Gene L. Coon brought the heart and laughter to the original Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek was preachy and serious. Gene L. Coon injected laughter and heart. He also invented the Klingons, and the constant thread running through Trek that hostile behavior often stems from cultures misunderstanding each other.

Andreea Kindryd was an African-American civil rights activist who had worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and worked for Coon as his production secretary. She was at first “uneasy about working with an old white guy named Coon—especially after Coon told her that his father had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan—but Coon was passionate about injecting anti-racist messages into Trek.”

Charlie Jane Anders, Wired

Claire North unmasked! Why one life isn’t enough for “Harry August” author

Charlie Jane Anders interviews the pseudonymous author of “The First First Fifteen Lives of Harry August,” which Julie and I both loved.

The author’s real name is Catherine Webb, who write her first book when she was 14, and who wrote seven more successful young-adult novels and a series of fantasy novels for adults using the pseudonym Kate Griffin. Pseudonyms keep a writer from being pigeonholed, but they have their own pitfalls.

Webb made the protagonist of “Harry August” male because a female protagonist would have inevitably made gender more of a focus of the novel than Webb wanted it to be.

The biggest reason for writing a male protagonist was the history of the 20thcentury itself. When Harry August is born, women still don’t have the vote; by the time he dies, the women’s rights movement is a loud voice fighting battles across the world. The change in society in that century is massive, but women were – and are still – discriminated against. Knowing what I do of my own politics, it seemed unlikely that I’d get through the book without being drawn massively into the world of gender politics and the changing battle for women’s rights throughout the century, and while this is vitally important and a story that must be told, the story of the kalachakra didn’t feel like the right way in which to tell it. Writing a male protagonist, therefore, allowed me to focus on the story of the Cronus Club that seemed most appropriate to the narrative.

Webb has training as a historian, and says writing a historical novel requires a mind-trick:

 A great deal of the history wasn’t about big events – Harry August spends a lot of time dodging World War Two, for example – but about zooming in on little things that made the time come alive. Thus, 1936 would not be described by someone living in it as ‘a year when war became inevitable’ since in 1936, war wasn’t inevitable and no one without the burden of retrospect would think of it in terms of war, whatever history has to say on the subject now. Rather, it is a year of jazz, economic recovery and the rise of ‘talkie’ movies. A generic knowledge might point to Charlie Chaplin as being active in this era; a quick internet search reveals the movies he made; a look at the movie of the year (Modern Times) shows that by then talkies were well underway; another click through gives the names of rival ‘talkie’ movies and fairly quickly, from just a general sense of what was happening in a decade, you have the kind of details of leading actors and popular musicians that can bring a year to life.

Who owns science fiction?

The excellent Charlie Jane Anders – whom I just learned is leaving io9 – oh noes! – asks and answers the question:

io9 Was Founded on the Idea That Science Fiction Belongs to Everyone

Or, more precisely, she says, science fiction belongs to everybody who loves it:

When we started out, the notion that science fiction is for everybody was mostly about not wanting to see our favorite stories wasting their time pandering to the minority of fans who had memorized every old episode or movie. We hadn’t yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness twist itself into knots trying to copy as much of Wrath of Khan as possible—but that kind of self-referential bullshit was what we set out to critique.

But over time, I feel like the question of who “owns” science fiction has only gotten more fraught and toxic, in ways that we couldn’t have predicted back in 2007. Back then, there was no “Fake Geek Girl” meme. Women weren’t getting death threats and rape threats on the internet for expressing an opinion about comics or movies. The Hugo Award nominations were still reflecting the tastes of individual readers, rather than voting slates. There weren’t endless think pieces about whether geek culture had gone too mainstream. Geek pantomime The Big Bang Theoryaired its first episode while we were planning io9.

There’s a lot more silly gatekeeping in science fiction than there used to be. A lot of people are deeply invested in keeping other people from loving the things that they love. No, I don’t get it, either.

I’m baffled by the gatekeeping in science fiction as well. And it’s frustrating to me because much of the stuff that’s gone mainstream is stuff that I personally don’t care for:

Superheroes? Not for me. I like Iron Man and Captain America, but I think Julie and I are a movie or two behind on those. There’s an explosion of superhero movies now, and they frankly look silly to me. Bunch of grown people running around in long underwear.

We did love Jessica Jones, though.

Star Trek? The J.J. Abrams movies were fine, but they weren’t real Trek. We’re now rediscovering Deep Space Nine and TNG, which I barely remember.

Star Wars? I liked the first three movies just fine but I would not say they were the life-changing experience for me that they were for many fans. I skipped about 1.5 of the prequels. We haven’t gotten around to seeing the latest movie yet.

As for TV: Don’t watch Walking Dead because we think zombies are gross. We already talked about superhero shows. Julie likes the The Arrow but I got tired of it partway through the first season. The reverse is true for The Flash – I was enjoying it but Julie wasn’t and I didn’t like it enough to want to watch it alone.

I have a love-hate relationship with Game of Thrones. I’m liking it now. Last year I was ready to stop watching, because it had gotten tedious and depressing.

I don’t read comics or play video games.

So while young men – and I do get the impression that they are young men – are playing gatekeeper and deciding who’s a true fan, I’m wishing that more people like the stuff I like. Or maybe I should say that I wish more stuff that I like was being produced for the mainstream.

And I’m also remembering being a teen-age fan in the 70s, when being a science fiction fan still had a slight patina of geekiness. It was going mainstream fast – Star Wars was 1977, all the kids watched Star Trek in reruns, and Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke were regularly hitting the bestseller lists, or on the verge of doing so. But science fiction was still something that cool people didn’t really enjoy. So I still think it’s kind of neat that science fiction is now mainstream, and ironic that now that it is mainstream there’s so much of it I don’t participate in.

Also, as a heterosexual teenager with the usual heterosexual teen levels of libido combined with frustration of that libido: I would have been delighted to have encountered attractive young women who were also interested in science fiction.  (They probably did exist back then. I was just unaware of them.)

Assuming I worked up the nerve to talk with them – I was, alas, the kind of male teen geek who was too intimidated to speak with attractive girls unless we’d already been safely friendzoned (to use vernacular that popped up 30 years later).

Charlie Jane Anders learns vital storytelling lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

seh270wkrqiz36cl8aal

I’ve been taking a break for a month from creative writing, due to a heavy travel schedule. But now the schedule has lightened up so it’s time to get back into it.

Also, time for a “Buffy” re-watch.

Like Charlie Jane, we came to “Buffy” late. Our first episode was Season 3, the episode where Spike comes back to town and he’s bereft because Drusilla dumped him. It was one of the show’s best episodes by far, and a great choice for first. Genre TV often doesn’t work out that way — you’ve been hearing people rave about some fantastic program and you pick an episode at random and you dive in and it turns out to be one that even the show’s die-hard fans think is a steaming turd. (“Brain? What is brain?”)

A friend says “Buffy” shows that if you mix two or more cliches, you can get something fresh and original. Vampires, vampire hunters, Chosen Ones, and high school emo are all cliches. But a show about an emo high school girl vampire hunter? Brilliant!

Giles’ character was terrific. He was a cartoon English expat at first. I know expat Brits, even a couple who live in Southern California. None of them resemble Giles. None of the English people I know in England are like Giles. No English people anywhere in the world are anything like Giles. But as “Buffy” played out we saw that Giles’ manner was a conscious persona, compensating – perhaps overcompensating – for a dark past.

Still: Tweeds? In Southern California? Maybe you could get away with that in winter but even then you have to pick your days.

Oh, hell, Giles was a cartoon. But he was great anyway.

Spike turned out to be compensating in the opposite direction. His Cockney accent sounded fake because it was.

But back to Charlie Jane: The more I read about her writing philosophy, the higher her novel climbs on my to-be-read list.

[10 Vital Storytelling Lessons I Learned From Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Charlie Jane Anders / io9]