3 June 2018

The Outcast

Episode: s5, ep 17

This is the queerest episode of TNG I've seen. I think it's trying to do something good, although there are various things that feel awkward and I'm not sure it works.

What Happens
The Enterprise is helping a planet of androgynous people search for their missing shuttle. It doesn't have the capacity to leave the system, but can't be detected. A probe from the Enterprise disappears, and investigation reveals that there's a hidden space pocket in the system. Riker is liaising with the androgynes and offers to use an Enterprise shuttle to map the pocket and attempt a rescue. Everyone is grateful and local pilot, Soren, insists on flying the shuttle.
Riker is impressed Soren's ability to pick up Federation shuttle controls. They* ask a lot of questions about gender, and Riker has questions about genderless society, but is less nosy. The pair hang out in 10 Forward and there is more gender chat, especially about how males experience attraction. Riker expresses his own preferences initially, but doesn't apply his experience to all males. Riker and Soren map the pocket, Soren's questions become a bit NSFW. Something goes wrong and Soren is injured. In sick bay they ask Dr Crusher about being female, and how attraction works between two genders. At the poker game Worf is weirdly macho about playing cards and Crusher gossips that Soren is attracted to Riker.
While working in the shuttle together Soren tells Riker that they're attracted to him, which is very dangerous to admit. The androgyne planet used to have gender but they evolved past it, so gender is seen as primitive. Some pople are throwbacks who do experience gender and gendered attraction. Soren secretly identifies as female and describes being closeted. Those who are known to have gender are "cured" by drugs, and she's terrified of that. Soren and Riker fly into the pocket and resuce the missing people at the expense of their shuttle. At a celebration afterwards they wander the gardens and kiss in secret, but one of Soren's colleagues is suspicious. Riker tells Troi about his strong feelings for Soren, Troi is totally cool about it. When Riker visits Soren he's told by her colleague that she's been taken away. He rushes to the planet, bursts into an official proceeding (trial doesn't seem to be the right word, sentencing maybe?) and tries to take the blame in order to save Soren. Soren is grateful but tired of living a lie. She admits to being a female attracted to males, then makes a very eloquent speech. The planet leader doesn't care, calls Soren a pervert and has her taken away for treatment. Riker tries to argue, but the judge says they aren't close-minded they just want to help their sick citizens.
Riker goes to Picard, but the Captain can't intervene in another culture's legal system. Worf (whose mobility is fine btw) approaches Riker and offers to go on any unofficial rescue mission to the surface. They sneak around on the surface until they find Soren, and Riker says she can claim asylum on the Enterprise. Soren doesn't want to be rescued, they have been "cured" and all feelings for Riker have disappeared. Riker suggests that Dr Crusher could undo the non-consensual treatment, but Soren says they're happy now. Riker is heartbroken and leaves.


Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
I've said it before, but it bears repeating, Riker is a sex-positive ladies man. This is something we need more of nowadays. Instead of seeing romance/flirting/sex as a hunt or a battle or [insert overly-macho simile here], he treats them as pleasurable activities between two people. In the past he has actively refused the advances of women when the situation involved a major power imbalance. When asked what kind of women he is attracted to Riker describes personality traits and non-sexual interactions he enjoys. He has to like a woman's company in order to feel attracted to her. Riker respects women and is never shown as being weak for it, in fact he's the most macho human in the main cast. When asked if his preferences apply to all human males he points out that men have varied preferences, and it isn't necessarily about appearance or lust. This is stated so straightforwardly as a fact, and yet we humans of the early 21st century don't seem to have grasped this well enough (or at least much of Western media hasn't).
Soren's questions about gendered society can be awkward, but Riker turns them into discussions with mutual information sharing, and doesn't get defensive or evasive (even at an oddly timed question about sexual organs). It's all respectful on his side (Soren clearly doesn't understand appropriate workplace conversation), and even though he's been trained to encounter different species and their cultures, there's a good-humoured tone that shows Riker is enjoying himself. As well as being attractive to her, Riker creates a non-judgmental environment where she can be herself and talk about the difficulties she's witnessed and experienced. That strikes me as incredibly moving, and probably why I felt more strongly about this clearly-doomed relationship than most of the other one-episode relationships on this show. Plus when Picard warns Riker against risking his career by violating the Prime Directive, Riker cares enough for Soren to ignore this, despite that he's always been a career man. Riker falling in love with someone who doesn't outwardly present as feminine is nice, and plays strongly into Riker's previously-stated preference for personality. Riker even feels strongly enough about Soren to have a talk with Troi (see below). Riker's attempt to save Soren by taking the blame and presenting himself as a culturally insensitive, pushy (perhaps primitive?) male, is very noble. Especially when we've seen that these characteristics aren't who Riker is at all. Also he never tried to put his feelings first, and never dangled their burgeoning relationship a reason she should uproot herself and live among aliens. He's looking out for her welfare as a person, not as his (potential) partner. When he tries to rescue her in a more dangerous (and fairly macho) way, it isn't a grand romance and leads to heartbreak. She refuses his rescue, apparently content without the feelings she'd once had, and though he could have abducted her in order to save her, he respects her wishes and leaves.

Klingon Warrior
Should he be moving with ease after what the last episode put us through? I know the magic spine surgery meant he could recover full mobility, but I got the sense that there would still be some work and recuperation involved. I know this isn't a Worf episode, but it does feel cheap not to have some reference to his recent medical issues.
Worf weirdly genders a variety of poker, during a game that has always had both men and women in it. I know Worf's the easiest person to use when you need a regressive opinion, but claiming wild cards are feminine doesn't even make sense. I know some poker players are snobbish about them as a variation of the game, but that doesn't appear to have anything to do gender. Was it because Troi chose? Would he have said that if O'Brien or Data had chosen wild cards? Also if Worf wants to accuse colleagues of weakness he can blame it on them being humans. When Worf claims a relationship between an androgyne and a human would be impossible Data asks why and Troi pointedly agrees. Worf reads the room, shuts down his critical opinion and goes back to moaning about his cards.
It is nice that Worf, who had scoffed at the very idea of a human and androgyne, offers to go with Riker on a rescue mission. Of course after last episode Worf kind of owes Riker his life, and Worf has long had a strong attachment to Riker.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi demonstrates why she's the best ex ever. There are scattered episodes over the last couple of series that show Troi and Riker being close and possibly something more than platonic. I assume it's a friends-with-benefits thing, but it's all off screen so maybe it's just flirting. It's enough of a thing that Will feels the need to tell Deanna that he's met someone important to him. He's awkward about telling her, unsure what that means for them. Of course Troi already knows it's Soren, and she's absolutely fine and happy for him, because she's the best ex ever. Riker is concerned that their relationship will change, she points out that all relationships change, but they'll always be in each other's lives. I suspect Will's wary because he has a history of being a bit snippy when Deanna is in a relationship, but she's more emotionally intelligent than him. It's also cool that Troi has her own fun stuff going on, looking through a box of old Earth junk that belonged to an ancestor.


Planet of... Homogenous Androgynes
The idea that androgyny removes individuality strikes me as a bad stereotype. Everyone here has the same sort of haircut and the same kind of outfit, it's as though the removal of gender removed people's ability/desire to visually express themselves in varied ways. This is patently nonsense as there's loads of individuality in how people visually express themselves within same-gender groups, even for men who sometimes have less options when it comes to aesthetics. Is it because this society is very restrictive and fears/forbids anything gendered? Or is it the idea that without gender and sexual attraction people wouldn't care about how they look? The show often has one-episode species/cultures all looking the same, so this could just be the standard way they deal with extras, but it feels more weighted here due to the gender and sexuality issues being explored. Also the worldbuilding feels a little sloppy (again, not unusual for a Planet of the Week) because it's not clear how the genderless society impacts on sexuality or reproduction. All of these things are conflated in a mishmash. Soren mentions people sleeping together, but not sexually just for warmth. She also mentions that reproduction involves both parents inseminating fibrous husks, which is safer and less painful than human reproduction. Riker observes that it sounds less fun, but of course he would say that because he doesn't have to bear live young to reproduce (bearing live young is super inconvenient, I'm here to tell you). Riker is talking about sex-as-pleasure and Soren is talking reproduction, but she clarifies that prior to the inseminating there's a whole variety of pleasurable activity. What's never clear is whether the pleasurable stuff that happens prior to insemination is just for reproduction, or whether it's fine for recreation too? Is it even a sexual thing as we would understand it? I wonder if it's telling that removing Soren's gender also makes her lose/forget her feel for Riker? At the end she seems unemotional, confused about her previous actions, apparently devoid of her previous attraction and politely apologetic about the outcome.

Future Is Better?
I'm a straight, cisgendered woman, and I try to be an ally, but I am an outsider to the issues that are being raised here. Plus this is over 25 years old, so it's going to feel awkward (a lot of TNG does). Still, I felt like the episode was trying to do a good thing, but not in a good way. My thoughts are below, but I realise there are many others better qualified to discuss or dissect how the episode handles this content.
Soren's recounting of her experience -not understanding herself, having no words for her feelings- sounds like most accounts of being closeted I've read/heard, be it for sexuality or gender identity. Her experience as someone afraid to be themself, of subtly finding others who understand, of a secret community within a restrictive society feel authentic. Her relief at being able to tell someone plainly is massive, but so is her apprehension. The way that scene is shot, with her down low and partially in shadow visually demonstrated oppression. This definitely feels like it's trying to highlight the struggles of those who are mistreated due to having non-mainstream gender/sexuality. The judge calls it a perversion and the treatments people are forced to have are obviously a reference to the gay or trans "cures" that religious/close-minded folk still peddle today. Soren's speech is good; she declares who she is, that she isn't ill or unnatural, and points out the many ways that gendered people aren't different from everyone else.

BUT
There's so much conflating of gender identity and sexuality, and while those both come under the LGBTQIA umbrella they aren't necessarily the same thing. The episode is doing that thing of reversing a prejudice, so in this society gender itself is taboo and Soren as a woman attracted to men is repressed and punished. That can be a tricky trope to pull off; it doesn't address the actual prejudice that already exists, plus as the reversal can make those who are oppressed look like villains (in this case androgynous -and possibly asexual- people). While it's cool that our ladies man character is attracted to an androgynous-presenting character, she is still played by an actress.** Plus it feels like the show is being a little squeamish, unwilling to show the same level of physical intimacy here as it does when Riker gets involved with femme women.When Soren is having her 'what even is gender' conversations with Riker and Crusher it's all very binary and heterosexual. I can see why Soren focuses on attraction between genders, and how genders present, but there's no suggestion of same-sex attraction among humans. Also Crusher talking about makeup as an entirely female thing ignores the various times/places/cultures where human males did/do wear makeup (Ancient Egypt and 18th century France for example). Picard's refusal to intervene due to the rules that bind them make sense, but he never expresses the anger you would think he'd feel when reacting to prejudice and ill-treatment. The ending is poignant and worked emotionally, but a closeted character coming out and then bad things happening because of it is an overused trope. Plus the fact that the "cure" works on Soren isn't great. It's not an act since she prevents her own rescue, points out she's happy and has apparently forgotten her feelings towards Riker. Does this mean that -for her species- her identity is a curable aberration? Or is it meant to suggest powerful brainwashing? I think it's the latter, but that could have been clearer. Plus there's the old TNG problem of one-episode issues that don't really impact the main cast and are never spoken of again. If this is the LGBTQIA rights episode then it has no impact, and doesn't show the people it's supposedly representing.


Staff Meetings
1. Riker and Soren give a joint presentation to civil leader on the planet about the space pocket the shuttle is trapped in, and how they might rescue it. As people are leaving Soren tells Riker they wish to pilot the shuttle, Riker is reluctant at first. Both stubborn are about their piloting skills and keeping others out of danger. Riker suggests they team up.
Not totally sure if this counts as it's outside the Enterprise and Riker is the only staff member present, but this meeting does have a presentation.
2. Riker goes to Picard after Soren is taken away. Picard offers to talk to the leader, but Riker says they won't consider alternatives. Picard points out that Starfleet aren't allowed to interfere in another culture's legal system, and he can't give Riker sanction to take matters into his own hands. Riker knows this, but says that Soren is important to him. Picard warns Riker against losing all he's worked fore, but Riker doesn't want to hear it.

The End
At the end of the penultimate scene Riker says he loves Soren, but Soren can only apologise and turn away. She's polite and distant while Riker's heart is breaking. In the final scene Riker comes on the Bridge, Picard asks if they've finished their buisness in that system and Riker says they have. Both are being super businesslike. There's plenty of subtext, but no conclusion and little indication of how the audience is meant to feel.




* I'm going to use singular 'they' to refer to androgynous/non-gendered characters (and those who present as such). In this scene Riker explains he's been trying to carefully construct sentences to avoid personal pronouns, and he refuses to use 'it' because that sounds rude to him (which is fair enough). Soren doesn't offer an alternative pronoun -apparently the usual one is untranslateable, but surely Riker just needs a polite word to use, not an understanding of the meaning. I forgot that 'it' was used so much back in the 90s because 'it' does sond rude and maybe it's just what I'm use to, but 'they' works a lot better to my mind.

** I've discovered that Jonathan Frakes criticised the casting of a woman in the role, good on him. It's also kind of cool that Memory Alpha describes the character as TransFemale, obviously the specifics are likely to be different when you've got aliens, but that's definitely what Soren feels like since she's in a society that refuses to acknowledge her gender or call her 'she'.

24 May 2018

Stories

Books

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovski
This book is amazing! It's long, but it really warrants the length of the story. The main character is
Emily Marschwic, a well-born young lady in a country at war. It starts out with a regency-novel type of setting, it's a secondary world but with limited fantasy elements. Things are difficult due to the war stripping men , boys and resources from the country, but Emily understands her life and her world. Emily is neither a wife and mother like her older sister, nor easily distracted by ladylike concerns like her younger sister. She has a keen sense of justice and when she's affronted by the way local affairs are handled she harangues the local mayor-governor, an odious, conniving man who pushed her father out of his position and into despair. The war is going well they say, but yet it needs more and more until the army starts drafting women. Emily is sent to training with other women, but she's the only upper class woman among them, and then she goes to the front. The bulk of the book is set in swamps that have become battlefields, where the commander doesn't understand non-conventional warfare and the terrain is a challenge for all but the most skilled of scouts. Emily encounters the enemy and learns some of their character, but never wavers from her role as a loyal soldier. This novel is about the horrors of war, in so many ways. The actual physical danger is clear, but the psychological affects of it are fully explored. The way different people react to personal danger and duty, the way some rise to the challenge, while some don't and many never get the chance. The burdens of command and the importance of friendship are strong themes. There's so much in there, so much is addressed but all through the viewpoint of a determined and loyal woman who becomes an effective but weary soldier.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells
The story is told from the point of view of a cyborg who is deployed to do security for a small team of humans doing a survey on a planet. Neither the human science team nor the Company who owns it knows that the self-styled Murderbot has hacked the software that should control it. Mostly Murderbot is bored and wants to do half-assed job keeping the humans safe and be left alone to watch entertainment feeds. Then things start going wrong, and another survey team on the planet disappear. The sullen, anti-social Murderbot has to suffer through close, awkward interactions with humans in order to save everyone. This story is simple but lots of fun. Although there's danger and bad things in the main plot and in the background/backstory it feels like fairly optimistic SF. This is probably because the human characters seem to really care for each other, and although they aren't very well described (Murderbot isn't interested in humans as people, just clients) we see enough of the team to get a sense of the friendship there. This is all filtered through the very anti-social viewpoint of Murderbot, who likes to pretend to be as robotic as possible and does not enjoy things like conversation and eye contact. I'm pleased to hear that there are more stories in this series.
This is a novella, rather than a novel, which means it's a fairly slim book, with a few chapters. It's a nice format for me at the moment because I can finish something fairly quickly, even around work and childcare. Also it was good to read something short after a large novel.


Audio

Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Escape Pod 624, narrated by: Trendane Sparks)
Speaking of robots that enjoy entertainment media, this is a delightful story about a sentient robot in a museum who discovers an anime, and then discovers fandom. Computron doesn't have emotions, and so it can't actually enjoy Hyperdimension Warp Record, nor can it feel frustrated by how long it takes for the next episode to drop. It discovers online discussions, and quizzes, and fics, and fan art. Soon it's writing its own fics, collaborating with other fans. The story shows how an online community helps am isolated robot with a lot of time on it's hands, I mean claws, to discover creativity and friendship. Though Computron insists it doesn't have emotions I think it doth protest too much. I'm not involved in specific fandoms myself, but I know people who love them and understand the value they have. The way this story portrays the fandom is very fun and inventive, and though it's depicting mostly text-based communication it works really well in audio as the narrator skillfully gives life to various online personas.

A Fine Balance by Charlotte Ashley (Podcastle 517, narrated by Tatiana Grey)
This is an exciting and meaningful story set in a city where the glamorous art of dueling is defined by a strict set of rules and used not just as entertainment but as a way of balancing to major faction in the city. Told from the viewpoint of an enthusiastic apprentice, who describes the skill of her esteemed mistress, and her mistress's opponent. The story establishes the system, shows how things should work, how they do work and then how they go wrong. The wealthier faction sets out to destroy the other, and instead of relying on the skill of their swordswomen, they resort to underhand measures. Similarly the officials of the poorer faction try to keep their champion from her duels to avoid further losses. The traditional ways are ignored in favour of a kind of progress, but the women of the old system have more common with each other than devious, politically-minded men. The narration is good, really capturing the youthful apprentice as she expresses admiration, embarrassment, and despair.


I can't find my ipod charger at the moment, which is making it hard for me to listen to more podcasts. It must be around somewhere, but it's so small and I'm having to move things around quite a lot at the moment. It's irritating, but I'm sure I'll sort it out soon.

18 May 2018

Ethics

Episode: s5, ep 16

A fairly chewy episode with discussions of medical ethics, assisted suicide and ableism. Also competent women doing their work.

What Happens
Worf has an accident with some containers which crush his spine. His legs are paralysed, probably permanently. Dr Crusher brings in a neuro-specialist doctor, they have a friendly professional chat. Dr Russell works in research and prefers to keep a distance from patients, which Crusher understands. There's little medical research about Klingons in this state, as cultural bias means Klingon doctors normally let a patient die. Worf asks Riker to perform a ritual, which is basically assisted suicide. Klingon culture (unsurprisingly) sees those with physical disability as a burden and Worf is deeply shamed by being in such a condition. Crusher and Russell discuss Klingon anatomy, which comes with a lot of spare parts (useful for people that like hacking into each other so much). Russell suggests trying a fancy, DNA technique she's been developing, which would mean growing Worf a tailor-made new spine, I think. Crusher is impressed until she learns that it's only been tested in a lab before, she refuses to risk Worf with something so experimental.
Crusher is called to the Bridge, a Federation ship has hit an old mine and crash-landed on a planet. Faced with the large-scale, medical emergency Crusher takes over three shuttle bays for triage and calls up all medically-trained civilians on board. Riker and Picard discuss Worf's request, Picard presents the Klingon side of things, it's a cultural difference. Alexander wants to see his father, but Troi explains that Worf is embarrassed by his condition. Alexander (well trained by his mother) recognises that this is Klingon nonsense, he just wants to see his dad. Troi tries to get Worf to see Alexander. Crusher and Russell show Worf some kind of futuristic leg-brace implants that will give him mobility, but take some getting used to, he is not impressed. Then Russell suggests her procedure as an alternative. Outside Worf's room Crusher takes Russell to task for suggesting the procedure when she thought they'd agreed not to try it. Russell points out that as the patient would rather die than have implants, she sees it as an better option than suicide. Crusher sees it as using someone's desperation to try out her research, and preventing a patient from dealing with their situation. Their argument is interrupted by Picard telling Crusher they've got to the crash-site, it's all hands on deck to help the survivors. Russell offers her help, which Crusher gratefully accepts.
Worf allows Alexander to see him with the leg brace implants. It seems like Worf is really trying, but when his legs give way and he falls he can't take the shame and Troi sends Alexander away. Crusher approaches Russell and her deceased patient, it turns out Russell tried an alternative treatment she's been working on. Crusher is angry that Russell is using patients to test her theories. Russell thinks Crusher is angry that she can offer Worf a chance Crusher can't, and points out how valuable the data from these cases will be for developing medicine further down the road. Crusher relieves Russell of duty.
Picard discusses Worf's situation with Crusher, and again lays out the Klingon viewpoint, but Crusher doesn't accept the suicide idea or that he can't live as he is. Riker visits Worf, having read up on the ritual, and says he will not be a part of it. He points out that technically the eldest son should do it, so if Worf is going to stubbornly stick to Klingon ways then Alexander should be the one to help him die. Worf can't ask that of Alexander. Later, when Alexander visits, Worf tells him that he's going to break with tradition and try to live by undergoing the operation. He might still die, but it wouldn't be suicide. Crusher reluctantly agrees to help with the procedure. Before the operation Worf asks Troi to raise Alexander if he doesn't make it.
In the operating theatre Drs Crusher and Russell basically remove Worf's spine and grow a new one, during the few hours before he experiences brain damage. There are some issues scanning the spine/DNA/something because of Klingon stuff. The new proto-spine is implanted and at first it seems OK, then things go wrong. Everything is tense as Worf flatlines, and Crusher tries drugs to revive him, going past dosages that even Russell would use. Crusher declares time of death. Alexander is told, and wants to see his father. As the boy cries Crusher notices Worf twitch and starts up the medical machines again. It turns out one of those Klingon spare parts has kicked in and Worf will liver after all.


Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is mostly used as a debate partner for Riker and Crusher. Eloquence is his power and has been used a lot previously, but here he feels unusually detached. Of course he has concern for Worf, but his role as captain is immaterial and for once he has no decision to make and so the moral dilemma isn't his. He's a good choice for this role, Worf (and likely many other Klingons) can only see the shame of situation and the traditions they adhere to. Picard has an understanding of Klingon culture and values, while also knowing why Will and Beverley are so horrified. Picard can point out that Worf's culture adds an extra, awful psychological weight to his incapacitated state.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
This is Riker as a friend who has been given a horrible duty. It is only due to Worf's huge respect for Riker that he even asks him (remember that Worf wanted to follow Riker if he ever left the Enterprise). Of course Riker is horrified by this request, as a human of the 24th Century he doesn't see physical disability as a weakness, and certainly not a reason to give up. Of course as a human of the 24th Century he probably also doesn't see the need to be battle-ready at all times. He doesn't consider infirmity or mobility problems to be a weakness, and it's nice that that's a common human view. His friendship with Worf means that, he needs to respect Worf's decisions about his own life -and death- even if riker hates it. If his friend truly is suffering should he deny his aid? Then Riker does some research and kinda rules lawyers Worf, by throwing his own traditions back to him. On the one hand this is very intellectually clever, and does point out some of the foolishness of these traditions (clearly forged in a more brutal desperate period of Klingon history), as well as forcing Worf to face what he was truly asking of Riker. On the other hand this wasn't very compassionate, what if the gambit had failed and Worf has insisted Alexander do it? I guess Riker knows Worf well enough.

Klingon Warrior
I've mentioned before that Worf's non-Klingon upbringing has left him with a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Klingon traditions. This is where that commitment to his heritage is tested and we find out where Worf's line is drawn. His own death doesn't cause him fear, he's a Klingon warrior and an honourable death in battle is basically an aim. Worf has already lived through a period where he was officially dishonoured, and it weighed heavily on him, but he accepted that status because he thought he was serving the Klingon Empire and he knew the truth himself. In this case Worf sees no change to his status, no potential improvement of lot, and so he is certain he cannot endure and nothing in his culture tells him that he should. It is only when Alexander is brought into the mix that Worf goes against both his cultural beliefs and personal preference. Alexander has already lost one parent and been moved on from his foster (grand)parents; Worf is all he has left. He tries to mobility aids for Alexander, although the shame of the situation is still too much for him and I expect Alexander witnessing him fall makes it worse. It may be relevant that Alexander is very skeptical about Klingon 'honour', presumably the legacy of his skeptical mother. When Riker points out that by Klingon tradition Alexander is already old enough to assist in his father's suicide, I expect that a Klingon-raised child would have been better prepared for such a duty, Worf knows Alexander has not been.

Doctor Doctor
It' a Crusher-heavy episode, yay! I liked this, even though it is very much people having ethical discussions in various rooms (perhaps to make up for the lack of formal staff meetings). The emotional elements work because we know Worf. Into this horrible situation comes Crusher, balancing professional and personal concerns with aplomb, like the highly competent badass she is. As well as Worf's injuries she also has a large scale medical emergency to deal with. She doesn't skip a beat and gives orders to prepare for treating up to 500 people, including commandeering cargo bays and calling up civilians with relevant skills. Crusher handles command with ease, and is neither hesitant nor showy about giving orders. Despite the increasing disagreement between her and Russell regarding Worf, she's happy to accept her help in the greater emergency. She only removes Russell from duty when she judges her to be a danger to patients. Of the three department-heads Crusher is clearly the best with people, and we see her working collaboratively with the medical staff a lot. The fact that she called in Russell as an expert in her specialisation shows that teamwork and collaboration is second nature to her. Worf has a variety of nameless security people whose job seems to be standing behind him or herding people towards him. Geordi's team includes some people with names (mostly Barclay), who are usually doing something in the background. I suppose medicine is a discipline requires people skills and bedside manner. I can see the medical staff having fun away days together, I don't know what Engineering or Security do.
The only person Crusher approaches with her concerns is Picard, partly due to his rank, but I suspect mostly because of their friendship. It would be unprofessional to complain about a patient to her subordinates. As a healer she does despair that Worf wants to throw away his life, and she fears that Russell is driven by research gains without thought of patient welfare. Picard is the one who (as with Riker) points out the cultural and psychological pressures Worf is facing. Crusher is ready to institute suicide watch, and I see why she wants to save Worf and why she's appalled at Russell's daredevil medical approach. The professionalism continues as she conducts a surgery she's wary about, with someone she doesn't trust. In the end her knowledge of Klingon anatomy is what saves Worf from the brink of death. She refuses Russell any credit for what happened, which I think might be a little harsh, but I can also see why she won't encourage Russell and why she fears her methods.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi is there for Alexander after Worf is injured and refuses to see his on. She calmly takes the anger Alexander directs at her. She explains that Worf is embarrassed about his situation and Alexander's presence will make him feel worse. When Alexander is rude about Klingon traditions, she simply points out how important they are to Worf. Later she rebukes Worf for his refusal to see Alexander, clearly she agrees with Alexander's assessment of Klingon traditions. When Alexander is allowed to see Worf, Troi has clearly prepped him for how to behave and how Worf might react. It makes sense for Worf to ask Deanna to raise Alexander, she's given him the most parenting advice and is the main non-school adult Alexander seems to have contact with. It is due to her work with both of them that Alexander is able to respect his father's boundaries and Worf is able to accept his son's help.


Future is Better
Klingon society is super ableist and this must be difficult episode for anyone with paralysis/mobility problems. The references to the bad state of Klingon medicine are telling. Klingon culture discourages people from living in this condition, so there's been no real research done on improving their lives. Klingons have never struck me as a very research-intensive species, and so I'd assumed most of their technological advances were gained through conquest or similar. Apparently they haven;t bothered to loot or develop medical breakthroughs, palliative care, and physical aids. It sort of goes back to Russell's stance, if the research was there the improvements would come, but of course someone's got to do the research and there seems to be no desire for that among Klingons. I kinda feel like Geordi was conspicuously absent from this episode. I mean he's the one who has tackled/highlighted ableism in cultures they've encountered before. I suppose it might have muddied the point a bit, and it's not really Geordi's job to do that. I just feel like there could have been an alternative version where Geordi showed up and metaphorically beat Worf over the head with his visor.

Girl Talk
Drs Crusher and Russell initially have a relationship of mutual respect and happily compliment each other's work and contrast their different doctoring styles (research-intensive vs patient focused). Even later, when these approaches become the point of conflict between them, it's still all very professional, and the discussions relate to professional ethics. Theoretically the conversations are only Bechdel-Wallace passing when they're not talking about Worf (or that guy who died), but frankly I don't think the gender of the patient has any bearing here. It's clear why each woman is angry, and disapproves of the other. Crusher is in the position of authority, but she doesn't let her feelings about Dr Russell get in the way of their work.

The End
Russell congratulates Crusher that Worf will recover and asks her to acknowledge her part in that. Crusher is super cold with her and says she cannot approve of someone gambling with patients' lives to further their own research. Then Crusher oversees Worf getting used to his new spine. Alexander goes to help his dad, and even though Troi talked to him about giving Worf some space, Worf accepts help from his son.


7 May 2018

Stories

I had a birthday recently. I'm trying to sell a house. My baby is teething and also itchy. I have not been writing much of late, including blog posts, but I've still been listening to stories when I can. It's been a pleasant bank holiday weekend, and I'm feeling pretty good right now.

Novels
I'm working my way through Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky, it's a large book and I'm not reading loads at the moment so I'm about three quarters of the way through; it's really good so far.


Audio
All Them Pretty Babies by Alex C. Renwick (Cast of Wonders 299, narrated by Laura Hobbs)
This story is kinda bleak and grim, but somehow a bit charming too. The narrator really catches character's voice, written in a strong US accent/dialect (I don't know enough about accents to know which). The character is ignorant about words and certain concepts, but her knowledge and experience of her post-cataclysmic world is strong, and her empathy and kind nature shine through. The story raises many questions, but doesn't feel incomplete.

Anna and Marisol In Time and Space by Tim Pratt (Escape Pod 622, narrated by Amy H. Sturgis)
Time travel where someone uses it to save a lost love is a thing I have definitely encountered before, but not like this, where certain tropes are subverted. I don't want to say much about the story, but it's very well done. Each character succeeds, though not necessarily as one expected, and they end up on equal footing, which is often not the case in time-travel/rescue romances.

What Is Eve by Will Mcintosh (Lightspeed Magazine, audio version narrated by Stefan Rudnicki)
This story is so weird and interesting, taking the emotions of school-age insecurity and being/feeling othered or outcast, then making it extreme in a new way. I kinda guessed what the school was about early on, but didn't see where rest of story would go. It's good when a story meets some expectations but also does something different or unexpected. There's definitely plenty to examine in the lack of emotional understanding of institutional 'asshole' adults, who try to force children to show empathy and kindness by rote, when they can do it naturally much better than adults (especially most of these adults). The stakes are hinted at early on, but though the reveal of these a major motivator for the adults of the story, the kids view on things makes it all feel very personal. The big, external implications are background to the more intimate character story.


Podcastle recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, which is excellent. Of the Escape Artists podcasts it's the one I've been listening to the longest, although I've probably only been listening during about half their run. I've always loved fantasy as a genre because of the wonder and the feeling that you can do anything. That promise of possibly is a magic all it's own. It's therefore sometimes a bit disappointing that the genre gets viewed, and sometimes expressed, through a fairly narrow lens. Podcastle showcases the breadth, scope and reach of fantasy. There are so, so many different types of story, of fantasy sub-genre, of worlds and possibilities that it's actually pretty breathtaking. Listeners were asked to choose their top 5 stories for the 10th anniversary and they were released across a week. Here are the ones I enjoyed most.

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch (Podcastle 516b, Full cast recording: Norm Sherman, Peter Wood, Dave Thompson, Wilson Fowlie, M.K. Hobson, Graeme Dunlop, Anna Schwind, Ann Leckie, Alasdair Stuart, Rachel Swirsky and Marshal Latham)
I hadn't heard this one before, it was very impressive. A group of student magicians go into the Living Library, guided by the intrepid and knowledgeable Librarians who risk their lives daily in that place of chaotic magic and danger. As a ex-library staffer (who's also married to an assistant library manager) the premise tickled me, shelving a book as a very dangerous quest. The premise is fairly epic, but it didn't feel particularly tropey, and there was plenty of ingenuity in the creation of the library and the beings inhabiting it. The ending was something I'd guessed was coming, but was still satisfying. The narrators all did excellent work, they're all  heavily involved in PodCastle/Escape Artists (or were when the episode first aired), and I recognised everyone in the main cast by voice. A full cast is always a treat to listen to. The work that must go into them is impressive, both on the part of the narrators and especially the sound engineer, who in this case was also doing one of the main roles.

Makeisha in Time by Rachel K. Jones (Podcastle 516d, narrated by K. Tempest Bradford)
I had heard this one before, but thought it was definitely worth a re-listen. It's a fascinating story about a woman who lives multiple lives across history, and how she reconciles that with trying to live a normal life in the present. Then she comes to realise that the present doesn't want to acknowledge what she knows to be true. It's a strong story and the narrator conveys Makeisha's resolve, her passion and her determined struggle really well.

Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu (Podcastle 516e, narrated by Rajan Khanna)
I had not heard this one before, it first aired before I started listening (I should go back through the stuff I missed some day). It was voted the best Podcastle story in 10 years, and this anniversary episode was introduced by a friend of mine who tried to prepare the audience for what they were about to hear. It was such a powerful story. It covered identity and family of someone who had parents from two different cultures. It covered prejudice and acceptance and how you can easily take parents for granted and know very little about them as people. The fantasy elements seemed simple, the kind of thing that might be in a quaint children's story, but that's not what this was. The feelings provoked by the story were so strong, the character's regret and the re-framing of his life through his mother's eyes. I didn't cry on a public bus, but it was a near thing, and I definitely choked up a bit later when I thought about it.

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

Stories

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.

Audio
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

Stories


Books
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.

Audio
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

Conundrum

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

Stories


Audio
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

Stories

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.


Books
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.


Audio
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.