Tuesday, September 24, 2019

MIAMI HEIST: Special Preview

Special preview chapter from MIAMI HEIST, the upcoming sequel to VEGAS HEIST, by Van Allen Plexico:

“I think I went into the wrong line of work,” Salsa said as he repositioned the little captain’s hat on his head. “I should’ve been a Navy man.”

Lois snorted at this. She fanned herself with a paper plate as Salsa slowly brought the houseboat around. The south Florida sun beat down on them mercilessly. At last a breeze cut across the deck, offering some small relief from the oppressive Miami heat.

“It’s important for Mr. and Mrs. Gold to be seen cruising around out here,” Salsa pointed out. In addition to the hat, he wore a natty, bright blue blazer and white slacks.

“And you needed the practice steering this thing, too,” Lois added.

“Ehh. I’m a natural.” He grinned. “Maybe I should call myself Commodore Salzman.”

Lois rolled her eyes at that.

Salsa ignored her and focused on his steering. The houseboat was big and sluggish and, while clearly capable of supporting the great deal of weight they planned to be adding to it soon, he didn’t relish the idea of trying to outrun or outmaneuver anyone in it.

They had taken a slow cruise around Ruby Island earlier in their excursion, looking the place over from every direction while never approaching close enough to draw any unwanted attention. Once Salsa had been satisfied with what he’d seen, he’d brought the boat back around facing west. Yet still they lingered in the midst of Biscayne Bay.

“Don’t you think it’s about time to head in?” Lois asked after another fifteen minutes or so of lumbering about, waves insistently rocking them, powerboats and water skiers darting around them and even sailboats leaving them in their wake.

Salsa pursed his lips, considering, as he worked the boat’s wheel and the throttle. He was feeling increasingly confident in his ability to maneuver the vehicle and to understand the currents in which it was operating. And he was having more fun than he’d expected.

“Saul?” Lois said, more insistently now. She was tapping her watch impatiently.

Reluctantly, he nodded and angled the boat around to where it was facing northwest. The low rise of tiny little Lummus Island slid past to port. This was the area he needed to know best, and he was giving it his full attention now.

“Our berth is that way,” Lois called after a minute, sounding annoyed. She was pointing to the southwest, toward Miami proper.

“I just need to get us a bit closer to the east end of Dodge Island for a minute,” he said.

“Dodge Island?” Lois raised an eyebrow at this. “Any particular reason you want to go there?“

Salsa raised his own eyebrow back at her. “Maybe because there’s a bridge on the west end of it, connecting to Miami?”

“Ah.” Lois nodded slowly. Then she returned her attention to picnic basket resting on the counter in front of her. “Well, I’m having lunch.” She reached in and pulled out the sandwich wrapped in wax paper.

“Hey— could you hand me a tuna?”

They cleared Lummus Island and the larger shape of Dodge Island came into view ahead. Salsa grabbed the binoculars off the dash and held them up, adjusting the dials. He pursed his lips as he looked the shoreline over. Yeah, it was like Harper had said. There were a couple of spots where they could land the big houseboat there. Excellent.

Seeing his obvious concentration on what he was doing, Lois kept quiet for the duration, but at last she tapped her watch again. “Saul? I have an appointment in a little while, and…”

“Right, right,” he said, putting the binoculars down and grinning back at her. “Of course, dear. Off we go.”

One hand on the wheel and one holding his sandwich, and now entirely pleased with things, Salsa steered the big green houseboat the rest of the way across the bay towards Miami.

What are Salsa and Lois up to here? Find out soon, in MIAMI HEIST!
Meanwhile, read their first adventure (with Harper and company)--the award-winning VEGAS HEIST-- in paperback, on Kindle or in audiobook from Audible (read by Pete Milan)!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

CRUSADE: 20th Anniversary panel at DragonCon 2019 (my notes)

CRUSADE: 20th Anniversary panel at DragonCon 2019, with Peter David, John Hudgens and Van Allen Plexico


I took these notes during my most recent re-watch of CRUSADE, last month prior to DragonCon. On the panel I didn't get to go into most of what is here, so I thought I'd present it for folks to read on their own. I also audio recorded the panel and will post it on the White Rocket Podcast in the days to come.

We have to state up front that poor ratings did not kill this series. It was canceled before a single episode had aired.

My newly revised list of the 5 best episodes of Crusade, having just rewatched the entire series:

Racing the Night
The Needs of Earth
The Memory of War
Appearances and Other Deceits
The Well of Forever

My notes on all 13 episodes plus unproduced scripts and the "A Call to Arms" introductory TV-movie:


The music is especially terrible here. In theory it might’ve been a good idea to bring in Evan Chen in place of Christopher Franke, but here he put together nothing catchy at all. The score here is worse than what he does for the series later. It actively distracts from what we’re seeing on the screen.

I like the mixture of a few members of the cast of each show. And, as would be the case with the entire series, Peter Woodward is riveting. You can’t look away from him. He’s better than everything else about this.

The Technomages are one of the best things about Babylon 5 and it’s great to have a show that tries to use them more fully.

Casting Crusade:

JMS wanted Michael York for Gideon. TNT wanted Gary Cole. I think TNT was right.

I chose this order to rewatch because it’s the order they originally aired. And it makes no sense in terms of the uniforms to watch the order of production.

The music is better in the series proper. Less seemingly random noises and at least a hint of a tune in there somewhere.

I’ve always gotten the feeling TNT told JMS to make this show like the X-Files. Thus the “Who do you trust?” stuff and the outright X-Files episode later. It comes across as him being obsessed with that show, but now I wonder if it was more of him sticking it to the network executives. “You want the X-Files? I’ll give you the X-Files!” Ha

The series is at its best when each (or most) of the main cast have something interesting to do/to contribute to the storyline. It is at its worst when just 2-3 characters go down to a planet to engage in what I think of as “Stargate activities.”


JMS bags on this episode and its reputation is pretty low. He didn’t want to make it; it was forced on him by TNT. But I don’t care what the circumstances were, because in my opinion it’s one of the better episodes once you get past the stupid fistfight at the beginning to satisfy the TNT wrestling fans. And in fact it’s the only episode where we really see the Drakh up close. It also has some good character bits for most of the cast. Maybe if the show had continued for multiple seasons, we would’ve gotten all this backstory organically over time. But because we only got 13 episodes, I’m glad one of them actually introduced everyone and explained their relationships and how they came to be on the team and on the Excalibur.


This episode and the next two come along way too soon in this episode ordering.

And it’s extremely slow and remarkably dull—it adds up to much less than the sum of its parts.

Peter Woodward ‘s dad, Edward, the Equalizer, chews the scenery and upstages his son, which is quite a feat.

The term “the long road” pops up a lot in Technomage lore, but JMS never made it very clear what it meant, beyond the journey a Technomage takes in his or her lifetime.

The EA is back to being shady again.

We really only see Gideon and Galen in this episode. 

The golden dragon in CGI has not aged well.

I think this may be my least-favorite episode now.


Fairly slow overall but some powerful parts. The idea of the Well is excellent.

An important episode if you love the Technomages and Galen and his backstory (Isabelle). Good stuff with Matheson and the telepath situation.

Fiona Avery wrote it.

Another episode probably should have come later, after we had gotten to know the characters a little better. Several of them speak to each other as if they are very well acquainted now, and yet this was only the third episode aired. 

Where did Galen get the magic rock that showed the way there?


The framing device (alien in a bubble) is interesting in some ways and bad in others. But it mainly serves to give us lots of good flashbacks about the main characters, similar to the Firefly episode “Out of Gas.”

We see the Cerberus and the Shadow ship.

And how Gideon got the Apocalypse Box—even though this is the first time we see it at all. (In the Crusade bible it says if Galen knew Gideon had it, he’d chuck it out the nearest airlock immediately.)

Galen crumpling up the paper with GALEN LOVE and throwing it down as he walks away at the end is heart breaking.

To this point we have hardly seen anything of Dr Chambers, Max Eilerson, Captain Lochley, Trace… and just a little bit of Dureena.

It’s Gideon, Galen, and Matheson so far. The weird order of airing the episodes is taking its toll.


At last, Dr Chambers has something to do.

But not a very exciting episode.

Dureena finds a lost tribe of her people from Xander Prime.

EarthForce is up to more shady business. You can definitely tell where JMS is going with some of that.

They use an anti-virus shield that they don’t develop until a later-airing episode.

No Galen this episode, and it suffers without him.


Captain Elizabeth Lochley finally appears on a series that has her in the main titles credits.

Conference on Mars.

Peter David wrote it and at least it has some snappy dialogue and funny moments, including with Lochley/Gideon and Dureena/Max.

Hilarious conversation over dinner (Lochley/Gideon).

The Joan of Arc business, tho…..


And now we turn right around and have the crew aboard Babylon 5. Just one episode after Lochley invites Gideon to come by sometime.

Still no Galen….

Still no Apocalypse Box, other than in Path of Sorrows.

In one scene we see the boom microphone. Whoops!

If Max’s ex doesn’t have 100,000 credits to pay her debt, how can she afford a first class big suite on B5?

Gideon and Lochley defeat two aliens and then take a shower together. Well okay then.

Mr. Kitty.

G & L go off together to get a bite to eat before G leaves. (All they do together in this series, with the exception of gun battles and showering together, is eating!)

In the next shot, we see the Excalibur flying away. I’m shocked it wasn’t shown going into a jump gate, metaphorically.


Production number 113. So the last one, numerically, produced.

Thought of as a gimmick episode, but actually one of the better stories.

One of the things that annoys me about this episode is that the show did originally start out with the bad gray uniforms and bridge interior color schemes, and it *was* a good idea to change to the black uniforms and spruce up the interiors— but this episode makes it seem like it was the other way around. And that’s a “deceit!”

Good stuff here of Max actually working to understand a new alien language, rather than the usual (in SF) magical translators.

John Vickery’s accent is American when he’s Mr Welles and British/Neroon when he’s possessed. (He appeared in this same role in "The Fall of Night" at the end of Babylon 5 season 2, as a leader of the Night's Watch.)


Originally meant to be the first episode we would see.

Arguably these early-produced episodes make best use of most of the ensemble cast. 

Dureena wants Galen to teach her.

More talk about the “Road.” Galen tells Dureena she can’t properly choose fire or water until she reaches the end of the road.

This plot elements of this episode feel very Larry Niven, with the automated systems and relics of ships captured from past visitors.

After the EA finally cure the Drahk plague on Earth, did they ever take the cure back to Kulan’s world? (They had suffered from the same fate.) 

We finally see the Apocalypse Box hidden in Gideon’s quarters aboard the ship. Originally therefore we would have seen it at the very start. (It’s like a Vorlon-in-the-Box.)


Two great episodes in a row.

The ensemble mostly all got a few good things to do again. 

The Apocalypse Box again. And it doesn’t like Galen.

Genius Loci. Also the name of one of JMS's short stories in the B5 magazine.

Dureena retrieves Galen’s staff—and do we see a hint of romance there when she gives it to him?

Dr Chambers creates the temporary virus shield inhaler. (For those who don’t mind breathing liquid Teflon. Um. Agh.)


Production number 101. The first episode produced. Aired nearly at the end.

Another sneaky good episode.

This is the one with the alien Nachok Var and the high-compression data crystals of his world’s arts. JMS is often at his best when he's not-so-subtly criticizing the kind of behavior the alien world is up to, destroying art in the name of religion.

Who’s your little Pak’ma’ra?

Very good moments for Dureena, Dr Chambers and Matheson (& a little from Max) as well as Gideon. 

I especially liked the part at the end where Matheson argues with himself about knowing what the aliens were really going to do and not saying anything. I didn't fully appreciate that twist before now.

Again, the best episodes involve multiple cast members getting to do stuff.


Production number 103! This was going to be one of the very first episodes aired? Far out.

X-Files. JMS’s obsession or sticking it to TNT?

I have a hard time getting excited about this one, but I never really watched X-Files, so a lot of it is lost on me.

Only Gideon and Matheson appear, from the main cast.

Nice twist at the end: "The truth is out.... of fashion."

I love Gideon’s attitude throughout. And at the end. “Screw em.”


Senator Redway is Lance Legalt, the main BorellianNomen from original Battlestar Galactica.

Lochley makes her 3rd appearance out of 13 in a show she has main billing for.

Where is Galen??

Dr Stephen Franklin makes a surprise appearance! Oh, how we miss you, Rick Biggs.

I can’t tell if this is supposed to be the first time Lochley meets Gideon or not. He says “first date” but they act very familiar. In another episode they are formally introduced.

The Drakh again!

The chemistry between Gideon and Matheson is so good.

They describe the conflict here as “Our first major battle with the Drakh.” Because War Zone was filmed later. The reordering and reordering of episodes causes yet another conflict.

It’s fitting that the last scene of the series in this order takes place outside Babylon 5, and the last words are, “Life goes on.“ “Indeed it does."

Unproduced Episodes:


The Excalibur encounters the Shadow vessel that destroyed the Cerberus.

The Bester episode written by JMS's assistant, Fiona Avery.




Oh man, if only we could have seen this one. Gideon is shot by the Earth Alliance before he can reveal secret information about their connections to Shadow tech. Would Gideon have died, or been saved by Technomage technology, or....??

----Van Allen Plexico is the only 3-time Pulp Novel of the Year winner (Pulp Factory Awards in Chicago). He's been a B5 super-fan since the first airing of The Gathering in 1993. Find his books, podcasts, comics and more here: www.plexico.net