6 February 2016

Breed

Breed
KT Davies



The foul-mouthed, half-human thief known (jokingly) as Breed encounters a demon after escaping from a dragon, returns home to assassination attempts, is imprisoned and then released into a well-meant but deeply inconvenient slavery spell. Breed ends up travelling with a soppy priest, a disgusting beggar and a rat-faced girl, searching for a powerful relic belonging to a legendary hero. Even as Breed tries to escape from all enemies, allies and responsibilities things get more complicated and deadly as prophecy and politics guide events.

This story is told entirely from Breed's own irreverent, cynical point of view, and though the character largely resists affection or sympathy they are mostly very amusing. The action is quick-paced with Breed running, falling and sometimes being bundled into further adventure. They are a reluctant hero insofar as being heroic, preferring self-preservation over noble action, but Breed isn't slow to get into a fight and has been raised by a deranged crime boss as a thief, fighter and partial magic-user. Breed is an interesting hero in many ways, half-human and half-thoasa (a lizard-type warspawn) with orange scales, spikes, seven-toed feet that don't fit into human shoes and senses that humans can't match. Everything is told through Breed's viewpoint, so there's a lot about the character and the world that is left to the reader to figure out, which makes for an absorbing read. The world we see through Breed's eyes is grimy and soiled with all manner of unpleasantness. This is worldbuilding from the lowest levels, and while the story contains a strong sense of history, with a past that sounds like pure epic fantasy, there's a definite subterranean theme to the locations. Sewers, caves and tombs feature prominently in the story, as do street-level criminals and regular common folk. When the action takes place in loftier, more respectable venues such as courtrooms and temples that's when things seem likely to take a turn for the worse.

While the story is fast-paced, action-packed and fun this book is not a only an adventure. There's a theme of exploring inequality within the story too, but it's handled subtly, present but not overpowering. Breed's mixed parentage means people make certain assumptions, and for the most part the character is used to it and doesn't seem to care, but this comes off as being jaded. It's clear that humans occupy the positions of power in this world and those like Breed who aren't fully -or at all human- are subject to suspicion and often pushed to the margins of society. There are humans who don't have a problem with non-humans, but they seem to be the exception. The broader plot of the book makes the scale of prejudice explicit. The non-human characters who are doing well are either involved in organised crime or are in underground communities. As in Davies' earlier book (The Red Knight, which is also a good read) the supporting cast contains a lot more women than is common in secondary world fantasy and there's no sign of traditional or assumed gender roles. There are female guards, magistrates and criminals scattered throughout the background, with no indication that a person's gender might affect such things. It's sort of sad that such a simple thing still feels noteworthy. There's a scene with one of the antagonists that inverts the gender roles of a common trope in fiction, dealing with it in a more nuanced manner than is often seen and thus highlighting the issues with the usual approach.

Breed is a fun, engrossing read which is amusing and makes you think, but doesn't hit you over the head with what it's trying to do. Definitely recommended for fans of epic and comic fantasy.

30 January 2016

The Wounded

Episode: s4, ep 12

Cardassians, newlyweds and why counselling should be given to veterans who've experienced trauma.

What Happens
The Enterprise is attacked by a Cardassian ship near a border almost a year after a truce between that species and the Federation. The Cardassian Commander (or Gul) says that a Federation ship destroyed a Cardassian space station a couple of days ago. Picard doesn't know anything about this and tells the Gul that the Federation wouldn't do that, he promises to investigate so the attack is halted. Starfleet confirms that the Phoenix, captained by a guy called Maxwell, attacked the Cardassian station. Picard is ordered to work with the Cardassians to find Maxwell and bring him back, while keeping the peace.
The Cardassian Gul (who I think of as not-Dukat) comes aboard with two aides to observe the Enterprise's progress through Cardassian space. It turns out O'Brien (whose new marriage is marred by unsatisfactory breakfast) served under Captain Maxwell during the war with the Cardassians and so he's asked to advise on Maxwell's character. O'Brien admired Maxwell and insists there must be a misunderstanding. Maxwell lost his family in a Cardassian attack and the Gul believes it's a revenge mission, though O'Brien insists Maxwell wouldn't do that. O'Brien is cold to the visiting Cardassians, even when they try to be friendly.
The Phoenix is found approaching two Cardassian ships. Picard refuses to take the military option as the Gul wants, but Maxwell ignores the hails from the Enterprise and the Phoenix flies aggressively. Picard orders Worf to give a Cardassian ship information that will help it stop the Phoenix, but the Phoenix destroys both Cardassan vessels anyway. Picard orders the Enterprise to pursue the Phoenix.
After talking to Picard about Maxwell, O'Brien apologises to a visiting Cardassian about being rude before. They talk a little about the war and O'Brien shares a haunting memory. They catch up to the Phoenix and Maxwell beams aboard, all friendly-like. The two Federation Captains talk and Maxwell reveals that he thinks the Cardassians have a secret base near Federation space and the ships he took out where supplying it. Picard orders Maxwell to come back to Starfleet with him, but spares him from arrest. Maxwell seems to agree, but while en route the Phoenix veers away and goes after another Cardassian ship. Maxwell tells Picard to board it and see for himself, but Picard refuses and wants to stop the Phoenix instead. O'Brien knows the Phoenix and her Captain, so he beams aboard to speak to Maxwell, who realises he can't win. Maxwell surrenders his ship and is confined to quarters for the trip back to Starfleet. Picard has a final word with the Cardassian Gul about peace, he thinks Maxwell was right but he didn't want to start a war.


Guest Star
The Cardassian Gul is played by Mark Alaimo, who plays Gul Dukat in the Deep Space Nine. He looks different, not quite like the later Cardassians (facial hair, darker skin, different forehead), but the voice is the same. This means that at no point do I believe anything this guy says, though at least he doesn't seem quite as phoney as Dukat could be. Of course he's not trying to be pseudo-conciliatory here.
Oh Captain My Captain
Picard does his usual thing of being sensible and firm and diplomatic. He stalls the Cardassian attack on his ship, he balances the security of Starfleet ships against keeping the peace and promoting good relationships with their allies. He doesn't want to believe a fellow Starfleet Captain would make an unprovoked attack on an ally's ship, and that belief delays him and means ships are destroyed. Picard is stern with Maxwell, but still treats him with respect. It's only once Maxwell has proved himself unreliable that Picard treats him like a criminal and removes him from command. Picard comes to believe Maxwell, but he won't disobey orders and knows promoting peace is the priority. At least Starfleet now know to be wary of their ally.

Klingon Warrior
Worf doesn't like Cardassians, for no clearly defined reasons. I get why he doesn't like Romulans (what with them slaughtering his family), but I think this is the first time we see Cardassians so why should Worf dislike them? Does he just dislike other warrior races? Do they all have this way of snarking at each other? Is it a macho thing? Also Worf should never be allowed to say things near any kind of peace conference. "Trust is earned, not given away." While he has a point he doesn't seem to realise that it's the same for both sides.
Worf makes sensible security suggestions regarding the visiting Cardassians, including a security detail and restricted access to sensitive parts of the ship. As ever Picard is all like 'oh silly Worf.' I get that the Captain doesn't want to make their guests feel like prisoners, but securing sensitive parts of the ship just seems like it should be the standard policy. There' really no good reason that everyone who comes aboard should have the run of the ship. Riker agrees with Worf that access should be limited on this occasion. Though no one actually cites all the times that such limitations would have been useful in the past, so it's not clear whether they're learning or whether its prejudice.

Poor O'Brien
Newly-wed O'Brien is dissatisfied with the vegetarian seafood breakfast Keiko serves. She says it's what she's used to. O'Brien is used to stodgier breakfast food and wants to show this to Keiko, even though she doesn't seem keen. What I don't understand is why they don't just eat what they both want for breakfast. I mean it's replicated food, you just ask the hole in the wall for what you want, so it's not like anyone's going to any effort. I have been married for over six years and I can probably count on my fingers (maybe toes too) the number of times me and my husband have had the same breakfast. I think this is meant to show Miles and Keiko getting used to each other, seems odd to me that they weren't living together before they got married.
O'Brien is cold to the Cardassians when they suggest a friendly drink, but later tells Keiko he thinks it's bad that people still hold things against the Cardassians. I think that might have been his way of acknowledging his behaviour without admitting to it. Keiko sensibly points out that it's understandable people who fought in the war would still have bad feelings towards their erstwhile enemies (something Starfleet don't seem to have realised). O'Brien pretends to feel fine but it's clear that he doesn't. Later O'Brien sits down with one of the Cardassians and they share their regrets about the war. O'Brien is haunted because he had to kill someone.
O'Brien's loyalty to Maxwell is strong and it's clear that they through a lot in the war and deep bonds were formed among those who served. O'Brien initially gets touchy when it is suggested that Maxwell was the aggressor and insists there's something else going on. He doesn't want to admit how war has affected the man he admires. After O'Brien's own realisation about how the war affected him he realises that the same must be true of Maxwell. His knowledge of the man and the ship mean he can get through where others can't.


Staff Meetings:
1. Senior staff report to Picard and the Cardassians, O'Brien talks about Maxwell and gets a little heated considering he's not normally invited to these meetings.
2. Picard and Maxwell talk. At first Maxwell talks to Picard as a respected equal, but when it's clear Picard doesn't approve of what he's done Maxwell calls him a bureaucrat and gets increasingly agitated so Picard gets firm.

Future is Better?
So up until a year before this episode the Federation had been at war with the Cardassians? This war has presumably been going since before the Enterprise's first flight, since O'Brien fought in it, so why haven't we heard about it? We don't know what it was about or why it started or ended.
Shouldn't Maxwell have been given counselling or a psych evaluation after his family were killed in a wartime raid? Couldn't he have been posted anywhere besides the Cardassian border? There doesn't seem to have been any provision for the mental health of those affected by military action. Way to go Starfleet.

Death by Space Misadventure
A warship with a crew of 600 and a supply ship with a crew of fifty were illegally destroyed by the USS Phoenix.

The End
Picard tells the Gul that he believes Maxwell's claim about the base, the different is that he wants to protect the peace. Picard tells the Gul to warn his leaders that the Federation are watching.

Du-du-duuh!


16 January 2016

Data's Day

It's been a bit of a grim month, lets hope things look up soon. Anyway, here's a blog post.


Episode: s4, ep 11

The journal of an android who muses about behaviours he doesn't understand and comments on the feelings he pretends not to have.

What Happens
It turns out Data is penpals with that guy who tried to take away his personhood. Data is sending him an account of a day in his life along with his musings on various things especially friendship. For science! There's quite a lot going on, which suits the format of the episode, and this means that little of it is given much depth. Here's what I remember:
-A Vulcan Ambassador arrives and is secretive; she arranges for the Enterprise to rendezvous with some Romulans in the Neutral Zone.
-Data is being father-of-the-bride to Keiko, a friend of his who we've never met before and who is due to marry Chief O'Brien that day. Before the rehearsal she tells Data that she's changed her mind about the wedding and asks him to tell O'Brien. O'Brien is not happy about this.
-Geordi goes to the hairdresser and Data tries out friendly insults, he is not good at it.
-Data and Worf look at potential wedding presents together and parallels are drawn between them.
-Data asks Dr Crusher to teach him to dance because she used to do it competitively. She agrees to secret dancing lessons. Data demonstrates his ability to mimic tap dancing. Then Crusher teaches him basic ballroom moves when she realises he wants wedding-appropriate dancing. Data practices dancing with a holodeck partner, he does not practice non-creepy smiling.
-O'Brien awkwardly asks Data to talk to Keiko about the wedding. O'Brien reckons that because Data has known her longer and worked with her that means the android will be better equipped to talk to her about their relationship than him, her fiance.
-Keiko doesn't respond well to Data's involvement. Data goes to visit Troi and they have a chat about how to support friends. They also discuss marriage, which is not a thing that Data (the self-professed emotionless android) has ruled out for himself.
-The Vulcan Ambassador asks Data suspicious questions then tells him she was just testing. Data wishes he had a gut instinct about this situation, thereby ignoring the gut instinct he presumably has about this really dodgy situation.
-The Ambassador dies in a transporter malfunction while beaming over to a Romulan ship for secret talks. Picard is angry as are the Romulans. Picard orders Data to investigate.
-Data muses about Sherlock Holmes over a montage of investigating things. He asks Crusher to check genetic stuff from the transporter and it looks like the remains of the Ambassador are fake.
-Turns out the Romulans beamed the Ambassador away themselves. Picard goes after the Romulan ship and demands the Ambassador is returned, he is stern in the face of military threat. The Romulan captain reveals that the Ambassador is actually a Romulan spy and so no one has been kidnapped. The Enterprise leaves and Riker makes a comment about bears that's only vaguely relevant.
-Data apologises to Keiko for getting involved her relationship (even though she dragged him into it in the first place), but she's all happy and says the wedding is back on and blithely passes over the idea that anything might have been different. Data is not the only one who is confused by this.
-O'Brien and Keiko get married, Data dances at the wedding.
-Data and Picard look at a newborn baby, as you do.


Does Not Compute
Data's day is pretty full because he doesn't need to sleep and I assume what we see here is roughly a 24-hour period, meaning other characters are probably resting off-screen at times. Data has a cat now, I don't think we've seen this cat before and we aren't told about it now, it's just there.
I think there's a lot here to support my idea that Data is not as emotionless as he claims, that he does experience emotions but distances himself from them. I don't think this is necessarily something he is consciously doing, but this episode suggests that it's a reflex for him. Data tells Maddox that he found friendship hard because humans puzzle him, but he developed a programme to predict human emotional responses to certain things. I reckon that this is part of Data's own emotional growth, and just because he had to do it more consciously than humans doesn't change that this is similar to how children develop understanding of and empathy towards others. There are a few times when Data says something about lacking feelings or instincts, but in a way that suggests he's actually experiencing these things but not consciously processing them.

"It is fortunate that I am able to perform my duties without emotional distractions. If that were not the case a sudden course correction... would make me very nervous."

If you aren't nervous why even bring it up? Why would you think this situation would make you nervous if you are incapable of nervousness? Plus after the dodgy Ambassador acts downright suspicious Data muses on how he lacks a gut instinct to back up his conclusions, which to me suggests he's got an instinct that something is up, but because it goes against his knowledge he feels he can't act upon it and dismisses it.  I mean it's not unusual for humans to experience that and push their feelings aside, so of course Data's not going to realise that's what's going on with him. I get that this could be a way of the writers evoking emotion in the audience when observing things through an emotionless character, but I like my explanation better.
Data mentions that he would probably fit in with Vulcan society better because of all the logic, which I'm glad was addressed because I'd been thinking that for a while. Though the fact that he thinks their philosophy is limiting suggests he has preferences for things he can do in human society, which sounds as though he likes things. Liking things seems emotional to me, even if it is only basic. Plus Data was created by and in the image of a human, so it makes sense that that's the species he wishes to emulate.

Doctor Doctor
Data says: I am rarely in need of [Dr Crusher's] professional services... But I often observe as she practices medicine on others and have learned a great deal about human interaction from her.
It's clear that Crusher's dancing background is something she keeps fairly secret and she was once nicknamed 'the Dancing Doctor'. It must have been her superhero identity, this is my headcannon now. In their dancing lesson Data again demonstrates his ability to mimic, meaning he could have learned from watching footage, but displays little understanding of when to stop or change moves. Crusher later helps Data to look at the genetics of the Ambassador's remains to solve the mystery of her apparent death. Crusher spots that the remains appear incomplete, suggesting they aren't real remains and have been manufactured. In the subsequent report to the Captain Crusher is there but only Data and Geordi speak.

Blind Engineering
Data says: I consider Geordi to be my best friend.
This episode makes me think that Geordi enjoys watching other people's drama. There's been evidence of this before, now that I think about it, something awkward happens to others and Geordi makes some comment when they're out of earshot. I don't think he stirs anything up or gets involved himself, but he definitely spectates. He's there when Data breaks Keiko's news to O'Brien and there's something in his manner that suggests he's at least a little entertained. He's also the one who insists that the couple will get married after all, and doesn't seem particularly sorry about it all. I wonder if the soon-to-be O'Briens have been entertaining him for a while? Perhaps he knows their pattern.

Klingon Warrior
Data says: I find Lieutenant Worf to be what is called a kindred spirit. We were both orphans rescued by Starfleet officers. In many ways, we are both still outsiders in human society.
I hadn't thought about Data and Worf having the same origin story, but they do. The parallel is obvious once pointed out, though Data is trying to assimilate himself as best he can whereas Worf purposely holds himself aloof from humanity. Of course Data has no cultural background to fall back on and is just trying to find his own way, whereas Worf is in many ways a walking culture clash/identity crisis.

Counsellor Pointless
Data says: Deanna Troi is the friend that I understand the least. Her life and duties are predicated in her understanding and perception of emotions.
Data reckons that his lack of emotions means he's as mysterious to Troi as she is to him. I've said before that I don't fully buy his self-professed lack of emotions, but I expect that Troi can't sense anything from him using her abilities. Even so it doesn't make her treat him with any less respect (despite what she said about everyone feeling less real when she lost her empathic sense in the previous episode). She tries to advise Data on how to be a good friend to Keiko and O'Brien, but like Geordi she doesn't seem worried about them as a couple. They discuss marriage and she's surprised (as am I) that Data has considered marriage. It seems a very emotional thing for him to be interested in. Plus it would be a bit harsh on his spouse, by Data's own reckoning it would be a loveless marriage on one side. Of course Troi is encouraging because she's usually pretty positive about other people.

Poor O'Brien
Just before the wedding rehearsal his fiancee says she's calling it all off. He still has to go to work even though it's supposed to be his wedding day (or conversely is the day he got jilted). He has an awkward conversation with a superior officer/friend about getting his fiancee to change her mind. An Ambassador dies in front of him due to a malfunction in the equipment he has responsibility for, meaning extra work. Then the wedding happens, so that's nice. I mean we don't see much of the happy couple, but hey this isn't really about them is it.
I get the impression that Keiko and Miles have one of those relationships. It looks like there's drama happening a lot and maybe that shouldn't work, but somehow it does for them. Both drag Data into things (Keiko starts it, but Miles isn't much better). When he hears the bad news Miles isn't sad or concerned, he's just immediately angry. The fact that no one else is worried suggests this is a pattern with them. It's not entirely out of character with what we see of their marriage in Deep Space Nine.

Presumed Botanist
I now have more of an idea why people seem to dislike Keiko. I always felt bad for her in DS9; not only do a lot of bad things happen to her family in that show, but Julian Bashir is basically the third person in her marriage (he's Camilla Parker-Bowles to her Princes Di, but with holodecks instead of adultery, I presume). That said I can see that this is a crappy introduction to the character. She flip-flops on whether to go through with her wedding and gets Data (a naive innocent in such matters) to act as go-between rather than talking to Miles herself. She happily breezes over things later, not explaining anything or reassuring Data at all, it makes her look fickle. Now I don't think Keiko is fickle, but we are given no background for her or context about her relationship with Miles. She's just there to provide drama and then marry O'Brien. The exposition tells us that Data introduced Keiko and Miles, that she's known Data for longer and has worked with him. That's not much to go on when you consider that the episode is keen to emphasise their friendship. It's not explicit that she's a botanist, although she is a room full of plants a couple of times. Did she work with Data on the Enterprise or a previous posting? Why would Data be working with a botanist? Why did the two of them particularly become friends? I don't think we're supposed to care.


Future is Better?
At the end of the episode Data relieves Worf on the Bridge and takes charge for the night-shift. The Bridge lights are dimmed, and I don't understand why. Of course most of the crew (except Data I guess) need to sleep and so there are shifts, but they're in space so why should one shift even be the night-shift? Why do these people have to work in lower light levels? I mean the rhythms of days and nights are entirely artificial on a starship anyway, so why not let each shift have their own day and night period? That way you can have people working around the clock in proper lighting, maybe have lower lighting in other areas, and no group is disadvantaged by working unsocial hours plus (for humans at least) bright light can help regulate their body clocks. Of course those on different shifts may not see much of each other, but that's true with traditional night-shifts anyway. At least this way people would only have to adjust their rhythms if they change shift or are going to planet (which must be an adjustment for everyone anyway) and no one feels like they're working through the night.


There's a hairdressers on the Enterprise! See it's the kind of thing that logically must be there, but we never normally see. I like the Starfleet barber logo. Do Starfleet hairdressers have their own Academy? In the background we see someone having their hair colour changed by a wand, that's pretty cool. If it were that easy and quick I'd definitely colour my hair more.

There are polyamorous marriages! When discussing different ideas of marriage with Troi Data mentions that Andorian marriages usually require groups of 4 people. I bet we are never going to see this, but I guess it's good that it's out there somewhere. It was the nearly 90s, TV wasn't ready. I hope that a new Trek series explores more diverse stuff, it seems fitting to the spirit of the franchise.

If you're a patient in the sickbay Data will just hang around watching you get treated? That seems odd. I don't think he would intrude on anyone's privacy, but equally he's not medical personnel and doesn't need to be there. Though no one serving on the ship ever seems adverse to Data and everyone seems to get his situation, except Pulaski and she was kind of bigoted towards him. Plus he's the 2nd Officer, would you feel awkward asking him to leave? What isn't explored here (and possibly not ever) is that most of the people who are your friends on the ship are also your colleagues and that everyone has a rank and hierarchical position. There's seems to be the suggestion that this doesn't create a social hierarchy when it comes to socialising, but that seems unlikely to me.

Do all new babies get shown to the Captain or something? Is it part of his duty to met all the people who are under his charge? I mean shouldn't that baby be with its mother rather than being left for senior officers to stare at? Senior staff who aren't Crusher do seem to just wander into sickbay whenever they like.

It's Diwali! That's still a thing in the future, which is good since Christmas is also still a thing and if there are future Christians why shouldn't there be future Hindus. When reciting some stats about the day among birthdays and transfers and promotions Data mentions that it's the Hindu Festival of Lights. It's a throwaway line and we don't see any fireworks or celebrations or anything, but I guess it's nice that it got a mention.

Future Fashion
While Data is musing on the Vulcan devotion to logic and the limitations of their stark philosophy the Ambassador is wearing this:
This outfit includes a long black cloak.
She looks like a space wizard in mourning garb. Stark and logical this is not. For such an ascetic people Vulcan outfits display a lot of whimsy and frivolity. Not that this is bad thing, but there is a disconnect there. I mean the outfits of the Vulcan priestess/mages in Search for Spock struck me as highly illogical.

For Keiko's wedding outfit I feel like the words "traditional Japanese" and "futuristic" were thrown together and what resulted from this was something that's the right shape but made entirely of plastic.


The End
Data comes to relieve Worf of Bridge duty. Worf hands off to Data with a list of various small but relevant things, mirroring the list Data recited at the start of the episode. The lights are dimmed because it's night-shift and these poor people working now better remember that. Data muses on humanity and his hopes of getting closer to it.

10 January 2016

Sadness

RIP Micassa (Mikasa) aka Licky Rat

Our affectionate old lady was over 2 years, which is about usual for rats. She had been weakening over the last few months, and we were giving her some extra care for a while. This is sad but not unexpected.



I'll return to normal blogging next week.

22 December 2015

Happy Christmas



Oops, I have been a bad blogger again and neglected to update, again.

December has been a really busy month at work due partly to increased demand, but also to there being absences and such. Plus prepping for Christmas take a bit of time and energy. These are excuses and really I should be better prepared, but that's why there's been no update for a few weeks. I'm off work now until the new year so will try to get some posts stored up and get back to updating regularly. I've realised that this year hasn't been so good for regular updates as previous ones. I'll try to do better.

I'm not religious any more (haven't been since I was child, when I was technically Anglican), but I do celebrate Christmas in a secular way with my husband who isn't religious, and my family who are a mixture of Christian, Atheist and Agnostic. We usually have a fairly quiet Christmas which involves eating traditional food and watching various Christmas films. Plenty of time for blogging amongst that.

Happy Christmas!
Best wishes whether you are celebrating or not.

Embedded image permalink

Here's a terrible picture of me being an elf the other week when I was volunteering at a community event. I do not take many selfies, you can probably tell.

3 December 2015

The Loss

Episode: s4, ep 10

I think this episode is trying to do something good, I don't know how much it succeeds. There's serious stuff amongst the levity again I'm afraid.

What Happens
Troi is counselling a recent widow who is proud (even smug) about keeping herself busy and positive. Troi points out that she's avoiding her feelings and gets her to express her grief. Troi has a headache and goes a little blank as her patient is leaving. On the Bridge Worf momentarily thinks he detects something, then same thing happens to Data. When they try to move the ship stalls, and it turns out they're being dragged through space by something. Any attempts to move away make the ship judder. As the headache worsens Troi calls Crusher about it, but sickbay is busy with those injured by the stalling starship.
Crusher tries to help Troi, and suggests she rests, but a senior staff meeting is called and even though Troi feels foggy they both go. In the meeting Troi realises that not only can't she sense anything outside, she cant sense anything at all. Crusher finds brain damage which has stopped Troi's empathic abilities. Crusher suggests Troi needs counselling and Troi gets grumpy about it. Riker offers to lend an ear and Troi angrily points out that people treat the afflicted differently. Meanwhile Geordi and Data tap consoles and realise that the ship is surrounded by 2D stuff that's not been seen before. Troi tells her widowed patient that she's lost her empathy. The widow spent a night crying and says she feels much better. Troi tries to point out that that's not how it works, but her patient says she's wrong and Troi can't sense her feelings so she believes her.
Data and Geordi explain that 2D things (possibly lifeforms) are dragging the ship along in a cluster. Troi takes it personally when Geordi says it's a shame they can't tell if the 2D things are sentient. Troi tells Crusher she can't work any more, ignores Crusher's reassurance and accuses her of neglecting her medically. Troi tells Picard she wants to resign because she can't do her job and Picard tries to reassure her but she shuts down his inspirational-disabled-person story. Riker visits Troi and comforts her a bit, but when she gets angry with him he points out that she's just on equal footing with everyone else now. Further attempts to escape the 2D things don't work and make the ship shake. Guinan talks to Troi in 10 Forward, says she want to apply for vacant Counsellor post because it's like being a bartender. Troi points out why it's different before seeing what Guinan is doing.
The Enterprise is being pulled towards a big, glowy, purple space string that's very dangerous because gravity. With 7 hours to go Worf suggests shooting the 2D things, which doesn't work. Troi's patient visits her and admits she was hiding her grief again, confirming the Troi was right. Picard tells Troi how bad the string situation is and asks her to help Data figure out why 2D things are pulling them towards string. Data suggests 2D things have simple intelligence and Troi says maybe they're going towards string like a moth to a flame. If they're acting on instinct they can look at things a different way. With little time to spare Data tells Picard they can mimic the vibrations of the string behind the ship so hopefully the 2D things will go in opposite direction. They do this and the 2D things slow down or stop or something happens to free the Enterprise. As they fly away Troi senses that the 2D things weren't going to be destroyed by the string, it was the place they most wanted to be. (I think this is meant to be comforting, but it's still kinda like the moth thing, and just because they feel happy about it there's no definite indication that they weren't about to get fried or crushed.)
Troi explains that the strength of the 2D things' emotions was so strong she got short-circuited. She apologises to Crusher, who says therapists (and doctors) make the worst patients. Guinan tells Troi she was just being human and asks if Counsellor's job is still free.


Riker: adventurer, middle-management, ex
Riker tries to offer support to Deanna and keeps talking to her even after he is rebuffed. I suspect that their closeness is partly why Deanna lashes out at Riker so early. In some respects it can be easier to do that with people who are close, especially in a setting where she has to keep a professional relationship with most people. Plus I could understand that she fears and/or resents a change in attitude from Riker more than from others. When he later accuses her of being biased towards her Betazed (Betazoid?) half I'm not sure whether he's exercising some tough love or just getting pissed off at her. I mean she called him out about walking on eggshells around her, so is he doing the opposite on purpose? Alternatively, from the way he talks about the advantages her empathy gives her, I could see this being something that he actually thinks and maybe something that has bothered him in the past. Either way, when Troi gets upset he offers a shoulder (or should that be chest) to cry on.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
This episode is trying to explore some important things and I feel unqualified to comment on how well it does that. I'm sure that I've been guilty of some of the ableist stuff mentioned here, and though I try to be aware and do better I don't have personally useful insight into these issues. I suspect this could be something that some people find helpful and others don't. If anyone has important stuff to raise on this I welcome feedback in the comments, for now I'm just saying what I've noticed. I'm going to split this section because I generally aim to keep these posts light, but there is heavier stuff to say.
The Frivolous Bit: This is the most time Deanna has spent in her office in any episode. It's good to have an episode focusing on her career and professional standing. I joke about her moonlighting as Picard's PA, but when we see her she's usually sitting next to him on the Bridge, a place I suspect most Counsellors don't spend a lot of time. Picard even mentions that he's advantaged by having an empathic Counsellor. I get the feeling that Deanna has been relying pretty heavily on her empathy to do her job. Obviously she's trained in psychology, so even without her empathy she understands people's reactions, but because she can't feel it she doubts herself. Of course her advantage helps her to help people so that's good, but at least we see she's got knowledge and skills to back that up. While it's odd that Troi is being grumpy and defensive I almost feel like the tension could be heightened. If you suddenly felt like everyone around you was less real wouldn't you be more unpleasant to them? (Isn't that a problem with the internet?) Though this is TNG and it is not a show that enjoys sass or strength of (negative) feeling, so snapping at your friends is probably about right.

The Serious Bit: I think this is an exploration of ableism and how people without disabilities try to make things better for themselves at the expense of the disabled. Troi has some good points about how able-bodied/neurotypical people can treat the disabled differently and she does call out some crap in this area. Picard's placating crap about how disabled people can find compensations for their condition, or else make super inspiring anecdotes needed to be countered. Though since Picard mentions blind people I'm kind of surprised Geordi doesn't feature more in this plotline, seems like he would have a useful perspective. I think this episode is also showing how distressing suffering a loss like this can be. It is clear all the way through that Deanna has lost her self-confidence, and she's experiencing fear as well as anger. The word disability is used by Deanna and her situation is described like the loss of a physical ability, but it could be seen as an analogy for mental health problems too. Having said this I get a feeling that there are some ways in which this episode is not great in its handling of these themes. The main one is that Deanna is magically cured before the end of the episode, even her intense headaches are only at the beginning. While her fear over spending the rest of her life in what she sees as a diminished state is very real and powerful, she's suddenly fine so there's no real repercussions. Given the episodic nature of the show I think it's clear that this would happen, which does rather undercut the message. Phew, thank goodness that's over, no need for more character development! I have seen people angered by characters getting 'miracle cures' on more serialised and serious TV shows (Matthew's magic spine from Downton Abbey leaps to mind). It's like TV shows want to include disability (which is good), but only to the point that it isn't inconvenient (which is bad). Witnessing long term disability -especially one that causes ongoing pain- would be such a drag after all, let's just chat about it and leave it at that.
The other thing that occurred to me is that Riker might be right about Deanna's attitude towards humans. I certainly don't think it's conscious and she's never condescending to anyone about it, but this episode does make it clear that living as all humans do is unacceptable to her. I hope this doesn't seem like I'm making light of the exploration of disability here, but I do feel that another way of reading of this episode is that it's about someone losing a privilege. Deanna has an advantage over others that helps in her work and her life, and of course it's distressing to lose that, but all it does is put her on an equal footing with everyone else. I don't think that this was entirely intended by the writers, it's not explored much, but I think it is a way of looking at what's happening here.

Hat reminiscent of Farscape's Pilot
Guinan's Hat: Blue
While being a counsellor is definitely different to being a bartender, I do think that Guinan could totally do it (not any bartender mind, Guinan). She describes herself as coming from a race of listeners, and she is often able to get people thinking about themselves/their situation in a different way. Like how she does it here, with the counsellor. Also she's amazing! I mean she can sense when Q's coming (which Troi can't). While her powers are less well-defined than even Troi's nebulous empathy (which at least has a name), I'm pretty sure she's like a Time Lord-Jedi so that's cool.


Girl Talk
Troi talks to Ensign Brooks, it's partly about her husband's death, but mostly about the Ensign's feelings and how she's coping. This is Troi doing the job that she loves and helping someone. Troi talks to Crusher about her health and even though they're friends Crusher doesn't baulk at giving bad news. It's a mix of professionalism and care and Crusher displays a lot of tolerance for Troi's reactions. Guinan discusses the counsellor's role with Troi in what seems to be a discussion about Guinan's career aspirations, but is really a way of getting Troi to realise her abilities.
I think this episode has about 6 different scenes that pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test, with 4 different women! (The Test is actually a low bar and not by any means a gold standard, it's just presented that way because so few things even achieve the low bar.) That seems like tonnes compared to most episodes of this show (or indeed episodes of many things that are on TV even 25 years later). This was done simply by having the A-plot focus on a woman and having some of the other people she interacts with also be women, it's not tricky.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Senior staff are called (and we actually hear the announcement in this episode). They discuss the fact that the ship is being pulled along by something they can't sense. Troi realises she's lost her empathic abilities.
2. Geordi and Data explain about 2D things, which couldn't be detected by sensors before because they were looking at them along their edge, in the dimension they don't have. The ship is trapped in a cluster of what could be lifeforms because of gravity or fields or something. No one is sure if the 2D things know the ship is there. Troi takes speculation about the situation as a comment on her current failings -which is not how it was intended- and storms out.
3. Picard calls Troi and asks her to help Data, she takes a bit of convincing but Picard points out that even if she can't sense what's going on she still has psychological insights which may well help.


Death by Space Misadventure
Ensign Brook's husband died in an accident. The details aren't specified, but clearly this kind of thing happens in space. It's interesting that it's all about her grief and how she's dealing with that. It's the emotional reaction of the woman not the death of her husband that's important. It's counter to certain common Hollywood tropes, being about feelings not action or vengeance.


The End
The episode ends with a bit of banter between Riker and Troi, and a moment where it looks like they might kiss, though it might have been a joke. What's going on with these guys?



22 November 2015

Final Mission

Episode: s4, ep 9

Survival is more important than questions about magical fountains.

What Happens
Picard is going to mediate a dispute between some aggressive miners. First he tells Wesley that a place has opened up at the Academy and Wesley will be admitted in 2 weeks. A planet in another system sends a distress signal, an unknown ship has appeared in their orbit and is leaking huge amounts of radiation. As ever there's not another ship nearby, so Picard orders Riker to go help the planet. A small mining shuttle collects Picard and Wesley before the Enterprise leaves.  The shuttle has various malfunctions and has to crash land on a moon.
Moon of Hats!
The shuttle crashes into a desert and when it turns out that the shuttle captain, Dirgo, has no rations Picard insists they trek to the distant mountains. Meanwhile theEnterprise discovers that the radiation ship is an unmanned junker and will need to be taken through an asteroid field and sent into the nearby sun. The radiation levels are dangerously high on the planet and put the Enterprise crew in danger too. The miners contact the Enterprise to say that Picard and Wesley never arrived. Riker says they can't go and help search until they've dealt with the radiation. Crusher organises her medical team to help on the planet. Geordi is wary about towing the radiation ship and suggests using drones to steer it remotely. It's a good idea, but one drone detaches and trying to move the ship causes more damage and more radiation. They will have to tow it even though it's dangerous.
As Picard, Wesley and Dirgo hike to the mountains Wesley's modified tricorder picks up an odd energy reading coming from the mountains. He doesn't know what it is, but they don't have any choice about their destination. They find a cave with a fountain that's protected by a forcefield. Dirgo tries blasting it with his phaser, which makes an aggressive, swooshing light appear and shake the cave. Dirgo ignores this, and Picard's orders for him to stop, until the light swooshing light knocks his phaser out of his hand. Picard pushes Wesley away from falling rocks and is hit by them himself. Later Wesley is checking Picard's wounds, and Dirgo reckons the Captain is a goner. Picard quietly tells Wesley that he will have to keep Dirgo in line while he figures out how to get the water. Wesley doesn't want to face the fact that Picard might die. Dirgo uses Wesley's fears for Picard to make the Ensign help him shoot at the forcefield again. This results in Dirgo being attacked by the swooshing light and encased in a hard, transparent substance. Wesley tells Picard that Dirgo is dead and as the Captain moves in and out of consciousness Wesley tells him that since coming on the Enterprise he's lived his life entirely to make Picard proud of him.
The Enterprise tows the radiation ship through the asteroids towards the sun. Radiation levels get higher on board and approach critical levels. Power is diverted to the shields and the tractor beam, but any attempt to speed up destablises the beam. Crusher has most of the crew moved to the middle of the ship. The miners say they've started looking for the missing shuttle, but they don't have a lot of ships that can search, they ask the Enterprise to come soon. Eventually they clear the asteroid belt, with just seconds left before the radiation would have become lethal. Once the toxic load is headed for the sun they go to search for their missing crew.
Picard tells Wesley to seek out the Academy groundskeeper, a very wise (and presumably long-lived) individual who helped Picard when he was there. The Captain tells Wesley that he's always been proud of him. Wesley desperately promises to save Picard. He examines the fountain and the energy coming of it, then activates the forcefield with his phaser. The swooshing light appears and Wesley halts it by frantically pressing keys on his tricorder. It fluctuates a bit and then swooshes through Wesley without visibly harming him. When he turns around the forcefield disappears and he's able to collect water for Picard. Later Wesley is woken by his relieved mother as the search team finds them.


Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard does his whole stern headteacher act when giving Wesley the news about the Academy, it's actually kind of nice. The Captain has assured the Academy that Wesley is capable of catching up on what he's missed. It sounds like the Academy backfill places rather than having a second intake - what happened to the person whose place Wesley is filling? Picard is respectful of shuttle captain Dirgo, and gets respect in return. He may share Wesley and Geordi's snobbery about the small, rough vessel, but he isn't rude enough to show it. Later Picard gets firm with Dirgo because it's a survival situation and that's the priority. He's a little appalled that Dirgo doesn't have emergency rations and later that he's been sneaking alcohol, which is awful for drinking in this situation, but useful for other stuff.
After he's injured Picard accepts that he may not survive and focuses on giving advice to Wesley. He's in and out of consciousness for a while, but hears Wesley's confession and gives him the validation he's been craving.


Doctor Doctor
Dr Crusher asks the planet about radiation levels and sickness, then briefs her team about making and distributing anti-radiation medicine to areas on planet affected. She asks them to coordinate with medical teams on the planet, this kind of cooperation shows respect. When Troi tells her that Wes and Picard are still missing Beverly is very worried, but focuses on her lifesaving work. When the Enterprise has to tow the radiation ship anti-radiation medicine is pumped through the vents (I assume that's Crusher's idea, or at least came from her team, though that isn't specified). As the radiation levels increase towards the point where the medicine can't help, she orders that non-essential crew and family members be contained within internal corridors to limit their exposure.

Blind Engineering
Geordi was bemused by Dirgo's efficiency modifications to his ship, but he tells Picard it'll be safe. Clearly he was very wrong (and again the other Engineers all seem to be... um, wherever it is that they go). He's clearly bemused by the mining shuttle with it's non-standard modifications, and though his comments to Dirgo are fairly neutral he's clearly giggling about it with Wesley.
I actually understood Geordi's solution to moving the radiation barge. This almost never happens (admittedly I've largely stopped trying). Towing is very dangerous, so send a drone to do it remotely. Makes sense. Turns out it doesn't work (the first solution never does), but I understood what was happening. The towing scene doesn't seem very dramatic because the radiation is invisible and though the ship is being pushed to its limits everyone is being calm and professional about everything.

Wesley
He's late to see Picard at the start because he was doing a volatile experiment, do all the kids and/or Ensigns on the ship get to do whatever volatile experiments they like? Wesley has also been studying how outpost legal decisions affect Federation law, so Picard thinks the mining dispute will be useful. Though it turns out it's kind of an excuse for a trip. Wesley is snobby to Dirgo about his shuttle, which is unnecessarily rude. Wesley then gets defensive about Picard and his orders whenever Dirgo is doubtful, which I think embarrasses Picard a little.
Wesley doesn't want to accept that Picard could die. As a doctor's son he's firm with Dirgo about applying pressure to Picard's wounds, but can't keep Dirgo in line elsewhere. It's not surprising as Dirgo is a stubborn adult who's not used to taking orders. Wesley wants to investigate further but as Dirgo wants action so he rides roughshod over Wesley's objections and uses the lad's concern for Picard against him.
Wesley tells Picard that all the stuff he's been doing since he's been on the Enterprise is to make the Captain proud of him. On the one hand it's kind of sweet that Wesley has been so inspired by his role model. On the other it seems a bit odd that Wesley has done so much (excelling at school, extra study, experiments, working on the ship, becoming a crew member, applying to the Academy) just to make one man proud of him. Picard has never placed any such requirements on Wesley; though he and the other crew had always encouraged Wes, it seemed to stem from his own ambition. Did Wesley actually want to do any of that stuff for himself? If not then this nice moment takes on a weird edge, but given who smart/exceptional/precocious Wesley is I can see he would've been a problem if he hadn't been kept occupied. I can understand that Wesley views Picard as a father figure, the Captain is friends with both of Wesley's parents and is the one who brought Pa Crusher's body home after he died. I feel like Wesley may have gone a bit overboard in a way that might not have happened had his father still been around. Picard doesn't seem to have much to do with Wesley's upbringing (which is absolutely fair enough, they aren't related). I hope that Beverly had a word with Wesley at some point about taking on too much, or doing things for himself sometimes.


Future Is Better
As Captain, and sole operator, of a mining shuttle Dirgo seems to fulfil various US working class stereotypes. At least I think that's what happening, my main sources are admittedly US TV and film, but I see similarities here with other depictions of/stereotypes about working class people. The Enterprise and most of its crew have always struck me as being very middle class. Wesley is initially amused by Dirgo and his crappy little ship, which just comes across as snobby.
Dirgo himself is proud of his ship and the work he does, and defensive about his limited resources, which is fair enough. This episode shows just a glimpse of the differences between those living on Starships and those who live and work in more dangerous/less privileged situations.  Dirgo starts out thinking Picard isn't tough because he's is formal and a Starship Captain, so he won't be able to cope with a load of rough miners. Picard being English/French (I don't think it really matters which in this context) probably adds to that. Dirgo by contrast seems straightforward, a working man doing his job as best he can, ignoring the giggles of those posh Federation folk with all their resources. The episode goes on to show him as stubborn, impatient, crafty (for the sake of booze no less), argumentative and unwilling to accept what he doesn't understand. In an episode (and a show) full of officers and diplomats it's a shame that Dirgo is the main antagonistic character here. I mean a lot of the words I've used to describe him are lazy stereotypes, but that's how Dirgo is. Plus, as we never see or hear from any of the miners (just someone reporting their messages asking the Enterprise for help because they don't have good enough ships), Dirgo is basically representative of all of them. The main other thing we hear about them is that they are prone to violence, the image of the Undeserving Poor just paints itself really. I don't think there's any attempt to examine anything here, just the writers wanted a working class character and this is what they came up with. He's never malicious but the fact that his own stubbornness and ignorance get him killed feels patronising and off.

No Magic Here
On a desert moon there are mountains, in the mountains is a naturally-formed cave with naturally- formed steps and a naturally-formed entrance tunnel that's conveniently shaped like a doorway. I guess that the naturally-formed fountain is protected by a naturally-formed forcefield and a naturally-formed creepy spirit thing? Hmm, actually I'm pretty sure this is a magic cave with a magic fountain. Why is it guarded by something that looks like it should be living in the Ark of the Covenant and melting the faces off of Nazis. Plus the guardian can somehow encase people and things in an amber-like substance. I realise that survival takes precedence, but no one seems the slightest bit curious about what's going on here. Is it the remains of a forgotten-but-advanced civilisation? Is it a manifestation of a lifeform unlike any encountered before? Is it an alien who's just curious and wants to be friends but doesn't know how? Seriously this is Star Trek, it must be one those!
I know Wesley keeps mentioning energy fields and electrically-deposited something-or-other and scans the hell out of everything, but that doesn't answer my questions. I was kind of hoping it would be the Fountain of Youth, or a healing fountain maybe, which I suppose it might have been because Picard was on death's doorstep. It's odd that after carefully testing the forcefield and the swooshy guardian and defeating them with button pushes Wesley doesn't stop to check that is just water. It could have been anything.

Near-Death by Space Misadventure
Everyone and their families has to huddle together in corridors on specific decks. Just standing there waiting to get radiation sickness. Join Star Fleet today!

Actual Death by Space Misadventure
Dirgo, a mining shuttle captain who logged ten thousand hours of flight time. While it is true that his stubbornness and impatience contributed to his death, it is also true that he didn't have the Federation resources that might have prevented it. Assuming of course that he is dead and not just magically frozen or something. Maybe if a handsome prince happens by in a hundred years...


The End
While being carried out of the cave on a stretcher Picard tells Wesley that he will be missed.


15 November 2015

The Best of All Possible Worlds

This is the first book I've read by this author, and I really enjoyed it.

The Best of All Possible Worlds
Karen Lord

My version has the hummingbird cover, but the elephant one is also cool.
The Sadiri home-world was destroyed leaving the galaxy's elite diminished and scattered. Many refugees were taken in by Cygnus Beta, a planet that has always been accepting of exiles and refugees. Councillor Dllenahkh is a leader in this new, mostly male, Sadiri community. Grace Delarua is a Biotechnician and translator working for the government in the area where the Sadiri have settled. They devise a scientific mission that involves travelling around the diverse and varied communities of Cygnus Beta, searching for communities that might wish to follow Sadiri ways, or women who have Sadiri traits and might be willing to become wives and mothers of the next generation. The missions faces various adventures and set backs and even a few disasters. Meanwhile Delarua discovers bad history within her own family and some surprising capabilities within herself. Growing closer to the Sadiri, especially Dllenahkh, she learns to see through their emotional restraint and they learn to accept their new environment while overcoming their reduced circumstamces.


Delarua is so great, I love her. The bulk of the book is told from her point of view and I found her narrative voice very easy to get along with. She's confident and competent in her work, she has a fun manner and a good sense of humour. She's mostly cheerful and positive with her friends, clearly loyal and kind of protective to those who mean a lot to her. It's clear she cares greatly about her family, even though that turns out to be a source of pain and conflict within the story. She's not perfect though, like anyone she's capable of focusing on her own flaws and failings. She can overlook or diminish her own accomplishments and achievements. She's happy to help others but wary of asking for/accepting help because she fears being a burden on anyone. She seemed like precisely the sort of person I might want to be friends with, but might equally be a bit intimidated about approaching. Plus a lot of her internal irritation at herself seems familiar to me. Dllenhkh is also  good character, we see shorter sections of his viewpoint, which makes sense as he's less open and effusive than Delarua. Despite this the book gradually uncovers a deep well of feeling within him that is compelling.

The tour of the planet is interesting because it displays so many varied kinds of societies and cultures. That shouldn't be surprising really (just look at our planet now), but I think I'd gotten used to the SF shorthand 'planet of hats' trope, where each planet/nation/species/race displays a single type or quality. At the end of the book the author explicitly states that she was basing the the varied cultures of the planet on the Caribbean. I knew that I didn't know much about the Caribbean, but that was a moment that made me realise the depths of my ignorance while also piquing my interest. Within the world of the book the reader is given glimpses of things that have a wider unseen context. I think the word 'matriarchy' is only mentioned once, and it's not a big thing in context, just a passing comment. I realised that quite a few of the cultures we're shown seen seemed to be equal or matriarchal, but it's not in your face, or making a point, it's just background. That makes sense, why would someone who'd always lived in a matriarchy find it something worth commenting on? There is much mention of different types of people, and it was never explained because the characters never needed to explain it to each other, that's the way their world is. I got the impression that various groups that are mentioned are all different types of human from different worlds, and can be considered akin to ethnic/racial groups or heredities, but with different types of abilities. Of course I could be very wrong as I was just picking up on hints.. There's a lot of world around the edges of the story we see here, which is great. The focus isn't on those edges but there's just enough details or mystery to intrigue. The occasional references to Terra (Earth, I assume) were enigmatic, and I felt sure that I was getting only a glimpse of something. In fact I could see potential for lots of different stories on different scales to what we get here, and it's both clever and tantalising.

The central story itself was really rewarding. In some respect it's a bit strange to have a scientific mission focusing on what is essentially a search for genetically suitable wives. There could easily be something off with this concept, but Lord avoids any creepy eugenics tone. It is clear that the Sadiri have little choice but to find new (and creative) solutions for their civilisation, and this is just one option. There's no denigration of those who are different to the Sadiri, nothing imperial or controlling about the project. If anything looks like it could go that way Delarua and her Cygnian colleagues would shut it down fast. With so many cultures that have varied social structures, including polyamory and selective breeding, a different approach is not something that is hard for everyone to understand. The set up initially seemed like the kind of scientific mission that gets interrupted by something else which turns out to be the true focus of the plot (like in a certain TV show I have written many reviews of on this very blog). Except that here the scientific mission is the focus of the plot. Though things often don't go smoothly, and at times are actually disastrous, that is all part of the mission itself. It's a series of adventures -like you might get in sci-fi TV- some linked to place, some to circumstance/events and some to character background. Some are resolved in a fairly short time, others have deep and underlying consequences that ripple through the story and beyond. Throughout all this the core of the story is seeing this group of characters who have been thrown together in a professional capacity grow into a strong group with friendships and romantic tensions.

I would like to talk about the romantic tensions for a moment, because it turns out that this book has exactly the kind of thing I like and didn't realise I needed in my life. This isn't a romance story and it certainly isn't erotica (not that there is anything wrong with either of those genres). It's a science fiction story which has a strong character-focus and it turns out that certain of those characters are in love. I liked that there was an established married couple on the mission, because it's nice to see stable, long-term relationships represented. Then there is a blooming romance which grows, without the characters quite realising at first, between someone who has various issues in that area and someone whose culture is emotionally restrained. I loved that so much! Also I've had issues and can be a bit restrained, so it was great to see that neither character was shamed for who or what they were. I loved that both had good intentions and no one was trying to 'win' or get control. That it was just two people whose circumstances took a while to line up was brilliant. I love slow-burn romances! When done well I find them so much more satisfying and effective than characters falling in love (or into bed) in a sudden, emotional whirlwind. Now this is just my own preference, and one I'm only gradually coming to realise (my own slow-burn romance with slow-burn romances, perhaps?) Also I really prefer romances where people are nice to each other and support and show respect, not that everything has to be all sweetness and light all the time, but it really helps if no one involved is behaving like a jerk.

I consider myself more of a fantasy reader than a science fiction one, but I realise that I may well have a slightly blinkered view of science fiction as a genre of writing. If this is the kind of thing that's out there then I would like more please (not that my to-read pile isn't big enough as it is - I went to a convention last month). So if anyone has any recommendations of stories like this, or ones that contain the type of romances I was just talking about, I would be glad to hear them.

5 November 2015

Future Imperfect

Episode: s4, ep 8

A direct sequel to a series 1 episode you might have seen and one that feels kind of formulaic.

What Happens
It's Riker's birthday and he has a trombone and candles, but no cake which is surely the best part. Data and Picard are about to join the party when one of the Bridge B-team (who we don't normally see) calls Data over. The Enterprise is being probed by a nearby planet and so Picard calls Riker from his own party because an away team is needed and apparently only Riker knows how those work. Riker, Geordi and Worf beam down but there's interference that makes beaming back hard. As the toxic gas on the planet makes the away team lose consciousness the Enterprise tries to beam them back but its more difficult than it should be.
Riker awakes in sickbay where Crusher asks if he remembers her and calls him Captain. He's been in a coma for ten days, but has lost his memories of the last 16 years. She explains that he caught a virus on the planet that remained dormant for years but has merged with his DNA and removed all of his memories since the point of infection. He is now Captain of the Enterprise, Data is his First Officer, there are Klingons besides Worf onboard (though we don't see them) and a Ferengi Ensign. Picard is an Admiral now and he and Troi are escorting a Romulan Abassador to sign a peace treaty that Riker helped negotiate. He also has a son he can't remember at all and his forgotten wife died 2 years earlier. Riker isn't certain about going ahead with all this stuff he can't remember, especially when he discovers the Romulan Ambassador is the Enterprise's former foe Tomalak. Admiral Picard insists that they will support Riker through this. When Riker voices his suspicions he is called to sickbay because his son has been mildly injured. Riker tries to bond with his son, Jean-Luc (yeah, I know), aware of how odd the situation is. He curiously looks at pictures of his wife, and recognises her as Minuet. That's when he gets angry, goes to the Bridge and yells at everyone. He knows none of it is real.
Insubordinate Riker is fun
The holodeck projection disappears leaving Riker with Tomalak, who reveals that he's in a secret Romulan base. The Romulans scanned his memory for info, and when they couldn't find tactical secrets they used his memories to create a fake-future situation where "Captain" Riker would tell them what they wanted to know. Riker figured it out because the Computer was slow and his "wife" Minuet was never real, just a holodeck projection he created in series 1. The whole set-up doesn't make sense to Riker (or me), but ignoring his questions the Romulans throw him in a cell with the boy whose image was used for his son. The scared child tells Riker he found a hiding place on a previous escape attempt. They knock out the Romulans that come to take Riker away and the kid shows him a large vent to hide behind. It leads to a series of tunnels and caves that are underneath the Romulan base. It looks surprisingly comfortable, but Riker is determined to signal the Enterprise. The boy warns that Ambassador Tomalak controls the comms and Riker is immediately suspicious. It sounds like the Romulans are coming, but Riker realises he's in another fake environment.
It turns out he and the boy are alone in a cave which has neural scanners embedded in the rocks, which are probably powered by magic or something. Unless it's the kid who is magic, I'm not sure.
Riker contacts the Enterprise, confirms that he is fine and so are Geordi and Worf who were beamed back successfully. The boy says he was left there by his mother, to keep him safe. Their people were attacked by enemies and so the mother created this sanctuary for her child to hide in, but she knew she was being pursued so she drew them away. The boy just wanted company so he kept Riker on the planet and used the neural scanners to create a world Riker would want to stay in. The boy reveals his alien face and Riker offers to take him back to the Enterprise so he won't be alone.

Don't trust him, look at his beard!
Oh Admiral My Admiral
Picard's facial hair should have been a clue that something was up. Only Riker and Sisko (to my knowledge thus far) are allowed to grow facial hair and not be the evil versions of themselves. This is one of the more accurate aged-up versions of Patrick Stewart I've seen, the hair is the main difference.

Riker: husband, father, Captain
The trombone is back and it's like a whole thing. Just in case you had forgotten that Riker played the trombone that one time in a series 1 episode and that apparently equals a hobby. In fact if you haven't seen 11001001 then this episode will probably seem even more random as it's basically a sequel. Riker gets what he's always wanted, a promotion without having to leave the Enterprise (and without Picard dying). It's telling that when Beverly wants to take him somewhere familiar to jog his memory he insists on going to the Bridge instead of his quarters because "My life was on the main Bridge. Always has been". That's kind of sad really, especially as I think Riker's supposed to be the "cool" member of command staff. He's quite the workaholic, no wonder no one else can organise an away team, bet he doesn't give them chance. I think that's why he and Troi didn't work out, though she's always on that Bridge too (despite having an office elsewhere), so perhaps the real question is why it takes so long for them to get back together? Riker doesn't seem to have accounted for the fact that after a 16 year memory gap he doesn't have the slightest clue what's going on. At least he's embarrassed when everyone stares at him for doing nonsensical stuff.
What sport was this kid even playing?
The whole thing with the dead wife and the unexpected son is perhaps less part of Riker's ideal future, but of course the little alien boy wanted a daddy so badly, or something. Riker realises how weird and potentially damaging this situation is for his kid and tries to create a bond, which is of course what the kid wants. Though it seems a little odd to tell his kid that the last he can remember he was in a place where he wasn't sure if he even wanted a kid. The legacy of Pa Riker the jerk still lingers. No reason is ever given for why the little alien boy chose Riker, unless it was just that Riker was the one left behind (not sure how much control the kid had over who could beam away, I kind of thought he was controlling everything). Come to that no reason is given why the kid pretends to be Riker's son, could just have easily been a daughter seeing as how it was all shape-shifting.

Counsellor to the Admiralty
As with Crusher the future Troi has a little grey in her hair and wears it up now. That's what happens when women get older in Star Trek, I guess? I'm not surprised "Admiral" Picard asked for Troi to come with him when he changed role, she'd been his unofficial secretary for years. Troi is the one who tells Riker about his wife "Min" (that was a clue!), who was also the ship's counsellor. I'm guess the alien kid realised Riker has a type.


Future Ain't Better
I don't understand why Riker refers to his wife as Mrs Riker, William T. Um, I know he doesn't know what it is yet, but she will have her own damn first name! He immediately assumes they were married, presumably because they had a kid, which doesn't have to be the case at all (unless you're a Captain maybe?). Then he uses a form of address that's kinda old-fashioned nowadays (admittedly my family tend to use Mr & Mrs D when addressing letters to me and my husband -lord knows why- but I have only once in my life heard someone in real life vocally call a woman by her husband's full name, and that was an old, posh lady). At first I hoped the computer was failing to find her details because his wife wasn't actually called William. I appreciate it's being done so as not to mess with the reveal, but it seems bizarrely conservative for the future.
I honestly don't understand the mores of relationships and family in Star Trek. I get the impression it wants to be progressive and in a previous episode Troi has mentioned the idea of a man marrying a woman because he impregnated her as primitive, but here there's no question that Riker wouldn't be married to the mother of his son. Just like when Lwxana Troi was really horny and that meant she had to find a husband, for no clearly explained reason. It's all confusingly old-fashioned and vague, but I guess it was made in the early 90s, so there's that.
If it was Nog *that* would be impressive

That there is a Ferengi Ensign on the Star Fleet flagship in the fake future might seem prescient. At this point I'm guessing Nog (the first Ferengi to join Star Fleet) has never even met a humon. Also Geordi not needing his visor any more is another good prediction. Of course it's all a bit less impressive when you realise that this was an episode full of things the writers later realised they could use. Not that I'm knocking it, that's pretty sensible, but not a cause for amazement.


Staff Meetings: 1
1. Riker expresses suspicions about Tomalak, Picard and Troi try to reassure him. When he keeps asking questions he is called away by a convenient emergency.

Near-Death by Space Misadventure
Riker (2nd in command), Geordi (Chief Engineer) and Worf (Security Chief) all nearly die from poisonous gases on a planet that probably wasn't a good place for humans and Klingons to go. Turns out the planet not only had toxic gas but also interfered with the transporters.
None of these away teams go down with space suits or breathing equipment, ever! They also don't seem to send probes down first to check the atmosphere and pressure. They don't even do a test-transport with a plant or an animal to make sure that there's nothing blocking the systems. Not that we see anyway. They just beam people down and it always seems to be fine, except for this one time when everyone is almost asphyxiated. Bet they won't be wearing space suits next time though. Just as everyone you meet is a biped it seems like every planet you encounter has Earth-like pressure and atmosphere. If away teams were so expendable that you could just chuck 'em down on a planet to see if the air is breathable they wouldn't be staffed by senior crew.

The End
Riker beams away from the planet holding hands with the little alien kid. I assume we never hear of him again.



Does the shapeshifting alien kid take Riker's place and use his memories to impersonate him? My guess is no, not at all, but that would have been really interesting.

31 October 2015

FantasyCon 2015

This time last week I was in the middle of FantasyCon 2015 in Nottingham, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society. It was a really marvellous time. I'm only posting this late because of my own failings (been feeling a bit odd and tired this last week).

This year's con really had a great atmosphere and for once I really felt like I hit the right mix of socialising and going to panels and events. Dave and I got to see and talk to a lot of friends we only usually see at conventions, and there was a lovely, unexpected appearance from some friends who live locally. I also got to talk to people I've not met or chatted to before. There were a few people I could have spoken to more, but I certainly did some nodding and smiling to people in corridors. I'm not going to list names, because that would probably make for dull reading plus I would almost certainly forget someone and would feel very bad about that. If we did end up having a natter at FantasyCon then believe me I enjoyed it and it all contributed to a great weekend.

This is our haul of (mostly) free books

The programme was a fairly traditional mixture of panels, reading, launches and signings. There were various good panel discussions, including one on using history in fantasy and another about podcasting and audio books. I enjoyed seeing Juliet E. McKenna interview Brandon Sanderson as they are both authors whose work I enjoy. I attended a couple of useful workshops and fun readings (mostly featuring Emma and Peter Newman now that I think of it). Plus the book launch of Heide Goody and Iain Grant's Hellzapoppin' which featured a monk robe and audience participation in the reading. I also moderated a panel for the first time, it was about screen and script writing and the panellists were all very knowledgeable and had a lot to say, which made things easy for me.

Finally much congrats should go to the con organisers and the redcloaks, these volunteers all made sure everything ran smoothly and did a brilliant job.  I'm aware there were a few venue issues in the background, but as an attendee you couldn't tell. Also thanks to Al, who is a great giver of pep talks. We left before the BFS awards ceremony, which was a slight shame as I was a juror for two of the categories and it does feel nice to be involved.


My post on FantasyCon in 2014 can be found here.