12 April 2014

The Enemy

Episode: s3, ep 7

Romulans are suspicious and unpleasant folk, and it's not just those slanty eyebrows.

What Happens
Riker, Geordi and Worf beam down to a really stormy planet where their equipment doesn't work. They find the remains of a Romulan ship, which shouldn't be in Federation space. Worf finds an angry Romulan who tries to strangle him, so Worf punches him out. Geordi falls down a deep hole. Worf and Riker can't hear him and have to beam back with the injured Romulan.
There are a few Romulans in this episode, so I'm giving them handy abbreviations.* Crusher has trouble with the biology of Enterprise Romulan (ER), the radiation on the planet damaged his brain and she needs to find someone who can donate some biobabble stuff. Riker tries to question ER, but he refuses to say anything. Attempts to find Geordi are foiled by the electromagnetic storms. Wesley suggests sending down a probe with a beam that cuts through the storms. Geordi will see it with his visor and can alter the beam to let them know he's there. The Enterprise intercepts a Romulan transmission assuring the crashed ship that help is coming. Picard hails the ship and tells them they've recovered one Romulan and will bring him to the Neutral Zone. Picard tells the Romulan Captain (RC) he can't enter Federation space. RC expects them to arrive in good time.
Geordi sees ore in the rocks, melts it into picks with his phaser and uses the picks to climb out of the hole. The probe with the beam lands and Geordi heads towards it. A Romulan sneaks up behind him and knocks him out. He wakes as a captive and the planet Romulan (PR) refuses to listen to Geordi when he says he has an escape. A rock fall hits PR, who is briefly stunned, Geordi carries him to a nearby cave and DOESN'T GET THE PHASER. Geordi asks if PR is OK and gets a phaser in the face for his efforts. Geordi and PR talk at odds. They're being badly effected by the radiation; Geordi has trouble seeing and PR can't walk, but he still won't let Geordi move. Eventually PR's resolve/health weaken and he agrees to move, but by then Geordi can't see anymore. Geordi is close to giving up, but PR goads him and suggests Geordi use his visor and tricorder together. Geordi can't make the modifications by touch and has to talk PR through it. When it's done Geordi carries while PR navigates and they find the beacon. Geordi has to guide PR through altering the beam.
Crusher tells Worf that he's the only crewmember with the right bio-whatsit to save ER. Worf's parents were killed in a Romulan massacre and he refuses to donate, preferring to let ER die. Riker speaks to him about it. ER gets worse, but he would rather die than get a transfusion (or whatever) from a Klingon. The Romulan ship sees that the Enterprise is not at the Neutral Zone, Picard explains they have crew stuck on the planet. RC doesn't accept the delay and says he's coming to them. Just as Picard is about to send down an away team for Geordi the Romulan ship breaches the border and the Enterprise goes into red alert. Picard speaks to Worf about donating, but he won't order him, so Worf won't donate. Then ER dies.
The Romulan ship arrives during a brief window in the storm. RC demands his man, Picard tells him he shouldn't have left the Neutral Zone. Picard says the man is dead, the transmission ends with a threat from RC. Shields are raised, weapons are locked when Geordi alters the beam. They detect 2 lifeforms and assume that there's a 2nd Romulan. Picard hails RC and speeches about trust, saying there's another Romulan and advises that he will lower the shields in order to beam both their men. Of course RC has the option to fire on them. Picard's speeching works and RC asks for his man back. Geordi and PR are beamed to the bridge and PR tells RC that Geordi saved his life. Picard tells RC to power down his weapons and the Enterprise will escort them back to the Neutral Zone.

Guest Star
The Romulan Captain is G'Kar from Babylon 5. It's different alien makeup, but once the internet told me it was him I could totally see it. The actor Andreas Katsulas sadly died a few years ago.
I was listening to a podcast about Babylon 5 recently and there have been more deaths of Bab5 cast members than Star Trek TOS (which aired nearly 30 years before), which is strange and sad.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard tries to rescue Geordi, even though he's got an impatient Romulan Captain heading towards the border. Picard explains the delay to RC, but describes a 'team' stuck on the planet, not one man. I expect that's him being diplomatic. As usual with these communications Picard is portrayed as reasonable and the other side are angry, untrustworthy and hostile. In this case RC does attempt to be diplomatic too, pointing out it's a mission of mercy, but that doesn't last long. Of course everything's from Federation point of view (one of the reasons I miss DS9).
At the tense point when Picard must choose between rescuing Geordi (and a Romulan) and the safety of the ship, he speeches at RC. Stuff about trust and repercussions. He puts the ship in a position of weakness, but morally he's in a position of strength. Though the transmission isn't accepted it must get through because the speeching works, as usual.

Blind Engineering
Geordi is really resourceful, managing to get himself out the hole using only his wits, his bare hands, his mineral-detecting visor and his mineral melting phaser. Still it takes lateral thinking to come up with that plan and climbing out of the hole took strength. Geordi understands the neutrino beacon and immediately knows Wesley did it. Of course, as demonstrated in the previous episode, there are no other engineers on the Enterprise, so it makes sense that Wesley is the only person on board who could have come up with that.
Geordi is too friendly to the Romulan who knocks him out, steals his phaser and takes him prisoner. I get that Geordi wanted to help the guy after he was stunned, but either he forgot to grab the phaser or he decided not to take it back on principle. In one version he's a bit daft, in the other it's just to Pollyanna for words. Of course Geordi's attempts to reason with PR don't work, cos non-Federation folk are angry, untrustworthy and hostile. It's only once pain and/or radiation have weakened his resolve that PR sees sense. Then teamwork, yay!

We get to see Geordi's rainbow-coloured view of things for the first time since Heart of Glory (that Klingon episode) in series 1. It certainly makes the drab storm planet a lot more visually interesting. The visor allows Geordi to see the hidden minerals that he uses to escape from the hole. Of course it would have been nice if he saw the hole before falling in, but you can't have everything.

Klingon Warrior
Unlikely as it is (since Romulans are most like Vulcans and certainly look more like humans than Klingons), Worf is the only person on the ship with the right biological whatsit to save the dying ER. Worf is also (as far as we know) the only person on the ship whose parents were kiled by Romulans. I think that's some sort of irony.
Worf makes his feelings plain to everyone who asks,  he will do it if ordered, he will not do it of his own accord. Crusher calls Worf to see ER's condition and Worf tells him the situation. ER says he would refuse Worf's bio-whatsit anyway, on grounds of racism. After that I'm not sure there's so much of a dilemma. Worf won't give his stuff, ER would rather die than have his stuff. If Worf had been persuaded and ER saved surely that would have been going against the patient's wishes? Though I did wonder for a moment whether Worf would donate just to spite him.

Guide Romulans for the Blind
The Romulans, being the Federation's enemy, are unpleasant. If Vulcans are elves, then Romulans are dark elves. If Vulcans have no emotions besides smugness, then Romulans have anger, arrogance and suspicion.
ER, lying shipwrecked on an inhospitable planet, immediately tries to strangle Worf rather than welcoming possible rescue. He refuses to answer Riker's questions, and is scornful and bigoted towards Worf as the sickbay staff try to save him.
RC won't admit to any wrongdoing, no matter how much he's caught out, and though he tries to be tactful t first he gets evasive and angry. Troi points out that behind his smile is hostility and determination. (This piece of obviousness is pretty much Troi's only line, apparently no one could think of a single thing for her to do this episode.) RC claims the crashed Romulan ship was a one-man vessel and went off course by accident. He says he's entering Federation space on a rescue mission. He makes demands of Picard, while not listening to what he says. Even after Picard is open with him and acts in good faith RC is still grudging.
Through PR we learn that Romulans (being a bad lot) do not waste their time on disabled children. It seems blind Romulan children do not survive to adulthood. PR is determined not to reveal information and not to give in to the Federation, even if it means his death. He won't allow Geordi to try and rescue them both until he's succumbed to great pain and can't move himself, though at first I think he doesn't believe Geordi.

Staff Worf Meetings: 3
1. Crusher tells Worf that he's got the only bio-whatsit that's compatible with the Romulan. Donating poses no risk. Worf refuses. Crusher tries to empathise with Worf's feelings, but points out that it's not relevant now and this Romulan did not kill his parents. Worf says his feelings are always relevant and he will let the Romulan die.
2. Worf goes to Riker to discuss the situation. Riker says he understands Worf's bitterness and asks if he'll always blame all Romulans, what if there were peace in the future? Riker points out that used to be that attitude between humans and Klingons, should generations hold on to biterness.
3. Picard summons Worf and explains that if the Romulan dies then RC will likely use it as an excuse for an incident. Worf says that he has thought about the situation. Picard explains that command morals aren't always clear, he has to balance indiivudal needs against wider ones.Worf says he'll donate if ordered, but Picard doesn't want to order him. Worf refuses when Picard asks.

Won't Somebody Think of Children
When the Romulans have breached the border, suggesting upcoming conflict, that would have been a good time to split the ship and save family members from facing combat.

Death by Space Misadventure
 A Romulan found on an inhospitable storm planet, near the wreckage of his ship (which shouldn't have been there), is rescued by his enemies but dies of his injuries.

The End
Picard welcomes Geordi back, and the engineer gives credit to PR. Picard orders Geordi and Worf to take PR to the transporter room so he can be returned to his people. Riker comments that it was a close call, and Picard agrees that brinkmanship is dangerous.

* Enterprise Romulan = ER, Romulan Captain = RC, Planet Romulan = PR.
I know these initials all stand for other things too.

6 April 2014

Noir Carnival

Noir Carnival
edited by K A Laity

This anthology from Fox Spirit Books is the second book in the Noir series, edited by the impressive K A Laity. These are dark stories with noir sensibilities, supernatural flavours and the smell of popcorn, candy floss, motor oil and fear. The settings vary in place and time, and the tone shifts between spooky, thrilling, creepy, tense, fantastical and cynical. The stories rattle between fantastical crime, dark fantasy and horror, genre boundaries blurring as the book passes by, like a motley collection of caravans. There are feisty heroines, doomed heroes, dangerous villains and desperate folk of all manner, just peer through the curtain.

The anthology was absorbing and most of the stories were powerful. I confess that there were several stories that are darker than I usually go. I don't consider myself much of a horror reader, so some stories and images really provoked a reaction and got into my brain. A sign of the strength of the writing, even if its not what I normally look for. Noir is not a genre/style/tone I'm very familiar with, but I have enough of a sense of it to know that these stories were well chosen, there is a certain bleakness to them. This is not say I didn't enjoy the book. It was outside my comfort zone in places, but I enjoyed the variety of the stories and the inventiveness of the ideas. Many of the settings, quiet little towns, run-down places, were created economically and with skill. Travelling shows occupy a kind of border territory in society, and it makes sense that weird things would happen in such spaces, and the breadth of the weird and macabre here is truly impressive.

3 April 2014

Booby Trap

Episode: s3, ep 6

Geordi ignores his staff and spends time with a pretty holodeck lady when he should be working.

What Happens
Geordi is on a date with a woman who doesn't seem that into him, despite his aura of awkward enthusiasm, moves that were old 300+ years ago, and a holo-gypsy violinist. Wesley sees that Geordi's date didn't go well. Geordi asks Guinan for advice about women, but doesn't really listen to what she's saying.
A distress signal leads to a 1000 year-old space battle. Picard wants to look at an old cruiser and leads an away team to poke about. On their return the Enterprise has power problems and can't move away. They are caught in a thousand year old trap, the power draining away while the ship is bombarded by dangerous radiation. The shields will only hold for so long, Crusher prepares to treat people for radiation sickness and Geordi tries to fix the problem. Riker takes an away team to the old cruiser to see if there's any information there.
Geordi researches, and finds useful notes by Dr L. Brahms, who designed the Enterprise's propulsion system. Unable to visualise the problem in Engineering he instructs the Computer to create a holodeck simulation based on the notes. He's surprised to find a simulation of Dr Leah Brahms herself (he still doesn't get how the holodeck works), he's also distracted because she's pretty. He tries to discuss the situation with her, but she's a facsimile and responds mechanically. Geordi gets the Computer to create a version of her personality, and he's further distracted by how friendly, informal and smart about engines she is.
The away team retrieve information from the cruiser. The radiation is powered by the energy being drained from the ship. Geordi is instructed to keep working. He and Leah discuss the situation and possible solutions. So much technobabble. (It amuses me that spaceships are run on crystals. There's something for the New-Agers and Hippies.) They're really clicking and discuss the respective roles of designers and engineers. There are periods of disagreement, and each claims they know the ship better, but its all strong chemistry and seems to help with problem solving.
Firing on the devices holding the ship just gives the trap more power, increasing the radiation. Picard shuts down all non-essential systems to conserve power and keep the shields going. Geordi asks for his holodeck programme back, Picard gives him an hour. Geordi and Leah continue their work. As a part of the computer Leah can do things quicker than a human, and at first Geordi thinks of giving control over to the Computer. Picard is willing to try it, but projections show the ship is unable to escape before the radiation becomes fatal. Then Geordi realises that if they shut off everything except basic life support and 2 thrusters they can glide out on manual. It's a 50/50 chance, but there's nothing else to try and time is running out. Data steers the ship around debris and asteroids until they are safe. Then the devices that trapped them are destroyed.

Picard Likes Old Stuff
Picard is practically giddy at the chance to poke around an thousand year-old ship. Riker tries to stop him, because sometimes it's his job to fret about Picard like a neurotic parent. Picard mentions ships in bottles, which he built as a kid. This reference means nothing to Riker, Worf and Data. But O'Brien made ships in bottles as a kid, so he totally gets it. 
On the old ship the crew are dead at their posts, and Picard admires the ship design. Luckily there are no xenomorph eggs and no sign of face hugging or chest bursting.

Blind Engineering
Geordi is bad at dating. He doesn't understand why, because he's so good at engineering and you'd think there would be transferable skills. (Of course if he were able to ask Swiss Tony he'd be told that fixing a starship is much like making love to a beautiful woman.)
Geordi researches useful information, and being in the future means that notes can be really interactive. However I think he takes things a bit too far, when he makes the Computer approximate Dr Bramh's personality. It seems like there's probably a reason that info is restricted. It's lucky that the chemistry between Geordi and holo-Leah helps the process, he could quite easily have become distracted, awkward and eager to please, like he was with that real lady at the start of the episode.
It's a shame that there was absolutely no one else on board that Geordi could discuss the problem with. You'd think the Chief of Engineering could find loads of people. I bet if there were any engineers on board they'd be more than willing to help save the ship, and their own lives. They might even feel resentful at being sidelined for a holodeck simulation. If Geordi did have any staff then this episode could be viewed as a real failure in leadership and people management. Good thing there are absolutely no engineers on the Enterprise besides Geordi La Forge.
I mean, I suppose he could have asked Wesley to help, they've collaborated successfully in the past, but Wesley isn't technically an engineer, so that might not have been fair.

Guinan's Hat
Geordi asks Guinan what she wants in a man. Then he seems surprised that her response is personal to her and therefore not helpful to him. Goodness, its as though women were individuals with their own preferences or something.* Guinan tries to point out that maybe Geordi's been trying too hard, but he doesn't seem to get it.
Turns out Guinan likes bald men, because a bald man took care of her once. Is this part of her backstory with Picard?

I'm glad that personnel files are restricted for use in holodeck simulations, because there are too many ways that could get creepy. Would you want someone making a duplicate of you and doing whatever they wanted to it? Of course what Geordi does is basically get around the restriction, using an image (which is apparently freely available) and getting the Computer to estimate a personality based on an appearance at a conference. Again the fact that the Computer has just created life -albeit a copy in this case- is not given much weight, just as it wasn't in Elementary, Dear Data (which should have been Elementary, Dear Geordi - as he was playing Watson).
The difference between Computer-run Dr Bramhs and person-based Leah is enormous. I don't quite get why Leah is so friendly and familiar with Geordi. At one point, after offering to cook him dinner, she massages his shoulders because she thought it would feel good. Geordi stops her because he realises that's it's not appropriate for him to feel good in the midst of a deadly crisis. I wonder if the real woman is like that, or whether holo-people are programmed that way. Would the real Leah Brahms approve of this? We don't know, because like anything the holodeck does (especially women), she's part-fantasy.
The usefulness of the holodeck for engineering simulations is clear, as Geordi recreates the shipyard that built the Enterprise, as well as the designer. The holodecks obviously have uses besides recreation, but those don't seem to be standard. Picard is surprised that Geordi is using a holodeck at all, and more surprised to find him alone with a holo-lady.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Geordi explains that the Enterprise is stuck, just like the other ship, and that their power is dropping. Worf explains that the radiation interferes with the scanners, so they can't tell where its coming from. Riker suggests returning to the cruiser to find out if there are any answers there. Geordi is told to fix the problem.
2. On the Bridge the senior staff prepare for the worst as their demise approaches. Geordi talks to them over comms and asks for his holodeck programme back, despite the power its using. He tells Picard that its helping, so the Captain gives him an hour, even though there's under 2 hours remaining for the sheilds and the radiation has increased.

The Lessons
1. You shouldn't try too hard to be romantic.
2. Men should solve deadly problems with women -or simulations of women- they are attracted to, it is helpful and not distracting.
3. You should always check for danger before going on to old spaceships.

The End
Geordi muses to Leah that technology can't solve every problem. She says they make a good team, then tells Geordi that she is the ship and whenever he looks at or touches the engine he's actually looking at or touching her. Then she kisses him. Geordi ends the programme.
Did the Computer/ship just come on to Geordi? That's what it feels like.

In a different show this might be the start of a transhuman relationship between man and ship. At the start of the episode Geordi speaks of his prowess at stripping fusion reactors and realigning power transfer tunnels, he certainly knows his way around a spaceship.

* I'm sure many people are aware of this, but it seems worth mentioning, that while it is fine to ask someone about their own experience as a woman, you absolutely cannot ever assume that any one woman speaks for all women. Anyone who claims to speak for all women has an inflated sense of their own opinion.

30 March 2014

Reading Update

Sorry about that, I seemed to fall off the blogosphere for most of March.

There were plans to make changes to the blog, update things, look at new and exciting options, so I stopped posting for a bit. Then things didn't progress quite as swiftly as expected and the plans have been postponed for technical reasons. It looks like I'm sticking around here a bit longer.

Back in January I posted a list of books I planned to read. I figured I'd do a bit of an update, and see where I've gotten to. There are books that have been added as I've read them, and some that have been added as I've heard about them.

Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher finished early Jan

Banners in the Wind by Juliet E. McKenna finished 27 Jan

Noir Carnival edited by K. A. Laity finished 8 Feb

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan finished 15 Feb

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss 13 March

Chicks Dig Comics by various 16 March

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris 28 March

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones 30 March

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (I've never read any PKD and this was recommended by a colleague)

The Time-Travellers Almanac edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (I will have to dip in and out of this one as its a truly enormous anthology and looks like a book that deserves its own lectern)

The Copper Promise by Jennifer Williams

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin

Clovenhoof by Heide Goody and Iain Grant

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough (I won this in a raffle chaotically hosted by the author)

The Bookman Histories by Lavie Tidhar

Tales of Eve edited by Mhairi Simpson

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers (I read all the books as a kid, except the first one)

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle

Dangerous Waters by Juliet E. McKenna

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Further Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

In January it looked like a lot (and there was less than there is now), but I seem to be making solid progress. I expect I'll add more titles as the year progresses.

17 March 2014

Guardian Story

I'm proud and excited to say that I have a story in Guardians, a Fox Pocket anthology from Fox Spirit books.

My Guardian's Guardian is about a man returning to his old home, visiting his former guardian and comparing past glories with present decay.

Fox Pockets are small, pocket-sized books featuring short stories that can be read quickly, on a lunch break or a short commute. They're designed to show the range of tales, authors and talent that Fox Spirit work with. Guardians features an excellent range of fantasy, horror, science fiction and crime stories, each with its own take on the theme. The guardians come in many forms including angels, gargoyles, parents, police and dreams.

Guardians is the 3rd Fox Pocket anthology. The previous two are Piracy (which I also have a story in) and Shapeshifters.

Fox Spirit have loads of great books, and a range of really good blog posts too. You should totally visit their website.

23 February 2014

The Bonding

Episode: s3, ep 5

What Happens
An away team commanded by Worf investigates an archaeological site on a planet who's inhabitants were destroyed by war long ago. There's an explosion and the team are beamed straight to sickbay but Lieutenant Marla Aster is declared dead on arrival.
The Enterprise stays to investigate the tragedy. Picard and Troi break the news to Lt. Aster's 12 year-old son, Jeremy, who already lost his father. Worf feels responsible and wants to reach out to the boy, Troi agrees but advises caution. Data asks Riker about grieving. Geordi finds explosives on the planet that have recently been dug up and disarmed, but by who? Jeremy watches home movies of himself and his mother. He's polite and brave to everyone, not expressing his feelings. Dr Crusher asks Wesley if he can talk to Jeremy. There's an energy discharge on the planet, it's not clear what it is, Troi senses a presence. Marla Aster appears in her quarters and greets her shocked son. She tell's Jeremy there was a mistake and she wasn't killed. Worf stops by and alerts Picard to this strange development. Marla takes Jeremy to the transporter room, so they can go down to the planet. The Captain forbids and Worf drags Jeremy away, Marla disappears.
Don't trust the cat
Troi explains to Jeremy that she wasn't really his mother, his quarters have turned into their house back on Earth, including Jeremy's cat. Marla wants to stay with Jeremy and make him happy, she can't understand Troi's resistance to this. The shields are raised blocking the energy from the planet and Marla and the house disappear. A blue light from the planet enters the ship. Jeremy's quarters become a house again. Marla explains that the physical beings on the planet destroyed themselves with war. She is a energy being from the planet, determined to make up for past tragedies and for Lt. Aster's death by looking after Jeremy and making him happy. Picard and Troi explain why that won't work is is bad for Jeremy in the long run. Troi uses group therapy with Jeremy, Wesley and Worf, which prompts Marla to leave.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard must break the news to Jeremy and manages to be reassuring despite his issues with children. He expresses admiration at Troi's rolem which means working with the bereaved after the news has been delivered. Picard explains to Troi why he doesn't think children should be on starships, and I must say I agree with him on that. Picard doesn't hesitate to confront fake-Marla whenever she tries to take Jeremy off the ship.
I'm slightly surprised the ship has an archaeologist, I thought Picard always dealt with archaeology and ancient civilisations because he really loves old stuff. In fact I'm surprised he wasn't on that away mission, he's been known to risk himself (and the ship) for his passion before.

Does Not Compute
Data has a brief talk with Riker about loss and grief. He wants to know why every asks him to define how well he knew Lt. Aster, he doesn't understand why that has a correlation with grief. Riker can't explain it, but says that maybe human history would be less bloody if every loss was felt as though it were a loved one.

Klingon Warrior
Worf's feelings of responsibility about what happened under his command make him angry. He doesn't like that there's no enemy to face or seek vengeance from. He wants to reach out to Jeremy, who is now an orphan like him. Worf finds comfort in Klingon rituals and invites Jeremy to join him. At first Jeremy is just polite with Worf, as Star Fleet kids should be with officers. Once Troi has helped Jeremy express his anger at Worf the boy is able to accept some comfort and joins Worf in the bonding ritual, which involves lighting candles and speaking Klingon.

Counsellor Necessary
This is an episode that makes me regret my usual snarky heading for Troi. Here she demonstrates not only that she is a good counsellor, but why having a counsellor on board is necessary. (It still doesn't explain why she's on the Bridge so much, but my theory about her secondary role as Picard's PA mostly covers that.)
Troi accompanies Picard when he breaks the bad news to Jeremy and she talks through the weight of responsibility the Captain feels. She does the same for Worf, helping him to articulate his anger and feelings of responsibility. She also advises caution when Worf decides he'll reach out to Jeremy. She explains the guilt a bereaved child can feel when they transfer their affection to anyone else and that Jeremy's bottled anger is likely to express unexpectedly. She explains to Picard both the difficulties of her role when dealing with grief and the reward when she is able to help someone rediscover joy. It's clear that she loves her work, knows what she's doing and is committed to Jeremy's emotional well-being. Troi joins Picard to explain why the fake-Marla's plan is not good for Jeremy.
At the resolution point Troi basically conducts a group therapy session. Wesley tells Jeremy about his experience of losing a parent and finally confesses to Picard that he was angry at him for a long time. Jeremy is told that he's allowed to be angry at Worf. Worf accepts that anger and tells Jeremy his experience of being an orphan and being helped by others, he offers that same help to Jeremy.

At the start of the episode Troi knows something is wrong before Worf's hail and tells Picard to beam the away team back. It seems like precognition, but I expect it's that she felt the away team's pain when the explosion happened. Troi later senses the presence of the energy being, but there's a lot of grief on the ship which hampers her ability to read it.

Poor O'Brien
He's in transporter room 3, just minding his own business, when a blue light appears and darts at him.O'Brien is able to alert the Bridge and security, and the blue light chases him out of the transporter room before knocking over two members of security.

People should check out this Chef O'Brien webcomic, it gets a little bleak, but mostly it's amusing.

Dr Crusher tells Wesley that Troi has asked if he'll speak to Jeremy. Wesley is clearly uncomfortable about doing that. He and his mother have a talk about his father's death and share a pretty touching mother-son moment.
Later Wesley is brought in to talk to Jeremy and tells him about trying to be brave like you're supposed to and feeling dreadful. Troi gets him to tell Picard that he was angry at him for a long time. Partly for being the one that told him the news about his father's death, but also because Picard was Pa Crusher's commanding officer and yet he survived. It's clear that his anger has gone now, but it weighed on his mind for some time. Not surprising when you consider how he first refers to Picard in Encounter at Farpoint. “When I was little he bought my father’s body home to us.”

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?
There is much concern about Jeremy and how he will take the news, this is good. Jeremy is left alone in his quarters to watch home movies of him and his mother, this is bad. Who leaves a bereaved child on his own? Surely some family on board could look after him for a bit, or someone could at least sit with him.

Picard has always believed it's a bad idea to have children on starships. It's dangerous work and the children don't get a choice in the matter. Troi points out that this might still have happened if Jeremy was on Earth, but Picard counters that Earth doesn't face combat. It's true that just being on a starship puts kids in far more danger than if they were living on stable planets. Apparently Star Fleet kids are warned about this kind of thing happening, both Wes and Jeremy have had that briefing, but as Picard points out they don't have a choice. I continue to maintain that Star Fleet is really bad for families.

And They Never Spoke Of It Again?
So Jeremy and Worf perform a bonding ritual to honour Marl's death. Jeremy becomes part of Worf's family for all time and they become brothers, their families are made stronger. I assume Jeremy is going to go live with his aunt and uncle on Earth, but does Worf ever even encounter Jeremy again? I wouldn't be surprised if Worf's bond with the boy is never mentioned again. I'm pretty sure it never comes up in DS9 either, even though plots in that show see Worf's family status changing.

Death by Space Misadventure
Ship's archaeologist Lieutenant Marla Aster died in an explosion in the line of duty.

The End
Worf and Jeremy wear robes and light some big candles. Worf gives Jeremy a sash. They say some Klingon words to honour their mothers and bond to make their families stronger.

18 February 2014

Hugo Nominations

I'm going to WorldCon this year because it's happening in London and that's a lot easier to get to than a whole different country. I'm not sure what to expect as I've never been to such a big convention before, but I've been told its worth doing at least once. Plus plenty of friends are going, so that should make it good.

I realised that being a member of LonCon 3 gives me nominating and voting rights for the Hugo awards. The Hugos are big SF awards, though they usually seem somewhat US/North America-centric (then again so does WorldCon most years). If I have the opportunity to vote for something I usually feel that I should exercise that right (except for TV phone-ins which are clearly for making money and usually about stuff I don't like anyway). In this case it is something I care about and have thoughts on so I've been doing a bit of research and thinking. Some of the voting categories are a little confusing, but this was quite useful in explaining them.

What surprised me when I started thinking about the categories was how little fiction I could think of. I consider myself primarily to be a reader and would have thought those categories would be the ones I was most au fait with, especially novels. As it happens I read hardly any new books last year. I heard about plenty I want to read, but didn't get round to reading most of them. This year I'm gonna try and catch up a little and also try to read some of the new stuff people talk about. Once I finish what I'm currently reading there are 2 eligible novels I could nominate.

I read short fiction, mostly in Interzone and also bits and pieces online or in anthologies. I also listen to PodCastle, but those are all reprints (respeakings? rereadings?). However this year there are only a few stories that really stick out to me. Again looking back on ones I remember as getting to me they are seemed to have been published the year before. Perhaps I'm not looking in the right places, again there are a lot of sites I hear about but don't get around to reading. Or perhaps it just happens that I haven't been grabbed by much this year. Category-wise I find the short story/novelette split confusing. I don't remember if things I've read are more or less than 7,500 words, I didn't count.

I have a lot more opinions about TV and film, which probably isn't surprising if you look at the contents of this blog over the last 12 months. I know Doctor Who does well in these awards, and the 50th anniversary was a big deal, but I can think of other things that are deserving of praise. Film-wise I can think of a lot of big, US films that got attention, I'm also trying to think of UK stuff too. Since WorldCon is in London there's likely to be more Brits in attendance than usual.

I didn't think I'd have many opinions on fancasts, fanzines, semiprozines, editors or best related work. However when I started to think about it I realised that in the last few years I've become a lot more aware of fan stuff and how the publishing industry works and have formed opinions on these things. This is another area where I can think of a lot of British people who I would like to nominate, though there are a fair few US podcasts and sites that I also enjoy.

I must confess I don't know a whole lot about SF art. I see things, I like some of them, I get how book covers work, but I honestly don't feel that that qualifies to make any judgements or suggestions in the art categories. This may be something I should educate myself in going forward.

12 February 2014

Who Watches the Watchers

Episode: s3, ep 4

The Prime Directive is under threat, Picard hates being treated like a god, and surprisingly its possible that superstition or disordered thinking has some benefit for primitive cultures.

What Happens
The Enterprise goes to help a covert 3-person anthropologist team. The early exposition tells us that they're observing a group of Bronze Age, Vulcan-like people from a holo-duck blind. As the ship approaches the anthropologists report that their power is failing, an explosion injures the team, breaks their holo-camoflage and one of them falls onto the rocks outside. The Enterprise speeds to the rescue. Geordi fixes the equipment as Crusher examines the injured.
A native father and daughter see the revealed duck blind and investigate. The daughter (Oji) is told to stay back as her father (Liko) climbs up the cliff and peeks through the window. Data sees him, then Liko gets an electric shock from the faulty equipment and falls down the hill. Crusher goes after him and finding him unconscious she has him beamed to sickbay. From her hiding place Oji sees her father and Crusher beam away. Crusher treats Liko and two of the anthropologists, the third is missing on the planet. Picard is angry that Liko was brought aboard and tells Crusher to wipe his memory and return him. Liko sees Picard and hears him asking about the third anthropologist (Palmer).
After his return Liko tells everyone about 'the Picard' a god-like being that brought him back to life. Troi and Riker are sent to the village in disguise to find Palmer and assess the situation. They report on the cultural contamination and try to convince everyone that Liko dreamed the whole thing. The villagers are skeptical, until they find Palmer unconscious in a cave. They ask the only old person in the village about old stories and Liko takes it upon himself to decode what the Picard wants. He thinks Palmer is a disobedient servant and gets the villagers to tie him up. Troi creates a diversion allowing Riker to get away with Palmer, he's pursued and has to hide before they can be beamed up. Troi is held by the villagers, who are unsure what to do with her.
Riker tells Picard about the situation and says the leader (Nuria) is well-respected. She's their best bet for rescuing Troi and repairing the damage. Nuria is beamed aboard and met by Picard, who she initially tries to worship. He stops her and tries to explain that they are simply very advanced mortals. She doesn't get the idea at first and asks Picard to return the dead, so he takes her to sickbay as the female anthropologist dies of her injuries. This convinces Nuria of Picard's mortality. They return to the village where Liko is about to execute Troi in the name of the Picard. Nuria tries to convince him, but he won't listen. Picard has to appear in a pseudo-deus-ex-machina and tells him he isn't a god. Liko's new-found faith is confused and he ends up aiming a bow at Picard, who invites him to shoot if it will convince him he's mortal. Picard gets shot in the shoulder with an arrow and Liko realises he's done a bad thing.

Guest Star
The ubiquitous Vasquez Rocks appear as the planet of Mintaka III. A veteran of The Original Series, the Vasquez Rocks were also a major part of teen sci-fi series Roswell and recently appeared as themselves in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Oh Captain My Captain
Liko decides the Captain is a god because The Picard is the first human he sees and he's obviously in command. It's never explained how Liko is able to understand Picard, or how Riker and Troi can communicate with the villagers. Perhaps the Enterprise has a universal translator like the TARDIS? I'm sure no one put a babelfish in Liko's ear.
Picard tries to fix the cultural contamination as best he can, even though it becomes a farce in which any attempt to solve the problem makes things worse. The lead anthropologist tells Picard that rescuing Palmer should be priority, especially as cultural contamination has already happened and can't be undone. It's also suggested that a quick-fix would be Picard giving a few orders/commandments. Picard is entirely unwilling to play god or in any way promote the false belief, allowing it to become a religion. In fact his answer to the problem could arguably be breaking the Prime Directive more, since he brings a primitive onto the starship.
Picard and Nuria's conversation gives Picard a chance to talk his way out of the problem, which is his favoured solution.

Doctor Doctor
Crusher was the one that Oji saw beam her father away, and Crusher was the one who healed Liko, so she should really be the one they're worshipping as a god. Just saying.
Pulaski is mentioned when Picard orders Crusher to wipe Liko's memory. Crusher points out that she hasn't done it and will have to refer to Pulaski's notes from when she did it. She also points out that it might not work on this species, and she's right.

Counsellor Pointless
The proto-Vulcans seem to be roughly matriarchal, so when they're on the planet Troi walks ahead of Riker, it signals that if anyone wants his services they must bargain with her. She introduces them to the villagers and tries to convince everyone that Liko and Oji were dreaming, but the discovery of Palmer scuppers that. Troi provides a diversion so Riker can rescue Palmer and remains calm while she is held captive and villagers try to decide what to do with her. She know they don't want to hurt her, but they are also scared by the sudden shift towards the supernatural. She also points out that the problem with believing in a supernatural being is that it's hard to know what he wants. Even when Liko is pointing a bow at her Troi doesn't flinch.

The Prime Directive is a Harsh Mistress
It gets so broken! And not even to save a little girl in mortal danger like in Pen Pals.

"It is our highest law that we shall not interfere with other cultures."
Considering it's the highest law of Star Fleet they don't seem to mind how close they come to breaking it just by having the anthropologists on the planet. I mean how did they install that facility without the locals noticing? It would've taken a fair bit of drilling. Unless holo-projectors block out noise too?

Sending Riker and Troi in disguise is a good compromise and doesn't directly break the Prime Directive, but when they beam Nuria up that seems like a very definite and conscious smashing of the rules. I suppose once it's already been definitively broken, Picard reckons its better to repair the damage as best they can rather than allowing a cult to form in his name. Besides the revelation that interplanetary travel is possible might give these people the kick up the arse they seem to need.

Planet of... Bronze Age Vulcans
The primitive people are a lot like Vulcans* and have ordered minds. They abandoned superstition millennia ago and have not believed in the supernatural in all that time. Oji has recently been made the appointed record keeper and must measure the sun at its zenith, a duty she takes seriously. It's clear that they have a something like a scientific method when interacting with their environment. In her talk with Picard Nuria mentions that they've found bones in caves and realised that their ancestors must have lived in caves before they had huts. However, considering all this, it seems like maybe they should've advanced more. Assuming the modern idea that science = progress they don't seem that impressive, I'm not even sure if they have agriculture, domesticated animals or writing. It seems like maybe some kind of supernatural belief is actually useful, which I am sure is not the intended message of the episode since the idea of them developing religion is presented as a terrible thing and huge backward step.** Of course it could just be that their ordered minds mean that these proto-Vulcans are content with their lot and don't have the human desire to strive for betterment of their circumstances.

The Lesson
1. Something something something, Prime Directive.
2. Abandoning all superstition is definitely the right thing to do... unless you want technological progress apparently. And here we were thinking that science was the answer.

Death by Space Misadventure
Anthropologist Mary Warren dies of her injuries after a malfunction causes an explosion, but at least the timing of her death provided a valuable teaching moment.

The End
As he leaves Picard explains why he can't tell them more or give them tech and Nuria realises that everything that happened was a mistake. A small child of the village gives Picard a scarf, or belt or something. They now have the gift of knowing they have no limitations.

* Except that as I have decided we all know, very early Vulcans were in fact elves from Middle-Earth who travelled to the West and got to pre-historic Vulcan. If you think about it you'll see it makes a lot of sense, as Vulcans are basically space-elves and that's probably why they retain the emotion of smugness.

** In early versions of scientific thought/methodology it was not unusual for natural philosophers (and their like) to be motivated by a desire to better understand creation in order to be closer to God. Not that I'm saying that's how all civilisations have or should work, it's just an interesting point in this context.

9 February 2014

Arrow series 1

We've recently finished catching up on series 1 of Arrow. When it was first broadcast got about 3 episodes in but gave up, there were other things to watch and it didn't grab us at the time. I remember thinking that some of the dialogue felt a little clunky at the time. Also the island flashbacks looked interesting but we gave up Lost in early series 2, so were wary. I think the show benefits from being watched box-set style, not having to wait for reveals to be resolved and for the plot arcs to develop.

I've been told that many different DC characters appear in more-grounded, less-superhero-y forms. I don't know much about that and only recognised a couple who had been in the Justice League cartoon I used to watch (that was good, I should check that out again sometime). Huntress was fairly obvious, also Deadshot and Deathstroke got to use their comic book names. Otherwise I didn't get the references, but that was OK.

Some thoughts:

Felicity Smoke is awesome and I love her! 
She knows all the things and is apparently the only person in the Q Consolidated IT department, which must be tricky for them when she goes to work in the basement of Oliver's club. It's cool that she seems fairly normal and stumbles over words or says the wrong thing. Also, despite getting sucked into the vigilante side of things, she's still a voice for regular morality, in which killing people is to be avoided. It's great that she sets the limits of how she's willing to help rather than jumping into team Hood.

Starling City suffers from Chin Blindness
Oliver Queen is in the newspapers and on TV, he has a recognisable face. Yet he decided not to create a costume that adequately covers his face (unlike another illegal archer I could mention). Apparently a low hood, darkness, green face paint around your eyes and keeping your head lowered at all times (handy when you have to aim a bow) will protect your identity from even close friends, former lovers and family members. There are so many times when it seems like people should be able to identify him, yet inexplicably they do not. Literally it happens at least once an episode, and sometimes he's standing above people, so they can see right up his hood. Then occasionally someone will pull his hood all the way back (not difficult) and be all shocked at his identity. "Oh, the vigilante with the same chin and facial hair as Oliver Queen, is Oliver Queen!" It's just so silly!

His forehead is covered and he's got paint round his eyes, could be anyone.

John Barrowman is in this. His part is well-acted and interesting enough that we stopped shouting "Barrowman!" (a la David Tennant) after a few episodes. Also I think Torchwood hypnotised me enough that I didn't consider John Barrowman could be the father of a 20something, until I thought about it and realised that he could be really.

Oliver is arse (but not always)
Part of the premise is that Oliver Queen is a bit of a jerk. He used to be a huge jerk, but was changed by the island and still pretends to be a bit of a jerk, like Bruce Wayne does. The thing is that now he's just a jerk in a different way, mostly die to being all secretive and pushing away those he loves "for their protection" (most superheroes are that kind of jerk). So much that Oliver does, and the way he justifies it to himself and others, is flawed.
However the show did have one moment where Oliver was positioned as a jerk, even though he wasn't. He goes on a date and she asks him about what actually happened on the island he was shipwrecked on for 5 years (supposedly alone). He's unwilling to talk about it, and how it changed him, but signed its hard to talk about. She gets annoyed and pushes, but then her phone rings. Now "saved by the cell" is a cool phrase that amused me slightly, but her behaviour didn't. Later the date is counted as a bad one and Oliver goes and apologises to her. "Sorry I didn't want to discuss a traumatic experience I had."
If someone doesn't want to talk socially about a difficult life experience, you drop it. It kinda bothered me, because normally I don't approve of  Oliver's behaviour, but in this case she was in the wrong even though the show wouldn't acknowledge that. Unfortunately I think that scene was based on some weird social/dating expectation wherein the man is automatically a jerk, or it's his job to apologise to the woman regardless of what actually happened.

Uptown Girl
Oliver's sister Thea was kind of a brat, and she does a lot of stupid stuff, but she is rich and 17 and had family issues so I guess that's not surprising. Her relationship with wrong-side-of-the-tracks Roy initially made my eyes roll. She's rich, he snatches purses, they make out - just play uptown girl already, we get it. Somehow their relationship became not annoying by the end of the series and actually made a weird kind of sense, all the more effective because it surprised both characters as well.

There are various other things I could mention. I was glad the island flashbacks were not like Lost and lots of stuff happened. It was interesting the Oliver's mum was involved in some dodgy, comicbook criminal plan. It's continually weird that he can shoot someone with an arrow faster than they can shoot him with a gun. Arrow's tone strikes for grounded and gritty, but given the premise/source material there's a lot of silliness in there too, which you just have to accept. Arrow isn't one of my favourites, but it entertains and I'm interested in seeing the next series.

6 February 2014

Banners in the Wind

Banners in the Wind
Juliet E. McKenna

The previous volumes in this trilogy are Irons in the Fire and Blood in the Water. This review contains mild spoilers for both.

The third book in the Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy sees the fighting continue into autumn and winter after the foreign mercenaries have returned home. It is time for Lescaris to fight for themselves, to show that they are willing to fight for peaceful unity and able to control their own affairs. However old allies become targets as the ideological differences of the initial conspirators lead them into conflict. The surviving Dukes are keen to regain their titles, and one still remains safe in his dukedom.

It's fair to say that I had a few expectations about the third book in a trilogy about a revolution. There's so many ways the story could go -even within the broad expectations- and I was interested to see how the Lescari revolution would conclude and what shape a new Lescar would take. It had been a while since I had read Blood in the Water, but reminders of previous events, as experienced in different ways by different characters, are seeded consistently and seamlessly into this book when needed. I wouldn't recommend reading this book without reading the previous two, because you'd be missing out on a good read by skipping them, but it is perfectly possible to read this volume alone.

I've realised this book is very much a depiction of the aftermath of previous events, and much of the plot is driven by consequences. The consequence of removing rulers is a power vacuum that others will try to fill in different ways. The consequence of law and order breaking down is that regular folk are prey to criminals. The consequence of a paid army going home is that you will have to find people willing and able to fight for their own land. The consequence of internal unrest is that neighbouring nations will want to get involved. All of these challenges are faced by the conspirators and must be answered. Much of the plot consists of characters reacting to events -a town being overrun by bandits, the new tyranny of a troublesome former ally- but this is not a criticism, far from it. Everything that happens is a result of the characters previous actions, directly or indirectly, and it would be terribly unrealistic for any character to be in control in this situation. The pace is kept up throughout as each character deals with their situation, there's action and intrigue aplenty. As with the previous volumes we get a rounded picture of what's happening as characters on different sides of the conflict deal with different types of problems.

Consequences are also important on a more personal level as most characters deal with the results of what they havealready done. Duchess Litasse bears guilt for bringing a depraved mage into her quest for revenge, and as she grows increasingly uneasy about the actions being taken in her name she has to decide what her future will be. Tathrin faced the censure of his family for his part in the revolution, and is thrust into a leadership role he never wanted as he becomes the Captain-General and shoulders the responsibility for the new Lescari army. Aremil and Branca draw apart from each other, as each regrets the things they have done and fears the judgement of the other, but their communication via magic is essential. Even Sorgrad, whose stake in the fate of Lescar never seemed personal, has something to gain or lose as his subtly-disguised romantic feelings are revealed in a way that is wonderfully unorthodox and a testament to the author's skill.

Without going into much detail, the ending shows a way forward for Lescar and a chance at respite for the conspirators, who have had a difficult year and want to get on with their own lives in their newly-freed and unified homeland. While this is the end of this series I'm hoping that the later books set in the same world will make some reference to how things are going for the Lescari. I suppose I will have to read them to find out for sure.