8 April 2018

Power Play

Episode: s5, ep 15

What Happens
A distress signal on a moon seems to come from a centuries-missing Federation ship. Picard intends to leave, but Troi senses a life down there. The electromagnetic conditions on the moon are too dangerous for transporting, so Riker, Troi and Data go down in a shuttle to investigate. The shuttle crashes, Riker breaks his arm and Troi senses life in the oncoming storm. O'Brien volunteers to beam down with some transporter-boosting gizmo so they can all beam back. After O'Brien beams down and sets up the equipment, lightning strikes and they all fall down. Glowy balls go into everyone except Riker, who wakes and activates the transporter.
The away team wakes in sickbay. Riker discusses their next move with Picard. Data does the android equivalent of clearing his throat, it sounds weird. Data tells Riker they should start surveying the moon at the polar region, but Riker wants to look at the crash site first. Troi tells Picard she sensed voices in the wind and they told her to go to the polar region. (Hmmm *suspicious face*) Data changes the course Ro set, and Riker approaches Data about it the android attacks him. Riker calls for security. O'Brien shoves Worf. Shots are fired. In Picard's office, Troi knocks the Captain out. As she, Data and O'Brien escape the Bridge in the lift, she reprimands Data for showing their hand too early. Security chase after the turbolift, but the possessed crew members know that tracking people by easily-removed badges has it's disadvantages. Security force-fields try to contain them, but Data isn't made of meat so he smashes electrical stuff. Worf chases them into 10 Forward where they take hostages, including Keiko and baby Molly. (Guinan has got to be away, cos she would not allow this kind of thing and would totally see through the hostage-takers.)
The hostage-takers have computer access behind the bar, so O'Brien stops the transporter room from locking onto them. He also makes sure the sensors don't work in there. The Bridge crew try to resolve the situation; flooding the room with knock-out gas won't work on Data (also, there's a baby in there). Riker suggests blowing the doors open and phaser stunning everyone (guys, There's A Baby In There!). Picard asks Crusher to check the recent scans of the possessed crew members, see if she can figure out what's happened. Then the Captain negotiates with the hostage-takers.
The thing inside Data is a massive jerk and tries to pick a fight with Worf, which would be interesting to watch. Troi stops his nonsense, she's clearly in charge. The thing inside O'Brien recognises Keiko and becomes fixated on her. Troi threatens to injure more hostages unless they go to the polar region, Picard agrees but the ship goes slowly. Crusher figures out that a weird reading from the three was probably something taking control of their brains. Riker wasn't affected because of the pain of his broken arm, so causing pain should force the beings out. Geordi and Ro suggest zapping them with a burst of energy that will cause pain but not damage and should flood Data's neural network too. Picard tells Crusher to figure out a way of containing the entities once they're out. Geordi and Ro go to drill a tiny hole through the ceiling of 10 Forward and get the zapper ready for when the hostage takers are standing together underneath. Picard goes to swap places with the injured hostages in 10 Forward. "Data" is suspicious of him, but "Troi" allows it. A medical team takes the injured away, but leave Keiko and her baby! "Troi" reveals that they're ghosts from the missing ship, she's the captain and the other two are her officers. They knew Picard didn't believe in ghosts, so they had to use deception to get what they want, which she claims is rest from their torment. Crusher figures out how to contain the entities, so now Geordi and Ro just need to prep their zapping device and wait for the opportunity to use it.
Picard talks to Worf, he doesn't believe these are ghosts because Star Fleet officers wouldn't act this way. "O'Brien" tries to kiss poor Keiko. The ship is at the polar region, and Troi instructs Picard to beam up their remains to be taken home for burial. Picard asks her to release everyone, she refuses and Picard points out that if she is who she claims there's no need for this. "Data" threatens to kill Worf, and "O'Brien" allows Keiko to pass Molly to some nearby before bringing her forward to be killed. The hostage-takers stand together under Ro and Geordi so they activate the zapper, but "Data" moves at the last moment, so only two are zapped. The two glowy balls are forced out, but "Data" has Picard by the throat and threatens to kills everyone in the room, so Picard orders them to abort the rescue attempt.
The Bridge crew try to find whatever "Troi" wants from the pole, but the storm stops both sensors and transporters from working. Picard and Riker manage to convince "Troi" that nothing will work due to the electromagnetic weather, Picard offers to take O'Brien to a cargo bay transporter, as he was the only one who could get it working before. "Troi" says they'll all go and take one hostage each and Picard must ensure they have safe passage. "Troi" takes Picard, "Data" takes Worf, and "O'Brien" takes Keiko, while Molly is left with that lady again. Picard orders that they have safe passage to cargo bay 4 and all transporter control is given to "O'Brien". Riker figures out that Picard chose that cargo bay for a reason, and orders Ro to blow the external doors if needed. In the cargo bay Picard asks how they plan to find rest. "O'Brien" beams in a column of energy. "Troi" says they don't want rest, just escape, and reveals that they're prisoners, separated from their bodies and left 500 years ago. The energy column is 100s of their fellow prisoners, and now they plan to escape using the bodies of the Enterprise crew. They almost escaped on the previous Federation ship, but it wasn't strong enough to escape the storms. Riker orders Crusher to flood the cargo bay with her containment field, the prisoners are all trapped. Picard points out that they'll all die when the doors are opened, and each hostage points out they're willing to die. "Troi" concedes that they're stuck, and Picard offers to send them to the moon's surface again if they release his crew. The three balls of energy go and join their mates.

Oh Captain, My Captain
This is one of the episodes where Picard really earns his reputation for being a great captain, who leads well and cares for those under his command.  When Riker objects to Picard swapping himself for hostages in 10 Forward Picard says that he's a hostage no matter where he is. He's rational about his duties to crew and ship, he feels strong emotions about the situation, but doesn't let them come to the fore, remaining calm in order to be most effective. He's willing to negotiate, and put himself in danger and even to die for his crew. "Troi" knows he'll try to prevent violence, and that's the easiest way to manipulate him. As long as there's a threat to the ship.

Does Not Compute
Data needs a firewall. Seriously, the hostage-takers could not have gotten as far as they did if one of them wasn't possessing an android. At least we know it wasn't Data himself doing it, because as we've already seen, Data has the ability to commandeer the entire Enterprise and potentially kill everyone else on board all by himself.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
This isn't the infamous 'Good Troi episode' (is that soon?) but this isn't far off as Marina Siris plays the part of a calculating, non-nonsense leader really well. It's plausible that she could be a Captain, and it's only the cold, ruthlessness that gives away the fact that the possessing entity isn't who they claim to be. Her annoyance at "Data" revealing them is plain, she was going to use Troi's position of trust with Picard to go to the polar region, and probably could have got things done a lot quicker and easier that way. In fact it seems as though the two other glowy things are in the category of incompetent henchmen, letting their character flaws get in the way of the plan. Perhaps the one who was going to possess Riker was smarter?

Poor O'Briens
Their marriage is a series of unfortunate events (see also, any O'Brien family episode of DS9). In this case a creature wearing her husband like suit fixates on Keiko and sexually harasses her, while she's held hostage with her baby. It's clear that it has access to Miles's memories, which is why it recognises Keiko and Molly. If it has access to Miles's emotions that is presumably why it tries to kiss her. That doesn't quite explain why it volunteers her to be killed, unless it's a way of removing her as a factor. We get a real sense of the personalities inside Troi (a calculating leader) and Data (an aggressive jerk), but the one inside Miles is just, fixated on Miles's wife and not happy about it? Not quite a character trait. At the very end Miles is saying he would've killed the thing inside him if he could've and Keiko reassures him that she (and Molly) know. I think it's supposed to be heartwarming, but it really isn't.

Security Breach
Yeah, there was this weird synaptic reading on three of the away team (including the one with a man-made brain) when they came back, but we didn't check it out. I like Crusher, but seriously how is stuff like this not something you quarantine people for and figure out before letting them back into the general population?

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?
All those plans to get into 10 Forward, knock-out gas and phaser stuns, those might not damage an adult but I don't think a baby has that tolerance. Of course since the sensors were off they might not have known Molly was present, so I guess I can give that a pass. (There don't usually seem to be kids in 10 Forward, although now I'm wondering where the parents and families hang out.) No one mentioned that there was a in baby there when Worf or Picard could talk to the Bridge. Shouldn't Molly (and perhaps Keiko) have been evacuated with the injured people? It's like only Keiko, Miles and that lady who kept holding her could even see Molly.

No Magic Here
Of course they aren't actually ghosts, that would be deeply silly. It's gotta be disembodied, imprisoned aliens, far more rational. It's interesting that Worf says cases of possession have been reported throughout Klingon history and they even have a word for it. Picard doesn't dismiss Worf's belief and says humans have similar ideas, but points out that in this case it seems unlikely that these used to be Star Fleet officers. I mean these guys are disembodied, but still extant and capable of possessing others, so they seem functionally the same as ghosts.

The End
Troi describes what it was like, able to perceive everything but having no control. Data apologises to Worf. The O'Brien family leave sick bay together and Miles says he would have killed the thing inside him if he could, which I think is supposed to be sweet and reassuring. This is supposed to be a light sort of ending, but it feels artificial. Everyone should be processing what they've been through, but there's no time for that, so some mild banter will apparently suffice (also, aww baby).

30 March 2018


Not much actual reading for me recently. Well, I'm gradually working through Tim Peake's Ask an Astronaut, but that's non-fic and I'm mostly reading little bits at a time. The baby was having some sleep-regression/teething/eczema issues, so evenings and a few nights have been interrupted. Hopefully he's working through that now. Still listening to podcasts on my commute whenever I don't have the baby with me.

Scar Clan by Carrow Narby (Podcastle 512, narrated by Becky Stinemetze)
About a woman who works in a vets late at night and helps patch up local werewolves. She encounters a fat werewolf nicknamed Thunderhead, mean and reckless even for a werewolf. The story shows us the nighttime work of the veterinarian and how she helps the werewolf population and keeps their existence unofficial. We learn about the narrator; her own history with werewolves, and her ritual of getting a tattoo to cover/comemorate scars. We see that daytime and humans aren't necessarily safer and that being a monster isn;t about whether you can change shape.

The Fumblers Alley Risk Emporium by Julian Mortimer Smith (Podcaste 511, narrated by Wilson Fowlie)
An intriguing story set in what intitially seems to be a magical shop, but is actually somewhere much stranger, where the proprietor runs a strange game of chance where the stakes can be seemingly anything. It is told from the point of view of a regular, but one who is in a desperate frame of mind, which lends a tense edge to all that trasnspires. It is a story full of mystery, including the cause of the narrator's desperation, the nature of what he wants and the identity of his tormentor.

A Study in Symmetry or the Chance Encounter of an Android and a Painter by Jamie Lackey (Escape Pod 619, narrated by Trendane Sparks and Divya Breed)
This was so sweet and lovely, as well as being really well done. It's about HK182 and Lawrence going about their days; she is contented as usual, he is hungover and vulnerable. Then there's the chance encounter and further meetings, and it works on an emotional and story level. The Dual narration works really well as the story focuses on each character's POV and captures their different mindsets very well. The contrast between human artist and android landscaper is strong, but the interest they have in each other and the growing areas of compatibility are built up really well. Definitely a story to cheer you up.

A Cure For Homesickness by S. L. Scott  (Escape Pod 617, narrated by Eric Luke)
An insectile being is confused by his human crewmate coming back to save him during a dangerous mission. When her rescue attempt leads to injury he ensures that she is cared for, and whilst talking to her as a distraction he diagnoses her with homesickness.  The captain's cure is bizarre, but fellow humans will likely find it adorable. This story works really well because the clash of cultures and mindsets doesn't stop there from being much respect and affection between the characters. It's a great example of crewmates-as-community, a sci-fi trope I enjoy more and more. It's often cool to see humans from an 'alien' perspective, to have our foibles played back to us to expose how weird they are. The ending is pretty cute. Max struck me as a fun character, very clearly American/Western, and her attitude contrasted strongly with Krem, the main character who comes from a strongly communal society. The story made me think of Becky Chambers work, especially Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

My Generations Shall Praise by Samantha Henderson (Escape Pod 616, narrated by Alethea Kontis)
This was difficult and powerful. It's super dark which isn't normally my scene, but it was so well done and somehow intriguing . The narrator does good work to make the horrible POV character somehow understandable despite being a sociopathic baby-killer. That took real skill and the narrator deserves praise for her amazing performance. The central SF concept is intriguing and the ramifications of how things could work out are fascinating, while also being kinda awful whichever way you look at it. There's a conundrum at the heart of the story, which keeps your intellect occupied even as your emotions are reeling. I think the dispassionate voice of the main character, who relates horrors in a matter-of-fact way, is what kept it from being too much for me. I felt really bad for the main character's daughter, poor girl was surrounded by such awfulness and barely spoken of with affection. It's interesting that the respectable, wealthy woman in the story came off almost as cold and hard as the murderer; the story could spark discussion of how someone's background influences their outcome.

It's hard to blithely recommend this story, as it could easily be too much for people, there's reference to murders and sexual assault, and no sense of remorse. I'm surprised I managed to enjoy it, I must've been in the right frame of mind, or perhaps it helped that I was travelling while I heard it. If you do listen, maybe have one of the happier stories I mentioned further up ready to go as a pick-me-up.

An American Refugee by Tiah Maria Beautement (Cast of Wonders 295, narrated by Julia Rios)
A story set in a future where Americans have fled their country and are being accepted by other nations, we see a girl in South Africa getting used to being allowed to run outside and meeting one of her future schoolmates. As the story unfolds we find out more about the narrative character, her family and their uneasy status as refugees. We also gradually find out more about the situation in the US. It sounds like a dystopia, but it's eerie in it's plausibility. Sadly there are loads of actual people who would applaud the awful measures we see in the character's reminisce. It's also a story about a boy and girl meeting. The host of this episode makes some good points about how difficult being a teenager can be, and how things are made worse for many people.

18 March 2018


Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
The first in the October Daye series, about a half-fairy PI whose life was in limbo for 14 years. Set in San Francisco and full of different kinds of fairies (I think mostly Gaelic/Celtic, but not entirely), it's an engaging read that hits various familiar beats. The reluctant former-PI who has a bad past and lost her shot at a "normal" life is pulled back into the world she's tried to disengage from by a death and a mystery. Admittedly there's a curse pulling Tobi back into fairy stuff and despite her attempt to seem totally isolated she has a lot of friends and allies around, as well as dangerous enemies. The reveal didn't particularly surprise me, but the journey there was fun.

Sparg by Brian Trent (Escape Pod 614, narrated by Alasdair Stuart)
This story is cute, poignant and kinda heartbreaking. The reveal is gradual and done cleverly. Told from the point of view of a pet it masterfully examines the way human behaviour and circumstances can affect the animals who live with us.

Lonely Robot on a Rocket Ship in Space by A. Merc Rustad (Escape Pod 615, narrated by Christopher Cornell)
A teenager tries to tell his dads a truth about himself, but it's hard to make them understand. Luckily his best friend and a supportive online community are there for him. The story is fairly sweet in itself, but also feels like an uplifting metaphor for all sorts of things, including gender-identity and neuro-divergence.

Granny Death and the Drag King of London by A. J. Fitzwater (Glittership 49)
This story, read by the author, is about a New Zealand drag king living and working in London and saddened by the death of Freddie Mercury. She discovers that the weirdness she experiences around death is actually a kind of power. The story describes what it was like to be in the queer community during the AIDS crisis. The narration is great, full of anger and despair of the main character.

A Non-Hero's Guide to the Road of Monsters by A. T. Greenblatt (Podcastle 509, narrated by Mike Flinchum)
A story that looks at quest stories/tropes with a sarcastic eye. The setting and character initially feel fairly simple, but further depth is revealed as the story progresses.

1 March 2018


Episode: s5, ep 14

What Happens
Crusher is treating a lady who injured herself in the holodeck. Riker and Ro are arguing. Troi and Data are playing chess, Troi wins so Data has to make her a fancy cocktail. A small ship approaches and scans the Enterprise with green light, it's a weird scan, but Picard doesn't order the shields up in time. After the green light passes everyone has amnesia, even Data.
Picard, Riker, Worf, Geordi, Ro and some redshirt dude who's also on the Bridge deduce that this is their ship, and they have the skills to operate it, but don't remember anything else. Worf decides he must be captain because he has a shiny sash. He reckons they should prepare for combat. Picard steers him towards checking the status of the rest of the ship, so a vague message is sent out. Riker and Ro do an away mission on their own ship. Crusher realises pretty quick that she's a doctor, her patient isn't comforted by this because she's just Patient-in-a-Bathing-Suit. In 10 Forward Data decides he must be a bartender because he's behind the bar, and Troi discovers she's the only one with empathy. She knows Riker is familiar, but not why. (Where's Guinan? I feel like she'd cut through this nonsense super quick, which is probably why she's on holiday or something.)
Personnel files are found for all the characters I've mentioned by name so far, and that random redshirt dude from the Bridge, who is apparently an Executive Officer (suspicious). Everyone assumes their correct ranks, and Worf apologises for claiming a command he didn't earn, but Picard is cool about it. Further investigation reveals that the ship is called the  Enterprise, their organisation is the United Federation of Planets, and they've been at war for 6 years with some guys I've never heard of, who've been making ships disappear with a new weapon (very suspicious). It turns out the Enterprise's mission was to go and destroy the enemy's central command in order to end the war. Meanwhile Troi tells Riker he's familiar again, and Ro sneaks into Riker's quarters so they can have sexytimes, which is fine as neither remembers they can't stand each other.
There's an encounter with a small enemy ship and Random Redshirt Dude (seriously, who are you?) pushes Picard to destroy the weaker ship. He does, but isn't happy about it. Sensing Picard's reluctance, Random Redshirt Dude tries to argue him into following the written orders they found without confirming the situation externally. Troi tells Riker that the war feels wrong, and he says that's probably how war is supposed to feel. Crusher has found info that might help with a treatment, but she needs everyone's medical records before she can try it. Random Redshirt Dude is the one who is chosen to try her treatment, and he says it hasn't worked. Hmm, convenient that.
Random Redshirt Dude talks to Worf privately and uses the word warrior a lot to convince Worf that Picard doesn't have the guts for combat. When the moment comes Worf should do what Random Redshirt Dude says and shoot stuff.
He doesn't even go here!
The ship approaches enemy territory, 3 tiny drones try to stop them and present no challenge, it'ssuspiciously easy to just rock right up to the command base. The command base has crappy defensive capabilities and no weapons. Redshirt Dude urges Picard to destroy them, it wouldn't be difficult. Picard refuses because he might not remember who he is, but he knows he doesn't kill the defenseless. Redshirt Dude tries to commandeer the ship and approaches Worf's console while ordering him to fire. Worf doesn't and tries to swipe him away, but Redshirt Dude chucks Worf aside. A human shouldn't be able to do that, so Worf and Riker fire phasers at him, revealing he's not human.
Then a big cut to later, and Picard's log informs us that Crusher has been working to restore memories. This skips both the mopping up of Redshirt Dude and people remembering who they are, which feels like a missed opportunity. Imagine all the shocked-face acting we miss out on here. Turns out Redshirt Dude was from a race that were at war with those other guys, and this was the plan to destroy their enemy once and for all. In the penultimate scene Riker identifies the major flaw with this episode, if just one of those dudes could single-handedly remove people's memories, but not their useful skills, and alter all their computer files (and Data), why go to all this effort with the Enterprise? Picard responds that Redshirt Dude's people had lesser weapon's capabilities, and for some reason Riker has no follow-up questions, even though Picard in no way answered the question. Then Riker must face Troi and Ro.

Oh Captain My Captain
Even without his memories Picard's morals and leadership skills are still present. He argues with Random Redshirt Dude about aggression and not attacking those who can't defend themselves. Though it's Picard's initial desire to appear friendly by not raising their shields, that is what got them into this situation in the fist place.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
Riker still identifies Picard as his superior, even without their memories - he's basically just imprinted on him. As well as doing his duty in weird circumstances Riker still has time for fun. He happily goes along with what Ro initiates, but gives her plenty of opportunities to make her intentions clear and back out if she wants. He kind of bonds with Troi too, but it's clear the feelings are more on her side. Amnesiac Riker is surprised to discover he plays trombone. It's clearly a weird hobby in the future.

Klingon Warrior
It makes sense for Worf to take command, his big, insignia'd sash is more impressive than Picard's tiny collar buttons.* Unsurprisingly he thinks of combat over people and is still guided by Picard a bit.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
She feels the strong bond with Riker from the start, but doesn't push things with him much. She finds evidence they were close and they almost kiss, but then Ro comes in. I bet Troi can sense what's happening between Riker and Ro, it's pretty obvious. No wonder she races out of there. She kinda senses stuff is wrong, but as ever not quite enough to be useful (I mean Guinan could see through a whole alternate timeline. Troi couldn't even sense Random Redshirt Dude was lying). At the end Troi continues to be a good ex to Riker, though she'll take the chance to make him uncomfortable.

Staff meetings: 3
1. Picard and Redshirt Dude report to Capt Worf. No point being Captain of the Enterprise unless you get to run a staff meeting. Worf's highest priority is combat readiness.
2. With ranks -but not memories- restored Geordi and Data explain about the long-running war, the enemies' brain disrupting weapon and their vital mission to destroy the enemy's central command. Troi suggests they get confirmation of what they should be doing, but Worf is against that. All the recovered files say they must maintain radio-silence, so Picard orders them to continue as seemingly instructed.
3. Worf and Random Redshirt are pleased about destroying a tiny ship. Ro makes tactical suggestions. Picard is uneasy and urges Crusher to restore memories, Data and Geordi are ordered to help her by finding everyone's medical files.

The End
Riker sees Ro and Troi in 10 Forward, he's proactive about speaking to them, no evasion, but clearly he's uncertain about where they stand. Ro and Troi are being friendly with each other (elements of ladies against hapless man, TV does this a lot, as though female bonding and info sharing is a threat somehow). They're kind of friendly to Riker, but with enough edge that he's not sure where he stands with either. The ladies refuse to be awkward about things, which is fair enough. No one here did anything wrong, but at the end Riker looks a little put upon, and I don't think he deserves to be punished. Is this supposed to be funny? It's pretty blah.

Poor little ship, never stood a chance

* Is this why long-haired crew tend to wear their hair up all the time, so people can see their rank clearly on their collars?

21 February 2018


La Gorda and the City of Silver by Sabrina Vourvoulias (Podcastle 506, narrated by Sandra Espinoza)
A Guatemalan woman who was raised around luchadors, develops her own mask and persona in order to protect the women of her city from dangerous men. This story felt very powerful, La Gorda's yearning to fulfill a masculine role that is denied to her become something greater and more important when she uses her skills to become a protector of other women. It was great that the main character was explicitly fat and felt no shame about this. The scene setting leading up to the ending felt a little rushed, but the ending itself was great.

There Are No Wrong Answers by LaShawn M. Wanak (Podcastle 505, narrated by Jen R. Albert and Khaalida Muhammad-Ali)
A story told through the medium of a multiple-choice personality test as an interesting idea and it works well here. Exploring psychology and divination, suggesting the similarities between the two and throwing in a bit of the fantastical worked well. I was OK with the endings, though I imagine some might not enjoy it. The episode was narrated by the two editors and the dual narration worked well.

The Substance of My Lives, The Accidents of Our Births by Jose Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed Magazine Podcast, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki - also available in print)
Jamie can remember all of their past lives, it makes them a bit of an outsider. When a man who has served a murder sentence moves into the trailer park Jamie knows he's familiar. After some investigation Jamie realises they knew him in previous life, and with the help of their best friend Jamie tries to get justice. This story is intriguing, dealing with the challenges Jamie faces by being out-of-the-norm, and a decades-old mystery.

The Sixes, The Wisdom and the Wasp by E. J. Delaney (Escape Pod 612, narrated by Nadia Niaz)
This clever story, told from a child's point of view, seems like it's just about time travel at first, but then things get more complicated. The setting and main character are interesting, and the in media res beginning works well. The narration wonderfully conveyed the frustration of a girl who was just trying to undo a stupid accident, but ends up with a beloved horse held hostage and a threatening doppelganger.

Currently reading Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire, but not finished it yet.

6 February 2018


I am a person who consumes a lot of fiction, yet as things get busier in my life I've become much worse at talking about it. I also don't talk about audio fiction, which is ridiculous as I listen to it all the time. Podcasts got me through so many commutes and yet I don't talk about them much. I don't listen to as many podcasts as I once did, because I don't listen to them when I'm travelling with the baby, but I still get through a fair bit. With this in mind I plan to do monthly posts, mentioning at least some of the stories I've read/listened to.

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows
The book takes portal fantasy and makes it pragmatic and a little gritty. The novel features a world that has it's own history, multiple cultures and political stuff going on, instead of somewhere kinda waiting around for the arrival of someone from elsewhere. The viewpoint characters are women from different countries/worlds and different cultures; there are friendships and alliances going back decades and new bonds forged through trouble and danger. The difficulties of returning home is increased by physical scars and a need to be pragmatic about handling her return.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
I've been reading early Vorkosigan saga books, heard about it for a long time, thought I'd give it a go. This is the 3rd novel and 4th book I've read, and the earliest one in the series' internal chronology (I've been relying on what books I can get from the local library). This was the darkest book I've read so far, it introduces 2 main characters (parents of the later main character). There's space, war and romance. There's some nasty stuff in the war, and it's depicted from a female viewpoint, including dangers of being a prisoner and one effect of an occupying force. It's told entirely from the point of view of Cordelia Naismith, whose planetary survey is interrupted by violence. She meets an enemy commander and while the love story follows some tropes, but it's not simple and feels emotionally convincing. Cordelia deals with awful stuff from both enemies and her own side, but she's a likable character and pretty practical. I'm not far enough through the series to decide on favourites yet. I think so far I like Cordelia than more Miles as a character, but I've preferred the Miles stories, of course I'm told there are more Miles stories. I've only read younger Miles stories, so I can see that he might grow on me as the series progresses.

Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints in the City Under the Still Waters by N. K. Jemisin (Podcastle 503, narrated by Laurice White)
Set during Hurricane Katrina, a poor citizen of New Orleans encounters a winged lizard and something big and supernatural full of hate. He helps his elderly neighbour in a sunken city and becomes a kind of avatar for the city. The writing and narration are great, so that the narrative voice is strong.

Zilal and the Many Folded Puzzle Ship by Charlotte Ashley (Podcastle 502)
A live reading by the author introducing a short story from her shared universe (with 2 other authors). The general concept is intriguing, a portal to another world opens off the shore of Mogadishu, and this story is about a very ingenious young woman who turns her skills to a romantic getaway in another world, and gets into trouble after encountering a renegade mother. The narration is very good, especially considering it's live.

Even the Queen by Connie Willis (Escape Pod 608, narrated by Veronica Giguere)
An older story, told from the viewpoint of a judge, whose daughter has joined an organisation/cult that the rest of the family doesn't approve of. It's clear that this is in a future where society has changed somehow, especially for women. 4 generations of women meet in a restaurant to deter or grudgingly support a wayward relative. The conversations are so wonderfully done with family taking over each other and at cross-purposes. Then when you gradually discover that the whole thing is about periods it's absolutely hilarious. Two generations of women who suffered through menstruation talk about it with people who have never experienced periods as a regular thing.

6 December 2017

Masterpiece Society

Episode: s5, ep 13

Genetic predestination meets the glow-ball of doom.

What Happens
The Enterprise is following a big, glowy sun fragment, it's going near a planet that's unexpectedly populated by humans. The crew try to contact the doomed, domed settlement to warn them they need to evacuate. The leader of the settlement refuses, they're totally sealed in. Picard explains about transporters and the Leader is intrigued, he agrees that a few people can come and talk options. You just know it's going to be one of  those settlements.
Under the dome, the Leader explains to Riker, Troi and Geordi that the whole community is precisely genetically modified and attuned to the environment, according to the plan of their founders. Everyone's genes and functions are mapped out, no one wonders about what they'll do with life. The away team explain the danger; their biosphere won't survive glow-ball proximity. Grumpy Judge is very defensive and wants the away team gone. Just the presence of strangers has an effect on the environment. Leader is more open to contact, especially with Troi (nudge nudge, wink wink, etc.). Evacuation is not an option anyone seems willing to take. Geordi meets with a Physicist, who is fascinated by transporters and other tech. She has an idea to move the glow-ball away, there isn't enough power in the settlement, but maybe the Enterprise can help? She gets permission to work on the problem with Geordi on the ship, making her the first person to ever leave. Troi stays on the planet, she obviously wants to spend more time with Leader.
Geordi gets on well with Physicist, despite the rampant ableism that is a tenet of her society and means she reacts rudely to him as a blind person. In fact Geordi's visor turns out to be the solution to their engineering problem, which makes him rightfully pleased. Leader and Troi get closer, and then they kiss. They go on about how it's wrong, but continue anyway (I think we're to assume sex happens). I'm not really sure why it's wrong, at least not for Troi. It turns out that even with moving the glow-ball there will still be too much damage to the biosphere, unless some Federation engineers improve the shielding. Grumpy Judge objects, he thought the away team of three was too many. Leader allows it, because otherwise they'll be destroyed.
The glow-ball passes and it works, but Physicist is unhappy about returning after all she's seen outside. She tries to pretend there was damage in order to force an evacuation, but Geordi knows she's lying. She's realised that being isolated from the rest of humanity means that she's been outstripped scientifically. Geordi points out that discoveries are often made because they're needed, but these people had no pressing needs before. Leader is sad Troi is leaving, but she can't stay and he won't go, he's exactly where he's meant to be. Physicist isn't only one curious about outside, the population were intrigued by the engineering crews. Physicist and others request asylum. The balance of the society is so carefully planned that if more than one or two people leave it'll ruin the place. Picard is in an awkward situation as he can't refuse asylum seekers, but can't deny that the skills-gap they leave behind will destabilise the settlement. Leader argues for his people to stay as the Founders intended, even though he privately admits he understand their desire to leave. He tries to get them to stay for 6 more months, which Picard thinks is fair, but Physicist refuses. In the end 23 people leave. Troi parts from Leader; I don't feel bad because she seemed guilty about the whole thing anyway, and who needs that?

Oh Captain My Captain
While talking to Troi about convincing people to evacuate Picard expresses his distaste at "dubious scientific endeavour" turned to dogma. He's against genetic engineering, as seems to be common among 24th century humans. In this specific case Picard believes they've given away their humanity (which seems a little strong) and bred out many of the things that make life worth living, like uncertainty and self-discovery. Not that he'd say that to any of the people involved, he's a diplomat after all. Troi questions him on this; it seems she's been a bit swayed by Leader.
The real philosophical issue actually comes late in the episode, which is whether Picard is right to grant asylum when doing so will wreck the society for those who stay behind. Of course Picard can't refuse an asylum request, and will take the people if they want to go. He's willing to swing by again later, to give people time to consider their decision. He discusses this with Leader, and while both men understand the other's viewpoint, they both have duties they will not swerve from. It's probably easier for Picard, since he thinks the idea behind their culture is wrong-headed. It's sort of a nice that Leader can privately admit his own feelings to Picard, as men in similar positions of authority.

Blind Engineering
Here we see that Geordi can be perfectly appropriate and professional working with women when he doesn't have feelings for them. More of this please, and less of the deeply-irritating creeper that Geordi becomes when attraction is in the mix.*
In this situation Geordi is very much the victim of ableism. Grumpy Judge makes it very clear that he's looking down on Geordi for being blind, and also looking down on Geordi's entire society for even letting him exist, which is awful. (It's interesting that Grumpy Judge is also played by a black actor, I guess so the focus could be on the discrimination against disability, rather than anything racial.) Even while he is working well with Physicist, the attitudes she's been raised with are an issue. She awkwardly asks if he's always been blind, and he apologises for taking his visor off and shocking her, which he didn't need to do. She assumes he's embarrassed, which angers him because he's always been this way and he's never been embarrassed about it. This is the kind of thing that makes me feel good about the way the future is depicted in this version of Trek, because clearly Geordi has lived in an environment where his disability was not a cause of bad treatment or problematic assumptions, or at least he was raised in a way that meant stuff like that rarely bothers him. Having gotten annoyed he presses her on how he wouldn't have even existed on her world. She replies with what she's been conditioned to say, that the founders didn't want anyone to suffer a life with disability. Geordi angrily asks what gave them the right to decide he had nothing to contribute and shouldn't exist. Physicist isn't sure how to respond, so expresses an interest in his visor, this is safer ground and allows the awkwardness to dissipate (not that the awkwardness was unjustified, she was expressing assumptions that were very offensive to Geordi). The visor conversation leads to the solution for moving the glow-ball and Geordi is smugly pleased that a visor for a blind man is the answer to saving a society where blindness isn't allowed to exist.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi and Leader were clearly crushing on each other from the start, which might have informed how receptive each was to the other's culture. When Troi stayed on the planet a while I figured they were hooking up, but then it turns out that they'd both been holding back, at first. The reasons seem to be that it's against his culture; whether that has to do with sex, relationships, or not increasing the general contamination from outsiders, is not made clear. Frankly I would've liked more details on this, if I'm supposed to care about this clearly-temporary relationship then knowing the stakes involved is useful. Anyway, the point is that all the issues with this relationship are on his side, but Troi seems to be the one lumbered with all the guilt. She confesses to Picard like she's done something bad (and I'm sure it's the kind of detail Picard is uncomfortable knowing about), but I honestly can't see the issue. There's no Prime Directive conflict and neither Troi nor Leader appeared to be committed to anyone else. Maybe it's a little unprofessional, but Riker has sex with people he meets on missions, and that doesn't cause any comment. In fact Riker has literally had sex with the leader of another culture while on a mission, and he just got to enjoy himself. Maybe Troi feels like she led Leader astray, but he's a grown man -one who was literally bred to be in a position of responsibility- so I'm sure he can sort himself out. It may break his cultural beliefs, but he's not the one protesting, so I'm not sure what she's blaming herself for. Honestly I think I bounced so hard off this because Troi seems to be taking on a load of bad feelings for no clear reason. Maybe it's an empath thing, which really sucks for her.

Planet of... GM Ableists
These people live in a sealed biosphere, the environment outside is entirely inhospitable to humans, and the rest of humanity don't know they're there. Those founders were really keen that no one within their experiment would have the option to leave. They say that the biome is attuned to the people there and so any foreign bodies are harmful, but is that even true or just what they've been told so they won't interact with the outside? (I thought this was going to be an episode where a population realises their founders/elders lied to them all along and it was actually a prison colony or something.) Of course genetic modification is a major taboo in the Federation -at least among humans- due to Khan, but even if you're broadly OK with the idea this situation is really messed up. The culture is pretty oppressive; everyone is bred for their role in life and presumably trained for that their whole lives. They say everyone is happy not having a worry about their place in life, but there's no mention of whether the environment they're all attuned to is full of happy-drugs. It's basically a dystopia.
Then there's the ableism, a trend often found in utopian SF. In a future where illness has been cured, so the thinking goes, there isn't any disability. While that might sound good on paper, to able-bodied folks, this episode points out that the implications of it are pretty icky. Despite being utopian Trek (in this incarnation anyway) avoids and works against this through having Geordi as a main character. I'm sure there are issues in the way they do this, but at least this episode addresses this common flaw in the genre and the underlying ickiness. Who decides which people are too disabled to live? Why end someone's life/prevent someone from living when you have the technology to provide support for them? Yes, sickness and disability are challenging, but life has challenges for any/everyone and support is preferable to extinction. It's only addressed in terms of blindness here, but what other 'abnormalities' are screened out in this society? Autism? Depression? Anyone who isn't neurotypical? Anyone with the kind of psychology that might question this isolationist set-up?

Staff Meeting: 1
Geordi tells Picard that Physicist wants asylum, Riker adds that others might too. Worf is fine with it (because he's more security-conscious than aggressive, though his colleagues don't always realise it). Troi is immediately concerned about the colony and says they can't do it. Geordi points out that they have to and that the people have free will. (This is a weird stance for Troi to take and probably only due to her fling with Leader and seeing things from his viewpoint first.) Crusher mentions the genetic gaps and wonders if they can help further. Picard thinks they've helped too much already. Worf points out they saved them all. Picard says he should meet Leader.

The End
Troi's doomed love affair ends, I did not feel this one, so whatever. He was nicer than some guys she's dated, but the situation and her constant guilt meant there was little to root for.
Picard talks to Riker about the importance of the Prime Directive. Riker is initially confused because the Prime Directive doesn't come into a situation involving humans. Picard says that's his point, by showing up they've possibly done as much damage as the glow-ball.** This was my point way back in Up the Long Ladder, but the show wasn't dealing with this particular philosophical issue then.

* I doubt it's intentional, but at this point Geordi feels like the kind of friend who's a wonderful person as a friend, but comes off awkward and unfortunate to people they're attracted to.

** An exaggeration, as without their intervention the entire domed colony would have been destroyed immediately, but I take his point. It wasn't the fault of these people that they lived in a badly-created, blinkered society that gave it's descendants unforeseen challenges.

22 September 2017


Episode: s5, ep12

The title made me uneasy and I knew before watching that Troi would be involved. There is depiction of sexual assault in the episode and I discuss it here, along with exploration of abusive/predatory tactics.

What Happens
The Enterprise is hosting a family of telepathic researchers who retrieve forgotten memories from various species to gain insight into their histories. In 10 Forward an audience watches as the Father guides Keiko through a memory of a chipped cup, which turns into a happy recollection of her grandmother. The Father suggests Crusher might want to try next and mentions what she's currently thinking about, his Son (a fully grown man) chides him for peeking into someone's mind without permission, but Father brushes the concern aside with a charming and jokey manner. At a meal with the senior crew Father tries to get more volunteers for memory probing, but everyone declines. Father calls them squeamish, but the Mother says he shouldn't influence people as their volunteers must come willingly. Son gently chides Father again, and after Troi deftly changes the subject father boasts about how his talent far surpasses Son's abilities. Son leaves the room, followed by Troi, and they have a brief rueful conversation about overbearing parents before going their separate ways.
While preparing for bed Troi remembers a romantic encounter with Riker after a poker game, but as she remembers it the mood changes and it turns into a sexual assualt. In her memory Riker is replaced by Son, then she falls unconscious. Troi turns out to be in a coma, which has Crusher stumped, Riker talks to Son as the last person to see Troi. Crusher wants to examine the teleapths in case they're inadvertently carrying something that caused the coma; Son is amenable to this. Riker talks to Troi in her coma until Crusher sends him to rest. In his quarters he remembers an emergency in Engineering where he had to order the blast doors lowered, Ensign Keller was trapped on the other, and all attempts to save her failed. An engineer accuses Riker of killing her, the memory loops as Troi's did and Son appears as different people in the memory, all accusing Riker of killing her.
Crusher can't explain Riker's coma either, both he and Troi look like they have an exisitng syndrome, but the histamine level is wrong and there are odd reading in the part of the brain that deals with memory. Crusher asks the telepaths about examining them in case the memory probe is the issue, Father is disgruntled but agrees. Geordi does a long-winded Computer search for possible causes but finds nothing. Crusher remembers a younger Picard (with hair!) taking her to a morgue to see her husband body. Young!Picard tells her she doesn't have to do it, but she insists she does. The scarred corpse of Jack Crusher suddenly has Son's face, and then so does Young!Picard. Geordi finds Crusher comatose at her desk when he comes to tell her his searches were fruitless. The telepaths seem to be the only potential cause, Picard orders Data to check the planets they previously visited for mysterious comas. Troi wakes up, knows something awful happened to her, but can't remember specifics.
Picard asks telepaths to confine themselves to quarters, they're annoyed by the not-quite accusations and Son suggests they perform a memory probe on Troi to discover the truth. Picard is reluctant to put Troi through that, but Mother says they'll take whatever precautions are needed but should be allowed to prove their innocence. Geordi and Data can't find unexplained comas elsewhere, but Geordi remembers Crusher likened the comas to an existing syndrome. They search for cases of the syndrome coinciding with the telepath's visits. Son guides Troi through a memory probe, with Picard as witness. She recalls remembering a night with Riker from a few years back, she describes the memory changing, becoming an assault. It's not Riker anymore, she sees Father. Picard and Son discuss the crime, which happened centuries ago, but hasn't been reported in modern times. Geordi and Data to keep searching so they can report the truth to medical professionals on the relevant planets. They find a coma where Father wasn't present but Son was. Son visits Troi to apologise and say goodbye, she's very understanding towards him and senses that he's upset. He starts manipulating her memory again, right in front of her, she realises what actually happened and attacks him. They struggle, then Worf bursts in and knocks him out. Data arrives and explains that Son was the only telepath who was always present when comas happened.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is serious about the threat to his crew and his hosting duties; it's a balancing act. Though the telepaths seem to be the cause he's reluctant to accuse them of anything until the situation is thoroughly investigated. As senior crew are struck down Picard has to take action, even though it's ineffective. If telepaths are to blame it's pointed out that getting them to stay in their quarters does nothing. When the telepaths suggest action that could take the investigation forward Picard is unwilling to put his crew in further danger.
Although Picard is not a very touchy person he puts his hand on Troi's shoulder as comfort when she's distraught after the false revelation about her assault. Through Crusher's altered memory we saw a younger Jean-Luc took newly-widowed Beverly to see her husband's body. He supported her through the morgue trip, and assured her that she didn't have to do it, but didn't question her when she said it was something she needed to do (at least that's my read on it, it's hard to get an accurate idea of what happened because of the looping and distortion of the assault). His concern was partly that she shouldn't remember Jack like that, which suggests to me that he tried to spare her pain he was already experiencing. I like how younger Picard had more hair, but wasn't changed much otherwise; we now know that is basically how Patrick Stewart ages.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
While Troi is in a coma Riker talks to her and mentions her helping him through a coma back in Shades of Grey. He talks about mundane stuff, probably because it's easier for him. The ship is mapping stuff, which is what happens when they've got nothing else on. He mentions a personnel report they were working on together. I didn't expect Troi to be involved in that. Is it part of her role as Counsellor (psych profiles? staff requirements?) or her moonlighting as Picard's PA? Or just a way for her and Riker to spend time together?
Riker's memory must be something that senior officers dread, making an emergency decision that saves the ship but causes a death. We don't know whether a distraught crewmember actually did accuse Riker of killing Keller in the moment, or if that's part of the memory distortion.

Doctor Doctor
At a dinner with the telepaths and senior crew Beverley archly suggests Picard has a memory probe. I think she needles him a bit because their old friendship means she's the only one who can.
Before the criminal investigation it's a medical matter, and so Crusher does her checks thoroughly. It's her thoroughness which eventually exposes the breadth of the crimes committed; where other medical professionals went with the easiest explanation Crusher makes sure to search for a correct diagnosis. When Riker exhausts himself staying by Troi's bedside Crusher orders him to go rest, admittedly that's when he's targeted, but she wasn't to know that and it was a sound order from the Chief Medical Officer. Crusher is joined in sickbay by Dr Martin, who he seems to take over when she's in a coma. Again we see sickbay staff operating as a team, Crusher working in collaboration with named subordinates, which isn't the dynamic as much with Engineering or Security.
Crusher's memory is a traumatic, personal one, probably the most horrible experience of her life. She went with Picard to see her husband's body.* As a doctor she isn't squeamish, but it must have been one of the most difficult things she ever did, yet she still knew that she had to do it. The distortion of the assault makes this horrible memory into a full nightmare.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
I knew Troi would have a bad time in this episode because awful stuff like this always happens to Troi (the mysterious pregnancy, that jerk she dated, the kidnapping). Troi is kinda eye candy, and that seems to come with more plotlines that remove agency (not that it's just her, but it is her a lot), so of course an episode called "Violations" is going to involve her. Even though she's not the only victim, she's the first victim and the only one whose assault is explicitly sexual. Unlike the others, Troi's assault involves a pleasant, erotic memory which is twisted to become a sexual assault. She explicitly says no and struggles, her consent as well as her memory is violated. While the other two had bad memories tweaked to become more nightmarish, we don't know how much of Troi's memory is changed. How far did things go with Riker after that poker game a few years before? (Was that near the time Deanna and Lwaxana were kidnapped, cos it seemed like she and Riker were being cuddly around then.) I've said before that Riker is a sex-positive ladies man, so I do not for a moment believe the rapey stuff was him. That Troi is the primary victim is clear when Son assaults her again after saying goodbye. He stupidly gives himself away, but because he's present and Troi now knows what's happening she resists and tries to defend herself.

Future Is Better
The Enterprise crew can access medical records from 11 planets, but they don't have cameras in the corridors of the ship? I suppose the surveillance culture was different when this was made, but it just feels strange to me that they can access and search medical info from various different nations but don't know whether anyone went into Troi's quarters that night.
Geordi getting the Computer to search for anything that could have caused the comas is a really long-winded process. Asking question after question to cover all possible bases with no intuitive searching, it'd be so easy to miss something because you didn't ask a very specific question. It's all vocal too, which makes it worse because it's like having a really irritating conversation. Is this what those home assistant programs are like? I wonder if part of the reason Data seems so impressive is that he can use the consoles to search really quickly, which must seem like magic to humans who have to ask a series of increasingly annoying and specific questions.
It's very uncomfortable watching, but the episode explores the tactics of an abuser/rapist. Son is very careful to present a non-threatening image. He's quiet and stoic in manner, he chides his Father for pushing at people's boundaries, and he downplays his talent so that he seems much less skilled than his father. He plays the long-suffering, less-talented son to a charming-but-overbearing father. The position he puts himself in is what draws Troi to him, to sympathise over their similar parental issues. It's chilling because he's not only disguising himself, he's also placing his father in a position to attract more attention and suspicion. I've heard that serial abusers don't just groom their victims, they also groom communities/observers to build an image around themselves that deflects suspicion. This is pre-meditated and chilling, and this episode is an exploration of such behaviour.
During Troi's assault the dialogue initially sounds like Troi and Riker, but then it sounds like a different conversation being performed through them. The name Imzadi keeps coming up, and I don't know who that is or what that's about. It feels like there's background to Son's assault that got cut, which is fair enough, we don't need a rapist's excuses. His actions at the end show he specifically targeted Deanna, he goes to say goodbye, but tries to assault her again. "Why do you have to be so nice?" It sounds like a compliment, but it's a very weak attempt at victim-blaming. It's telling that he targets Riker and Crusher only after each reveals they're leading the investigation, convenient that his assaults cause memory-loss. No one ever mentions to the telepaths that Geordi is investigating too, so he's never targeted. I wonder how many of the previous assaults were done to cover Son's tracks?

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Crusher explains Troi and Riker's brain scans to senior crew. It looks like a pre-existing syndrome, but can't be that because the histamine levels are wrong. Worf thinks the telepaths should be quarantined (focus on security as befits his role), but Picard thinks it's too soon. Crusher points out that the scans show issues in the part of the brain that deals with memory.
2. After finding Crusher unconscious, Geordi explains that his scans haven't found anything on board. Picard orders him to look into the other planets the telepaths visited. He also suggests they could confine the telepaths to quarters, though the consensus is that nothing will effectively stop a telepath.

Death By Space Misadventure
Ensign Keller (presumably an Engineer) was trapped behind a blast door during an emergency and as far as we can tell she failed to escape and died. She was presumably was overcome by fumes as she didn't respond on comms. We never actually see Keller, and don't know quite when this happened.
Jack Crusher, I guess. It happened years ago, when Picard had hair on top of his head, and he must have died on duty. Again the circumstances are unknown, but it was likely some kind of space-related accident.

The End
Father apologises to Picard (not the victims), saddened and ashamed. He says medical professionals from their world will come to treat the victims, although this type of rape is historical there are records that can help. Picard makes a point that both their cultures have violent histories and as much as they might wish to believe they have put such things behind them the seed of violence remains and can still consume people. This is a point that feels super relevant now.

Attackers often hide in plain sight

* This does rather ruin my image of Picard walking to her door cradling Jack's body in his arms, but that was only due to Wesley's odd wording way back in Encounter at Farpoint.

14 September 2017

Back to Work

I went back to work from maternity leave last week, it's actually gone fairly well. August was a weird month, and yes there were no blog posts, but I don't think that was the cause. All the baby sessions finish at the end of July to make way for the school kids on summer holidays, so my routine got thrown out of whack and I ended up being a bit cooped up. August was also weird because my husband's work hours and location changed a bit and my father-in-law moved to our area, which was a process fraught with issues and delays.

The baby has taken to nursery well, which I'd hoped he would as he's quite a people person and not very clingy. He's also being looked after by grandparents a couple of days a week. I've restarted work at a good time of year as one work cycle is finishing and a new cycle will start next week. I'm working full time again, which feels both odd and normal, but I'm getting used to it again. Still figuring out my new routine, but I'm hoping I'll be able to find some time for blogging occasionally.

22 July 2017

Hero Worship

Episode: s5, ep

Survivor guilt little boy thinks he's an android after Data rescues him.

What Happens
The Enterprise is looking for a ship that went missing in the Black Cluster, which is a very ancient space thing. The ship is found mostly destroyed and without life signs, the Computer files aren't accessible remotely so Riker, Data and Geordi are sent to retrieve them. Riker and Data investigate a noise and find a boy trapped beneath a beam. They prepare to transport him to sickbay, but the damage means the transporters can't get a proper hold on him (same thing probably masked his life signs). Data can move the beam, but it'll make things unstable, so Riker and Geordi beam back to the Enterprise. The kid asks Data how he can lift the beam and Data explains about being an android (for once someone didn't get it straight away). Data the the kid beam to sickbay.
The boy, Timothy, describes his ship being attacked and boarded to Crusher, Troi and Data. Timothy holds Data's hand and Troi suggests he stay. The doomed ship's remaining files are patchy, but reveal that Timothy's parents were both officers on board, so they're dead now. While Timothy is sleeping Crusher discharges him to Troi's care. Troi explains to Data that they will have to rebuild his whole world. When Data finally leaves sickbay he asks Geordi about childhood trauma and Geordi describes being caught in a fire. Info from ship and the cluster suggests a cloaked ship could have attacked, but it's not clear who did it or why. Geordi says a boarding party would be almost impossible and asks Troi if Timothy was lying, she says it's possible, or he might not know he was lying. Troi asks Data to go see Timothy as the boy has formed a attachment to him. Data asks for guidance, I think she should have given him more.
Data visits Timothy and helps him build model after being more critical than necessary. Timothy is impressed by android speed, and curious about androids not feeling things. After Data leaves Timothy impersonates him in a mirror. At a staff meeting the Black Cluster is discussed and Picard asks Troi if Timothy can provide more info. Troi takes Timothy to 10 Forward, where he explains to her that he is an android, though he still likes to taste food. She reports this to Picard and Data and suggests Data mentor Timothy in android stuff as it's actually a normal reaction to help get him through the trauma. Picard agrees. Data tries to style Timothy's hair. They do some stuff together, including painting. The cluster gets very bumpy and makes the sensors all weird. In school Timothy laughs with another child, and Troi says Timothy is moving out of his android phase, but still needs their help. She asks Data to share his fascination with humanity and help guide him back to being a boy. Timothy and Data discuss being an android in 10 Forward, Data points out some disadvantages to being an android, as Timothy focuses on the positives.
The cluster is even bumpier now and the Bridge crew realise it would be impossible to fire weapons there. Timothy is brought to the Captain to talk about what really happened. He gets angry then reveals that he thinks it was his fault the ship was destroyed, he fell against a console as it happened. He's been carrying so much guilt, poor lad. Data, Troi and Pciard all explain that he could not have destroyed the ship. The Enterprise is shaking again, and Timothy recognises this from before. On the Bridge shields are increased and the bumping increases. Although Troi tries to take Timothy away he refuses and remembers that on his ship the shields were given a lot of power. Data takes Timothy to one side, asks him for as much info as he can remember about what the adults were saying (not sure why he was on the Bridge on that other ship either) and just as Geordi is putting all the power behind the shields Data insists they be dropped completely. Even though this seems suicidal Picard does it and the bumpiness stops. Data explains that Timothy's info prompted him to check something which shows that the shields were making things bumpy and weird. The whole Enterprise could've been torn apart, as Timothy's ship was. At the end Timothy is singing 'Row Row Row Your Boat' with the other kids, he's kinda subdued but at least he's joining in. He talks to Data about their time together.

Does Not Compute
After the initial rescue Timothy is attached to Data (by hand holding), not a surprise as Data saved the boy after he'd presumably resigned himself to dying. Troi encourages Data to spend time with Timothy as there's an attachment and the child has lost everything. Data asks for guidance about interacting with the boy, which I think maybe Troi should have given him more of. You probably shouldn't give a traumatised child a "frank assessment" of their creative work and Data upsets Timothy initially. But when the boy starts on angry, negative self-talk Data dispels this with his usual frankness and logic, which I think helps Timothy break what could've turned into a shame spiral. Data asks Geordi about childhood trauma, trying to get a perspective on something he cannot experience himself.
Data's early companionship means Timothy pretends to be an android as a coping mechanism and again Troi encourages Data to work with the boy. There are cute moments like Data trying to brush Timothy's hair, while the boy is fidgeting because he's trying to master Data's bird-like head-bobbing mannerism, which the android doesn't realise was weird. While doing various activities with Data Timothy is able to hint at some of his inner turmoil (nightmares and expressive red painting) in an emotionless environment, which might be less daunting than talking through his complex feelings in a therapy session. After Timothy starts reacting more like a human child again Troi guides Data to discuss his own fixation with humanity and his aspirations in that direction. Timothy is envious that androids don't have to feel bad feelings (plus also they're stronger and faster than humans). Data points out that he also can't feel good feelings either and would be happy to accept the bad if he can have the good.
At one point Data tells Timothy androids don't lie. The assumption is that Data can't lie, and everyone goes along with this, but since series 1 it's known that his elder brother Lore can and does lie, a lot, and with very malicious intent. So in saying androids can't lie Data is in fact lying here.

Blind Engineering
Data comes to Geordi, as he often does, to get a perspective on human stuff, in this case childhood trauma. He describes being caught in a fire, terrifying for any child, especially a blind one. It was only brief but you can tell from the way he recounts it that it had a massive impact on him. After that he didn't want his parents to go out of earshot (it took a second watch for me to realise why earshot was significant here, because of course he's blind and didn't have the visor as a child). Data points out Timothy doesn't have that parental support anymore.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Excellent work from Troi here again, because being ship's counsellor is her job and calling, rather than providing vague warnings based on iffy powers or helping Picard with his schedule. She keeps Data around early cos she sees the bond between android and boy. She tells Data that they must help Timothy rebuild his entire world, a daunting task. It's telling that after dealing with his physical well-being Crusher discharges Timothy into Troi's care with foreboding words; though this isn't necessarily helpful it's probably Crusher expressing a kind of professional sympathy at the extent of the work needed and also her relative unfamiliarity with Troi's role and methods.
Troi suggests Data is used for therapy and explains that while pretending to be an android might seem odd (I have seen that episode of Futurama), in this case it's actually allowing Timothy to process his trauma by creating a persona that feels safe. She observes Timothy with other children in the school room, and one-on-one by taking him to 10 Forward with her. As the ship's specialist in this area she guides Data through helping Timothy in a role that he has not really had before and likely has difficulty relating to as he was never a child. Troi is always compassionate and caring, and devotes a lot of time to Timothy (again the timescale of this episode is super confusing to me, is it a few days or weeks?).

Staff meetings: 3
1. Senior staff discuss the Black Cluster, it is super old and dangerous. Geordi has adjusted the shields because of all the gravity waves (cos it's bumpy). Worf points out sensors will be disrupted, so detecting an enemy will be tricky. Picard asks if Timothy has provided any further info. Troi says no, but she's visiting him later. Picard says to see what she can find out, but they can't delay the investigation, so they're going in.
2. Troi explains to Data and Picard about Timothy being an android now. She briefly explains the psychology behind it (without a load of incomprehensible technobabble, though I guess this is based on things that exist in reality), but focuses more on the impact to the child, how it is beneficial and what support is needed. She never says he wants to be an android, or is pretending to be an android, just that at present he is one; it's very validating language. She also makes it clear that asking him about his ordeal is not helpful.
3. Timothy is asked by Picard, Data and Troi what really happened on his ship. The boy sticks angrily to his story until Data says androids don't lie (a lie). Then the boy breaks down and admits he destroyed the ship, he fell and hit a console as it was damaged. All three adults surround him and explain in calm and kind tones that it's impossible he could have destroyed his ship. Three different people (including his android idol) telling him it's not his fault finally convinces the poor kid.

Future is Better
I absolutely love the idea that when someone has been through a traumatic experience they are given mental health support as well as being treated for physical ailments. It's great that Timothy is allowed to do what he needs in order to heal, even if it is a bit odd. I'm not sure if this is true for everyone, or whether it has more to do with the senior crew wanting info from Timothy. I feel like in other circumstances Troi would just deal with the recovery herself and not involve others unless needed. Seeing how involved this process is I'm actually kinda surprised Troi doesn't have her own staff like Crusher does, though I suppose something as serious as this might not be very common. Does this also happen for folks with mental health illnesses or those who aren't neurotypical? Is making allowances and adjustments for stuff like this so normal it doesn't get commented on? Are people allowed to easily self-determine things about their identity that run counter to outward appearance without push back? I hope so. The idea of a future where care for a person's psyche is so important and people aren't shamed for their situation is a beautiful one.
In the Star Trek future they only have the first verse of 'Row Row Row Your Boat'! They don't seem to have the verse with the crocodile at all. My husband recently showed me the scene in Star Trek V where Kirk and McCoy sing the song in a round to Spock (I haven't seen Star Trek V, I'm told I'm not missing much), and I commented that they'd ignored the crocodile verse. Then the kids in school on the Enterprise are singing 'Row Row' and again they just do a round, no second verse, no crocodile. Clearly this information was lost to history,* damn those nuclear winters!

Won't Somebody Think of the the Children?
Another episode where a child is just left alone in some quarters, without adult supervision. Timothy is older than Alexander (I think, not sure about Klingon growth and Alexander's timeline is confusing), but he's also grieving. I mean Geordi's childhood story shows that when a kid has gone through something bad the last thing they want is to be left alone. Plus Timothy has a lot of self-anger going on and I could see how that might have led him to harm. The same thing happened with a boy called Jeremy in The Bonding** back in series 2; he lost his mother and he was just left along in their quarters to dwell on his loss, then an alien almost took him. Aren't there families on board kids can stay with? People who'll offer a temporary refuge to a vulnerable child? I mean there are people who do that nowadays, so it shouldn't be hard to kind in this more compassionate future.
I also have an issue with the teacher guy who stops Timothy from building a model he's engrossed in because the other kids are doing something different now. He wasn't being disruptive, he was focusing quietly on something. He doesn't know any of the other kids yet and he's just been through something awful, leave him be. I think what really got to me was the way this guy shot a Look at Troi after Timothy answers back a bit. It seemed like an overreaction, as though this guy thought that was unreasonable behaviour. Of course I have noted before that in TNG kids seem weirdly unemotional and not very kid-like at times, so maybe this is the future version of bad behaviour. I mean Timothy seemed pretty stoic when he's found on the damaged ship, though I assumed he was in shock.

Death by Space Misadventure
Everyone on the Vico, besides Timothy. No numbers are given, but it's gotta be a lot even though it's much smaller than the Enterprise. Some people were sucked into space when the shields failed. Others died on board due to structural instability.

The End
Timothy talks self consciously to Data about their time together, he's a bit embarrassed by how he was, and it's kinda heartbreaking. Data doesn't shame him for it at all and in fact points out imitation is the highest form of flattery, it's lovely. Data says he would be happy to have Timothy as one of his friends. It's really sweet. I mean obviously we will not be seeing this kid ever again (we don't even know if he's staying on board or going to join other family or what), but if you can ignore that and get into the moment it's nice.

* Or it wasn't a thing back in the 70s-90s when the film/show was being made. I seem to recall from my own 90s childhood that the crocodile verse became more popular over time, but wasn't always used. I've been to various children's groups this year and both verses are always sung together nowadays. Babies and kids love the scream at the end.
For those wondering the second verse is:
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a crocodile
Don't forget to scream

** I see now that my prediction -that Worf's very solemn bond with Jeremy would never be spoken of again- was correct. I'd forgotten it until this write up, and if it was going to come up you'd think it would have in one of the episodes about Worf becoming a parent (like the previous one).
I also noticed that I suggested foster-families or adult supervision for grieving children back then too. It just seems like such a major omission to what is otherwise good care.