch was that the story had to be fairly short – that is, it could not be a full-fledged book like Reversal.

I hit upon an idea. There would be some characters from Reversal, but really only minor ones, and the story would revolve around them. It ended up being just one of the minor characters from that story. And, the kicker, because you can find scads of Star Trek holiday stories about Christmas, this one would, instead, be about Chanukah.

Spirituality

Review – The Light
Position in which a Jewish kohen places his ha…

I am, as they say, a nice Jewish gal. And people like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, but also Armin Shimerman, connect to Star Trek and are Jewish. Plus there are things like the Vulcan salute, and various space episodes centering around World War II, such as TOS’s Patterns of Force. Judaism is a part of Star Trek. But how to add it in, particularly without being overly preachy?

I hit upon the idea of Jews who are somewhat religious but not so much that they cannot function on a starship. That is, they have to, for example, be able to travel on the Sabbath. This means Orthodox Jews are out of the question. But Conservative Jews (which is my background; this references a sect and not a political affiliation) would work just fine for my purposes.

Chanukah was a natural introduction as a lot of people are familiar with it. The celebration, a festival of lights, also includes foods made with oil, such as potato latkes (pancakes), spinning a top called a dreidel and exchanging presents. The candelabra is called a menorah.

Bereavement

In order to add a little emotional heft to the story, and to explain why Captain Archer and the senior staff would be interested in the Jewish contingent on the ship, the story begins with a death. This link to the past also links us, the people of the present day, to the people on the NX-01.

The Plot

The story begins with an Admiral telling Captain Archer than Crewman Ethan Shapiro‘s great-aunt, Rachel Orenstein, has died. Jonathan wonders why the crewman’s family wouldn’t just tell him and the Admiral says they won’t communicate during the Sabbath. Jonathan presses the matter, still not convinced that he’s the best man for the job when the Admiral tells him to act quickly, as this is a major news story. Why? Because Rachel lived for one hundred and twenty-seven years (which places her birth in 2029). She broke all previous records and, therefore, the press has an interest in her family.

As Jonathan informs Ethan of the death, Ethan asks for leave for the unveiling of the head stone, explaining that the funeral will be too quick for him to ever get back to Earth in time. He also asks to be connected to the Starfleet Rabbi, Leah Benson.

Support

He returns to his quarters and waits for his friends. Lieutenant Reed comes by briefly, in order to offer his condolences as he is Ethan’s boss. The other three Jewish crew members arrive – Josh Rosen, who is in Engineering; Karin Bernstein, who works with Ethan in the Tactical Department; and Andrew Miller, who works in the Biology Lab and is half-Jewish. Andy is perhaps a year older than the others.

When they speak with the Rabbi, they ask how they are ever going to get a minyan together. In order to say Kaddish (the prayer over the dead), ten Jews must be present. Karin’s presence counts (that wasn’t the case when I was a child), but then what? There are only four Jews on the ship. The Rabbi tells them that they can temporarily deputize some non-Jewish friends.

When the time comes for mourning, Captain Archer brings along some friends to help. These include Hoshi who, when asked if she can read Hebrew jokes, “I’ll muddle through”, Malcolm, Phlox, T’Pol and a Security Crewman, Azar Hamidi. Azar notes that Hebrew can’t be too far off from Arabic. They say the prayers.

Celebration

Barking up the muse tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Dreidel | Chanukah | The Light
Dreidel

Ethan’s mother – who tells him to talk to that nice girl Karin a bit – insists that he celebrate Chanukah. So he invites all of the attendees at the service to a little party  on the next night. The party is in the Observation Lounge. Like all good parties, there’s a little dancing, a gift, good food to eat, and there’s a little bit of romance.

Story Postings

Review – The Light

 

Rating

The story is rated K.

Upshot

For the most part, I like it. There is a bit of shtick, though, particularly when Ethan and his mother talk. I could have probably trimmed that a bit, as Linda Shapiro comes across as a bit of a stereotype. But I do like using this story – which only contains a little over 3200 words – as one possible elevator pitch when people ask me how they can get an inkling of how I write. For a positive, K-rated peek at my world, read The Light.

And what happens to Ethan, Karin, Andy, Josh and Azar? To find out about them, and even about their Mirror Universe counterparts, there’s more in the In Between Days series, and even a little bit in the Times of the HG Wells series.

Review – Crackerjack

Crackerjack Story Origins

Crackerjack was originally written as a gift for a younger fan who wasn’t really old enough to be reading my racier material. This fan likes Star Trek: The Next Generation, so I set the story in that universe, but I didn’t want to be on the Enterprise, and I didn’t want to be dealing with too many of the characters.

As a story written for a young person, I wanted a young character, so I hit upon the idea of grabbing Wesley Crusher. He has often – completely legitimately – been criticized as being a “Mary Sue” type of character. This is a character who is impossibly good, impossibly smart, impossibly lucky, etc. It’s a parody of a true character. I wanted Wes to be a bit different.

I also wanted Geordi, as the story was to be about prejudging. Partly that was due to racism, and partly due to his obvious infirmity, blindness. As a pair, I felt they could work together, too, and would believably want to help each other. The title refers, not only to the treat served at ballgames, but also to “an exceptionally good person or thing”. The reader is left to determine just who really is crackerjack.

The Plot

Barking Up The Muse Tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Ted Williams Hits a Home Run | Crackerjack
Ted Williams Hits a Home Run

The story begins with an old man asking his grandchildren if they ever heard of the time he watched Ted Williams hit a homerun. They clamor for a story and he obliges.

His tale begins with the two friends returning from a ceremony on the Kreetassan home world, when they suddenly run into a strange cosmic phenomenon. The phenomenon throws them back in time, to Earth. Because the shuttle they are in is damaged, they are forced to make an emergency landing. Duke Ellington is playing on the radio, and there’s a reference to fighting in the Middle East, and to British residents needing to go to bomb shelters.

They need supplies in order to get back, so they will need to head into civilization.

Barking Up The Muse Tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Brownstones | Crackerjack
Brownstones

They change their clothes so as to mimic period garb, but the visor sticks out like a sore thumb. A decision is made to outfit Geordi with sunglasses and carry the visor along in a duffle, if needed. They replicate some money and follow a river toward what they figure is the nearest town.

While in town, they sleep out in the open. In the morning, they realize they’ve been sleeping in a familiar place, at the foot of the statue of Lincoln, at the Lincoln Memorial. They’re in Washington, DC.

Charity and Loathing

As Geordi waits, Wesley runs out to look for a place to get breakfast. It rains a bit, but then the rain stops. When Geordi puts his palm up to check if the rain has really stopped, someone presses coins into his hand, thinking he’s a panhandler. Wesley finds a lunch counter and leads Geordi there. When they enter, the proprietor refuses them service and they are directed to a sign on the wall that says, Whites Only.

A newspaper then reveals the date – September 1st, 1941.

How do they get to the ballgame? How do they get back? All can be revealed by reading, of course.

Racism

Star Trek often covers socially difficult subjects such as racism, so I wanted to confront it head-on. The time period, I feel, is a great one, as it is pre-war and pre-Jackie Robinson, but attitudes are starting, slowly, to change. Plus the presence of a Whites Only sign was very logical for the time and place in question.

Geordi, of course, was a logical subject for racism, in particular because his infirmity makes it impossible for him to actually see why people are prejudging him. Wesley works, not only as Geordi’s companion, but also as a wide-eyed observer who doesn’t understand why the people of the time are acting like they are – and why some are kind or even overly protective. The people of the time aren’t just one big mass. Some care, some act but are inept (such as an anonymous person giving Geordi charity), while others are pettily cruel.

Time and Place

One of the ways I set the scenes was with music of the time. Take the A Train shows up, but so do The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B, Stardust and Frenesi. Each chapter begins with a link to a YouTube video. The music is mostly horn-driven and tends to be from big bands.

The chapters also each begin with a picture. There’s Ted Williams, another is of a streetcar, another is of a row of brownstones, etc. The pictures are all in black and white, not only to evoke the sense of an old black and white film, but also to bring home the idea of racists seeing the world in terms of only black and white.

Furthermore, I wanted to evoke a bit of the old TOS episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, although that one takes place in 1930. One of the backdrops to the story is the prospect of imminent war, where bullets aren’t going to care one whit about the race of the person they strike. In Crackerjack, the bullets are going to be flying at Americans in only a little over three months’ time.

Interphasing

An interphase is a canon construction, and refers to a kind of temporal, spatial or somatic displacement, often without intention. While I handle interphases in other stories, I wanted this one to be more of an engineering problem, rather than a philosophical musing. For Wesley and Geordi, it’s a problem to be solved, rather than a reason to question existence.

Framing

Another aspect of the story is framing it as a tale told by an elder. The elder is Wesley, who you never otherwise see as an extreme elder. I wanted it to be his perspective and his long-term hindsight that would shape the narrative. Also, as Wesley learns about racism, I wanted him to be teaching his grandchildren the same lessons, that there are some people who don’t get along with others, and sometimes that’s for the most unfair reasons.

Barking up the muse tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Camera | Crackerjack
Camera

Memory is also key to this story, as it is about Wesley’s memories. But it also covers the memories of the people they meet. Plus there’s the memory of the reader about that time, or about what they’ve learned of that time. Or it’s what they, personally, have experienced of racism, and also of human decency.

But don’t worry about forgetting. Your memory has enough film in it.

Music

The music was great fun to put together.

Story Postings

Rating

The story is rated K.

Upshot

I like this one, but the problems go away rather neatly and easily. If I were writing for an adult, I probably would have thrown in more obstacles. And I might have made the racism harsher than it was. But I like that it’s not quite as hard-edged. I don’t think I needed to really hit people over the head with it.

Review – Freak School

Review – Freak School

Freak School was one of these odd, serendipitous moments where suddenly all I do is type and it’s as if I’m taking dictation.

Barking Up the Muse Tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Freak School
Freak School

Our story is all diary entries. And these are the entries of a teenage girl. The whole thing is a project for her English class. Pretty soon the diarist – Rayna Montgomery – begins to reveal things about herself. Like, for example, that she’s only partly human. And that she’s been sent to a school for hybrid children. This was because she couldn’t get along with the kids at her old school in Connecticut. She was the victim of some teasing and, because she’s a pretty big girl herself, retaliation was problematic.

Punishment

Hence Rayna is sent to the Archer Academy at Oberon, a school for troubled hybrid children. In addition to her regular subjects, she has to attend Group, which is intended to be a sort of rap session/quasi-therapy. I well recall a class like that when I was in High School (it was the 70s; it’s just what we did back then), and how, in general, it was pretty dull but the dynamics of the group could be of interest.

Rayna deals with a personality conflict with a female classmate, a lovesick male classmate who she doesn’t feel the same way about, and a new student upon whom she has quite the crush. She also has a very heavy Valley Girl type of an accent. I hear Moon Unit Zappa in Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl” song when I hear Rayna’s voice.

As Rayna herself says:

“See – and if you’re some archaeologist digging this up in, like, a thousand years, you should know that there are all of these species in the Federation. Before we all had Warp Drive, we just went our merry ways, but now that there’s been peace for a while – ugh – there’s all this interspecies marriage. So kids like me are born.

I mean, it’s not like we all didn’t try. I tried while I was in Connecticut, but there were just too many rules. And, like I’ve said, I got the worst of both worlds. I’m too short and soft to be menacing, and I’m too freaky-looking to fit in, in Connecticut or anywhere else on Earth.

Let’s just say – despite what my Mom used to say – I am not a pretty girl.”

But she is crafty.

Story Postings

Rating

The story is rated T.

Upshot

It was great fun to write. I can see little typos but otherwise I’m happy with it. And there’s even a sequel.

Review – Brown

Review – Brown

Brown adds to the Reversal story.

Background

I wrote Brown in response to a weekly free write challenge on Ad Astra where the subject was pests.

I had established a rodent infestation on the Defiant in Reversal, and had originally intended for the mice to be a bit of comic relief (after all, the Star Trek Mirror Universe can, at least in my fan fiction, be overwhelmingly negative and dark), but they took on lives of their own and became more of a symbol for the chaos and inattention to detail that I’ve laced the MU with.

Review - Brown
Terran Empress Hoshi

The Empress Hoshi Sato‘s sleeping around is partly, canon, partly my own doing. I envision her as a bit like Livia in Suetonius, who has unparalleled ambition for her offspring. But for Hoshi, it’s also a matter of survival. She seduces the upper-level men on the Defiant, has a child with them and, if they have even a shred of decency, they will work to at least ensure the survival of their own child.

Synergy

The story put the two concepts together as Hoshi is followed not too long after the end of the events depicted in Reversal, and she is pregnant by Aidan. But she’s not the only pregnant female aboard, as she has found.

I have experienced mice infestations, and they can get rather bold. There’s also a feeling of invasion, where it seems a bit like your home is no longer your own. For Hoshi, the mice also symbolize a breakdown in authority. All she wants is for the mice to be gone, and they just seem to be multiplying. For Aidan and Chip, shown here a little bit like two partners in crime – which is a role they often fall into in the Prime Universe – the presence of the mice symbolizes a bit of subversion. It’s a small victory for them to see Hoshi squirm.

Story Postings

Review - Brown

Rating

The story is rated K but there are some fairly adult concepts in there.

Upshot

Review - Brown
The Queen of the Mice

I like how it turned out, and I particularly like the economy of words.