Time to Boldly Go

Anybody who knows me will probably know that I go on about Hollywood et al having the unfortunate habit of doing the same thing over and over again. And I get it, people love familiarity, and familiarity breeds repeat business, at least until people get sick and tired of that familiarity. Hello, Disney, Star Wars, etc.

So Star Trek: Picard has been a bit of a peculiarity for me. Is it more of the same? Well, yes and no. There’s a large amount of time that exists between the last time we saw our TNG crew and the present. But that has presented its own specific problems.

The show, for all of its contradictions and subpar writing, tries its very best to come off as new and fresh. All this, while an 82-year-old Patrick Stewart struggles to talk clearly, let alone do anything else, as electrifying battles take place all around his shuffling feet. This was the first half of the series for me: Let’s do something new and exciting, but drag this poor octogenarian along for the ride for nostalgia’s sake.

For nostalgia’s sake.

It’s no surprise that Star Trek: Picard sparked thoughts of nostalgia for me. That said, it’s occurred to me only lately that there are two kinds of nostalgia: one linked to fellow humans, and one linked to the environments in which they operated. That delineation first occurred to me when I saw the big reveal of the Enterprise 1701-D.

I had tears in my eyes as I watched the ship, in its entirety, leave the hanger bay. It was as if a friend once feared mortally wounded, if not dead, suddenly walked through the front door. Here they were, smiling knowingly, welcoming a flood of positive emotions.

I never had that moment with the human components of the show. Of course, I would smile when a new old face would appear. It felt different, though. These were the same people I watched faithfully on Star Trek: The Next Generation for years, but unlike the Enterprise, they were fundamentally different.

As humans, we yearn for the past. Whether it is true or not, our brains believe that we were happier in our memories of our earlier lives. As time pushes us forward, we cling to those memories, and revel in all things that give that little spark of warmth that is nostalgia.

This is the reason we cherish souvenirs. Physical reminders of a happier time now past. We restore old cars that carried us to a happier place. We maintain old buildings filled with the ghosts of better times and much merriment.

We also cling to objects that were once owned by loved ones, now long passed. These too spark loving memories, but tinged with a feeling of melancholy, perhaps emptiness. Therein lies the difference between the two nostalgias.

Pushing aging actors to recreate what once was does create moments of nostalgia, but perhaps not in a way that the writers intended. For me, it’s been a stark reminder that we can never go back to where we were. Time will drag us all forward, degrade us, reduce us to a wristwatch in a daughter’s desk drawer.

Picard being reborn as an android is actually the perfect metaphor for what I’m talking about. Picard’s existence is brought to a fairly definitive end. They then take this once great man, beloved by many, and breathe largely clinical life into what was once dead.

What we see on the screen is not Picard, but a rough simile. The avatar of the man we once knew shuffles slowly through new, unfamiliar spaces using the heft of what he once was to stubbornly continue his journey. Told repeatedly by those who care about him that he should stop, he instead continues on in a display of ugly, at times painful, stoicism.

This Picard is not my Picard. He is but a lifeless simile. Both for the credibility of the writers and our own sanity, he should have been allowed to die his noble death at the end of season one. The younger generation of heroes should have been left to carry on his legacy, building a new web of nostalgic memories.

Instead, we ended up with this unsettling, unfamiliar version of an old friend. A stark and unwelcome reminder of our own mortality. A shambling automaton that crosses the galaxy in an attempt to reclaim what he once was, now a cold and incomplete corpse. How fitting.

Ultimately, the human aspect of Star Trek: Picard’s nostalgia was lost on me. I was encouraged to visit my grandmother one last time on her deathbed. That is now the last memory I have of her. Withered and something completely removed from the strong woman I once loved. So too now, Picard et al.

Like that moment with my grandmother, I so wish this moment with once-cherished characters had never come to pass. It would have been better to remember what once was. Sometimes it’s better to just keep moving forward, boldly or otherwise.

— John

Visions of Theseus

Our hero walks through the dimly-lit offices of Fat Mop Zoo. A single, flickering lightbulb swings ominously. Okay, John actually hit it with his head, but still… Cobwebs clinging to his balding pate, he slumps into his weathered office chair in a cloud of swirling dust.

Right! So… How do I do this again? I don’t think I knew how to do it before, actually. Anyways…

I have a bad habit of “viewing shows from afar.” I read enough about them in topical articles, but don’t actually watch them for lack of time/enough interest. One of those shows lately has been Wandavision. A scene from the episode caught my attention.


Don’t say I didn’t warn you. So towards the end (I guess?) of the episode, White Vision squares off against Wanda Maximoff’s mind-created Vision. The latter asks the former if he’s familiar with the Ship of Theseus thought experiment.

He allows that he does: “The Ship of Theseus is an artifact in a museum. Over time, its planks of wood rot and are replaced with new planks. When no original plank remains is it still the Ship of Theseus?”

Somebody hasn’t been outside in a while.

The Wanda-created Vision continues his line of thinking: “Secondly, if those removed planks are restored and reassembled, free of the rot, is that the Ship of Theseus?”

Whitey Vision responds: “Neither is the true ship. Both are the true ship.”

After a brief conversation in regards to what each Vision has of the “real” vision, Wanda-Vision muses: “Perhaps the rot is the memories. The wear and tear of the voyages. The wood touched by Theseus himself.” At this point, he restores Whitey-Vision’s memories, et cetera, and so on.

My point is that it got me thinking. One of the over-arching themes that surrounds the androids, or “Synthetics,” in my books is what level of consciousness they have. More to the point: What level of “selfness” do they have? This thought experiment is especially applicable to “transfers,” or Synthetics that house a transferred human consciousness.

I touched on the idea in Preservation Protocol and have explored it in the No Road Home series. The subject takes precedence in the final book in the series, Deliverance, that I’m currently writing. If you could transfer an exact map of someone’s mind to an artificial being, would that being BE that someone?

This question gets underlined in the last book when it’s confirmed that a character’s original human form is still alive with all of their faculties intact. In other words, you have one human, and one “clone.” Both have the same exact thoughts, memories, feelings, etc. Is the human THE person? Can the Synthetic not also be considered the person?

The question gains weight when one considers a “terminal transfer.” The “original” person expires at the conclusion of the mind transfer to the Synthetic. It could be argued that the Synthetic is undoubtedly the person, now. The human body ceased to function, and the artificial one woke up believing itself to be that person.

One inevitably wades into metaphysical waters when you further extrapolate on the idea. What happens when the human body wakes up? Both are conscious. Would the Synthetic be considered to have an artificial consciousness? And what is consciousness, anyway?

According to Merriam-Webster, it is “sentience or awareness of internal or external existence.” It’s the whole “I think, therefore I am” deal. So arguably, both android and human would be the same person.

It’s all quite mind-bending, but it’s something that humans are going to have to explore in the future. Scientists are already working on devices that could one day augment — or even replace — memory in the brain. This actually adds shades of gray to the conversation.

At what point would one’s consciousness be seated in the technology instead of the brain? Science can’t even agree yet on where consciousness physically manifests. Further, if the mind is wholly encompassed in that technology, what happens if it is powered down?

When one is “woken up,” will it be the same person? Or would it be like dying, with the person who “wakes up” being a precise clone of the former consciousness? It could be that, as with your organic brain, having your technological brain power down would essentially be the death of your unique consciousness.

This is how the question is handled in the canon of my books. Synthetics fear a loss of power to their neural net, as continual power is required to maintain their conscious state even in dormancy. Zero power will collapse the neural net, resulting in irreversible brain “death” for the individual.

A fun, but equally disturbing aside from the world of Star Trek: Transporters. In the fictional universe of Star Trek, transporters work by mapping out the position of every molecule of your body, breaking it down into a data-matter stream, and precisely reassembling it on the other side. We find similar questions here.

This would obviously obstruct your consciousness, not to mention literally obliterate your physical brain, regardless of it’s reassembly on the other side. Would you, in fact, still be you? For the religious: Would this scrambling happen to your soul, as well? Would it get left behind? Travel along?

More ominously, scientific consensus at the moment is that transporting would be a little more… uh, lethal in this reality. Such a system would most likely still map your molecules, but then it would recreate those molecules on the far side like another Star Trek staple, the replicator. The kicker? It would be a perfect recreation of you, and the original would be destroyed.

Bones probably had a damn good reason for hating transporters.

It kind of puts all of Star Trek into a new light. Just imagine every time Kirk or Picard or any of your favorite characters beam themselves somewhere, they’re dying at the moment of transfer. The person stepping out on the other side of the process is just another in a line of clueless clones, doomed to die the next time they need to be somewhere fast.

Any of that should be more than enough to tighten your sphincter. It’s also pretty thought-provoking. For more thought experiments on the subject, check out Preservation Protocol and the No Road Home series, and be sure to look out for Deliverance later this year.


DEEP THOUGHTS: Robot Battle Royale

Two Titanium Titans square off, only one stays standing. Which will it be?

For whatever reason, my mind recently wondered to Smash Bros. Now, I’ve never played Smash Bros. anything, but I’ve always been fascinated by the concept. The latest iteration pulls in characters from all walks(and systems)of life.

Cloud Strife versus Link? Solid Snake versus Simon Belmont? Samus Aran versus Mega Man? Holy shit, dude. That’s awesome! I mean, not awesome enough to dump a few hundred dollars into equipment to try it, but yeah…

That got me thinking about classic fan-based pairings. Think Aliens vs Predator, Terminator vs Robocop, and the like. I thought I’d do my own analysis of a classic face-off. Look for the twist at the end!

Ready? BEGIN!


This is surely one of the most iconic, and oldest, modern mash-ups fans have dreamed about. It’s been popular enough to spawn a comic book series and even a video game. But just how fair would this match-up be? Not very, when you think about it.


Let’s start with the Terminator, more appropriately referred to by its model designation, T-800. Lore says that its endoskeleton, the shiny metal skeleton that lies beneath the android’s flesh, is made of a “hyperalloy” that is stronger and more heat-resistant than titanium. The android is also insanely strong, showing the ability in at least one movie of resisting several tons of crushing force.


Anybody with a soul is going to be rooting for Alex Murphy, better known as Robocop. Whereas the T-800 is a semi-aware war machine that has been mass-produced, Robocop is a one-of-a-kind cyborg that was once a run-of-the-mill beat-cop. Unfortunately, that humanity would be a huge Achilles’ heel in this match-up.

First, the good: Robocop’s robotic components are built using titanium and kevlar components. This makes him not quite as resilient as the T-800, but strong enough to weather attacks with heavy weapons and extreme blunt-force trauma. He is less strong than the T-800, but is still capable of lifting an average automobile.

Now for the bad. Robocop is still human. Alex Murphy’s head, neck, and most of his torso make up the core of this cyborg construct. This is key. The whole is only as strong as its component parts, meaning the very thing that makes Robocop human is also his greatest liability.


Well, shit.

I’m afraid that no matter what way you cut it, Robocop is getting his ass handed to him.

Distance fighting would see the android and cyborg fight to a stalemate. Everything from small arms up to RPGs would render some damage, but would fall short of crippling either machine. The one exception would be a well-aimed shot to Robocop’s face, at a low enough angle, destroying the brain. The real carnage would come with close-quarters fighting.

The T-800 would be able to analyze Robocop’s weaknesses on the fly and quickly dispatch him. If the machine got the drop on him, it would be able to easily approach from behind and, quite literally, rip Robocop’s head clean off. In fact, any hand-to-hand scenario would end this way. Robocop’s head and neck is an indefensible weak-point.


Enter a new contestant, from the upcoming No Road Home book Hunter, Hunted: Army Sentry One.

This heavy-duty warrior bot, built by the Army for battle and guarding heavy assets, stands at an impressive eight feet tall. The heavily armored, three-quarter-ton robot is crafted from a titanium alloy. It is armed with a Gatling-style gun, built into its right arm, with a left hand capable of exerting two thousand pounds of crushing force.



Believe it or not, this would be a relatively level playing field. Sentry One comes pre-equipped with a devastating weapon, but T-800s in the field can easily come up with weapons that are just as powerful. Both robots are heavily shielded, but would still take damage from heavy weapons fire.

The deciding factor here would be size and design. Sentry One is designed to take a huge amount of damage and remain deadly. The T-800 would already be damaged by heavy-weapons fire by the time it closed in for hand-to-hand combat. The hands-on fight would be brutal and prolonged, but the larger robot would ultimately carry the day.

DEEP THOUGHTS: Halloween V Christmas

Satan versus Baby Jesus, Dracula versus Santa, who wins?

See what I did there? With the V? For versus? God, that looks so douchey. Anyway…

The two greatest holidays of the year in one arena! Which one will reign supreme? In one corner, you have an ancient Pagan holiday usurped by the Christians to garner converts. In the other corner, you have an ancient Pagan holiday usurped by the Christians to… WTF. Seriously?

Halloween started as Samhain in Ireland. It was meant to be a celebration of the end of the Fall harvest and serve as light-hearted merriment ahead of the encroaching cold of winter. The Christians were like “Nah, that’s All Hallows Eve now, bitches.”

Likewise, Christmas started as Yule in Germany. You know, the whole Yule log thing, cutting down evergreens and stuffing them in your house cuz everything was dying, etc. The Christians (SURPRISE!) were all like “Nah, Jesus got popped and this is birthday and FUCK YOU, weird Pagan people.”

“Look, we’re only killing you to save your souls!”

Christians can be… forceful. Now obviously, that’s painting with a very broad brush, but it hits close enough to the truth for a zoo-based entertainment website. At any rate…

Eventually, the two holidays found their way to the new world and grew and developed in the United States. The early results were um, mixed.

Oh, shit… What about Christmas, though?
Oh, DAMN. It got better though, right?

Okay well, it was a bit of a learning curve. Then again, living through two world wars and the Great Depression probably didn’t help. So what have we learned so far?

  • The Christians like to steal holidays.
  • Both Halloween and Christmas started off looking creepy as hell.
  • Christmas took longer than it should have to stop looking creepy as hell.

Right. So what would happen if we pitted the two holidays against each other? Where do we even start? Well, let’s look at the major players, shall we?

We’ll start with Halloween. Pretty straightforward, right? If you ask Christians, the lord of Halloween is Satan himself.

Artist Depiction

That’s of course on top of Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monster… That sounds pretty one-sided, actually. I mean, Christmas has baby Jesus, an exuberant fat man that breaks into houses, several little people… Although, that one Santa…


Yeah… no. He’s probably just working for Satan. I’ll have to give this one to Halloween. I mean, Satan. Even beyond him, a whole legion of legendary horror monsters and the living dead are going to wipe the floor with a bunch of elves and a man one cookie away from a coronary.

Now okay, baby Jesus has the force of God behind him and all but come on. He’s just a baby. And if ancient portrayals of baby Jesus are anything to go by, he’s also a wee bit on the special side, if you know what I mean.

“Take him… Please, just… Jesus…”

Wow, okay. Halloween wins on that front. Let’s look at something else, though: MONEY.

Now I’ll grant you that Christmas has a lot going for it on this front. You have present-buying, Black Friday, decorations, music, egg nog, professional actors to send to the in-law’s in your stead, etc. that said, Halloween has been surging like a motherfucker these last few years.

People are buying more and more elaborate costumes costing into the hundreds of dollars. Haunted house attractions are booming. Everyone’s throwing parties with expensive props and decorations. That surely adds up, right?

It does, but not like the Christmas season. People spent six hundred billion dollars on the “winter holidays” between 2012 and 2013. That’s compared to a teeny-weenie seven billion dollars spent on Halloween in that same time frame. In fact, even Mother’s Day saw more than double the spending. Then again, I mean


Yeah so maybe she should win? Anyway, Christmas takes that fucking cake by at least like, a few dollars. I don’t know, I’m bad with money.

So in conclusion, in the battle between Halloween and Christmas, clearly big business is the winner.


“My wallet thanks you all!”

DEEP THOUGHTS: Just Robot-Vehicle Things

What’s better? Transformers or Go-Bots… Why are you laughing?

Now that I’ve finally finished catching up on posting all the original Interlude stories(The Interludes, available again August 30, BUY IT BUY IT NOW,) I decided to fire up the old Deep Thoughts vehicle again.

You all uh, well you had mixed feelings on that, apparently.

The question this time around was: Transformers or Go-Bots? You answered:

Sooo let’s just unpack this a bit. Clearly five of you are NOT FANS of Deep Thoughts. Clearly that means you aren’t reading this right now either, so EAT A COW CHIP YOU RANDY BASTARDS.


Secondly, you will notice that nobody has any love for Left Shark anymore and you know what? I’m okay with that. Consider it a litmus test for the state of the internet… Okay, I just wanted four options, but it’s still an interesting result.

Left Shark SAD!

The meat of this poll was the robot battle, because DUH. It was never going to be a battle between these two. Transformers won handily. That said, I have a bit of a more nuanced take on it all…

Go-Bots were released by Tonka in 1983, beating Transformers out of the gate by a year. It was not long before Optimus Prime stepped to the group of cyborgs and fucked up their shit. They probably never saw it coming because, you know, some of them didn’t technically have faces.

“I should not be!”

Oh, you noticed that thing about the Go-Bots being cyborgs, huh? Yeah… Apparently they were an alien race looking to extend their lives by putting their brains in giant, transforming robots. Or something. It’s complicated. Anyway…

Transformers proved to be the more popular series. HOWEVER, Go-Bots tended to be the cheaper toy. I, like most children, preferred the Transformers, but I had far more Go-Bots toys. Given the alternative of having zero transforming toy action figures, I’m totally okay with that.

In fact, unlike most, I still have a soft spot for Go-Bots. I have one of those freaky headless “Staks” robots seen above in my mancave(aka “the hole in the wall by the furnace and water heater”.) He stands guard over my exercise bike alongside the mighty Go-Bots transforming water pistol.


The point is this: The fact that they were more affordable made them more fun! If you blew one up with a firecracker or something like that, your parents were less likely to hate-murder you. They were also more likely to replace them(after they confiscated the firecrackers.) That’s a reality that holds true to this day.

Those two Go-Bots cost me less than $20 with shipping and handling on eBay. A semi-okay Optimus Prime would probably cost me four times that. Maybe Go-Bots aren’t so bad, after all…

IN CONCLUSION: Transformers may have my hand, but Go-Bots will always have my heart.