18 October 2014

Captain's Holiday

Episode: s3, ep19

I like that this is called Captain's Holiday as opposed to Captain's Vacation. Being English that is what Picard would call it. Except that he's French... and the French for holiday is vacances... so it doesn't actually make sense. But I still like it.

What Happens
Aliens turn up at Risa, a resort full of scantily-clad people (not a mainstream Midlands nightclub full of scantily-clad girls). They are looking for Picard. He's not there and he's not expected. They resolve to wait.
Picard and Troi return from difficult negotiations, Picard is grumpier than usual. Troi reckons he should a rest, as do Dr Crusher and Riker. All three try to get him to take a holiday. None of them listen to what he might enjoy in a holiday, and insist he must have fun their way. Troi eventually threatens him with her mother, and realising he'll get no peace Picard agrees to go to Risa as suggested.
Picard arrives at Risa and a lady trying to escape a Ferengi kisses him then leaves. He tries to read by and keeps being interrupted by female employees. It turns out a souvenir Riker asked him to pick up -a Horgon- is a sign that you are looking for adult fun times. Picard hides the Horgon and is bothered by a Ferengi who wants him to give a menacing message to a woman about a disc. Picard is annoyed, says he's got no idea about it and sends him away. Then the kissing lady, Vash, shows up, she's the one with the disc and is trying to avoid the Ferengi. Picard talks to her a bit and the Ferengi sees them together and believes Picard is her associate. She slips the disc into Picard's pocket. In his room Picard is approached by the carpet-wearing aliens, who are from the future and are looking for a legendary artifact that was stolen and sent back in time. They have records staying Picard will find it on Risa, he agrees to return it to them if he finds it.
Picard gets pulled into a treasure hunt. Vash, the Ferengi and the time travelling aliens all want the McGuffin. The disc contains research from an academic Vash may have worked with, pinpointing its location. She and Picard set out to find it in some caves. They get friendlier and whilst camping have sex (one assumes). The Ferengi catches up to them in the morning and makes them dig for the McGuffin. Then the future-aliens arrive to claim it. It turns out that neither Picard nor Vash have been completely honest with each other. They dig for ages but can't find it, it must be lost and the future-records are wrong.
Picard prepares to leave but visits Vash before he does. He reckons she found the McGuffin a while ago and concocted the whole hunt to throw everyone else off the scent. She reveals it's hidden in a Horgon. The time-travelling aliens arrive, but there's doubt that they're the rightful owners. Picard, having planned for this, gets the Enterprise to destroy it using the transporter. Vash and Picard say their goodbyes and Picard returns to the ship.


Guest Star
The Ferengi is played by Max Grodenchik, who plays Rom in Deep Space 9. When they use Ferengi actors (well Max Grodenchik and Armin Shimmerman mostly) I can tell it's the same actor. In this case the character is different enough that I didn't sense any resemblance to Rom. Of course this Ferengi is unlikeable (as per the TNG policy on Ferengi). Really it's a testament to the characterisation on DS9 that a race designed to be sneaky, greedy and often creepy are characters you care about. I believe this is the first time we see Ferengi misogyny in action. I don't think there had been any Ferengis and women on screen together in Star Trek up to this point. I had the uncomfortable feeling, based on the mannerisms, that there was also an unpleasant stereotype going on here. I guess it works in a villain.


Oh Captain My Captain
Picard's grumpiness is worse than ever, as is his stubbornness when people badger him to take a holiday. Though it is irritating when everyone rejects your ideas for having fun and insists you do it their way. So what if Picard wants to attend lectures, do something cultural, or read? Personally that sounds like a pretty good holiday. When threatened with non-stop prodding, and the spectre of Lwxana Troi, Picard agrees to try somewhere relaxing instead of interesting.
I think this is the first time Picard has a love life on screen.We know he has exes, meaning that (unlike Kirk) the women he's been involved with survive, and have lives of their own. I guess Picard attracts a more successful type of love interest. In fact if your character is going to have episodic relationships this is a reasonable way to do it. They aren't always there cos they've got their own stuff going on and it's not a committed, codependent arrangement. More sincere than someone apparently being the love of your life then disappearing.*
The episode also plays into Picard's idea of himself as cultural, and the reality where he's unable to miss out on adventure. I was confused that Picard's love of archaeology didn't feature more prominently since it's an Indiana Jones type of story, and Picard really really likes old stuff. But as the McGuffin is from the future it probably doesn't interest him. Plus he's really the archeologist's love interest here.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management ...and prankster
Picard usurps Riker's normal role here by fulfilling two of the above descriptors (while still being senior management). Picard is never actually like Riker in the episode, even if he's got the kind of plot Riker usually gets.
Riker is very familiar with Risa, and the Horgon system. He goes on and on about the women of Risa. To the point where Troi (who is a very easy going ex) suggests he's been going on about these women more than necessary. Apparently in Riker's world sex is a mandatory holiday activity. Riker pranks Picard, first by suggesting Risa at all, and second by tricking him into getting a Horgon. As it turns out Picard can get women all by himself... as long as there's camping involved.

Doctor Doctor
Beverly obviously enjoys having the power to order Picard to do things, but she's too professional to do that. Or maybe it's because she knows he'll resent it and be super grumpy.

Klingon Warrior
Worf wants to send a security officer with the Captain. Seems a little over the top, but suggesting this sort of thing is Worf's job. This is another time when no one listens to Worf's security concerns, and yet again they turn out to be valid. As we will discover in DS9 Worf really doesn't get Risa, though his presence there does highlight the need for security.

Vash and the Crystal McGuffin
Vash is basically a female Indiana Jones. Making Picard one of those women who turn up, help out and then returns to their own lives, while the protagonist is off having more adventures. Of course being male and the main character Picard is allowed to be much more competent and useful, plus we see his viewpoint.
Certain types of film have taught me that if you go off on an unexpected adventure with a stranger, and you don't quite trust them, then you have to sleep with them (unless you both work in law enforcement). So I guess this episode is fully compliant with the standard convention.


Planet of...Paradise Resort
Risa is a paradise resort complete with female employees who will provide erotic massage and presumably other sexual services. These ladies can be summoned by a wooden statuette called a Horgon (which does the opposite of what the name would suggest). It's a bit like restaurants where the waiters keep bringing you meat until you flip over a coaster, but with sexual favours. It's never once made clear whether there are male employees who provide similar services, but if there are then they must have a different system in place.

Transporter Magic
So the transporters can make things explode if certain setting are used and prepped in advance. That seems useful, perhaps it'd be worth remembering.

Future Fashion
The costume designers were issued a challenge, how short can you make a mini dress so that it'll cover all of the buttocks but none of the legs? They flirt with that line quite a bit in Risa. Though they had the same challenge with Picard's shirt.
As seen above the time travelling aliens are overdressed, apparently wearing layers of glittery carpet. Perhaps they are from a more modest/cooler time?

Even in the 24th century jodhpurs are de rigeur for archaeological-type adventures.

The End
Picard returns to the Enterprise. Gives Riker the Horgon and threatens to have a chat with him about it. Troi asks if it was relaxing and Riker is happily smug that Picard had a good time. There's no real joke here, it's lighthearted but not cheesy, and a little pointless.


*Did Kirk airlock all those girls or disintegrate them?

14 October 2014

Real Life, contains rats

Apologies for the gap between posts.

I've been desperately trying to finish a short story, which didn't want to stay short. Also I got 3 pet rats, which was pretty distracting. I've not had rats before, though I've long wanted some. These are adults that I got from family who're short on space. We're all getting used to our new living arrangements (which involved rearranging our spare room), but the rats are fun.


The books posts will be slowing down for a while. After FantasyCon I have a load of review copies to read, so I'll be focusing on those for a while. I'm sure I can think of stuff to post instead. You wanna see more rat pictures, right?

1 October 2014

Allegiance

Episode: s3, ep 18

What Happens
Picard is kidnapped by a Monolith, which leaves a replica in his place. He's taken to a strange cell already occupied by a green-skinned Star Fleet cadet and a grey-skinned bureaucrat. They've tried to escape but were punished by a painful beam. Beds and discs of 'food' are available but there's nothing else for their comfort. Their captors haven't shown themselves.
On the Enterprise pseudo-Picard carries on mostly as normal, able to pick up where actual-Picard left off. He changes of ship's courses and sends them slowly to a pulsar. Pseudo-Picard tells Riker that this is one of those times when he can't be open about his reasons for doing things and Riker accepts this. Later pseudo-Picard drops in on a senior crew poker game, gives Geordi extra orders and has an odd chat with Troi. He invites Dr Crusher to dinner in his quarters.
A 4th cellmate appears, a hairy, toothy, bestial fellow from a race without laws. He can't eat the food discs (though how does he immediately know they're poison, maybe they just taste gross) it's suggested he could resort to cannibalism in a few days, meaning swift escape is vital. Picard tries to figure out how to escape as each cellmate throws around distrust, paranoia and accusations. Each is riled by aspects of he others' personality. All are accused of being a collaborator or a plant.
He and Beverly have a dinner date, he seems to be playing games with her emotions, which she calls him on. Riker starts to worry about the Captain's behaviour and has a word with him but is rebuffed. Then pseudo-Picard goes to 10 Forward and sings with the crew. Riker knows something is wrong and discusses it with senior crew.
In the cell Picard gets everyone working together to get the door open, only to find a solid wall behind it.
The most fabulous forcefield
Picard suggests this is all just an experiment. He identifies the green girl as the plant because she knew stuff about his recent missions that a cadet wouldn't know (I noticed he was suspicious that she knew too much, but assumed she was from a different time). She splits into 3 bulbous-headed aliens, who were doing a psychological experiment. They're telepathic and don't understand other types of communication. Picard orders them to return everyone. He materialises on the the Enterprise Bridge with one of the bulbous-headed guys just as Riker is accusing pseudo-Picard, who also turns into a bulbous-headed alien. Using eye contact a message is sent around the Bridge while the aliens go on about how primitive they all are. Worf drops a pink forcefield, trapping the aliens, trapping them. They complain that they cannot stand captivity. Picard points out that that's rich and sends them on their way with a warning.


Oh Captain My Captain
In a captive situation Picard automatically takes command, which is naturally accepted by the cadet. The other two (real) cellmates are opposites of each other and need either pushing along or reigning in. Picard uses his speeching powers to stop everyone from bickering and threatening each other. He tries to hold himself above the recriminations, but does get involved in some of the distrust, before pointing out that there's nothing they can do about it, so they might as well work together.
Psuedo-Picard seems to have all of Picard's memories, that's presumably what the Monolith scanned him for before taking him. No one notices anything different at first, he gives slightly odd orders, but there's nothing in his manner to undermine him. It's only as the replica deviates from Picard's behaviour that people become suspicious. This has happened before, back in series 1 when the Captain got possessed by that glow cloud (all hail the glow cloud). Plus there was that time a load of admirals got taken over by brain lice. Though here there's never a reason why the duplicate slowly takes them to the pulsar and then gets too close. It looked like it might be building to something, but it never did. Was it just a random test? The motives of the creature pretending to be Picard are never clear and so it's actions don't make sense. The pulsar seemed like it was only there to provide a flashy lighting effect for the confrontation scene.
The like doubling up on Patrick Stewart's roles in. It's at least the 2nd time he's appeared as 2 versions of Picard. The only other person who's close to that so far is Brent Spiner who played Lore as well as Data.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
Here Riker has to mediate between the crew and Captain. He's the main person to be suspicious of Picard's behaviour because he's probably the crew member who spends most time with Picard. His initial acceptance of Picard's secrecy works because the duplicate does what Picard would do and tells Riker there's stuff going on that he can't tell him about. However when pseudo-Picard won't address Riker's concern it rings alarm bells with Riker. As 1st Officer it's his responsibility to protect the Captain, but also to protect the crew from a Captain who may be compromised. He gathers senior staff to discuss the situation. At the end pseudo-Picard's lack of concern for crew safety is the proof Riker needs.

Doctor Doctor
Pseudo-Picard asking for a physical early surprises Dr Crusher, he's normally very reluctant about it. Does this mean the duplicate is checking it's disguise? Beverly is only a little surprised that the Captain invites her to an intimate dinner in his quarters. The dinner gets a bit odd when he brings up the topic of their relationship and the choices they've made in the past. She tells him that their relative positions do stop them getting closer, but she's also happy with their current relationship. I'm glad she knows what she wants from him and is open about it. He asks her to dance and kisses her, which is clearly weird and not respecting of what she just told him. She suggests he's playing games with her. He swiftly suggests the evening is finished, ushers her out and leaves her confused in the corridor. When Riker raises his concerns Crusher mentions how strange it is that the results of the Captain's physical are identical to last time.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Pseudo-Picard takes Troi out of the poker game to ask how the crew feel toward him and his mysterious orders. She answers that no one is worried. He asks her to let him know if their feelings of trust towards him shift. She agrees, but is concerned that he's even asking. It's clear that she can't sense that he's a duplicate, which you'd think would be a handy use for her powers. Then again she had no idea Picard had been possessed by a space cloud before, even when talking to him about it.


Planets of...
Bureaucratic Pacifists and Bestial Anarchists
It is of course wrong to take a single individual from a group and judge the entire group by the behaviour and characteristics of that individual... unless you're using an alien on a sci-fi TV show, in which case it's standard operating procedure. The important thing is that aliens conform entirely to a type (whichever type you should need for your plot), and that type can be very quickly summed up by their appearance, actions and some brief dialogue. The grey-skinned guy is pompous and a coward, his species are known for being collaborators and simply do whatever is the most peaceable option. This of course means they have no courage, rather than acting from a moral or cultural standpoint. He also likes to meditate, which I assume plays into some kind of stereotype.
The bestial guy has big tusk-fangs, is all hairy, growly and aggressive, and it's never quite clear whether he's actually willing to resort to eating his cellmates. His people have no laws, are very violent and apparently care for no one. Picard calls him an anarchist (cos that's what anarchy is kids). Somehow his people have managed to survive without any social codes, or more likely no one outside can tell what those social codes are. I kinda feel as though he actually is what the show sometimes presents Klingons as. He and the grey-skinned guy have nothing but contempt for each other. Good thing there's a moderate, middle-of-the-road human around to balance these conflicting and equally wrong ideologies individuals.
It was a little annoying that the only female character in the cell scenes turned out to be the deceiver. Plus she wasn't even real, just a disguise for some males. Well, the gender of the bulbous-headed aliens is never confirmed, but they're played by male actors and their body type looks male, so that seems to be how they're coded. I suppose in the original series Kirk would have flirted with her and probably had sex with her, where Picard treats all his cellmates according to their actions as opposed to gender. Though she is the only one that considers herself inferior to any of the others, seeing as Picard is a famous Captain and she's just a cadet. She's also the one who seems to get most upset by things. Although she gives as good as she gets when the accusations are flying.


Staff Meetings: 2
1. Pseudo-Picard calls Riker to his ready room to explain that he'll have to keep him in the dark for a few days. Riker has no qualms, these things happen.
2. Riker calls senior staff to his quarters for a secret meeting about why the Captain is being so weird. Everyone mentions something odd he's done. Data mentions the weird energy detected in the Captain's quarters before. Worf says they don't have enough evidence to mutiny. Riker says that's not what the meeting is about and ultimately decides to do nothing yet. Seems unlike Riker, but he's so loyal to Picard.

The End
Aliens dealt with Picard hopes his duplicate didn't cause trouble. Riker says it was convincing but he doesn't think the Captain is such a good singer. Picard is confused and perhaps slightly alarmed. Dr Crusher comes to the Bridge (presumably not aware of the whole duplicate thing?) and smiles at Picard in a way that makes him nervous. He orders the ship to its next destination.
I think this is meant to be lighthearted, not sure if it's actually supposed to be comical. I didn't find it particularly funny, but at least it wasn't cheesy.
When your boss tries to be one of the guys, by singing

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.

Not-actually-an-Ensign
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.


BOOK SPOILERS BELOW

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.