Fifty years ago today, the TV show Star Trek was first broadcast in the United States.

Many other people will say much more relevant things than I can about the show. And anyone who knows me is aware of how much this one TV show influenced me. So instead of discussing its influence, I want to share my earliest memory of knowing about Star Trek.

When I was little, my mom had a book that she would read aloud to my younger brother Joshua and me. I wish I recall the title. It was about a little kid playing with toy cars, and on one page, as we were sitting in the living room, Mom read out the following words:

"Beep beep! Honk honk! Star Trek!"

We laughed. What had happened was that Mom knew that my older brother, Jonathan, liked to watch Star Trek, and she had just remembered that it was about to be shown. (This was when it was in syndication on WPIX, channel 11, in New York City.) So just as she finished the sentence "Beep beep! Honk honk!" from the book, she called out to Jonathan, "Star Trek!"

We joked about this for years.

Alas, I don't recall which episode I watched first, or what brought me in. I do recall buying Star Trek books and toys and being a major nerd about the show. As a kid, I owned a tribble. I listed to the Trek records that came with comic books. In high school, I even made one of my classmates put on Spock ears when I was put in charge of doing a play for a class; I had decided we should do a scene from Star Trek. (Mark, I apologize.)

But it all began because my parents knew to encourage our interests.

Live long and prosper, Star Trek. I can't wait to see what comes next.
I'm delighted to announce that in the July 2016 issue of Apex Magazine, released today, I have an interview with Andrew Fazekas, The Night Sky Guy, about his new book "Star Trek The Official Guide to Our Universe: The True Science Behind the Starship Voyages." If you follow the first link above you can find out the rest of the contents and buy the issue for the incredibly low price of only $2.99.

(And you want this issue. I've already read some of the stories in here and they're most excellent.)
For the rest of my life, I will be reminded that Leonard Nimoy died as I was celebrating my birthday.

Condolences to his loved ones.
Another week, another bunch of posts to Facebook. (I wish LJ were as active as it once was.) So what was my week like?

On Sunday, I congratulated the winners of this year's Hugo Awards.

On Monday, I posted a picture of me with Harold Feld (also known as [ profile] osewalrus.)

I also continued playing the game Nomi and I play of finding band names.

On Tuesday, I expressed my shock at the cost of the new Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.

And I noted a conversation between me and Squeaker, which is either cute or morbid, depending on your mood.

On Thursday, I expressed my disappointment in the movie "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." And I also noted that my daughters are fans of both My Little Pony and Doctor Who.

And finally, I backed the Kickstarter for Chronosphere.

What did you do this week?

In an attempt to try to be more active on my blog, I will start attempting to summarize things I posted about during the past week on Facebook, and to a lesser extent, Twitter. Also, I'll update about life in general. Let's see if this works….

So what was my life like this past week? Well, Muffin and Squeaker were cute all week, but also often obstinate. I've been reading to them at bedtime from "The Patchwork Girl of Oz," and they always insist on another chapter even as they are fighting sleep. This results in them being overtired and then whiny. We're working on it.

On Monday I noted that a new book will be out in the fall, Legendary Locals of Brookline. I might be in it.

Also on Monday I asked people to share the title of one book they happened to be in the middle of, and boy did I get a lot of responses. Now I have a new list of books to track down and read.

On Wednesday, I wished for safety for my friends and family in Israel.

Also on Wednesday, I was excited to see that the superhero Firestorm is coming to the small screen as a character in the new TV show The Flash.

On Thursday, I posted a picture of a hawk from 2008, and Nomi met Chris Colfer.

Also, throughout the week, I posted interesting links, including these:
Writing tips from the CIA's ruthless style manual
Pictures from the Brookline library's Retro Technology Fair
An article about the retired Library Director (hey, I'm quoted!)

As for this upcoming weekend, I will sadly not make it to Readercon, as much as I would like to. But we will be having a birthday party on Sunday for the kids. I can't believe how many years it has been since they were born...

Hope your week went well, and that you're looking forward to the weekend.

Today is the end of an era. Today, [ profile] gnomi and I finally stopped using a CRT (cathode ray tube) television set.


You see that TV in the picture? Nomi and I have been using that TV set since 1996. It's a 17-inch Sony television set, and in 1996 it was state of the art. But yesterday, I put it out with the trash. I'll miss it in some ways, so I felt compelled to take the picture. It served us well over 18 years, but now it's time to move on.

Our first TV set was actually one I purchased as a freshman in college. A German graduate student in Chemistry was going back to Germany, and he had to get rid of his TV set. He sold it to me for a low price, and I kept it all through college and graduate school. I was the only one among my college friends who had a TV. I still remember friends gathering in our dorm room to watch The Simpsons when it was a new show, being shown on Thursday nights.

When I left the Boston area for two years, I left the TV in Nomi's custody to use and watch. When we got married in 1995, we kept using that same TV. Then, in 1996, we were watching a VHS videotape of "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm," and the picture on the set began to shrink at the top and the bottom. At first Nomi thought it might be odd letter boxing, but then we smelled burning plastic. We turned off the TV, unplugged it, and put it out in the trash with a sign on it saying it was broken. It was scavenged within the hour.

Our friend [ profile] 530nm330hz drove us around to buy a new TV, and we ended up with the Sony 17-inch one pictured above. Over the years, as TV technology has progressed, I've wanted to purchase a larger, better TV set, but by the time we were ready we simply didn't have the money.

Then, last week, someone in Brookline who was moving emailed a mailing list we were on, saying he needed to sell a 42-inch LED TV that he had bought six months ago, and he was asking for less than half the original purchase price. (And it was a Sony!) I responded immediately, and so as of last Thursday we had a nice, new, larger TV set in our living room. The kids cried about still wanting the old TV at first, but they soon got used to the better TV we now have.

I offered our old CRT on the same mailing list, but no one wanted it. I put it out with the trash, and no one trash-picked it. It looks like the era of CRT television really has come to an end.

Goodbye, old TV. You did good.
In other news...

The Public Library of Brookline now has a TARDIS in the teen room!

File 770 has an article here: Brookline's Awesome Box, which is about both TARDISes, the smaller one installed as an Awesome Box and the newer, bigger one, that now sits in the teen room. Here's a link to the teen librarian's Tumblr post about the new TARDIS.

And here's a picture of me, emerging from the TARDIS. As chair of the Library Trustees, I am quite pleased. (Photo credit: R. Brenner, 2014)

Michael Emerges from the TARDIS
So yesterday over on Facebook I asked everyone's opinion of what age would be good to read "The Wizard of Oz" to kids. (I mean the kids' age, not mine.) I had read the original 14 Oz books as a teenager when Ballantine Books brought out a new edition in the 1980s, and I loved them. Most recommendations for the Oz books place the age at a little older than my kids currently are, but I had the feeling that they might be receptive even this young.

Also, I had a rather odd incentive to get them started on these. Muffin discovered that the TV show The Fresh Beat Band apparently did a TV-movie where one of the characters goes to Oz, and she wants to see it. I did NOT want that to be my kids' introduction to the Oz books.

I also didn't want them to start with the movie. Frankly, the movie scared me when I was a kid, and as something of an Oz purist I don't like the fact that the silver shoes aren't in it (I know some of you may be asking, "What silver shoes?" thus making my point) nor the fact that the movie establishes Oz as a dream. The books make it clear that Baum does not intend for Oz to be a dream.

Enough of you who responded seemed to feel that the girls' current age would be appropriate, so I figured I'd give it a try. I asked Nomi to pick up a copy of "The Wizard of Oz" at the library, and by happenstance she picked up the one with the wonderful Michael Hague illustrations. (Denslow's are okay, but I thought the girls might respond better to the more colorful pictures.)

The upshot is that last night I started the book, and for the most part the girls were spellbound. They insisted I keep reading after chapter 1, so I got through chapter 3. Tonight, they made me read all the way through chapter 7 before they would go to bed. And the girls make me stop over and over so they can enjoy the illustrations.

I think we have a winner here.

(By the way, when we got to the part with the Kalidahs threatening Dorothy and company, I turned to Squeaker, who was a little nervous, and said to her, in essence, "She doesn't get eaten by the eels at this time.")

As some of you already know, it was reported yesterday that Gary David Goldberg, the creator of the TV shows Family Ties and Brooklyn Bridge, had died. I read his autobiography "Sit, Ubu, Sit" when it came out in 2008, and the story he told on page 108 of how he finally earned his college degree stayed with me. I love this story so much that I have taken the time to type it up so I could share it with you. Enjoy.

From "Sit, Ubu, Sit" by Gary David Goldberg:

"...I am also scheduled to receive my B.A. and graduate next term. However, at the last minute, after one and a half years at San Diego, two years at Brandeis, three years at Hofstra, semesters scattered about at Long Beach State, UC Berkeley, and San Francisco State, after thirteen years in college, I am told I'm still short one unit of biology.

"I go to the head of the Biology Department, Dr. Claude Merzbacher, and explain my story. I've been in college since the presidency of John F. Kennedy. I have a family. Diana's going to be teaching at USC. I'm going up to L.A. with her to try to be a comedy writer. I love biology as much as the next guy, but I don't have time to make up this one unit.

"Dr. Merzbacher's great. He totally gets it, and tells me he'll give me the one unit. Three conditions. One: Go out in the backyard tonight and write a page or two about what I see and hear. Two: I have to promise that if I ever write about scientists in general, and biologists in particular, I will portray them in a positive light. And three: If I ever win an award or I'm asked to make a speech, I will give the audience one scientific fact to take home with them. I promise. I get my one unit, and I graduate.

"Three years later I will win the Writers Guild Award for Best Comedy Script for an episode of M*A*S*H. Nate Monaster will be in the audience. I have the privilege of thanking him publicly for all he's done for me. And then I tell those assembled: 'Photosynthesis is a process by which energy in sunlight is used to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen.'"
Nomi spotted an obituary in today's paper this morning for Reinhold Weege, the television writer and producer who created the TV show Night Court. The New York Times obituary is here.

I had no personal connection to Mr. Weege, but I loved the show when I was growing up. I thought it was wacky and quirky and wonderful. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it was set in a night court in New York City, set up to get through minor cases and clear the daily backlog of the court system. Harry Anderson played Harry T. Stone, the judge who ran the court. Given the show's locale, and the fact that my mom was a lawyer and later a judge, I found the premise particularly appealing. I was delighted when Nomi and I discovered it was among the many shows we both had enjoyed before we knew each other.

I also remember when I first noticed the name of the show's creator. One episode focused on (among other things) the real first name of character Dan Fielding (the annoying DA played to a hilt by John Larroquette, who won four well-deserved Emmys for his role). At the end of the episode, we discover that Dan has hidden his first name from everyone because it's Reinhold, and everyone agrees that it's a ridiculous first name. And then the first end credit flashed on the screen, and it was the name Reinhold Weege. I appreciated the inside joke, and the fact that presumably Mr. Weege was sharing with his audience a little bit of what he had dealt with all his life with his first name.

Sadly, Night Court isn't all that available to watch today. There was a DVD release of the first season a few years ago, but it didn't sell too well, and as far as I know they never released any of the other seasons. If you're looking for a show that will make you laugh, but with plots that will also make you think, I highly recommend tracking it down. (ETA: Apparently I was in error. Seasons of the show are indeed available on DVD! Thanks to Tom Galloway for pointing that out.)

I'll end with something I recall from the start of the show. In the first episode, everyone in the court is wondering why Harry Stone got appointed, as he is rather unqualified. Stone tells the story: they went down the list, calling candidates, and he was the first one to show up.

There's a life lesson in that.

Rest in peace, Mr. Weege. Thanks for the laughs.
In my last The Brookline Parent column at Brookline Patch, the one before Nomi's column two weeks ago, I discussed "Bad Parenting." One of my concerns was whether or not I'm letting the girls watch too much television, even if we do keep some control over it.

How much television our kids should watch – indeed, whether or not we should let them watch television in the first place – is a question that has plagued me almost from their birth. In my column, I discuss a little bit of my previous experience with the idea of toddlers watching television. But I only briefly touch on the possible hypocrisy I feel I'm indulging in by curtailing their own television viewing when I enjoy TV shows myself. Intellectually, I know that I shouldn't feel this way, as their brains are still developing and it's far better for them to engage in active play and reading. I also am concerned when they fight me at the end of a program, and have a tantrum if I refuse to show them another episode of Dora or another Sesame Street video on YouTube. So part of me thinks I should keep them away from TV completely. But, you know, I want them to enjoy many of the same things I enjoyed as a kid, shows like Star Trek and M*A*S*H, although I do wonder if they will come to like them the same way I did.

At the very least, with our lifestyle they've learned that we don't watch "videos" or "pictures" on the Jewish sabbath, and I think they've come to accept that.

I know that as a kid I watched a lot of TV, and I wonder – did it really do me any harm? How could I possibly quantify it? The answer is, I can't. I'd have to go back in time and repeat the experiment by having an earlier me not watch TV and see how I turn out. I guess at any moment in life we simply play the hand we're dealt.

I will note one final thing with amusement. Since all of Muffin and Squeaker's TV watching is via tablet computer, they really have no idea what that old CRT box in the corner of the living room actually does. When they were playing the iPad app My PlayHome, a virtual doll house, they discovered they could turn on the TV set in the doll house's living room, and the little screen would start to show images of a program for the doll house family to watch. Muffin and Squeaker, who are quite familiar with many of the other virtual appliances presented in the doll house, had no idea what that box was. If they don't know that the TV box can be such a big distraction to them, I feel like I may have succeeded in some small way.

Go read Telling Off Television to see what else I have to say. Also, there are cute pictures with funny captions. And take the poll!
Over on the website, [ profile] kradical has been blogging a re-watch of the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series. Keith has just gotten to the episode "Yesterday's Enterprise", and it prompted me to reply about how important that episode was for me.

Here's what I said:

Keith, I'm delighted that you finally reached "Yesterday's Enterprise," which I consider probably the best episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (although it sometimes gets edged out by "The Best of Both Worlds"). I've been waiting for this opportunity to tell you that "Yesterday's Enterprise" is the reason I started watching Star Trek again. I hope you will indulge me.

You might recall that I mentioned in one or two of my other responses to your re-watches that I missed much of the early Next Generation episodes and eventually had to catch up with them in reruns and the like. There's a reason for this. TNG premiered in syndication the same year I entered college, and given how busy I was, if I was going to make a point of watching any television show on schedule it had to captivate me. Not only would I have to give it my time because I was getting accustomed to a college workload (studying Physics, already a tough field that required a lot of study), but I would also have to find the show on a channel in an unfamiliar city.

The fact that there was a new Star Trek show on did interest me of course; how could it not? My memory tells me that I did manage to catch "Encounter at Farpoint," "The Naked Now," and one or two other episodes from season one when they were first broadcast, but I found them, well, lacking. In the end, I wrote off the new Star Trek series as not worthy of my time or attention. Ironically, channel 56 in the Boston area still showed the original series in syndication five nights a week, just before dinner time, and my roommates and I tended to watch it before traipsing off to the dining hall. The new show was there, but we were still much more interested in re-watching the original.

Flash forward to my junior year. I found myself at home in New York City during some break (perhaps it was spring break? I don't recall) and if I recall correctly, my brothers weren't at home, just my parents, so I had a lot of free time. Glancing through TV Guide, I noticed that Star Trek: The Next Generation was going to be on in the afternoon on channel 11, and since I did like science fiction and Star Trek and I had nothing better to do, I decided I might as well catch the episode. I went upstairs to my bedroom, where we had a small color television set, and I lay on my bed and watched the show.

The episode was "Yesterday's Enterprise."

The moment the teaser ended, my jaw hit the floor (metaphorically speaking). I said to myself, "Okay, this is interesting," and watched the entire episode, my eyes glued to the set (again, a metaphor). As the final credits rolled, I realized that the show had become good, possibly great, and I made a point of keeping up with it from then on.

I often think about the inflection points in life, the events that change our pathways and set us on certain courses. It's possible that had I missed that broadcast of the show, I might have come back to TNG anyway; but had channel 11 been showing an episode like the previous one, or a season one repeat, I might very well have simply given up on the show again. And while Trek is not necessarily the reason I became a science-fiction writer, as I did read and watch a lot of other SF, I can't deny that it has had a lot of influence on my path.

"Yesterday's Enterprise" was tailor-made to appeal to me. I love time-travel stories, and one in which an entire alternative timeline is posited and then erased, with no one the wiser, resonates with me more than almost any other type of science-fiction conceit. I'm still sometimes amazed that they managed to pull it off.
So, I had this idea for how fans of the Syfy television show Eureka might be able to save it from cancellation. And SF Signal had asked me for a guest post, so....

Michael A. Burstein on How to Save Eureka

Go read it and see what you think of my idea.
Believe it or not, the new season of Doctor Who and the death of Elisabeth Sladen got me thinking about something that became the topic of my latest The Brookline Parent column for Brookline Patch.

Read Tucson, Torchwood, and Twins to find out how it is that being parents has affected the way Nomi and I watch television. It's not necessarily what you think.
Others, many who had actually met her, have shared words of praise for Elisabeth Sladen, the actress who played Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who, after her death was announced this week. All I can offer in my own sadness is that her death reminded me of a few quotes from the Doctor Who episode "School Reunion" written by Toby Whithouse:

Sarah Jane Smith: I thought you died. I waited for you and you didn't come back and I thought you must have died

The Doctor: I lived. Everyone else died.

Sarah Jane Smith: What do you mean?

The Doctor: Everyone died, Sarah.

And later on:

Rose Tyler: I've been to the year five million, but this, this is really seeing the future – you just leave us behind! Is that what you're going to do to me?

The Doctor: No. Not you.

Rose Tyler: But, Sarah Jane - you were that close to her once, and now you never even mention her. Why not?

The Doctor: I don't age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone you...

Rose Tyler: What, Doctor?

The Doctor: You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can't spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone. That's the curse of the Timelords.

And finally:

Sarah Jane Smith: No. The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it's a world, or a relationship... Everything has its time. And everything ends.

I regret that I never had the chance to meet her.
My latest Apex Blog post is up, on the concept of Genre-Adjacent. What does "genre-adjacent" mean? How does it fit in with my other posts on the concept of genre? Go take a look, and enjoy.
In honor of the BBC broadcasting the Doctor Who episode "Time of the Angels" this weekend, we present:

The Babies Have the Phone Box!

The Babies Have the Phone Box! The Babies Have the Phone Box!
Photo copyright ©2010 by Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce.

(Note the TARDIS keys....)
I subscribe to breaking news updates from a local television station on my iPhone, and on Tuesday afternoon I received two updates within the space of a few hours that made me wonder exactly what defines a breaking news item. Which of these is important enough to warrant sending a message out to subscribers?

The first breaking news update was that Conan O'Brien was refusing to do The Tonight Show at 12:05 following Jay Leno.

The second breaking news update was that a 7.3 magnitude earthquake had hit Haiti.

The second one kind of puts the first one in perspective, doesn't it?

To Conan's credit, even in his own public letter bemoaning the unfairness of his situation, he acknowledges how lucky he really is to be in his position. As many of my friends might say, Conan is dealing with a first-world problem, and nothing made that clearer than the sudden third-world problem the citizens of Haiti found themselves facing.

I help organize a weekly political discussion lunch at work on Wednesdays, and people who gathered were interested in discussion both Leno/Conan and Haiti. There was some feeling that the Leno/Conan story was much more trivial, and a few people seemed almost embarrassed that they wanted to discuss it.

And yet...

The world doesn't stop for disasters, either private ones or public ones. When my father died, I kept thinking that the world had stopped, and why didn't everyone else see that? When 9/11 happened, the world seemed to stop, but in truth, other aspects of life moved forward (such as the postal increase that was announced on that day). And sometimes the scope of a tragedy is so huge that we need the release of trivial matters to help us to cope.

Anyway, that's a thought for the day.
One of my day job colleagues is an artist named Steve Rider, with whom I share a love of the TV show Doctor Who. A few weeks ago, Steve was showing me elaborate plans he had found for building your own Dalek, and I mentioned how useful I would find a Davros-style wheelchair.

Next thing I know, Steve has sent me the following piece of original digital art (posted with permission):

Dadros by Steve Rider
Dadros by Steve Rider
Copyright ©2009 by Steve Rider. Do not copy.

I'm very pleased to say that as of this afternoon, he has also gifted me with the original sketch, framed.

Now I just have to find something for my daughters to annotate....
mabfan: (book-cover)
Last night ended my participation as a Book of the Month Club author in Joseph Mallozzi's book club, which he runs on his blog.

Joe runs the book club as follows. First, he announces the book a few months in advance and encourages everyone to go read it. Then, when the discussion week arrives, he posts his own thoughts about the book and encourages his readers to comment and ask questions. He passes along those questions to the author, who has as much time as needed to compose answers to the questions. Finally, Joe posts those answers on his blog, and the book club moves on to the next book.

It's been a lot of fun having I Remember the Future selected as one of the books for the month of May. I discovered that Joe's readers, while sometimes critical and analytical, are also very respectful. Whether or not they like a story, they explain exactly what worked for them and what didn't. And I have to admit that it was a thrill to have the book chosen by a producer of one of my favorite television show franchises. Joe noted my love of Stargate as well, in his introduction to the post with my answers:

When it comes to making a selection for our Book of the Month Club discussions, I like to take several things into consideration: recommendations, reviews, an intriguing premise, and, of course, whether or not the author is a Stargate fan. Well, when I learned that author Michael A. Burstein was an avid follower of the Stargate franchise, I was delighted to pick his book, I Remember the Future, for a May discussion. Michael is not only an established SF writer and fan of the show, but a blog regular as well and so it gives me great pleasure to turn today’s entry over to him.

Because I'm a fan of Stargate, I had an idea for an appropriate picture to go along with the post. Nomi agreed to the idea, and our friend Ari Baronofsky graciously agreed to take the picture and let us use it.

So the "author photo" that went along with my answers is a picture of Nomi and me posed with our DVD box set of Stargate SG-1: The Complete Series, which we purchased as a present to ourselves when it was released.

Anyway, here's the link if you want to see the picture for yourself, and maybe even read my answers:

Joseph Mallozzi's Weblog: Author Michael A. Burstein Answers Your Questions

And for any of Joe's readers who make it over here, a bonus question and answer. No one asked me what my favorite episodes of Stargate SG-1 were. So, in order of broadcast, here they are: 1969, Window of Opportunity, 2010, 2001, Wormhole X-treme!, and 200. Yeah, I tend to flock to the fan favorites....

What's that? My favorite episodes of Stargate Atlantis? That'll have to wait for later.

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