Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Is today’s Star Trek fiction guilty of “lazy” quasi-racism?

In what is generally a favorable write-up of Star Trek: Seekers #1 – Second Nature, reviewer Steve Donoghue of Open Letters Monthly makes an observation I find troubling:

“In this first volume in the Star Trek Seekers series, Second Nature, Captain Terrell heads a somewhat predictably multi-racial crew — there’s a Vulcan, a Trill, an Arkenite, a Denobulan, etc. — and, unfortunately, Mack tends to lean on these race-implications just as so many Star Trek fiction writers have done before him. (It lends itself to an egregious laziness that would be condemned as simple racism if it were being applied to people from Lithuania instead of Alpha Centauri; countless times, Mack designates these characters by their races – “the Vulcan” this, or “the Trill” that).”

seekers1Considering how eagerly I and other Star Trek authors of recent years have strived to create a more inclusive portrait of humanity and of diverse ideologies and lifestyles in the novels, this note of his gave me great pause.

Have we been guilty of perpetrating a “lazy” and “casual” form of racism by using species identifiers in our prose? I know that I and some other authors do it to avoid pronoun confusion in scenes where several characters are of the same sex, and to avoid resorting to physical attributes (“the blonde,” “the tall man,” etc), or overusing the proper names to the point of distraction.

But now I’m curious. Does Mr. Donoghue have a point? Are writers of speculative fiction (including but not limited to Star Trek) committing a sin against the inclusive philosophy many of us consider important by using species identification as a form of literary short-hand? Or is this reviewer overreacting to an innocuous trope of the speculative fiction genre?

I’m not looking to pick a fight or incite people to pile onto Mr. Donoghue. This is a serious inquiry: How can we improve this aspect of SF and Star Trek fiction without creating clunky prose problems in the process? Or is this not even really a problem at all?

Why we must strive for diversity in SF/F

I get a handful of emails from fans each week. Most of them are laudatory; a few are critical. I try to limit my responses to either a perfunctory “Thank you,” or a “Sorry that story didn’t work for you,” depending upon which seems most appropriate.

Every now and then, I receive an angry e-mail from some self-righteous, aggrieved fan who simply must let me know why he or she plans to never read my work again. One of those arrived in my e-mail today. Here is the unedited and uncorrected content of the message, with the sender’s personal information redacted to protect the sender’s privacy:


Subject: I will not be reading any of your books.

David Mack will probable never read this email but I am writing it anyway.

I purchased and started reading your book, Harbinger and stopped when I got to the part where the Vulcan was having a homosexual affair with the Klingon spy. I deleted the book from my E-reader and will never purchase another volume authored by David Mack. You can call me a homophobe or use any other excuse you choose to write me off but the truth is homosexually is not universally accepted and I get to decided what I read and I choose not to read any more of your work. And on top of that no Vulcan would consider the situation “logical”. You can’t just remold the Vulcan persona to suit yourself.

I am just letting you know that you have lost at least one reader I am not looking for a reply.

[Name Withheld]



Well, the author of that e-mail might not have been looking for a reply, but he’s going to get one.

If he thinks the fear of alienating a few closed-minded readers is going to stop me from writing stories that feature and promote characters of diverse backgrounds—including LGBTQ characters, persons of color, and people who belong to ideological or philosophical minorities—he must be out of his mind. vanguardI’m a fucking Star Trek writer. Hasn’t he ever heard of IDIC—“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”?

Most of my writing work to date has been for Star Trek. Although the various television series could have done more in their respective times to portray ethnic and gender diversity, those of us who write the licensed Trek fiction continue to do our best to depict a more progressive, enlightened, open, and harmonious future, not just for humanity but for all sentient beings. One in which love, equality, and compassion are the touchstones of civilized society.

To that end, we’ve tried to make our literary dramatis personae more closely resemble the people of Earth. We’ve tried to include more people of African, Asian, and Southeast Asian ancestry than were seen in the televised and feature-film stories. We’ve tried to incorporate characters who hail from many cultures and viewpoints. We’ve tried to imagine a future in which people of all faiths have learned to live in harmony with people of other creeds as well as those who prefer to lead purely secular lives. We’ve tried to depict a future in which people’s gender identities are no longer limited to some arbitrary binary social construct, but rather reflect a more fluid sense of personal identity.

I will never be made to feel shame for doing this. I am proud that we’ve been able to do this. I know we’ve still got more work to do, and we can do better at integrating more diverse viewpoints and characters into the ever-expanding universe of Star Trek.

The author of the quoted e-mail tries to justify his screed by declaring that “homosexually (sic) is not universally accepted”. So what? Neither are human rights of a fundamental nature. In fact, I can’t think of any notion of justice or equality that is universally accepted. Why should that limit our vision of a more open, egalitarian, meritocratic future? I reject this aspect of the author’s rant as fundamentally illogical.

As for the author’s subsequent assertion that “no Vulcan would consider the situation ‘logical’,” I would rebut that Spock himself told Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” What Spock had learned that the author of this morning’s e-mail apparently has not is that there are many ingredients to wisdom — including, but not limited to, compassion and empathy.

Another reason today’s e-mail strikes me as ironic is that I consider the doomed romance between the characters he cited — T’Prynn and Lurqal — to be one of the best story and character arcs I’ve written to date. Writing T’Prynn’s tale of agony, conflict, and heartbreak, followed by her forlorn journey toward self-forgiveness and quest for redemption, was one of the most creatively rewarding efforts of my career so far. And this guy thinks I’m going to feel bad because his world view is too small to see the truth in it? All I can say, to paraphrase Neil de Grasse Tyson, is: I prefer my universe big.

Whenever someone asks, Why do we need to keep talking about embracing diversity in stories, and seeking out diversity in the authors and creators and portrayers of speculative fiction?, I will say it’s because too many authors and artists and filmmakers still get letters like this one. We need to work toward a better future in which no one would even *think* of writing an e-mail like this.

I’m not so starry-eyed as to think that day will ever come, at least not in my lifetime. I suspect that humanity will always have to contend with prejudice in one form or another. But that doesn’t give us license to stop struggling against it. It is exactly the reason we must press on and continue to do better, to demand better, to show that it’s possible.

The effort is its own reward.


The Guardian ponders Media Tie-in Writing

The Guardian has published an interesting short article about media tie-in novels, albeit one a bit narrow in its examination of the field. (It spends most of its ink on Star Wars, and the closest it gets to the Star Trek books is a hat-tip to John Scalzi‘s award-winning novel Redshirts, which is more a parody of Star Trek than a franchise novel. And while John offers some flattering remarks about the craft of tie-in writing, I wish article writer Damien Walter had actually interviewed some real, working media tie-in writers.

Sadly, the article’s reader comments comprise the usual disappointing melange — complaints that “franchise novels” are just “printed television,” or repetitions of the ignorant belief that one must have seen every episode and have read every previous novel in order to enjoy the newest books, or that franchise novels “bring nothing new or original” to the page.

I give the article’s author a polite hat-tip for trying to give media tie-in novels a fair shake, but I want to throttle some of his readers.

ETA: I received a tweet from the article’s author, Damien Walter, who explained that he normally does not interview people for “opinion” pieces, and that the only reason Mr. Scalzi is quoted is that Walter happened to discuss it with him while he was preparing the article.


Wanna cut the cord? Do the math first.

I had this great idea about a week ago: Tired of paying outrageous fees for cable television, I decided it was time to “cut the cord.”

Of course, I still wanted to see all my favorite shows. And be able to record them. But I didn’t want to pay TiVo’s monthly fees — after all, ending monthly fees was to be the whole point of this effort.

I jumped online and did some research. At first, I thought it would be easy. All I’d need would be an amplified digital antenna to pull in HD signals over the air, and a subscription-free DVR to record the content. Then I could cut my cable TV package and ramp up my Internet service, and still come out ahead in a relatively short period of time.

But then I saw the potential of adding AppleTV to the mix, to leverage my house full of Apple hardware. It wouldn’t cost that much more; so, why not?

But now I had a dilemma. With so many worthy peripherals in the living room, to which one would I connect the Ethernet hard line I had planned to run from the router in my office to the entertainment center in the living room?

Easily fixed, I decided. For a small additional cost, I could add an Ethernet switch, and then my Blu-ray player, PS3, AppleTV, and new subscription-free DVR would all have hard-wired cat6a gigabit Ethernet connections. Problem solved, right?


When I started diagramming my planned new data network (because I’m that kind of OCD), I realized that my TV has only two HDMI inputs, both of which are already in use. The new DVR and AppleTV only offer HDMI outputs. What was I to do now?

Obviously, I needed to add a new HD A/V amplifier/receiver. Of course, the new receiver would not be compatible with my 22-year-old speakers (which are currently connected to my 22-year-old stereo receiver). So I’d need new speakers, too.

Did my problems end there? Of course not.

Next, I realized my first-generation Mac Pro desktop computer is too antiquated to run the requisite OS and software to interact with AppleTV. If I were to upgrade just the Macbook Pro laptop, there’s a risk it would no longer be able to “talk” to the desktop tower.

Figuring I was due for a system upgrade after six years, I looked into buying a new Mac Mini with a 2TB Airport Time Capsule, and an external 3TB Thunderbolt array. Pretty snazzy. Despite the expense, I was starting to get excited.

Then I realized that my 30-inch Apple Cinema HD display isn’t compatible with the Mac Mini (or any Mac made since 2009). I would need to add an adapter. A $100 adapter, which might or might not work once linked into a Thunderbolt device chain.

At some point in my diagramming, I remembered that I would need to buy new cables. Lots of cables. Ethernet cables, USB cables, HDMI cables, Thunderbolt cables.

When the dust settled, I crunched the numbers.

By “cutting the cord” on my overpriced cable subscription, and making some much-needed changes to my and my wife’s iPhone plans, we could realize one-year savings of more than $2,500.

Unfortunately, the initial cost outlay in hardware and software (with tax and shipping) for my new data network and computer was just over $3,600. It would take nearly 18 months to amortize the new capital expenses and begin “sticking it to the man.”

So the next time you wonder why more people don’t just “cut the cord” on cable, it might be related to the sticker shock that comes with making the cut.

Mourning a fictional character

Last night, I watched the season finale of the FX series Sons of Anarchy. And by the end of it I felt not only emotionally devastated, but deeply traumatized.

If you haven’t watched the series, know this before you dismiss it out of hand: It is, in many ways, a complex exploration of the story and themes of Shakespeare’s acclaimed play Hamlet (with grim intimations of the Scottish play) — an interpretation more intricate and unforgiving than any I have ever seen — all rendered in modern dress on motorcycles.

Given those starting parallels, which I’ve perceived ever since the pilot episode, I should have seen this season’s finale coming a mile away. But I didn’t. I refused to believe the show would go there. I couldn’t dare to let myself imagine that such horrors would be visited upon such a core character of the series, or that such a beloved and central figure of the series would meet so horrific and grisly an end.

Consequently, I went to bed last night haunted by the death of a character I had come to love, one with whom I had learned to empathize. Someone I was rooting for, even in the darkest moments. I realized as I closed my eyes that, despite all my efforts to purge myself of the memory of that character’s violent and gruesome demise, I couldn’t stop seeing it. It replayed in my mind’s eye whenever I closed my eyes, like some Hollywood cliché.

I realized I’m in shock. I’m grieving for a fictional character. The tragic end of someone who never existed outside of a realm of shared imagination has nearly reduced me to tears.

The actor is alive and well, unharmed, and no doubt already under contract to star in some new series next season. But still I’m haunted; my gut twists as I relive that fictional person’s last moments and I rage against the waste of it, the injustice of it, the stupidity of it. Part of me still can’t believe it. I’m actually in denial.

And that’s how I know that showrunner/creator Kurt Sutter is a fucking genius, and his writing and production staff is clearly among the best in the business.

It also makes me fear for the end of the series. Now that I see this horror was unavoidable, that the parallels to Hamlet and the Scottish play demanded this moment transpire by some means — and when I factor in that the show’s rendering ripped my heart out far more than Shakespeare’s ever did — I now realize what the series finale must have in store. And it’s not going to be good. Not for anyone. If Sons of Anarchy plays out as I now fear it will, it might very well become the most unflinching, gut-wrenching, long-form tragedy ever produced on television.

Time will tell. But until then, I will continue to reel from the blow the show dealt me last night.

“Defend me friends. I am but hurt.”

Tonight’s drunken ramble

My work tonight overlapped with my dinner, which means my two whiskey sours overlapped with a couple of glasses of Garnacha rosé. After making my minimum target word count this evening on the manuscript of Star Trek: Seekers #1, I scribbled this mess on Facebook. Now I re-post it here for your reading enjoyment.


Forgive me, folks, I’m a few drinks into my evening.

For some reason, I was just reflecting on the ignorant, sheltered youth I was 26 years ago when I first moved to New York City to attend NYU film school.

When I first came to NYC, I was the product of a blue-collar, western-Massachusetts upbringing. I was more conservative than one would expect of a “Tax-a-chusetts” native. Though I didn’t realize it back then, at the time I was a homophobe, and a misogynist, and a chauvinist, and a giant fucking asshole. (I can already hear a few of you: “Was?” Shaddup.)

Fortunately, I made friends of smart people with good souls. People like Glenn Hauman, and Carol Pinchefsky, and Jeff Willens, and many others, who, through their better examples, saved me from the worst parts of myself and showed me a better way to live. They showed me the man I could be, if I was willing to work at it.

In the years that followed, living in New York City became the best teacher of tolerance (and, later, acceptance) that one could hope for. I made friends with people of many different beliefs and ideologies, different ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, and philosophies. I learned that no matter how different people might seem from myself at first, in the end, they weren’t that different.

We all want to lead lives of purpose. Do work we believe in. Love people and be loved, and not be judged for it. Share ideas and reconsider our own notions without being called flip-floppers or hypocrites. We all want to be treated fairly, and be able to trust our friends, and be trusted in return. We want to be remembered.

We are all human. We all deserve to be loved and respected. None of us should have to explain ourselves, as long as we live in ways that respect one another’s privacy, sovereignty, and dignity.

I’ve learned to love all manner of people as my brothers and sisters. The only thing I can’t learn to accept is hate. Blind hate, no matter the excuse, is a critical failure of the human potential.

In the end, I think we should weigh our lives not by our financial worth or worldly successes, but in the measure of love and respect we share with those whose lives exist beside ours, and whose lives will follow ours.

I still fail sometines. I know I need to do better. I will try. I hope you’ll all help me, and not give up on me when I fuck up.

I am a work in progress. Thanks for sticking around while I work out the bugs.

That’s all for tonight. I think I’ll go watch old TV shows on Netflix now.


You’re welcome. You may now talk amongst yourselves.


A Tribute to Gene Roddenberry

Gene Roddenberry, The Great Bird of the GalaxyA couple of months ago, I was contacted by Cody L. Martin, a contributing writer for the website, to write a short essay for their month-long tribute to Gene Roddenberry and his work on Star Trek, in commemoration of what would have been the 92nd birthday of the Great Bird of the Galaxy.

Because Star Trek has not only been very good to me professionally but also quite important to me on a personal level, I enthusiastically agreed.

Over the past few weeks, InGenre has posted several essays by a number of folks; mine is the last of them, the final essay in the Week Four roundup.

My friend and fellow Star Trek wordslinger Dayton Ward published this rundown of the essays on his blog, The Fog of Ward:

Week 1: Cody L. Martin; Elizabeth Delana Rosa

Week 2: Valerie Douglas; Karen A. Wyle; Dayton Ward

Week 3: Jacqueline Driggers; L. Anne Wooley; Dan Peyton

Week 4: Cassidy Frazee; R.K. Wigal; David Mack

My essay is entitled simply, “What Star Trek Means to Me,” and here is a small excerpt:

Star Trek presents a vision of a future in which humanity has been tested in the cruelest ways possible, and the Earth has endured horrors worse even than those that marked the darkest chapters of the mid-twentieth century. Despite those setbacks, the human race emerged united into a brighter future, one in which it set aside childish things—racism, sexism, nationalism, prejudice, partisanship, greed, and selfishness. In my opinion, this was Gene Roddenberry’s crowning achievement as an artist: He gave us all hope that we could improve as a species and as a civilization by showing us what it would like if we did. He dared us to imagine a future in which—through peace, fellowship, and cooperation—humanity could achieve wonders.”

My thanks go out to Cody and to for letting me have this opportunity to express my gratitude to Star Trek for all that it has given not just to me, but to all of us, over the past forty-plus years.