28 September 2014

The Skiffy and Fanty Show

Come and listen to me discuss series 1 of the excellent In The Flesh (a beautiful, BAFTA award-winning zombie drama from the BBC) on The Skiffy and Fanty Show podcast.

The episode is available from the their website by following the link above, or can be downloaded from The Skiffy and Fanty Show on iTunes as #26. In The Flesh (Season One) and is dated 20 September 2014.

The recording was done back in August at LonCon3. I got to choose the subject and be on the show because I donated to a fundraiser and won in a draw. It was a lot of fun, especially because I got to meet four of the major talents behind the podcast in person, putting faces to voices. Plus I watch a lot of US TV (as readers of this blog have probably noticed), so it was kinda cool that I had an opportunity to get some Americans to watch such a fine and underrated example of British TV (seriously we need more stuff like this over here). Also I'm sure it makes for entertaining listening, especially if you like In The Flesh.

If you're into geeky stuff you should totally listen to The Skiffy and Fanty Show, it was one of the first podcasts I started listening to over a year ago. They do a variety of stuff, including interviews, discussions and blog posts, all interesting and entertaining. In 2014 they've been looking at genre fiction from all over the world and had loads of international guests. They were also nominated for the Fancast Hugo this year.

The episode I'm in is part of their Shoot the WISB series of subcasts, where they take a film -or in this case a short TV miniseries- and have a detailed conversation about it. These episodes are really interesting, but do get spoilery. There is an intro section, but it's usually best if you've seen the thing being discussed. They also do a regular feature called Torture Cinema, where they watch an awful film and get drunk while discussing it, those casts are hilarious.

Note: at one point in the episode I said something bi-erasing without realising at the time. It's immediately covered in the conversation, but I should have known better.

17 September 2014

Sins of the Father

Episode: s3, ep 17

Apparently I have thoughts about Klingon culture and Worf's place in it. How did that happen? I'm a thoughtful person, and this show has sucked me in. Fear not, for I am aware that there plenty of ridiculous episodes (and films) in the future of this blog series.

What Happens
A Klingon First Officer wants to take part in the exchange programme from A Matter of Honour, which saw Riker briefly serve on a Klingon ship. The new First Officer, Kurn, is quickly unpopular. He’s learned Starfleet regulations, and is imposing them with a Klingon sense of discipline and hierarchy. The only person he’s not being tough on is Worf, who is offended that he seems to be getting special treatment. Worf confronts Kurn and it turns out that he is Worf’s long-lost brother.
Their father is about to be denounced as a traitor because apparently he let in the Romulans who massacred and entire settlement (besides Worf). Kurn was only a baby at the time and was raised by family friends and not told his true parentage until he reached adulthood. As the eldest brother it is Worf’s place to challenge the verdict against their father and save the family honour.
The Enterprise (having nothing better to do, it seems) brings the brothers to the Council. Kurn will be Worf’s second, but Worf forbids him from revealing they are related. The Klingon who brought the charges is particularly antagonistic towards Worf and the Council leader warns Worf to drop the challenge. Assassins are sent against Kurn, who is injured. Worf knows what’s happening is suspect and asks Picard to be his new second.
The Enterprise crew investigate the claims against Worf’s father. They discover Worf’s old nurse also survived the massacre, and is conveniently living in the city. Picard visits to convince her to reveal the truth. She initially refused, but after he is attacked outside her home she agrees to come to the Council. Worf and Picard tell the Council they have evidence and a private meeting is called. The Council leader reveals that they know that the antagonistic guy’s father actually let the Romulans in. His family is very influential and the accusation could cause civil war. For the good of the Empire they chose Worf’s father as scapegoat because Worf’s in the Federation and they didn’t know about Kurn. Worf at first seems ready to offer his life, but Picard is unwilling. Then Worf says that if he publicly accepts the dishonour they will achieve what they want, on condition that Kurn is safe and his true lineage is kept secret. Picard tells a disbelieving Kurn that Worf wants him safe now so they can restore their father’s honour another day.

Oh Captain My Captain
I suspect Picard is quietly amused by Kurn's command style and the crew's reaction to it. He says at a meal it's good to shake up the status quo sometimes. Of course it's easy to enjoy things being shook up if you aren't the one being shaken.
Picard stands by Worf a lot here. The Klingons are confused by his presence, though the Council leader respects Picard's defense of Worf's character, commendation from a senior officer is apparently a universally good thing. However there was a moment when it seemed as though the presence of a human could damage Worf's standing and I'm surprised that was not an issue, especially given Worf's background.
I was also surprised when Worf asked Picard to be his second (Klingon word??). Admittedly he has no other Klingon allies, but I honestly thought he'd have chosen Riker. Worf and Riker seem to get on better, Worf wanted to go with Riker if he changed ship, and Riker is always portrayed as more physical than Picard. Then again Picard shows he can handle himself in a fight when he's jumped by 2 Klingons. I'm kinda surprised he did so well. Not a judgement of Picard so much as what I've been led to believe about human and Klingon strength differentials.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
Riker is very much in his middle-management role here (even though he's been temporarily relieved of duty). Geordi and Wesley complain to him about Kurn. Riker's job is to be the approachable face of the senior officers (and probably do some admin we never see). Picard kinda indicated this in the first episode, though he also suggested Riker should run interference when the Captain was faced with children. So Riker is the one who hears about Kurn's surprise inspections, altered the shifts in Engineering, and him being too hard on everyone but Worf. Riker is persuaded to have a word, and tries to draw comparison with his own time on a Klingon ship. Kurn doesn't take kindly to suggestions, but does refrain from killing him, as is the Starfleet way.

Klingon Warrior
He ain't heavy...
Initially Worf is angry that the exchange-First Officer is apparently going easy on him and being strangely polite. It isn't the Klingon way and so Worf is insulted. When Worf physically displays his anger Kurn believes he is truly a Klingon, there was doubt as he was raised by humans and is in Starfleet. Again we are reminded that Worf is restraining himself most of the time, and that he is very distanced from his own people. Then Worf is offended that his brother deceived everyone in order to inspect him before telling him the truth. This is an expected response, but Kurn explains that was because of the challenge, and presumably Kurn's secret parentage.
Again we see the importance of honour and combat in Klingon society. Even though Kurn is living as a member of a different house and Worf is essentially separated from Klingon society both want to ensure their father and family's honour is protected. Worf takes action even though it could mean his death, and nearly does. I was actually surprised that everything wasn't trial by combat. I guess I'd been swayed by the stereotypical view of Klingons we're normally presented with (you know, as people who will kill others for offering a suggestion). There was a fair bit of talking, investigation and negotiation (the kind of thing TNG normally does, in fact) and the fighting that took place was covert and so presumably with honour. Though it is acknowledged that the entire situation is very dishonourable. I suspect that Klingon society values the appearance of honour more than actual adherence to it, that's certainly what's going on here. Just as I'm sure a lot of what they say about killing people in social situations is big talk (even if they do have the ability to back it up).
I've wondered before if Worf keeps his distance from his own people and culture because of uncertainty about how he will fit in. Now I think there may be an element of disillusionment, or fear of disillusionment, that drives him. He accepts the taint of a traitorous father in order to spare his brother's life. When the Council publicly turn their back on him it feels a little as though Worf is turning his back on them. He's spent his life being part of Klingon culture only on a personal level, admiring and upholding the ways of his people from afar, because he was usually the only Klingon around. On a personal level he knows that his honour is secure, and he's done the best thing for his family and for the Empire.

Kurn refers to Wesley as Acting-Ensign, which is more correct than when anyone else calls him Ensign. Perhaps it shouldn't really matter, but every time Picard calls Wesley Ensign I just think how unfair it is on all the actual Ensigns. You know the ones who did the tests and went through the Academy. They can't help it if their parents aren't friends with the captain and their mothers aren't the ship's doctor. There's no indication of how often any of them get to fly the ship. You'd hope they get a chance on the other shift(s) that we don't see, but even then they don't get so much chance to work with the Captain. It just seems like if you're going to have a military style hierarchy you should stick to that. Then again I'm sure there are plenty of examples of nepotism in militaries throughout history.
Wesley is unused to being commanded by someone who doesn't like him.

The End
Worf accepts the dishonour of his father's fake-treachery in a ceremony in which the Council members cross their arms and turn their backs on him. Kurn is reluctant to do it, but Worf urges him to. Kurn turns his back. Worf and Picard resolutely walk out of the hall.

10 September 2014

FantasyCon 2014

FantasyCon 2014 happened in York on 5th - 7th September. This con report is a little delayed because I've only just gotten home from York. The convention coincided with my 5th wedding anniversary, so my husband and I decided to stay a while afterwards for a mini-holiday.

It felt really nice to be back at FantasyCon, it was the first one since 2012. Every time I've been I've met people and had good conversations and come away feeling positive. This time there were so many people I knew, from cons and the internet. It was great to catch up with friends and meet new people. After the intensity of Loncon3 FantasyCon felt relaxed and friendly, as I'd expected.

This year I was also on my very first panel. This was less relaxing, but still a very good experience. The other panelists were interesting people and we had a good discussion that was well-received, which is comforting when doing a panel about politics. I said some stuff I'd thought of in advance and some stuff in response to the discussion. I don't think I talked too much, but neither did I sit quietly. It's slightly hazy in my recollection, but I'm told I was amusing and you couldn't tell it was my first time. Even though I was nervy at first I relaxed into it. I'm really glad I did it and that my first panel was a positive experience.

The convention had many interesting panels and events. There weren't things so many that you felt overwhelmed, but of course it's not a big con. The programme didn't just feature the normal basics but featured at a variety of subjects. This is likely to have been helped by the online survey the con had months ago asking for topic suggestions from attendees. It was nice to see them being proactive about involving attendees.

Highlights of the programme were:
  • Fox Spirit Book Launch - for Breed by K. T. Davies
  • But Does It Make Sense? - panel about economics in Fantasy 
  • Tea and Jeopardy - a live recording of the Hugo-nominated podcast
  • Just A Minute - hosted by Paul Cornell, featuring Gillian Redfearn, Kate Elliott, Stephen Gallagher and Frances Hardinge
  • Worldbuilding Worshop - with Kate Elliott and Tom Pollock 

FantasyCon is always good for books (2 years ago we broke a suitcase). There were many free books available at and after registration through the convention. There were various book launches and plenty to buy in the dealer's room. I also got some free review copies of various books (which will keep me occupied reading and writing for a while).

The convention itself had a supportive environment and seemed to run very smoothly. This is largely down the the efforts of the con volunteers, called redcloaks. They gave up their time and worked hard to make it a success. The redcloaks were headed up by my friends Alasdair Stuart and Marguerite Kenner, who did an excellent job. They are an alarmingly organised couple with Marguerite clearly queen of her domain and Al being a friendly but determined blur for much of the time.

I'm looking forward to returning to FantasyCon next year.

6 September 2014

The Offspring

Episode: s3, ep 16

I've put the titles of 25 songs by US band The Offspring into this post. Mostly because it amused me to do so. How many can you find?

What Happens
You're Gonna Go Far, Kid
After going to a cybernetics conference Data creates another android called Lal, his child. Troi, Geordi and Wesley are the first to welcome this special delivery, they're shocked and amazed. Picard isn't happy when he's told. Data allows his child to choose its gender and appearance, and Lal chooses the form of a human female. Data adds the chosen features to his child, he's able to make her look more human than him.
Days go by as Data teaches Lal, and updates her brain using his own, because he wants to get it right. She's got issues and asks philosophical questions about the meaning of life, which Data answers as best he can. Wesley suggests she come out and play with other children by going to school. An Admiral contacts Picard, alarmed by what Data has done, as though it's a conspiracy of one. He insists Lal be sent to Star Fleet research, without Data. Picard disagrees. In a parent teacher meeting Data is told that the kids aren't alright with having Lal in the class, she's so alone. Lal asks Data why the children were laughing at her (she assumed she'd mastered humour) and he has to explain that they were being unkind because they feared her and with kids it's cool to hate. Data goes to Dr Crusher for parenting advice, she suggests he share his experiences with Lal.
Picard is woken by a message from the Admiral ordering the Enterprise be halted so he can come and inspect Lal. Data takes Lal to work in 10 Forward to observe and interact with her elders. Guinan offers to teach her about listening. Lal can use contractions in her speech, showing that she's exceeding Data's programming. Picard breaks the news of the Admiral's visit to Data, who has been sending him progress reports. He assumes the Admiral is questioning his parenting skills, despite Picard's attempt to reassure him. While working in 10 Forward Lal learns about kissing and tries it out on a surprised Riker (who has been away all along).
Defy You
The Admiral arrives he'd made up his mind, he wants to keep 'em separated, if something happened to them both on the Enterprise it'd be genocide. Picard tries to talk him out of it, and won't order Data to give Lal up, even if it means his job. Admiral talks to Data about Lal and the ways she's exceeded his programming. Admiral interviews Lal, and she reacts badly to the idea that she could be taken many million miles away from her father. She goes to Troi and is overcome by feelings of fear. Meeting with Data the Admiral insists he tell Lal to go, Data refuses. Troi calls Data about Lal because stuff is messed up, she's returned to the lab, where she is programmed to go in case of danger. Lal's emotional awareness is apparently a malfunction. Data and the Admiral work on Lal to save her. The Admiral tells Geordi, Troi and Wesley that he and Data tried to save Lal, but it's hopeless. He's saddened by her loss and impressed with all Data did to save her. Lal says goodbye to her father and tells him that she loves him. Data regrets that he cannot feel love for her and she says she loves him enough for both of them.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is initially shocked that Data was created Lal and wants to blackball the whole thing. He tells Data that he should have been consulted before Lal was created, but Data points out that no one else has to consult with the Captain before procreating. Picard is weirded out by Data thinking of Lal as his child. As Picard deals with the Admiral he initially wants to defend his officer, then he feels the need to fight for Data's rights as a parent and the androids' right to be a family. He brings up his action from The Measure of a Man where he successfully argued for android sentience.

Does Not Compute (and daughter)
Data started creating Lal after a cybernetics convention, I'm guessing Data is a big hit at those things.
Pretty Fly
In response to Picard's questioning Data explains that he's the only one of his kind and if anything happened he'd be completely destroyed. Odd to think about as in some respect Data is a total immortal. If he's successful with Lal his continuance is assured. He's apparently not counting his evil brother Lore.
Data decides to allow his child to choose its own gender and appearance, which is nice. Though it's bad that Lal considers its gender-neutral state to be inadequate and Data insists it's essential to choose a gender, you'd hope that'd be less of an issue by then. Though Lal's initial form is creepy-looking, and random crewmembers in the corridors are surprisingly unfazed by Lal's presence. Data is able to give Lal more convincing skin and eye colour, I'm not sure why he hasn't upgraded his own appearance since he wants to become more human. I guess if Lal looks human people won't immediately realise she's an android as they always, always do with Data.
Lal has a lot of questions about who and what she is, why she's different, why she should try to be the same. She develops emotions much quicker than Data, who continues to claim he doesn't have any, which I dispute. There's much fuss about Lal being able to use contractions because Data can't do it, so it means she's exceeded his programming. It seems weird to me that Data can understand numerous languages but can't use contractions, a simple linguistic function, even though he can identify and understand them. As that was a key difference between Data and Lore, there's no reason androids can't use them, it's probably that Data was purposefully created to be less human than his brother and this was one of the methods of achieving that.

Doctor Doctor
Data approaches Beverly for parenting advice when he realises Lal is lonely, he considers the doctor a successful parent. She says that Wesley used to have difficulty making friends (I'm not entirely surprised) and was able to help him with his self esteem by telling him about her own childhood when she wasn't very popular. Data realises that he can share his experience of difficulties assimilating. Beverly points out that he didn't have anyone to guide him, as Lal does. She also says that Data needs to give his daughter love and attention, but Data says he's incapable of providing love.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi advises both Data and the Captain after Lal is activated. She makes a comment about Picard never being a parent, though Troi's parenting experience was not exactly normal and pretty short-lived. In fact Data's experience is better than Troi's in pretty much every way, starting with the fact that he actually chose to be a parent.
Troi goes to the holodeck to advise on Lal's choice of gender and appearance. She's a bit alarmed to hear that they'll be looking at 1000s of options. She ends up going to sleep. If you've ever watched a friend build their avatar on a very customisable game then I'm sure you can sympathise.

Guinan's Hat: Olive Green
Data thinks that Lal can learn about socialising by being around the crew in a social setting. Guinan agrees and offers to teach Lal about listening, which is her speciality. She provides commentary while Lal watches a couple flirting and kissing, which Lal initially mistakes for biting. The admiral is alarmed that Lal is working in 10 Forward, but his concern seems to be about the waste of her processing power rather than the environment itself.

Let Us Never Speak Of It Again
Lal will continues to exist on in Data's head, but without a physical presence there seems to be little need for her to be mentioned.

The End
Data returns to the Bridge and Picard offers condolences. Data explains that he couldn't allow Lal to pass into oblivion, so he put her programming and memories into himself.
It's like ET for androids, kinda. I guess the head is more important than the heart in beings of intelligence that don't have a circulatory system. Also if Data has all the knowledge and memories of Lal does that mean he'll be able to use contractions from now on?

31 August 2014

The End of the Garden

I'm very happy that my story 'The End of the Garden' has been published in The Girl at the End of the World, Volume 1 from Fox Spirit Books, edited by Adele Wearing.

The anthology theme is apocalypse stories with female protagonists. 'The End of the Garden' is about things disappearing and a girl losing her childhood.

Unlike my previous publications from Fox Spirit this anthology is not part of the Fox Pocket range. It's a full sized paperback and this is the longest story I've had published.

Volume 1 deals with apocalyptic stories, whereas Volume 2 has post-apocalyptic stories. Both anthologies are available as paperbacks and ebooks. There are also two sets of beautifully designed covers. The stories display an incredible range of situations, characters, genres and tone.

Both volumes were released in July, but it was around the time I was changing job so I was being bad at blogging.

Fox Spirit Books have been nominated for the Best Small Press award at the British Fantasy Awards, so best of luck to them. The Awards will be announced on Sunday at FantasyCon in York, which I shall be attending.

26 August 2014

The Anubis Gates

As I mentioned in my earlier post about LonCon 3, while I was at the convention I saw a performance of The Anubis Gates, based on the book by Tim Powers. I really liked the book, it was the first Tim Powers book that I read and I was very impressed, as you can see from my previous review. I knew I had to see the performance.

There was an enormous queue going in and the start time was pushed back quite a bit. However by the time myself and my husband got in we were able to sit about two thirds back, and the rear third of the massive auditorium was empty (this was the 2nd largest space used by the con). I expect many people got put off by the epic queue, which was obviously very long and thin, whereas the space we were queuing into was pretty wide and fit more than you'd think.

I'm going to put a spoiler section at the bottom, where I can go into details about the story. The book is great, so I don't want to spoil anyone who hasn't read it yet, but is hopefully encouraged to do so. The upper section will be general thoughts about the production.

The performance was not what I expected, but I enjoyed it. The set was very minimalist, black backdrop and a single table, and seemed at odds with the enormous space it was being performed in. The costumes were the main thing that evoked a sense of time and place. I felt that the production would have worked better in a smaller space, as the atmosphere and performances were diluted, but it's likely that the production was designed for a more intimate space, or else one within a traditional theatre set up. The stage and the action (when it went into the audience) was filmed and projected onto two huge screens either side of the stage, to allow people in the back some idea of what was happening. These screens were occasionally used to project other images relating to the action, and these bits generally worked well. There were also various puppets and some shadow play used sparingly during the production. These looked fine, but the shadow show was a little lost given the size of the venue. Plus they were used in parts of the story that didn't make as much sense because there was little explanation within the show (I'll go into more detail about that below). I also felt as though there could have been some more visuals to signify things, especially times when people were using magic. There was a lot of stuff done with body language and gesture that might have been flagged up more. Then again that could be another factor that would be improved in a smaller space.

I wondered how a story as complex as The Anubis Gates would fit into a stage production. A lot of the detail in the book is the historical setting, which can be quickly created/evoked in a performance using visual shorthand. The story was reduced mostly to conversations between the characters, usually in twos, or else someone's internal thoughts being performed as a monologue. This was fine and allowed for the basics of the story and the experiences of the characters to be shown and mostly explained. The performances were good, with the personalities of the main characters coming through well. The stage was miked but unfortunately the individuals weren't, meaning that when some characters left the stage and went amongst the audience they were hard to hear. The strong performances are really what made the show, as it relied so much on character interaction. Especially important in a play that features body-swapping, and the various actors that played multiple characters used accents and body language to make clear who was being who at different times. The humour of various scenes was good, and again relied largely on the excellent interactions and performances, it was all tied into the story and characters without gimmicks. I laughed a fair bit. The woman that played Jacky did a wonderful job, as did both actors who played Brendan (amongst other people). I especially felt that chemistry between the characters in the final scene was excellent and left me feeling very positive.

The production was fun with good performances and it simplified the story fairly well. It was let down by the massive space, which didn't seem to have been fully accounted for. The humour and drama worked emotionally. I really want to reread the book now. Also I've been humming bits of 'Yesterday' for over a week.


It's been some years since I read the book, so I'd forgotten various bits and pieces, though I now want to reread it. I watched the play with my husband who hasn't read the book and it was interesting to see what he picked up. I managed quite well already knowing the plot and being able to fill in most blanks, whereas he enjoyed the play but realised there was more to the story that he didn't see.

The explanation of the time travel was clear and established early on. The situation with Dog-faced Joe and the body-swapping was also made clear. Of course this isn't surprising as these are central to the plot and the character's experiences. One of the transformation sequences were Dog-faced Joe bodyswaps wit Brendan had an amusing projection on the screens, where the picture morphed between images of Chewbacca, the actor playing Brandan, a bearded man and the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.

All the other magic and supernatural stuff was very much left in the background. Doctor Romany is present as a malign force, however it's not clear what his connection to anything is. Horrabin is almost entirely removed and is referred to more than he appears, making his actual appearances confusing. There's little sense to the spoonsize boys, which were puppets that went into the audience. There's no sense of the other stuff that Horrabin is involved in. Of course this does mirror the experience of Brendan, who spends the early part of the book utterly lost and unaware of what's actually happening. Plus I seem to recall the book didn't overtly explain a lot of things, but gave you various hints. These may have been difficult to get across in the performance. I almost feel as though more of the wider magical stuff could have been safely cut from the play. The connection with Egypt and gods is never made clear, and although Brendan is taken there at one point my husband didn't know that was what happened. The Master appeared on the screens a couple of times as a doomy presence and another time is shown as a puppet, but the production doesn't make clear who he is. It's clear that he, Doctor Romany and Horrabin are linked, but the magicians' conspiracy is very much in the background of the performance. Similarly the journey further back to the 1680s was not clear to people who didn't already know the plot. This was a place where the magic could have been made more obvious.

It's understandable that a lot of detail was sacrificed to make the story suitable for performance. Focusing on principle characters and their experiences makes sense and it worked well. However this did mean that the references to wider story elements and background details seemed disjointed and almost unnecessary, if not perhaps confusing to those familiar with the story.

23 August 2014

Yesterday's Enterprise

Episode: s3, ep 15

I have written the word Enterprise so many times in this post it has lost all meaning.

What Happens
Guinan introduces Worf to prune juice and tries to talk about his issues. A weird space-time anomaly is detected - one that is weird even for a space-time anomaly. Guinan senses a disturbance in the force. A Federation ship comes through the anomaly. The image flickers, the Bridge is darker and Tasha Yar is standing where Worf just was. Guinan is suddenly wearing a different colour and realises that everything has changed. Tasha identifies the ship from the anomaly as the Enterprise C.
The Enterprise C was the previous version of the Enterprise which disappeared in Klingon space 22 years before. It's badly damaged so survivors are taken to sickbay, with strict instructions from Picard that no one mention when or where they are. Guinan tells Picard that the timeline is wrong, the Enterprise C isn't supposed to be there and the 20 year war with the Klingons isn't supposed to happen. The two remaining senior officers from the Enterprise C are briefed about their time jump. The Helmsman is shown around the Enterprise D by Tasha.
Picard tells his senior crew that he intends to send the Enterprise C back, even though they won't survive the Romulan ambush they were in the middle of. The Enterprise C Captain is surprisingly agreeable to this, Picard confides to her that the Klingons are beating them and the Federation may not last much longer. Klingons attack, the Enterprise C sustains further damage and the Captain is killed. The Helmsman takes command and agrees to return through the rift even though he's become fond of Tasha. Tasha speaks to Guinan, who reveals that in the other timeline she dies a meaningless death. Tasha gets transferred to the Enterprise C so she can help them and take control of her own death. The Klingons return and the Enterprise D defends the Enterprise C, close to being destroyed in the process. The Enterprise C goes into the anomaly.

Guest Star
Christopher McDonald plays the Helmsman from Enterprise C. He's been in so many things, including Flubber, Thelma and Louise, and Grease 2. I knew I recognised him, but had to check which things I'd seen him in.

Oh Captain, My Captain
The alternate timeline Picard is a military captain, presumably rising through the ranks in a time of war when the Federation's priorities are defence and not exploration. He's alarmed by Guinan's suggestion that there should be children on the Enterprise. I agree. Just see how many times I used the Won't Somebody Think Of The Children heading in my posts on series 1 & 2, and most of those times it was Picard who seemed to not be thinking of said children. This Picard is tougher and even more authoritative. He briefs the senior staff on his decision, there's no discussion or collaboration. When Riker dissents Picard gets snappy and dismisses everyone. There's obviously little love lost between these versions of Riker and Picard. This guy kinda makes regular Picard look fluffy.
It is a bit odd that a starship Captain should base such a major decision on the advice of his mystical friend. On the other hand it is Guinan and she is awesome.

Tasha Yar
Tasha's relationship with the Helmsman from the Enterprise C develops almost in spite of her, she's showing him around and being formal - she is senior crew on a battleship after all. The Helmsman comes from a more optimistic time, when they left a peace treaty was being negotiated, and he is friendly with Tasha. They fall for each other quickly and up end saying goodbye a couple of times.
The important thing about this episode is that Tasha (and the show) gets to rewrite her death. Tasha was security officer and fits well in this military timeline, the fact that she died so pointlessly in Skin of Evil was a bit of a disservice to the character. In this version of events Tasha realises Guinan is weird with her and learns that she had an empty death in the other version of events. Knowing this Tasha asks Picard for a transfer, even though he's initially against it, because she wants to take control of her fate. She wants to help the Enterprise C (which only has one senior officer now) and if she does die she'll be doing it to fix things.

Klingon Warrior
At the start of the episode Guinan introduces Worf to prune juice, which he calls "a Warrior's Drink", though that's not the line advertisers usually go with. Guinan observes that he's often alone and could try female company. Worf rather bluntly says that he needs a Klingon woman, as human women are too fragile (even for drinks, it seems). Guinan tries to convince him otherwise, and says various crew members would be interested. Worf is adamant that he's concerned for the safety of others and Guinan accuses him of cowardice.
Worf is a very repressed individual. His reaction to the half-Klingon, half-human woman from The Emissary, shows that. I think Guinan is partly right, that he's masking his fear and insecurity behind concern for others. Although a much later conversation from Deep Space 9 will reveal that Worf has childhood trauma which forms the basis for his fear of hurting humans and his belief in their fragility.

Guinan's Hat: Purple (regular Enterprise D)/Blue (alternate Enterprise D)
Guinan's initial heart-to-heart with Worf about his personal issues shows her usual role on the ship. She's the ultimate bartender, as well as serving drinks and listening she can anticipate what drinks you might like and what personal issues you might need discussed, all without being intrusive.
It's not clear whether she would have a similar role on the alt-Enterprise, since she knows she's not supposed to be there. Though Tasha knows her and says she's never seen her bothered by anything, suggesting Guinan is always herself. I'm pretty convinced that her people are something like a mix between Jedi and Time Lords. She's obviously able to sense timeline changes and holds memories from two versions of history. She's very honest, telling Tasha (who she's suddenly known for years) that the return to the other timeline will mean her death, and despite this Guinan knows it's still for the best to save the Federation and undo the war.
Whoopi Goldberg is God in the Muppet universe, as seen in A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, because she's amazing.

Alternate Timeline
The alternate Enterprise D is darker, the walls are black, the displays are battle plans. The set builders clearly gave this a fair bit of thought. The uniforms are also different, so it's obvious when the timeline shifts back. 10 Forward is a bustling canteen rather than a relaxed bar. Tasha tells the Helmsman that the replicators are on minimum power and only give standard rations because as much power as possible needs to go to defensive systems. The sickbay is much busier with people waiting and announcements calling medical staff, it's a war hospital. Worf's absence makes sense here, but Troi is also gone, I suspect the mental health of crew is less of a concern in this setting.
We never see what happens when Enterprise C returns, but it must put things right. The change is that in the alternate timeline the Enterprise C mysteriously disappeared in Klingon space, but in fact they responded to a distress signal from a Klingon base and were aiding them when they were ambushed by Romulans. I assume the Enterprise C still gets destroyed, but the assumption seems to be that if they die aiding the Klingons it will be seen as an honourable act by the Empire.
I am a bit confused about why Captain Garratt and the Helmsman are so eager to return. It seems that the Enterprise C crew are all dismayed to be out of time and concerned about living in a world without their loved ones. At first this confused me, because they've only gone forward by 22 years and the bulk of their loved ones should still be alive. Then I remembered that the war has wiped out half of Starfleet and the Federation has been on a war footing for two decades so they may well have lost people

Staff Meetings: 4
1. Guinan tells Pic about her feeling that the timeline is wrong. He won't accept it at first, but he still values her opinion. He wants proof, but she can't give him any, it comes down to his trust in her.
2. Picard tells senior staff about Guinan's feeling and decides to do as she said and send the Enterprise C back. There is no discussion, it's just a briefing
3. Helmsman is going to take over the Enterprise C after the death of Captain Garrett as the last senior officer it's his duty.
4. Tasha requests a transfer to the Enterprise C. She has spoken to Guinan and learned that she dies pointlessly in the other timeline. Picard doesn't want to let Tasha go, but eventually concedes.

Death by Space Misadventure
The entire crew of the Enterprise C (except 125 survivors) died in an unexpected Romulan attack before the ship time jumps.
Captain Garrett died in an attack by the Klingons before the Enterprise C could return through the anomaly.

Commander William Riker died in the Klingon attack as the alternate Enterprise D defended the Enterprise C. He was apparently hit by rocks from an exploding console (I don't understand starship design).

The End
As the Enterprise D is close to destruction the Enterprise C goes into the anomaly. We cut back to the familiar Bridge, Picard asks for a report. Worf says it looked as though there was a ship in the anomaly, but it disappeared. Guinan calls the Bridge and asks if everything is alright. Picard replies that it is, confused that she's asking. In 10 Forward she sits down opposite Geordi and asks him to tell her about Tasha Yar.

21 August 2014

LonCon 3

After being in my new job for a week and a half I took some leave (starting on the busiest day of the year) for 6 days in order to attend LonCon 3, the 72nd WorldCon. Of course I 'd booked to go to WorldCon a year before I knew about the job, so it was really just lucky timing.

I have never been to a WorldCon before, so starting with the biggest one ever was a bit of an experience. I have never been to a convention for 5 days before, nor have I been to one in a convention centre before. I'm used to shorter cons in hotels. The ExCel Centre is half a mile long and so the c.10,000 attendees were pretty spread out (unless you wanted to get into a popular panel/event, in which case there were queues). It was tiring walking up and down the main concourse to get food, but at least there were a variety of food places that served gluten free food that I could eat.

Worldcon was an opportunity to meet up with people; friends I don't see often, online friends I've not met before, and friendly new people. I had a lot of great conversations with people. One of which was actually a recording of the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show podcast, which I won by donating to their fundraiser, so that'll be available sometime in the near future (watch this space). There are many people I only saw briefly, or didn't run into, but at an event so big that's not surprising. Plus it can take me a bit of time to gear up to being sociable, so I wasn't always being outgoing or seeking people out. Still I'm feeling good about people I did meet and talk to. Although it was a tiring event physically and mentally I felt re-energised creatively and I think that was partly due to the people I saw.

The programme contained many panels on a wide variety of things. A lot of interesting stuff was on offer and there was not chance of doing all of it. I thought I'd mostly planned it out beforehand using the excellent app available through the website, and had various exciting options for panels to attend. As often happens with the best laid plans there were adjustments and failures. These were mostly due to panels that were too full by the time I got to them, or to times when I was enjoying talking to people or was too tired to actually get to panels. In cases where I couldn't get into a panel there was always something else I could go to. I went to 11 panels and several other events across the 5 days, and they were all pretty good. There were a few that weren't quite what I expected, but none that I didn't get something out of (even the ones on Sunday morning when I was a bit of a zombie). Also, of the panels I went to, most had more women than men, and the rest were equal. I don't know if this was a coincidence based on the panels I was attending, or whether the con planned it, but I took it as an encouraging thing.

My programme highlights were:
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue - hilarious take on a comedy radio show hosted by Lee Harris
  • I Like My Secondary Fantasy a Little on the Techy Side - interesting discussion about tech and magic
  • Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes -very interesting panel expertly moderated by Amal El-Mohtar, much food for thought
  • Escape Pod live recording - Mur Lafferty and Alisdair Stuart excellently recording a podcast episode
  • Mark Does Stuff - Hugo-nominated fan writer Mark Oshiro generally entertaining people and doing a hilarious reading of fanfiction, with epic strangeness
  • "Your 'realistic' fantasy is a washed out colourless emptiness compared to the Rabelaisian reality." Discuss. - Long name for a very interesting panel about history and diversity and worldbuilding
  • 2014 Hugo Award Ceremony
I also saw a performance of The Anubis Gates, based on the book by Tim Powers. It was interesting, but I think I'll go into more detail about that in a separate post later.

I don't know if I will be attending another WorldCon soon, it'll depend on where it's held. I know that they are often very different as they aren't run by the same people, but I think I would be up for doing another one again.

My next convention will be FantasyCon in September. I fully expect it to be quieter and more relaxing, which will be fine.

19 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Half the internet has been talking about this, but generally politely enough not to be spoilery in public places. I shall try and keep to this admirable trend and will put a spoiler warning before revealing anything outside the trailer.

Like most of people I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy and thought that Marvel and Sean Gunn did an excellent job introducing a little-known ensemble to the Cinematic Universe and broadening it's cosmic side. It also feels like this would be a good starting point for people who have not watched the rest of the Marvel films, as the bulk of it is entirely new.

The film is a lot of fun and uses humour well, mostly creating funny dialogue and moments through character interactions and situations, rather than laughing at them or mocking them. There were other emotional beats that worked very well and had impact without feeling as though the film was purposefully playing with your emotions. Initially I wondered whether the film might not have a bit too much background detail with different groups and their agendas being introduced, but actually after the set-up it works well and you're pulled along for the ride.


The central characters all work well together, becoming a team and friends almost in spite of themselves. Groot is both terrifying and adorable (even before the bit at the end), and I kinda want to see him fight the Hulk. Rocket is excellent, the humour not being because he's a talking racoon, but because he's a cynical, sarcastic person. And it makes sense that's he's that way when he's the only creature of his kind in existence. Gamora's background could have been fleshed out more as it relates to the central conflict, but she gets some really good scenes and lines and I didn't notice her being used specifically as eye candy.

Drax wasn't put in the trailers much, probably because most of his lines are hilarious but only in context. Having a literal character be everyone's straight man works well. I did feel it was a bit bad when he called Gamora a whore. I see how the joke worked there, but since he doesn't understand metaphor it doesn't make sense he'd call her that (bitch would've made sense, or y'know a non gendered insult). Other than that brief moment though he worked really well, his motivation was pretty standard but he fit well into the weird group dynamic.

Star Lord's backstory is kinda sad and he's grown up as a bit of a space rogue while somehow maintaining a strong vein of childish naivete. He steals and runs with smugglers, but he also believes he can save the day and loyally looks out for his friends. I think my favourite moment was Ronan's face when Star Lord started dancing at him.
Also, although his grandfather was only on screen very briefly, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. That actor normally plays unsympathetic rich guys in things I've seen, but here he seems to be a good normal man. He obviously stood by his daughter, who got pregnant and claimed an alien did it (in the late 70s - early 80s). The loss of her and his young grandson in the same night must have been terrible. If Star Lord ever returns to Earth I hope we see him again. It's a small detail but one that stuck with me.

The soundtrack was good, even though I wasn't familiar with all the songs. I really liked that the soundtrack had such a link to the story and was more than just incidental music. I also loved that the build up to the big battle and the start of the fighting was to Cherrybomb.

The main link with the rest of the MCU is Thanos, the baddie revealed in the after-credits scene of Avengers. There's also the Collector, who appears in the after-credits scene of Thor the Dark World. This shows that all the cosmic craziness is linked to Asgard (the most mythic/magic of all the Marvel franchises), even if it doesn't seem to be part of the Nine Realms. Thanos mostly appears as a terrifying force in the background, his role stepped up from that of Loki's mysterious backer in Avengers. The real antagonist Ronan is not fleshed out much, he has little more backstory than Christopher Eccleston's angry dark elf* in Thor the Dark World, he wants to destroy all the things, for reasons. The trailers and publicity suggested that the main baddie would be Nebula, however she is not particularly well-used in the film and mostly has the role of chief minion. It might have been interesting to explore more about her relationship with adopted-sister Gamora and their messed up family.

The scenes with the Collector signal a bit about where the wider MCU arc is going. My husband has been mentioning Infinity Gems and the Infinity Gauntlet to me since the tesseract appeared in Captain America, here we actually get told outright that these things are linked and that someone at some point is going to have a very powerful shiny glove. 

The only bit that wasn't great was probably the after-credit scene. As this is a franchise starter and separated from the other bits of the MCU it makes sense they didn't drop hints about another franchise (at least I hope they didn't). Still, I think there's sufficient dislike/ignorance of Howard the Duck that including him at the end did them no favours. Bit disappointed by it if I'm honest, I'm used to being amused or intrigued by the after-credit scenes and this one didn't do that.

* Eccleston's Dark Elf King was really just a version of his two dimensional Rider character in The Dark Is Rising (a terrible adaptation of a good fantasy book) except with more makeup and a spaceship instead of a horse.

10 August 2014

A Matter of Perspective

Episode: s3, ep14

What Happens
Picard is in an art class, Data gives his painting a bad critique. The Enterprise goes to pick Geordi and Riker up from aspace station where they were visiting a scientist who was working on a new energy source for the Federation. Geordi returns alone and says the scientist wanted a word with Riker, he seems kinda awkward about it. When Riker tries to beam back there's a problem, then the space station explodes. Riker is safely beamed aboard and says the scientist was the only person on the station when it blew up. He's in a bad mood and is reluctant to tell Picard what happened.
An investigator from the nearby planet beams aboard and tries to arrest Riker for the scientist's murder. Picard negotiates with the investigator. Riker can only be extradited to face local justice if Picard allows it. The Captain insists that the investigation is carried out on the Enterprise so he can examine the evidence and make an objective judgement. The witness testimonies are viewed in a modified holodeck. Riker says the scientist's wife tried to seduce him, he refused but the scientist walked in at a bad moment and got angry. The scientist's wife claims Riker tried to force himself on her and was angry when her husband came in and stopped him. The scientist told his assistant that he walked in on Riker and his wife kissing, then Riker threatened him. The investigator has evidence that as he was beaming away Riker fired a phaser at the lab equipment, blowing up the station. Riker denies the allegations against him. Picard doesn't believe the accusations, but cannot use personal feeling in his decision and fears there's little evidence that Riker is innocent.
Meanwhile unknown radiation burns small holes in bits of the ship. Data, Geordi and Wesley investigate. They think it has something to do with the scientist's work and his generator on the planet. When they figure it out they can prove Riker's innocence. Picard takes on a defense role and uses bits of the different holo-testimonies to show that the scientist was unhappy about the visit and wanted to make profit from his work. Geordi suspects he was trying to weaponise the energy so he could sell it and feared the Federation were suspicious. The energy (which has been reacting with the holodeck and burning holes) is used to demonstrate that the scientist tried to kill Riker while he was beaming away -to make it look like a transporter accident. The energy bounced off the transporter beam, hit the equipment, and exploded, which is why it looked like Riker had fired a phaser. Geordi also proves it with numbers, or something. The investigator accepts this, apologises to Riker, and leaves.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is in an art class painting a nude model. Possibly to balance John de Lancie's mid-air nudity in the previous episode, this lady is also clearly naked and we see that from more angles, though it's an art class so I guess it's more tasteful. Data delivers a message and Picard suggests the android examine the paintings. The Captain isn't happy about Data's opinion of his "haphazard melange of clashing styles."
The episode puts Picard in a judge role deciding Riker's fate based on evidence rather than personal feeling. As ever Picard's ethics and commitment to duty are at the fore He's careful to be very appropriate in his role, not talking privately to Riker and enlisting Troi to help him. Picard acknowledges that despite knowing Riker would never do what he's accused of he may have to send his first officer into a situation he cannot escape.
When crew investigations reveal proof of Riker's innocence Picard is able to take on a defense role as he did in The Measure of a Man. He uses the holodeck evidence, bits of all the previously seen testimonies -as well as his speeching powers- to suggest what really happened in the space between the conflicting versions of events.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle manager
Riker is surprised and angry when first accused, but once he's accepted the situation he is brave and dignified Shades of Gray. He's mostly able to remain calm and serious, but loses his composure when he feels he's being slandered, most notably when the scientist's wife accuses him of trying to force himself on her. He's furious at being accused of attempted rape, and it's notable that he's the only one to call it that. From what we've seen of Riker his treatment of women is always respectful (he's the only ladies' man TV character I have no issue with in this area) and so his shock and anger make sense. There are other issues with this scenario, which I'll get into, but Riker handles it fairly well considering.
in the face of a possible murder trial. It mirrors his bravery in

Does Not Compute
Data compares the paintings of the 2 random crew members in art class to other artists/styles. He seems aware that his analysis of Picard's painting is not complimentary as he hesitates, only giving his analysis after Picard has specifically asked for it. Perhaps this is a sign of Data learning more tact? Then again after Picard has irritably told him to stop Data offers help in that entirely guileless, oblivious way of his, so maybe not. Data is often used for comedic moments, but those moments don't always tie into his character development.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi can't tell that the scientist's wife is lying, even though she knows Riker would never do what he's
accused of doing. This is because the woman is telling the truth as she remembers it. This may be a glimpse into the problems that Troi faces when using her powers - problems which I had dismissed up until now. I assume that this is what Troi means when she says things are confusing or muddled. Troi can apparently sense deception, but if someone fully believes what they are saying then she's of no help in determining objective truth. Though the message of this episode seems to be that objective truth is a slippery thing indeed, even where it exists.

A Matter of Perspective?
The focus of this episode is how different people's versions of events can vary drastically. It's an interesting idea and one well suited to TV storytelling, I've seen it used effectively on various shows. The point is that there's no such thing as a reliable narrator, every story is filtered through someone's perceptions - especially our own.
I'm concerned by how different Riker's account is from the scientist's wife's story. Not just the differing details of who said what or who closed the door -our memories can be bad at accurately storing that kind of info- but the whole tone. In one version a bored wife actively seduces a guest. In another an imposing guest tries to force himself on his hostess. Obviously we are meant to believe Riker's story, though I wouldn't be surprised if he had looked at her more than he consciously realised. But if we believe Riker's version we are immediately assuming that this woman remembered her failed seduction as an attempted assault, that is what the show tells us. I find this problematic, if only because women are so often not believed when it comes to stuff like this. They're told they've imagined things when men invade their personal space, made to doubt themselves and second guess their experience. Surprisingly little weight is given to what Riker supposedly tried to do, he seems to take it more seriously than anyone else. I think the episode didn't want to get bogged down in that when the murder of the scientist was the focal point. Still if someone's going to mention attempted rape it seems like that should be worth addressing.

Staff Meetings: 0
When Picard asks about what happened on the station Riker doesn't want to talk about it. When the investigator comes aboard Picard suggests Riker tell him what happened before their guest arrives at the Bridge. The scene cuts away, so we don't know if Riker said anything to Picard, but it seems like he didn't. After the investigator has gone Riker asks for a private word with the Captain, but Picard has to refuse because at that point it wouldn't be inappropriate. Too late, Riker.

Picard asks Data about using the holodeck so the investigator can conduct his enquiries on the ship. Data says it will require extensive modifications, but can be done. Just over 18 hours later not only can the holodeck exactly replicate the interior of an exploded space station, it's also able to display visual versions of several people's testimonies, all with a 8.7% margin of error. That's impressive, but it is that future I suppose.
Then it turns out that -due to technobabble I didn't understand containing numbers for added veracity- the holodeck version of the scientist's lab performs the exact same function as the lab itself. That's right, the computer generated version of a thing performs the exact same function as the thing itself. Meaning you don't even need an actual lab, just an image of one - that is enough for science to happen. The holodeck uses the power from the generator on the planet to burn holes in the bits of the ship. It's lucky that they happened to have the lab-scene running at those particular points, otherwise Riker might never have been proved innocent. At the end real energy from the planet interacts with the fake holo-lab equipment to create a phaser-like beam that somehow still bounces off an image of Riker transporting and then blows up the entire simulation (except the furniture people are using). but doesn't burn a hole in the holodeck wall. When Riker points out that the holodeck can't create things that are dangerous (oh Riker, really?) Geordi says the equipment was basically a complex set of tubes and mirrors, which apparently answers Riker's point. If they're doing it with mirrors then I think that means it was all a magic trick.

It occurred to me that whenever they have holodecks in Star Trek what we're seeing is a built set that is meant to represent a computer generated image. Of course nowadays what we often see is computer generated images used instead of built sets. It's an interesting reversal.

The End
Picard is cheerful and asks Riker to get them under way. Riker gets to say engage.