GENE L. COON
The Unsung Hero of Star Trek
Date Published: March 9, 2021
Publisher: Ink & Magick
As a ward of the Lacklands, Robyn Loxley has lived a privileged life. Even now, in 1942, when another war ravages the world and people on the home front must do without, her adopted family is not affected by the rations and shortages.
That’s not to say she hasn’t been affected by the war personally. As Robyn hits yet another roadblock in her quest to see her best friend Will, trapped in a Japanese-American concentration camp, she stumbles onto the people of Sherwood.
With dark truths revealed about the Lacklands and what really goes on in Midshire, Robyn must answer what justice means to her and what she’s willing to do to exact it.
Robyn and the merry band get an update in this dieselpunk sci-fi adventure.
“The Treason of Robyn Hood has suspense, drama, humor, romance, and action, all jam-packed in a tightly paced novel full of intrigue…I enjoyed it immensely and will highly recommend it to fans of fantasy and adventure. “
“Connoisseurs of urban fantasy and offbeat romance will find this novel both a fun and fulfilling read. The clever characterizations and skillful melding of fantasy, adventure, and romance put a spotlight on sisterly devotion, oddball alliances, social conscience, and the human ability to rise above broken hearts and broken lives. “
—The US Review of Books
D. Lieber has a wanderlust that would make a butterfly envious. When she isn’t planning her next physical adventure, she’s recklessly jumping from one fictional world to another. Her love of reading led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.
Beyond her skeptic and slightly pessimistic mind, Lieber wants to believe. She has been many places—from Canada to England, France to Italy, Germany to Russia—believing that a better world comes from putting a face on “other.” She is a romantic idealist at heart, always fighting to keep her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds.
Lieber lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John) and cats (Yin and Nox).
Identifying your writing problems is a real struggle. On one hand, you don’t know what you don’t know. And on the other, it’s hard to face our mistakes on the best of days.
But we all want to get better right? We want our manuscripts to be the best they can be.
So, let’s talk about the first problem. Clearing your vision as to what you don’t know is there. There are a few ways, I’ve found that help me.
1. Read. A lot. They always say you shouldn’t compare your work to someone else’s, and I can agree with that to some extent. But you’re going to. It’s just how our brains work. Reading other people’s writing can help you recognize things that work and don’t work in your view. And when you go back to read your own stuff, you’re bound to pick up on some of your shortcomings as well.
2. Give yourself some lead time. This one is hard in today’s publishing industry. Writers are told to produce, produce, produce. Publish, publish, publish. But I’ve found that leaving my finished first draft to sit for a few months does wonders for the end product. When I come back to it, I have fresh eyes. And that makes a world of difference.
3. Get help. This one is also important. Sometimes we are truly blind to our own problems, and we need other people to give us feedback. So, get some betas, hire an editor, read reviews if you have to. But listening to what others have to say can really help me see where I’m falling short.
On to the second: facing your shortcomings. If I’m being honest, this is the most painful. You’ve put a lot of work into this creation. And you’d fight to the death before letting someone tear it to pieces. But if you want to get better, you have to listen. Let’s break it down.
1. Ask someone you can trust. The most important quality in a beta reader or critique partner is that they are trustworthy. You need to be absolutely sure that you believe that they are pulling your work apart because they want it to be better. Because if you can’t trust them on that level, they could just be being a jerk.
2. Make sure they’re honest. It’s also important to find someone who isn’t going to sugar coat things for you. If you want to get better, you need to have a beta who is more worried about making your work better than sparing your feelings.
3. Self-reflect and breathe. It’s going to hurt, a lot, to hear everything you did was “wrong.” You thought it was perfect. And now your work has been torn apart and your heart along with it. Your first instinct is going to be either to give up or push away everything you just heard. Resist that urge. I know it feels overwhelming, but you literally just wrote an entire book. Refining that book is not as difficult as the thing you already did. As to pushing the truth away, well you asked for the help. And these people took time out of their busy lives to offer it. It’s only courteous for you to see if there’s something valuable in what they told you.
And finally, and potentially most importantly, throw out everything I just said. The truth is, there are ways to make your story better. Of course, there are. But the person you need to please most is you. The whole world can tell you you’re wrong. Your betas laughed, your editor cringed, the reviewers railed. But if you know in your heart that you made the right choices, if you did all the above steps and still came out thinking this was the way to go, then do it. It’s your work. It’s your name. You’ll get “better” at your own pace.
Today we have a guest post from Rachel Hailey. Rachel was born and raised in the South. She’s all about that nerd life and in between writing she’s dedicated herself to raising the next generation of nerds. If she’s not online or staring at a book she can usually be found at the local game store rolling dice, shuffling cards, or planning her next cosplay.
Her childhood was most prominently shaped by the works of R.L. Stine, Stephen King, Anne Rice and the Brothers Grimm.
I’ve been in love with monsters since I was a little and got angry when Belle turned the Beast into a boring old prince. As I grew older and more obsessed with fairy tales, I found two genres that truly spoke to my black heart. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance.
These powerhouses rose to popularity fast during the late ’90s, and early 2000s. Those years exploded with amazing stories of dazzling monsters. Jim Butcher and Laurell K. Hamilton were among the first and are still synonymous with Urban Fantasy. But around the time Anita was toying with the notion of staking Jean-Claude, Sherrilyn McQueen (Kenyon) introduced us to Acheron and his band of tortured but scorching hot daimon slayers. While Harry rides an undead dino, J.R. Ward first showed us the wicked streets of Caldwell where the Black Dagger Brotherhood protects their race against the Lessening Society.
Anyone who has read a good Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy will agree that there is magic in the ink. But what is the difference between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy? Both include the same elements: mystery, action, adventure, supernatural, and yes, sexy times.
So what are the differences?
All four of these series feature creatures that don’t just lurk in the shadows – they’re at home in the dark. The stories bleed tension, and the only thing higher than the number of pages are the body counts.
With so many similarities, it’s the technical details that define which side of the aisle a book gets shelved.
One of the easiest difference to spot is Point of View. Black Dagger Brotherhood and other Paranormal Romance stories are usually told in third-person, giving readers the full experience by switching perspectives among many characters. Urban Fantasy authors, such as Hamilton and Butcher, rely on first-person, fully immersing readers in the heads and hearts of their protagonists.
As Paranormal Romance series unfolds, they often maintain this same energy with each book centering on a new couple, while in Urban Fantasy a single protagonist continues to shine center stage, no matter how many books follow.
The next difference can be a little tricky to identify. Paranormal Romance are more character-driven. It’s the emotions, the development of the characters, and their relationships that keep us turning pages. The relationships are the main focus. The tension comes from the need to see a couple (or more!) handle their issues and find their happily ever after.
Urban Fantasy, on the other hand, are plot-driven. Investigating the murder, solving the case, saving the world are the defining moments for these tales. That’s not to say relationships aren’t important in Urban Fantasy. Usually, they provide much-needed motivation for the protagonist to get off their ass and do their job or save the world, pushing them to be better, stronger, harder.
This brings us to my next point. Sex. The pages of Paranormal Romance blister fingers and leave readers dry-mouthed, but so too can Urban Fantasy. Usually, the scenes are shorter, less descriptive. The relationships form slowly over books and culminate in a scene that begins scorching and ends with a closed door. (Damn you doors.)
But these rules are often shattered with impunity which continues to leave readers a little confused. Anita arguably has more sex in one book than the entire cast of the Dark Hunter universe, and it’s twice as graphic. There’s also the matter of POV. Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series is told in first person and focuses on the same characters through all seven (wonderful) books. The Night Huntress series is also heavily plot-centric but undeniably falls into the realm of Paranormal Romance.
So what is the difference?
I’ve heard Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy referred to as cousins, but I disagree. I think they’re much closer than that, and deciding where they are listed comes down to opinion.
There’s an ugly side to this – The great disdain the Romance genres garner even within the publishing community. (Which makes no sense as it is the highest-grossing genre. Don’t believe me? Google is free.) Often this contempt leaves agents and authors slapping Fantasy on a book instead of Romance to appeal to a wider audience.
It starts with the cover. They replace the image of the muscled hero with a detailed, gritty image of the heroine holding a blade as she scowls fiercely into the night. I was told recently this was because Urban Fantasy readers are so much choosier about art. But are they really, or is this just another stereotype rooted in the belief that romance readers and authors are somehow less than?
In the end, it doesn’t matter where a book is shelved, or whether the cover has a half-naked man. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance stories speak to some of the darkest corners of the human soul. Whether you read for the action or the action, remember, genres are labels, and like all labels, they can help or hinder. Don’t be afraid to cross the aisle and reach for a new author. What you find may surprise you.
I have a mild case of Cerebral Palsy, and I help care for an Autistic brother. Yet, I have spent years concealing my disability for fear it might hamper my writing career. I’ve written and self-published many works, including articles and columns for content sites. My best-known release, so far, is Gene L. Coon: The Unsung Hero of Star Trek.
My work spans quite a few genres: Southern Crime Fiction, Non-Fiction Entertainment, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Autism related fiction. The former two are the ones I’ve had the most success with. Alongside the Coon title, I penned the book Jack Kirby: The Unsung Hero of Marvel and a couple books about serial killer Joseph James DeAngelo.
My attempts at Sci-Fi/Fantasy have not been as successful, so I built on my achievements by writing more Non-Fiction Entertainment books about sci-fi creators. I have inked one on Steven Spielberg, culled from earlier articles I wrote about him. I, also, wrote books on such figures as Alfred Hitchcock, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. In addition, I did a couple short books on the Star Wars saga. With Disney and Marvel’s success at the box office, the Jack Kirby book might be the farthest I go in that genre for now.
Over the last decade, I was told to write more about my struggles with Cerebral Palsy and my brother’s Autism. Yet there’s a Catch 22, as with any endeavor. Despite improving my craft through writing from life experiences, this is also a business designed to make money. I also have heard: Well, this doesn’t sell, or You need to write something more marketable.
For a time, I got flack for writing serial killer stories and Autistic characters placed in science fiction or crime tales, instead of drawing from something more authentic.
Though still writing stories on the above figures, I wrote a manuscript based on an event that happened to me when I was ten years old, due to Cerebral Palsy. Another about our ordeals with my brother’s Autism, anger with discovery and acceptance of what went on, and how we learned to love him.
But my writing still didn’t feel complete, so I wrote a supernatural horror story about an Autistic child and her family being stalked. Despite many autobiographies and memoirs being successful, these more authentic stories of mine used fictional names, and either combined or deleted certain incidents that didn’t fit the main narrative. Plus, many authors have written from their life and had a great deal of success placing them in fictional contexts.
Remembering my small success with Southern Crime Fiction, I’ve spent this year (2020) weaving these Cerebral Palsy and Autism elements into a few detective stories, based on a short story I wrote and submitted for a Boucheron Crime Writers contest with Florida as a setting. Also, I worked on a couple disability themed heist caper tales set in the 1940s and 1950s.
None of these more recent stories, pertaining to Cerebral Palsy, Autism, or disability, have been published, yet. I am still deciding on when and how to release them, along with other ideas I still want to pursue.
Recently, I heard a quote from another writer who said, “Write from your life, not about your life.” More and more, I’m wondering if that’s at least partially true.
Born November 26, 1985 in Dothan, Alabama.
Whether it be Fiction or Non-Fiction, Justin Murphy has always tried to explore many themes in his work. One is probing into the darkness of pure evil with The Original Night Stalker: Portrait of A Killer, a fictional story based on a real-life murderer Joseph James DeAngelo. He also enjoys exploring obscure figures often forgotten in entertainment. Such as with his most recent success, Gene L. Coon: The Unsung Hero of Star Trek. It profiles the ex-Marine, pharmacist, and journalist who did the actual heavy lifting on The Original Series.
The Unsung Hero of Star Trek
That’s right, not a fairy tale, a Tale Faery. A genuine hetero, cis Tale Faery. We’re rare.
It started with dragonflies on a magic summer day in Gainesville Florida. One of those 100+ degree, 100+% humidity (seriously, a clear blue sky supersaturated with humidity, a state of dew), my five-year-old daughter and I rode our bikes around a swamp, and I discovered what faeries are.
Heather rode in front. Her little legs pumped the pink pedals, and her scarf trailed behind. Empty roads and sidewalks, weather fit for a Florida hibernation.
A red dragonfly flew along between us.
“Look,” she said, “a blue one and a green one!” The farther we went, the thicker our dragonfly entourage. They ranged from an inch across to wingspans of almost eight inches. Each a single bright primary color.
A big red one perched on her handlebars, its wings brushed her hand. She let her bike coast to a stop and rubbed a finger along the dragonfly’s body. Its wings buzzed for an instant, but it didn’t take off.
“Look another one!” A blue dragonfly landed. She reached over it flew away.
Heather started pedaling again. We passed a pond where two men sat on an ice chest in the shade with fishing poles; the only people we saw that day. Dragonflies darted across the surface.
Down a street into a neighborhood lined with oaks. Trunks as big as the cars in driveways, and branches that met over the street forming a canopy with Spanish moss dangling like tropical icicles. I stopped in the shade, and she turned back toward me.
“If you lean into a turn just right, you can ride without pedaling,” Heather said.
“I guess we could just lean into these turns and go around in circles all day.” I pushed off too. I remember wondering if the energy of the Earth’s rotation could be used to maintain this sort of precession with no effort and how it could be used as a power source. Heather was in a world all her own, too.
She broke the silence. “I guess the dragonflies don’t like the shade.”
“They’ll probably come back when we head home.”
We rode around in circles for a while longer and then Heather stopped in the middle of the street. She leaned back, looked up into the leaves, and said, “I wish the world would stop turning.”
“No, that’d suck,” I said. “If the world stopped turning there’d be brutal earthquakes, tidal waves. No night and day, it’d be like Mercury and the light side would get insanely hot, and the dark–”
“That’s not what I mean, silly,” she turned and looked right at me. “I wish the world would stop turning so that this day could last forever.”
That day didn’t last forever, but from then on, I’ve found great joy in the little creatures who flutter, buzz, and zip around us.
In The Book of Bastards wonderful faeries, beautiful little people whose bodies share wings and shapes of butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees, lady bugs, and so on, help people deal with the hardships of life. And then some jerk comes along and ruins it for everyone.
I hope you enjoy the ride! And, by the way, if you want me to finish the trilogy, you have to ask, firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve finished a draft of book two, Bastard Knights, and have outlined Bastard Princess, but I might need some influencing to tidy it all up for you. Graft would help.
Date Published: January 14, 2021
Publisher: The Intoxicating Page
Welcome to The Gold Piece Inn, where you can drink, gamble, and play!
Cursed on the day the king is assassinated, Dewey Nawton is compelled to protect the widowed queen, but protection means different things to different people (and different curses).
Kings have dictated every role Queen Dafina has ever played. Now, a halfling innkeeper assigns her the role of serving lass. But is The Gold Piece Inn just another tavern? Could it be an orphanage? … surely, it’s not a brothel.
Oh yes, she’s fallen from grace, but will that stop her from leading a handful of pirates and a dozen bastards to avenge her king and rescue Glandaeff’s faeries, elfs, and mermaids (and merbutlers!) from a brutal tyrant?
Dewey has a secret. Dafina has a secret. The Bastards have two secrets.
Is there even a sip of moral justice in all this bawdiness?
The Book of Bastards combines a riveting, intense plot of righteous vengeance with tongue-in-cheek banter that will keep you turning the page with eager anticipation. With settings that make you wish they were real, characters you can’t help but cheer for, and twists that keep you guessing, Ransom Stephens has crafted an engaging tale that makes every minute of reading, time well spent. I don’t often reread a book, but I think I’ll make an exception. Loads of fun. Highly recommended. – Brian D Anderson, million-selling author of The Bard and the Blade
“A delightful, detailed tale about morality, being honest with yourself, and self-reflection, even when you don’t like what the glass has to show. A perfect treat for lovers of rich fantasy worldbuilding, gory battles, and the kind of thoughtful, character-driven stories that make your brain whirl, your imagination dance, and your heart surge.” -J.M. Frey, bestselling author of The Accidental Turn Series
About the Author
Ransom Stephens has searched for the Holy Grail in Cornwall and Wales but settled for a cracked coffee mug. He’s won several awards, but they’ve all been named after people he’d never heard of which made for awkward acceptance speeches. The author of four previous novels on simple, non-controversial topics like science vs religion in The God Patent, technology vs environmentalism in The Sensory Deception, oligarchy vs anarchy in The 99% Solution, and love vs money in Too Rich to Die, in his latest, The Book of Bastards, he offers readers what they really want, a story of bawdiness washed down with a sip of moral justice.
I’m a fairly accomplished scientist and technologist, all the details at https://contact.ransomstephens.com
Dewey took his seat between the fireplace and the only glazed window in the building. He could see the street, the saloon, the casino, the red-carpeted stairway, and the balconies and rooms on the second and third floors. He listened to the minstrel’s ballad of a heartbroken pirate on a desert isle, ate salmon grilled in rosemary and served on sourdough bread, felt the warmth of the fire on one side and the cool evening fog on the other—and none of it soothed Dewey’s worries.
Then he saw her on the porch. She fell through the door but not the way drunks fall. She reached up as though climbing from an abyss, and wailed, “Oh gods, please help me. Anyone, please!”
Loretta got to her first, dropped to her knees, and took the woman’s hands.
The woman grabbed at Loretta, tears cascading down her face, sobs racking her from head to toe. “Please!”
“It’ll be all right, dear. We’ll care for you.” She looked up at Dewey and added, “We will care for her.”
Dewey stood over them. Children accumulated. Teen-aged Aennie said, “She’s the cleanest beggar I’ve ever seen.”
Another kid plopped down next to the woman and held his worn black feet up to her clean pink soles. “Somefin wrong wit her feet.”
“What the?” Loretta said. “Feet don’t come that clean. I’ve tried.” She held the woman at arm’s length and examined her. “She’s a bag of bones, must be starving—Macae, fetch salted bread.”
“Get her out of sight,” Dewey said.
“You know her?”
“To the barn. Now!”
Loretta lifted her, muttered, “She weighs nothin’,” and guided her back outside.
The screech owl that lived in the barn announced to everyone within a mile that a stranger had arrived.
Dewey looked back at his inn. The minstrel had switched to a light ditty about a horny woman who carried drunk men into a field and took advantage of them—the sort of song that’s mostly chorus so anyone can sing along. Children were underfoot and some of the goats had found their way back inside. Bob was pouring ale and wine, the servers who weren’t delivering food and drink were lounging on the laps of smiling patrons. A serving-lad named Faernando slipped off a sinewy woman, the profiteer sailor and card-cheat named Baertha. She threw the lad over her shoulder and carried him to the stairs just as the chorus returned to “she threw the boy down, he popped up, and she made him a man.” The crowd erupted. Baertha took a bow, the lad waved, and Dewey held out his hand. As she passed, Baertha dug into her belt and tossed a silver ohzee. Dewey said, “You give him two of those when you’re through. If you hurt him, it’ll piss off the wrong kinds of faeries.”
In other words, it was just another night at The Gold Piece Inn, and no one had noticed the beggar at the door.
Dewey rushed through the kitchen and out to the barn. He dodged sheep, rabbits, a sleeping cow, nearly stepped on the tail of an old bloodhound, and climbed the ladder. The loft was covered in straw and cordoned into sections by blankets of differing color and quality. The woman lay on a brown blanket next to an unshuttered window that let in the last light of the day. Loretta appeared to be threatening her with a baguette.
“She’s lovely but there’s nothin’ to her,” Loretta said to Dewey. And then to the woman. “You faer?”
“I require your aid,” the woman said. “Please, my children …”
Loretta took a bite of the baguette dripping with salty olive oil and then offered it to the woman again. “Never seen a beggar who won’t eat. She elfin? Your kind?”
“No, she’s as human as you are.”
Loretta leaned forward and sniffed the woman’s neck. “She don’t smell like a human.”
“She bathes. Some people do that, you should try it.” Dewey helped the woman up.
Loretta examined her hands, no scars or calluses. She ran her fingers through her long, straight black hair and mumbled, “Fine as silk.”
Dewey said, “When have you ever touched silk?”
Loretta said. “I didn’t think skin got that pale.”
The woman’s eyes lost focus, and she fainted.
“Farqin shite!” Dewey said, “Get some water—nay, a blast of brandy.”
Loretta dropped down the ladder in a fluid, practiced motion.
Dewey waited a few more seconds and then whispered, “Queen Dafina, what are you doing here?”
She sat up straight, dabbed her eyes, and said, “I require your help.”
“You have to get out of here.”
“You must assemble the bodies of my husband and children.” Her voice cracked. “They require decent burial.”
“The usurper has them. There’s nothing I can do.”
“I can pay you more than you can imagine.”
“Maybe so but pay means nothing to a dead man.”
“Think of the favors I can grant, I can—” and then she went quiet and looked down, blubbering out the words, “My children, my husband, everyone is dead.”
“I’m not, and don’t plan to be any time soon.”
She looked up at him and then around. She fondled the rough threads of the blanket and pulled a piece of straw through a gap in the weave. A lamb bleated below, and a mouse scurried across a rafter overhead.
“Surely you don’t want to watch more people die.”
The Queen stood and bumped her head on a beam. Dust sprinkled onto her face. “No,” she said. “No, anything but that.”
“I’d like to help,” he said. “Dozens of good people, your subjects and their children, live here—you’re duty bound to protect them, and you know what Lukas will do if you’re found here.”
“Right.” She started down the ladder and Dewey held her steady. “I’ll go.” She stepped toward the barn door and Dewey nudged her, gently at first and then with a bit of authority to the side exit that led to an alley out of view of High Street.
He put two silver ohzees in her hand and said, “Take the morning barge back to Glomaythea or get passage on a ship to Nantesse—isn’t that your home?”
He gripped her shoulders and rotated her to face him. He waited for her to look up and said. “You asked for my help and I have helped you. Right?”
“Yes, thank you good sir.”
He oriented her downhill and gave her a shove. She staggered into the dark alley and down the hill that would take her back to the marketplace if she followed it. She said, “My babies are dead. They’re all dead.”
Dewey shut the gate just as Loretta appeared with a goblet of brandy.
“Just in time,” he said. He took it and drank.
With the recent launch of The Collectors, I experienced the same fine emotion I always feel when a book is shared with readers and reviewers. To me, each book is a like a daughter, stepping off the porch barefoot, a bit disheveled, but grinning—perhaps smirking—as she heads out into the real world. As I watch her head on up the road with her battered suitcase and tousled hair, I wish her all the best, confident that I have loved her and done my very best to raise her well. We’ve had our ups and downs, disagreements and arguments, but this was always in the spirit of helping her become the best that she can be.
As always, I hope her journey is good and interesting, just before the screen door slams and I head to my back office, where another young one is waiting to be born.
This is why when I’m asked about having a favorite Danser novel, the answer is always no. How can you, and why would you ever favor one darling child over another?
All the best,
The Danser Novels
Greg Jolley earned a Master of Arts in Writing from the University of San Francisco and lives in the very small town of Ormond Beach, Florida. When not writing, he researches historical crime, primarily those of the 1800s. Or goes surfing.
YouTube (book trailers)
Publisher: BHC Press
December 15, 2020
Pierce Danser is on the hunt for his soon-to-be ex-wife, the actress Pauline Place, who’s disappeared from the Black Island film set in the heat swarmed waters off the Mexican coast. A wealthy “collector” with a black heart and dangerous, evil mind has kidnapped her, planning a forced marriage to complete his manage of twisted museum pieces. As Pierce starts down the winding, dark, and deadly path in pursuit, his journey is a roller coaster through a horror show. No matter the grisly and dangerous obstacles, he is determined to rescue Pauline, even if it means the loss of his own life.
The clock is ticking, his resources are slim and he’s up against a man of great means as well as a twisted, cruel vision.
“Welcome to the film set, Mr. Kiharazaka. Please mind your step, we’re having a problem with vermin.”
The tall, thin man, fresh from Kyoto, adjusted his stride, placing each step of his spacesuit boots gingerly.
“I’m Rolf. Can I call you Zaka?” the assistant director went on.
“Please, no,” Mr. Kiharazaka replied demurely.
“Will we be going weightless? It was in the original scene.”
“We’re woking on that, yes.”
“A joke. Sort of.”
A few yards away, green gaffing tape marked the edge of the darkened film set. Rolf spoke into her headset and the lights came up, revealing the interior of the spacecraft: the complex helm and seating for the crew. The second set—the crew table and galley kitchen—was half-lit in the distance.
Mr. Kiharazaka stared with unreserved delight. The crew had accurately replicated the 1990s television series Tin Can’s two most famous locations.
Members of the film crew were already on the set, at their places among the equipment; lights, extended boom mics, and various cameras, some dollied and some shoulder-held. Mr. Kiharazaka had to rotate stiffly in his spacesuit, turning his helmet, visor up, to watch the young, professional film crew. He nodded to some and spoke to none. For the most part, these serious professionals looked right through him, focused on their craft.
“Please step in, Zaka. We’d like you to feel comfortable in both locations.”
“Where is the cast? The Robbins family?”
“Soon enough. Please.” Rolf extended her hand and Zaka crossed the green tape and stepped into the helm, noting that the flooring was white painted plywood. With the flight helmet on, the voices about the set were muted. Zaka stared at the helm, admiring, but not touching, the multiple displays. He stood back of Captain Robbins’s helm chair, taking in all the exacting details of the complex spacecraft controls. Easing between the captain and copilot chair, he turned to Rolf with his white gloved hand out to the second chair, asked, “May I?”
Rolf gave him her buttery professional smile.
“Captain, permission to man the helm?” Zaka asked.
Rolf rolled her eyes, up into the complex scaffolding above. The client was already in role, using the famous and familiar dialogue from the Tin Can series. Since none of the cast was yet on set, Rolf answered for Matt Stuck, the sod of an actor who played Captain Robbins.
“Aye, mate. Take thar helm,” she spoke the next well-known line with a grimace.
Zaka bowed to her voice and twisted around into the copilot’s chair.
She looked on as Zaka began the familiar series of taps and changes on the right side of the helm. She could hear him identifying each click and adjustment he made. He was doing a good job mimicking the terse, focused voice of copilot Sean Robbins, but his inflections were clearly Japanese.
The director, Rose Daiss, entered the soundstage, crossed to the set, and for once didn’t trip on the snakes of cables. She wobbled her large rear into the La-Z Boy with “Director” stenciled on the back. Her nickname was “Bottles” and never used in her presence—it was a reference to the many times she had washed up. Her pudgy face was nip-and-tuck stretched, her skin was rough, but rouged well. She did have good hair.
The director’s personal assistants entered the soundstage and roamed to their places just back of the cameras. They donned headsets and leisurely took up their positions, standing deferentially to Bottles’s side, their faces lit by the glow of their tablets.
Rolf shouted for status among the film’s crews, and they called back equally loud. Lighting, boom mics, and cameras leaned in on the set. Mr. Zaka climbed from the helm and walked back into the spacecraft along the equipment bays on the left wall—the right wall of equipment didn’t exist, providing the view for one of the many cameras. He tapped a brief series on the wall panel and the air lock door opened with a gasp. He stepped through, the door closing at his heels, and crossed the short area of soundstage to the side entrance of the crew and kitchen set. Zaka took in every detail of the reproduced Tin Can galley as he moved carefully through the room. He eased himself into his role and the chair assigned to Ruth Robbins, the flight crew’s matriarch.
The director shouted at her assistants, barking orders and questions, sounding semi-lucid. Rose’s drug-addled, fast-clipped voice received intimidated replies. She was enjoying their pale, cowering expressions while chasing two lines of thought, a mixture of movie-making aesthetics and redundant direction. Her face was beading with drug sweat on her upper lip and brow.
“Where’s my cast?” Rose bellowed, finishing the tirade. That done, she promptly nodded off, delighting Rolf, who then inherited the director’s role.
Zaka was exploring the many displays embedded in the galley table, trying to ignore the shouting.
“Heat it up,” Rolf instructed her underling
The assistant typed a series of brief commands on his tablet and the script dialogue for Ruth Robbins—whom Zaka had paid dearly to portray—appeared. The script was scroll ready and at an angle on the galley table that couldn’t be seen by the cameras.
Rolf heard the cast crossing to the set, a scuffing of moon boots and voices approaching from the soundstage. A sweeping flashlight beam guided their way. The cast moved into the back glow from the lights on the set. Rolf pressed the inside of her cheek between her teeth and bit down. Most of the original cast had been hired or persuaded to appear in the remake of the famous season seven-ending cat fight scene. The brawl between the Robbins’ daughters was nominally, impotently, refereed by the only member of the flight crew who was not a member of the family: the handsome, irreverent, and sociopathic engineer, Greer Nails.
Twenty-two years had been most unkind to the once-famous family members. Greer Nails appeared overinflated; the penchant for food and wine, and dessert, over the past years of dimming celebrity had taken their toll. His formerly idolized face was jowled, reddened, and fat. His spacesuit looked like a white dirigible.
The other cast members were naked save their space helmets. Time and gravity and overindulgence had also taken a toll on their bodies. Greer Nails was the lone holdout from nudity, and with obese good reason.
The scene that Zaka had chosen from the menu provided by the studio had cost him a breathless $3.7 million. An additional $1.3 million was invoiced when he selected the option off the Premiere menu for the cast to be nude except for space helmets. He had expressed his desire to be part of the famous scene’s reenactment, in the role of Ruth Robbins, the space family matriarch. Most of his role was to be aghast at the start of a violent family shouting match and brawl. Later, he would be able to view the vignette time and again, for all eternity, receiving sole ownership of the footage of this and the other short scene as part of the package he had paid for.
Zaka watched his castmates approach, trying to keep his eyes on their helmets, not their nakedness. He was delighted and light headed with his proximity to the famous—the real flesh instead of celluloid, but their memorized faces were distorted by their helmets.
Nods were used in lieu of greetings. They had met during rehearsal earlier in the day. Places were taken, and Rolf reviewed the lighting and camera placements.
The first scene was succinctly re-rehearsed. This was of little use to Zaka, who had the script committed to memory. But the rehearsal helped him dissolve some of his lighter-than-air headiness. The rest of the cast drolly joined the read and walk through, their acting marked by a blend of boredom, professionalism, and chemicals.
Zaka was delighted. Here he was, a real actor with an important part in the infamous scene’s reenactment. It was all he could to not giggle. He somehow found the ability to maintain Ruth Robbins’s dithering mothering role.
Julianne, the slutty smart sister, stepped past Greer and pantomimed the jerk-off gesture that would set off her sibling, “Cy,” as in Cyborg. In the television series, Cy had been Greer Nail’s budding romantic interest.
Zaka was enthralled, but also concerned. He had paid for Captain Robbins to sit at the head of the galley table, and he was nowhere to be seen.A booming, authoritative voice carried from the back of the soundstage.
“Welcome to Tin Can Two, Mr. Kiharazaka. You are certainly star material, mm-hmm!” Fatima Mosley called out.
Fatima was the studio head, noticeably short and burdened by a massive chest that gave her stride a wobble. She was dressed in an elegant and trendy style, including a beret. She had a titanium leg, the original lost to disease. The metal ratcheted when her knee articulated.
“Zaka’s doing a great job.” Rolf called over, not turning from the rehearsal.
“It’s Kiharazaka, please,” Zaka politely corrected Rolf again.
“Actually, it’s Ruth Robbins,” Fatima smiled, causing her cheeks to fill and her eyes to disappear.
Zaka flushed with pride at being addressed as Ruth.
“All is well, mm-hmm?” Fatima asked Zaka.
“Yes, yes. Might I ask? Is Captain Robbins ready? And son Sean Robbins?”
“Why, here’s Sean now,” Fatima answered, her crunched face dissolving downward, revealing her wise, ferret eyes. She didn’t explain Captain Robbins’s absence, and Zaka showed good manners by not repeating his question.
Sure enough, Sean Robbins, the Tin Can’s copilot appeared from the shadows of the soundstage, naked save his helmet and boots, looking slightly sedated—well, a lot sedated. His birdlike wrists hung limp.
There was a white worm of drool creeping from his face, now ravaged by years of amphetamine addiction. He was escorted by two of the bigger grips, who held his scarecrow thin arms and pulled him along, his moon boots sketching the soundstage flooring.
The sisters, Cy and Julianne, did not look pleased to be reanimating their once famous daughter roles, no matter the money. They were clearly drugged to an agitated condition and firing foul slurs, even before the shoot began. Julianne had a wrench tattoo on her naked, once-perfect boob. Cy’s sensual body was scarecrow thin, as though drawn of all blood.
The grips assisted Sean Robbins into the hot lights and seated him at the galley table. He opened one eye and panned it across the cameras and lights aimed on him, then barfed into his own lap.
“Unpleasant, mm-hmm,” Fatima observed.
Zaka did the brave thing—he stayed in role, putting on his best Mrs. Robbins bemused and maternal expression.
“Nice,” Rolf encouraged him.
One of the grips wiped up Sean’s vomit. The other cleaned off his chest. Sean stood up and looked on, patting one of the men on the top of the head.
Rolf called out, “I have the set!”
From the film crews came sharp, short calls, and the boom mics lowered overhead.
“Quiet, quiet!” Rolf delighted in her temporary directing role.
“Lock it up,” she hollered.
“Places,” she shouted to the cast.
A young woman appeared with an electric slate, shouted a brief stream of incomprehensible code, clacked the device, and disappeared.
Zaka did well, not looking to Captain Robbins’s empty seat at the head of the table.
Rolf yelled, “Action,” and the movie magic began.
For Zaka, there was a spiritual lift, even as he stayed in his rehearsed movements. He allowed himself to experience the elation, but stayed in the role of motherly concern.
Julianne entered the scene from the door to the helm. She moved behind Sean, who had a line of dialogue but missed. Staring at Cy, she stepped to Greer’s side and hefted the weight of his groin. Cy transitioned fast and smooth, from agog to madness. She fired forward and attacked, going for the smirk on her sister’s face with a clawed left hand and the space cup in the other.
As scripted, Mrs. Robbins took one step back from her end of the table, her expression alarmed and offended.
Greer was looking down at his groped crotch like he was just then realizing he had one. He leaned back as Cy collided with Julianne, and the brawl exploded with screams and nails and fists. The two careened off the galley counter and shelving, swinging and connecting blows.
If Captain Robbins had been at the head of the table, he would have moved fast to separate the two, looking sad and determined and disappointed. Instead, a bit of ad lib occurred, the two brawlers tumbling low in the shot, fists and knees swinging and pumping. Greer performed the ad lib, turning to the mayhem with a slack expression and barfing on himself again.
Mrs. Robbins went into action. She stomped manfully to her scuffling daughters, arms shooing, intending to break up the chaos on the spaceship floor. She was two strides away when Greer stepped out and pushed her back. Mrs. Robbins resisted, flailing her arms, eyes wide with alarm. Greer held her true. The fight continued, the sisters grunting and gasping. Hair was grabbed, a low fist was thrown. Julianne coughed in pain. Cy let out a cry, “You bitch!”
That was Zaka’s cue. He looked away, eyes upward and spoke the season-ending line, “My daughters. The sluts.”
“Cut. Cut. Cuu. Cuush . . .” Rose Daiss, the replaced director, called out in a trailing off slur. She was ignored.
The brawl continued. A mangy rat crossed the plywood set boards, scurrying away from the fisticuffs. The two beefy grips stepped to the edge of the set, poised to separate the sisters. The brawl looked real enough to them.
Rolf took the director’s prerogative, screaming at everyone.
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