Location, Location, Location – Part One

Now, first off, this isn’t really meant to be any kind of writerly how-to-do. Actually, first off, this isn’t some sort of sci-fi fanfic retail enterprise – although imagine that – one slightly battered Miranda class, formerly of the Border Patrol Service, previous owner a rather eccentric captain with a taste for tradition wood and naval motifs. A fixer-upper for those looking to enter on to the property ladder.

As I said, this isn’t a post about that! However, I am going to talk about locations or more specifically settings of stories. My stories and hey why not yours too!

You see, because I have a number of projects in the pipeworks with new and different for me settings, I had asked a question in Expanded Universe group but then deleted it as it had triggered some thoughts for a potential blog topic. Basically, I had asked there just where and why had people set their story – what class of ship? Did you have a preference? Was the choice based on the type of story you were looking to tell? Did you create a brand new ship? Or did you choose a canon design because a certain ship was a particular favourite of yours?

Now, to my dear readers, I still want to ask this question and please offer up your thoughts to the above question and the thoughts that follow. Feel free to tell me why you chose your ship, etc. Just cos I’m curious like that.

Anyway, I like to think that the choice of ship isn’t just about your favourite ship design or to have a cool ship or what not. Certainly, I don’t think that is what governs many of the stories that grace our archive site. But our stories are not about ships. The ships are but vehicles for the story and the crews we write about. But they are important settings for the stories and in their own way shape and tell something about the stories. Setting the tone for a story can often be achieved through the setting. I have evidence for this and thoughts of my own. I’ll talk about some of my own choices at a later date, although with the moniker Miranda Fave you might just guess one of the reasons! 😉 However, I am going to be a little bold and talk about some of the stories that we have here at Ad Astra.

Star Trek Gibraltar

Let’s first take a look at regular favourite read. Let’s look at Gibraltar‘s stories. Set on a Connie you know that this is going to be a crew pitted with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Sure enough, the Rock gets more than it bargained for each and every time. But it also means that the crew – and so the story – has the challenge of overcoming the troubles it faces through ingenuity, guts and hard choices. I know, all of our crews tend to face such circumstances regardless of their ship – but with the Gibraltar that is immediately inherent with its set up. Add to that, the Gibraltar crew face certain challenges of discrimination by their Starfleet peers by dent of their lowly status. This of course has only been reinforced over the course of the series with the Gibraltar earning a reputation as a hard luck (read bad luck?) ship. Enterprise1701AAnother trick I think of using the Constitution class is that it is a well known setting, regardless of which fanbase or franchise you come from as a reader. This makes Gibraltar’s stories immediately accessible and … here in I think is another trick means to say that the author can write first and foremost about the characters and story, without overly worrying about the scenery painting. And taking a sneak peek at the new Gibraltar story, it seems there’s going to be an interesting development for the crew and ship …

Let’s contrast that with a more futuristic setting. That of Captain Sarine‘s Restoration. In a future setting of the Federation, a controversial figure is given a controversial command of a brand new spanking ship that hopefully can be a sign of the Federation rebuilding anew and comes at a precipitous moment as contact is sought with the mysterious and very alien Laurentine Hegemony.

This new ship, the Redemption, has a cool bridge with cool technology with holographic interfaced stations, that lends it a familiar but also a new and cutting edge feel. Now this would be all well and good given the fact it is future story setting. But the details Sarine provides are terrific at giving the whole setting and story a far flung feel that lends to the story being told. It adds to the everything is different story element of the story of a fractured intergalactic situation. The unfamiliarity of the setting and the technology it uses serves to underline much of the unsettling and unfamiliar setting of the myriad story plots and shifting politics of the galaxy. It also serves to parallel the fact that so many of the characters have hidden backgrounds and subtext to their interactions with other characters. And the apparently exotic nature of the ship’s technology though pales – simply pales – in comparison to the sheer craziness and even yucky squeaky factor of the alien setting.

Another contrast now for you to consider here is Nerys Ghemor‘s opening sections to The Thirteenth Order which to me was filmed in washed out colour, the setting a grim and grey stark prison planet where the seeds of a dangerous rebellion is born and an unholy alliance is forged. Whereas with Sarine’s story, we are given colour and exotic smells and sights, we begin this story with a dull colourless backdrop. The feeling of the setting is that it is devoid of all life, only prison walls, barbed wires and mined rock quarries surround the cast we are to be introduced to. Maybe this signifies the ugly starting point for all concerned amid the horrors of the Dominion War, defeat imminent for Starfleet with heroes captured, the Cardassian honour crushed under the yoke of the Dominion heel as the price for victory comes at too high a price, and all of it representative of the grave choices, tough decisions and grim realities the characters will have to face in order to escape and then seek freedom in more ways than one. The other facet here, is that we will turn from this bleak setting to  absorb a rich and fascinating window into Nerys’ vision of the Cardassians.

If I am then bold enough then to turn another example, where the setting can be more than just a ship, it is to look at SLWatson’s Arc of the Wolf and other collected stories featuring the figure of Montgomery Scott. Scott in himself could be the setting such is the manner in which Steff inhabits the character of Scott. However, so often the setting for Steff’s exploration of a young pre-cadet and cadet Scott is Maine, of the ole US of A. I’ve never been, but I’ll be sorely disappointed if Maine does not measure up to the depictions I have created in my mind from reading these stories. Maine is almost a character of the stories, such is the way that Steff writes it. How does this serve her stories? I dunno her own opinions on the matter but for me, they ground the miracle worker of Scott in the real world. Fans have long lauded Scott and over time that has added a fanciful rose tinted aura to the character that probably has made us lose sight of the real man of the character. Steff strips the legend away by going back to Scott’s roots, back to the nitty gritty of his origins and the formative years of his character. She bases these stories on Earth, in Edinburgh and then in Maine. It is almost a stark setting regardless, pitting the human face against the cold, the wet, the dry rustle of autumn leaves, the warmth of a golden setting sun. It also means that stripped of many sci-fi elements of a spaceship setting the stories are intensely focused on characters.

But just in case you think Steff only writes Earth based stories, I turn you to her Mirror Universe Arc stories – Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. Here the stories are pretty much based on the MU Enterprise. But forget the camp ‘everyone is evil’ pastiche played up by DS9’s later MU episodes. Instead, this is grim, grim, grim. It is an absolute must read that I cannot recommend highly enough. The Enterprise is the setting but the sixties colour washes on the corridor walls are absent amid the dark motives and agendas of the characters found herein. And again, it is the character of Scott who is the constant, a silent assassin who stands out starkly even against such a stark background.

But want an Enterprise that is bold and heart-warming? Ok then, I turn you to Terilynn‘s Heritage. The scene where the character Beth Riker walks towards her new command, the new Enterprise-G, is a love letter. Like TOS and particularly the motion pictures, the Enterprise feels like part of the cast, such is the affection for the ship that seeps through. It is in fact, fitting though that the setting is so warm as it is family both blood, extended and the professional bond of loyalty, that threads through the various characters and story that is primacy in this tale.

So you start to see what I mean – or at least I hope you do – about how settings can shape a narrative, set a tone, and set the story. I aim to share more of my thoughts on this matter and give some insight into my own choice of settings – LOL insight?! did I use the word insight when about to refer to my work?! LOL! Anyway, until then, why not share with me some of your choices and favourite settings.

Of Collaborations and Round Robins

MDg (Mike) brought us a terrific blog last week and gave us some insight into the collaborative writing process with working on a story with Gibraltar. It proved quite illuminating to see their collaborative approach. It also served to recall some heady memories of Ad Astra’s first Round Robin, the multi-universe mind and universe bending saga (not quite complete).

Oh, those were the days … the long days and late nights – particularly so if you were on one side of the world and most of the other participating authors were on the other side! Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It was especially thrilling later in the proceedings when we had somewhat established the story and characters and become accustomed to each others characters and managed to get online a few authors together and started thrashing out some scenes in real time together.

Then, we’d gather around our respective laptops/computers. Some at work, chiming on on the QT, some at home trying to keep an eye on the kids, some just in from work or about to head out in a bit, but there we’d be, gathered to possibly write something. Someone would see a few on, and quickly set up an AIM chatroom. I had to go sign up to AIM. Then we’d find ourselves in a chatroom and next thing there would be abbreviations and smilies leaping out at you! I was you see all very new to this kind of thing. TYL. Brb. LMAO. These were all strange codes I soon quickly had to come to understand. Anyway, the coven of round robin witches would be hovered around ready to work their magic.

But I get ahead of myself somewhat. You see, a lot of us had never been a part of such an experience and did not fully understand what a round robin was. Quite a few of us were hesitant about signing up to such an adventure given our lack of knowledge and the uncertainty about how much time commitment might just be involved. How the whole thing even came about is even hard to recall and decipher, spread over a number of different threads – but let’s just blame it on Steff i.e.: SLWalker.

Firstly, there were a few reassurances that the whole thing was not canon, unless we decided it was, in our respective universes. Then there was some discussion about what could or could not be done to another’s character. And then there was a decision to be made by the various writers about which of their characters to drag into this whole crazy scheme.

For myself, I opted to bring in my Vulcan science officer who served aboard the Kestrel Border Patrol cutter. T’Vel seemed to me a compelling character to bring into the story which at the point of her insertion was in need of a few science heads. T’Vel was typical Vulcan but also came with a lot of personal baggage that might prove potentially interesting when thrown into an extreme situation. My hope was to get an opportunity to write for the Vulcan, who by that date had little significant story time, and to explore some of her characteristics and the driving factors of her life. However, T’Vel would prove to be quite a dark and morose character all on her own so I also decided to bring along the alien Stanley who was something of an enigma and to let others have a little fun with him. And by dent of the fun I had and others had reading him and his potential to add chaos to the mix, I decided to throw my Captain Gregory McGregor into it too – albeit by way of a diversion and plot dul de sac. So I had my stable of characters chosen and at this stage the story was already on the go.

Pumped and psyched up for the whole experience, Steff and Teddog had assured us that it was going to be easy and fun. Then went and used our writing and characters against us by going on to say that it would be a hell of a blast and writing experience as well as being terrific opportunity to try out the legs of our characters in settings less familiar. This all proved to be true but little did we know just what we were letting ourselves for. And at the time, a lot of us really didn’t know what we were getting into and how this would all work out. Did I mention my complete lack of chatroom knowledge already? Now I can LOL with the best of them. Prior to this experience, I thought that had meant ‘lots of love’. I must be an ole romantic at heart.

So with lots of eager enthusiasm and naivety, we ventured forth with the multi-verse round robin. Soon it would snow ball into something beyond our imaginings… well our expectations. First, there was a thread for the posted story (which later had to be divided up – eventually into four parts – read that again – four parts), sensibly a thread for a character blurb to give others a sense of the character, a thread for reaction and discussion to the posted story. As time went on there came to be a soundtrack theme thread, and a multiversal crack thread and Rob’s behind the scenes of the Multiverse thread where he interviewed and gave TV Times shout outs to the characters and stories. The thing was going to take on a life of its own.

To begin with, we wrote our own characters and explained them getting transplanted into the multiversal universe. As postings went by, we got braver, as our characters bumped into other characters, sometimes literally, and got to talking. That meant we had to start working together to produce the scenes or write each other’s characters. That was a big step for many of us. Trusting others to write our own characters and taking on the challenge of writing other people’s characters.

We started PM’ing or emailing and then someone settled on the terrific idea of using AIM or such like to talk in real time and work some things out. This – after several false starts from myself in the technology of the chatroom – came to be a really fantastic and quick way to get answers to questions. Soon it just became easier to write the stories and share bits via AIM.

There’d be some banter and asides using AIM as we talked about the next instalment and tried to plot some of what was going to happen. With a possibly agreed plan for the current piece of writing, Steff would then crack her whip and set one of us to writing a particular bit. Ok, it wasn’t always Steff cracking the whip – Teddog did some of it too – Me? Oh no, I’d never do that.

Anyway, as that writer was sent scurrying off to their thing – be it a line or a number of paragraphs the rest of us either got cooking dinner or cooking up more consequences or plain ole silly nonsense. Then the person sent away came back with their results.
“Two lines!? Is that it?” :crack whip again:

Ok, it didn’t quite go like that but at times it was a relay race, one person typing away then posting and then with a triumphant finished or more often a shout out to the others: “Now go!” and someone would seize onto the end of the scene and make additions. Wow, it really was quite a rush.

It was also a mind-boggling race to keep up with the story and the many varied posts and threads. The story would twist and turn at tremendous pace – especially if Rob rowed in with a few new ideas! You could always rely on Rob to throw a curve ball or two and create some of the most outrageous scenarios. He thoroughly corrupted my dear ole Stanley – from having Stan smoke a spliff to ‘forget the shit’ to dressing up in drag, his Frank Grayson took Stanley on an adventure the likes of which he had never been.

And therein lay the true pleasure of the whole enterprise. It was the working with others and the challenge to write for their characters and to have our own characters interact with them. It really upped all of our game I think. Yes, when we worked solely on our own stories, there was more time for polish but in this escapade, we were racing against the clock and had to get on top of the characters and novel situations they kept finding themselves in.

It enriched the possibilities for story settings and character exploration. In their own universes, certain characters would not talk about or relate to others in the same fashion. Nor would they necessarily have the same opportunity to explore certain sides to themselves in their canon universes where plots and outlines dictated and acted as safety nets to what the characters could and could not do. There was a freedom to this story telling that was literally exhilarating and fascinating as learned more or experienced more with our own characters by virtue of the round robin.

For myself, the exploration of Stanley was taken to quite comedic extremes that I loved but the real ‘writer’ly part of me was overjoyed at the turn of events that allowed me to explore a horror of T’Vel’s past and explore so much of the angst and pain of it as well as thread between her Vulcan discipline and the struggle to maintain it given the brutal rape of her mind and body. But all safely, or not so safely, within the confines of a telepathic AI meltdown. It also allowed a moment of win for the poor Vulcan as she fought to reassert control of her mind. It was a cathartic moment for the character but it was also a moment I would not be able to recreate within the Kestrel: Hunting Grounds story proper. So what joy it was to write it here in the round robin.

For those of you wondering, the AI meltdown was stopped by trekfan‘s Captain Hank Harrison doing a Kirk-like computer brain karate chop. Seriously, it was the kind of story that had EVERYTHING! Don’t believe me – go and read it! It was truly a story of madcap adventure, with moments of high hilarity, outrageous mirror universe treachery, out and out action, pulsating tension, tender and emotive character moments, Arnold Rimmer (yes, THAT Arnold Rimmer of Red Dwarf fame – only not – or yes actually but different), an AU Dukat and a universe where Gibraltar’s Pava bit the bullet – death by seagulls no less a feat for such a dangerous enemy! I did say the story had everything, didn’t I?!

But the whole point was to talk about the fact that the joy was the creative input of working with others and seeing the fruits of our collaborations and indeed our wrecking of orchestrated plans through the dropping of some crazy curve balls and maddening twists. It was an exhilarating ride, one hard to likely ever reproduce again on such a scale. Nevertheless, it showed the story telling potential of a mixed melting pot of characters and situations and how working collaboratively could be pure awesome. All too often, working as a story teller we are flying solo. We are left to our own devices and to dream up the stories and interactions all by ourselves. No wonder, we often crave feedback of some sort once we publish, it has been such an isolated and individual endeavour.

There are certain fruits to be had from both approaches it has to be said. There are certain limitations too with either writing experience. However, I have to stand and declare, that this at least was a madly fun affair that I recall with great fondness as a reader and a writer.


A thousand words – give or take one or two

A thousand words. Actually, it is probably a whole damn sight more than that. What do I mean? To what do I refer? Today I reached the figure of 1,000 reviews on the Archive.

:cue ticker tape parade and thunderous applause:



So ok, not a big deal. Of course, making a thousand reviews is not the purpose of reading and reviewing. However, I am proud of the reviews I have made. Not all of them are essays and I dare say there is nothing insightful about them for the authors for whom they are given. But they are an expression of my enjoyment and immense pleasure in reading the many wonderful stories here.

And I have enjoyed a lot of stories here at Ad Astra. Dear reader, one of those stories might well be one of yours (failing that, it might be one of them in the future).

Actually, this is my second time reaching the 1,000 reviews figure. A huge number of my reviews were deleted when a bunch of stories were deleted by their authors.


The crying shame is not that I lost the reviews – though it is – but that those great stories I got such enjoyment from are no longer here for other readers to enjoy. And therein lies the reason for so many reviews made. The many wonderful and terrific stories to be found. And I have only but scratched the surface of the stories to be read here.

As I write this, the front page tells me that there are 997 stories to be found on the site. Theoretically, I could share a review for each one of them. Alas, I am far from that statistic. I do intend to read as many stories as possible. There’s a whole ton of them I haven’t read yet, a ton more I haven’t finished reading yet and of course there will (hopefully) be a ton more new stories to come. Heck, there’s a hopeful chance I might get some more stories up here myself, though of course I won’t be reviewing them.

I do not claim to have made hugely informative reviews and I do tend to find myself rambling on in my reviews. There is good reason for this – I review as I read, often chapter at a time, and so am reviewing in the middle of it, as I get caught up in the story – all too often swept up and away in the stories themselves. And, on a number of occasions, I have even found myself lost for words when it came to reviewing something particularly brilliant.

My reading tastes vary depending on my humour and what time I have to read. I like to think I give most genres fair game and whatever the style or tone I am usually willing to go with it. That, therefore, has allowed me to explore a lot of different stories – some fluffy, some dark and twisted, some madcap, some nail biting and gritty, some soul searching and some wham, bam thank you mam kuul ‘plosions and stuff. There’s a lot out there to try that’s for sure.

As to my reviewing style? Well, I won’t nitpick you for grammar – there are better qualifies persons for that and the way I see it, I’m there for the story. I like to get invested in the characters and the choices they are facing and seeing the consequences of their actions or the fallout of what befalls them. Do any of that, and I am likely to tell you so and tell you how you blew my socks off with your story. Generally, I am positive in my reviews and dread coming across as lecturing. At times, I have shared some constructive criticisms if you will, but these normally come when you have managed to grab me in some way – maybe a character, a premise or overall story. They’ll be my thoughts because you managed to get me invested, but at all times I understand that it is your story, your characters and you’ll tell it your way.

So, upon reaching the threshold of a thousand reviews I thought that maybe I could on occasion use this blog to share some of my thoughts on the stories I have read, continue to read and plan to read (and re-read) in the future. A means of highlighting what were to me some of the finest stories, most memorable characters, most compelling of situations and complex of plots in my time here.

My hope is that in doing so, I show some of my appreciation for the terrific stories I have read and maybe introduce some stories to you that you might have missed or not tried out. Perhaps engage in some discussion about what made a story particularly great and have you share your kind thoughts on the stories I choose to write about.

Thanks for the stories folks. Here’s to the next thousand or so.

Come meander a while

Welcome to Ad Astra Journal Community Sites. This is my first post. I ought to edit or delete it, then start blogging!

Ok, so sort of cheating by using the introduction given to me by Word Press. Really? Is it just plain silly to be intimidated by this whole blogging thing? I’m a grown man. Not that I am saying I’ve grown up but I am as fully grown as I am going to get! Anyway, despite being a grown man, I readily admit to the possibility of it being silly – but I also admit to being intimidated by the prospect of writing a blog.

Yeesh! Like the time commitment to write a good blog. Then there’s the small matter of having something to say. I shall raise my hand and admit here and now, I doubt that you are going to find any fascinating insights herein.

Oh and then we come to another issue … the English language. Oh dear. Ok, there are going to errors of a grammatical nature here. I’m sorry. I’d love, love, to be a grammar Nazi but I simply do not have the facilities to do that. The reason I mention this – is because well – I do tend to write in a train of thought manner. When it comes to writing prose I do try to do things the proper way but I obviously do not. I keep things too informal or expect that the meaning that I would carry in saying something would also carry over in my written words. So there’s not going to be much eloquence around here.

So why blog at all? Well because I mod on the Ad Astra site and it would only be but good manners to support everything that is going on. Also from an organisational point of view it helps to disseminate information about the site to our wonderful members. That forces my hand into this.

Seriously. I don’t do this kind of thing. The above ramble being ample reason why I shouldn’t. I race away from things like facebook and twitter. I am not unsavvy when it comes to tech things but all these boxes and drop down menus, behind the scenes editing, etc. – plain yipes. Now I am not down on blogging, twitting or facebooking. I know lots of people who get so much value from these activities in a good and healthy way. But it just isn’t for me.

However, I shall try dear Ad Astra friends, I shall try to blog. I can only promise that it will be a meander about fanfic writing and fanfic reading and fanfic reviewing. We’ll see where it goes from there. Let’s hope it will be fun or at least half readable to you and me – even if it is a rambling meander.