31 August 2012

Looking forward to Fantasy Con

I'm happy to say that myself and my husband will be going to Fantasy Con in Brighton again this year.

We've actually arranged our holiday so that we have time off work either side of the convention, meaning that staying up late talking to great people will be that bit easier as we don't have to worry about being awake the day after the con.
There are folk I really want to see again, and folk I talk to on Twitter that I actually want to meet in reality. Being a smaller, calmer convention than Eastercon this should be easy to achieve.

I think I mostly want to go for the socialising, but I'm hoping the programme will be good. It's very different to Eastercon, but I enjoyed various panels and events last year.

If you are going to FantasyCon this year come and say hello.

29 August 2012

Hide and Q

Episode: s1, ep 10

Power corrupts and absolute power makes you call your Commanding Officer by their first name, and that is Just Not On.

What Happens
A Federation colony needs urgent medical help, the Enterprise speeds to their aid. A familiar flaming-ball-turned-90s-screensaver pursues the ship through space, Q is back! Q is interested in the Enterprise bridge crew, especially Riker, and tests them with a game. Picard is trapped on the bridge while the others appear in a Napoleonic-themed desert. Q wears a great French Army marshal's outfit, including an awesome hat. Tasha is sent to a penalty box for arguing, and ends up back on the bridge with Picard.
Q taunts Picard and they have a Shakespeare quote-off. In the game-space Riker and the bridge crew face off against costumed creatures with phaser rifles. Q cosplays as Data and freaks Riker out, before trying to recruit him into the Q continuum. He offers Riker advanced powers and beams more crew (and Wesley for some reason) into the game. Worf and Wesley are killed by bayonets, so Riker uses his new powers to resurrect them and take everyone back to the Enterprise.
The ship returns to its rescue mission and Picard makes Riker promise not to use his new powers. On the colony few survive and Riker is sad about a dead little girl but doesn’t resurrect her. He blames Picard and rants, then calls the crew together. Riker decides he’s going to give everyone the stuff they want: Wesley is aged 10 years, Data refuses a shortcut to humanity, Geordi is given sight, and Worf is freaked out by a growly Klingon lady. Everyone rejects Riker’s unasked for gifts and he sees the error of his ways. After Picard points out Q has failed thunder sounds and Q is whisked away.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
This scene is made of Intense Looks
Riker shows his leadership skills in a confrontation with Q and combat in game-space. Q tries to headhunt Riker in a private tete-a-tete that’s slashy as hell (Q really wants Riker). Riker is given powers and saves his crewmates, but promises Picard that he won’t use the power again as Picard feels it’s too much for a human to handle. When he can’t save a dead little girl on the colony Riker rails against the promise and calls everyone to the bridge. Picard frames it as an intervention, though so far Riker hasn’t done anything other than have a bad attitude.
For a while Riker is basically the Wizard (but for reals, not just some con artist from Omaha) and decides to grant everyone’s wishes, without their consent. When everyone else refuses to take the easy way he offers he learns the lesson, despite temptation and protest from Q.
The Boy
Q whisks Wesley from class (he still does those?) into the game-space, despite never having met him and having no reason to do this. Wesley is stabbed right through with a bayonet, which must have pleased fans no end after last week. Then Riker resurrects him when he saves everyone else.
On the bridge Riker’s gift to Wesley is 10 years in an instant. Apparently he knows Wesley best of all and they have long talks, which is new and weird information. Mid-20s Wesley looks nothing like Wil Wheaton, is unsurprisingly freaked out and is perved on by Geordi. (“Hey, Wes. Not bad.”) Wesley refuses this unasked for gift as, like Data, he wants to get to where he’s going on his own.
I somehow doubt that this experience will make him go and play with the other kids more.

Klingon Warrior
We finally get to see Worf do something besides growling, being disapproving and rushing pointlessly to attack. In the game-space Worf scouts ahead stealthily and scopes out the enemy (furry, animalistic creatures in Napoleonic soldier costumes) before returning with info. It seems he does have tactical skills as well as fighting instincts.
Riker magics up a growling Klingon woman in fishnet tights for Worf. She doesn’t seem like much of a person (has Riker met any Klingon women, what is he basing this on?). She lunges at Tasha, Worf knocks her to the ground then objects, she (and Klingons in general I guess) have become alien to him and he apparently has no place in his life for sex now.
This little piece of roughness makes me think that Jadzia Dax (or perhaps Trills in general) must be tougher than humans, who Worf described as ‘too fragile’ in Justice.
Stage Skills
Picard and Q have a Shakespearean quote-off. Just for the fun of it.
It actually works pretty well, as Q and Picard use Shakespearean dialogue to illustrate points about Man (I think it's meant to be about humanity in general, not just the ones with Y-chromosomes).
Space Trumpets
Whilst fighting in Q’s Napoleonic-themed desert the Space Trumpets play a slowed-down version of the famous chords of La Marseillaise. I found this amusing.
After writing this blog post I may have looked up quite a lot of national anthems on youtube, just to see what they sound like.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Picard and Riker discuss Riker’s new powers, Picard makes Riker swear not to use them.
2. Bridge crew (and Wesley for some reason) assemble on the bridge to stage an intervention for Riker, who hasn’t really done anything so far except rant.

No Magic Here
Mad with power??
Riker gets eons-advanced Q powers, which are basically magic.
He saves his friends, resurrects 2 of them, ages one 10 years, cures another’s blindness, creates a woman for a third and offers to turn an android into a human. He’s like Jesus, the Blue Fairy and a pimp all rolled into one.
Except that given the unlimited nature of the Q powers it all seems a bit small. Picard treats Riker like he’s a megalomaniac, but frankly he doesn’t do that much besides being angry and showing off. He could have magicked the Enterprise to Risa and given everyone shore leave forever. He could have created a giant golden throne for himself and carved a moon in his own image, but he doesn’t.
I suppose it proves that Riker isn’t like Q, but if someone’s gonna go mad with magical power I’d like to see something a bit more mad and magical, but that’s Star Trek TNG for you. Restraint is the better part of valour.*

Death by Space Misadventure
The colony has 504 inhabitants, when the Enterprise gets there only a dozen or so are still alive. That’s close to 500 people dead due to an accidental explosion in a mining operation that becomes an underground disaster.

The End
After failing to tempt Riker Q is summoned back to where he came from by the anger of the Q continuum, screaming as he goes. Data queries why Q, who can control space and time, has such difficulty with them. It is a reasonable question that doesn’t really get answered. Picard suggests humans are more complicated than space and time, which sounds trite (and kind of excludes Worf who acquitted himself well in game-space and was definitely part of this adventure), but that's the lesson we're left with.

* By 'valour' I mean not changing things in a way that will have repercussions beyond this episode.

26 August 2012

Recent Reading

Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine

A travelling circus of mechanical marvels journeys through a war-torn land. The Circus Tresaulti's performers thrill the crowds from the cities, giving them bright lights and wonder for a night or two before moving on. Boss, the indisputable and powerful ringmaster, leads her ragtag family on their circuitous route, staying away from danger and Government men wherever possible. Long-held tensions within the circus threaten its existence when external danger finally catches up with Boss.

This is a slim novel, one that does not waste words. The story is told in the manner of a spotlight being shone, picking up those details that are important and significant, expertly guiding the audience's attention to where it needs to be. At first the storytelling is not linear, it tells of the circus folk, how they came to join the circus and the significant events in the life of the circus. The viewpoint is fluid and shifts from person to person, the writing making it clear whose eyes we are seeing through, and sometimes simply allowing us to witness. The closest thing to a narrative character is Little George, whose young life was shaped by Boss and the circus, but who is in many ways naive and innocent of the nature of his home and family.
The characters are well done, their personalities and motives conveyed through glances and brief words and occasional, yet significant action. Their strangeness is highlighted, although what little we see of -for want of a better word- normality in this world is a harsh, grey thing.
Technically I suppose this novel would count as steam punk, or some kind of 'punk. Metal is fused with human bodies to create the impossible performers. However there is nothing pulpy or gung-ho about this story; though there is action and bravery, peril and magic, there is an intimacy to the portrayal of the circus, the performers and their relations. The magic of the story remains an enigma, it is not meant to be closely examined. The rescue mission in the final third is exciting, but the change to status and relationships within circus hierarchy is in many ways the important part.

I got this book at Eastercon this year, where I was happy to meet the author and get my new copy of Mechanique signed.
The downside of meeting people you respect/admire at conventions (especially in the evenings or on the last morning) is that you may well be drunk, tired or a combination of both, which in my case leads to a tendency to babble.

23 August 2012

The Battle

Episode: s1, ep 9
The Ferengi are back and giving Picard headaches as he relives a past event, at least they aren't all up to something this time.

What Happens
A Ferengi Captain offers Picard a gift. The Ferengi beam aboard the Enterprise where they hail Picard as the victor of a battle he knows nothing about. It turns out that 9 years previously Picard destroyed an unknown vessel that attacked his old ship without provocation, he did this with some fancy flying now called the Picard Manoeuvre. The vessel was a Ferengi ship and now these Ferengi offer Picard his old, abandoned ship, the Stargazer, for free.
Picard, who has been suffering headaches, beams over to his old ship and is flooded with memories. His old logs are discovered, including one in which Picard confesses to destroying the Ferengi vessel for no reason. Riker doesn’t believe it and investigates. Picard’s headaches get worse and are caused by a glowing red sphere used by the Ferengi Captain, who is avenging his son, killed by Picard’s actions 9 years before. Wesley figures out the Ferengi are behind it, but not before Picard is back onboard the Stargazer reliving the “battle” and pulling a Picard Manoeuvre on the Enterprise. The headache sphere is destroyed, the Enterprise is saved by the tractor beam and the Ferengi Captain is deposed by his First Officer.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker is the investigator in this episode, determined to prove Picard’s innocence. Of course his investigation mostly involves bothering and taunting the Ferengi First Officer.
Of course Wesley steals the glory by figuring out the Ferengi are doing it. Riker gets Picard to destroy the device, even though he has no idea whether that will harm him, luckily it doesn’t.
The Boy
Wesley is better than everyone else, again. Sigh.*
He boosts the long range scanners in a way even Data is unaware of and is the first to detect the approaching Stargazer. He races to the bridge to pre-empt the Computer’s warning (and presumably to show off). Picard rightly ticks him off for not communicating what he knew over comms and wasting time.
Wesley notices frequencies coming from the Ferengi ship that match the frequencies in Picard’s brain scan, leading to the discovery of the red glowy headache sphere planted in the Captain’s quarters.
Wesley is made extra irritating by smugly saying "Hah. Adults" to himself after he's figured it all out. Basically saying to all the adults watching that they suck and don't compare to a precocious teen. Now this message is fine on kids TV, but is horribly misguided here.

Stage Skills
Picard is gripped by headaches, flashbacks and dreams about his experience on the Stargazer. At one point the Captain is sure he is losing his mind and has an intensely dramatic monologue on a low lit set. If you’ve hired an actor with Shakespearean stage experience you might as well use those skills.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Picard describes the circumstances of the supposed battle in the lounge, including the birth of the Picard Manoeuvre.
2. Picard and Riker discuss the faked old log entry and what Riker can do to investigate.
Something Is Very Wrong
While the Federation seems to be particularly distrustful of the Ferengi for reasons we don’t really see, it’s clear something is amiss when the Ferengi Captain gives Picard the Stargazer for free. Even the other Ferengi officers are aghast, where’s the profit?
When the Captain’s plan is uncovered he is relived of command, putting revenge above profit is not acceptable, plus headache spheres are forbidden.

Future is Better
In the 24th Century people don't have headaches anymore, so Beverly tells Picard. The common cold has also been cured. 

The End
The episode ends with a disorientated Picard on the Stargazer's bridge declaiming against revenge before asking to be beamed home.


* While poking about online for pictures I came across a great review of this very episode done by Wil Wheaton. As well as being humorous and providing interesting behind the scenes insights, there's a section towards the end where he talks about why Wesley came across so annoying, clearly the man gets it. This is part of why geekdom has embraced him even though he was the face of a widely hated character.

18 August 2012


Episode: s1, ep 8
Things were going OK, it was starting to improve and then I watched this. Oh dear… 
The episode centres around Wesley (at least he's not being smart) and tries to portray a sexually liberated utopia that just ends up being horribly embarrassing.

What Happens
The Enterprise has dropped off some human colonists and is visiting another planet in the same solar system. The planet appears to be a peaceful, free-loving utopia, perfect for those who like blondes and dislike underwear. The away team (and Wesley for some reason) start having fun, before they discover that the planet is governed by a strict and arbitrary law system that means death is the only punishment. Wesley steps on some flowers and is almost executed on the spot.
Meanwhile the Enterprise sees something inexplicable in orbit and loses communication with the away team. A mystical bubble arrives and knocks Data out. The bubble has a booming voice and is concerned about the Federation’s intentions toward the simple blonde people it refers to as its children.
Picard goes to the planet to intervene for Wesley’s sake but refuses to transport him away because of the Prime Directive, even though the blondes hopefully point out that they’d be unable to stop him. He takes a blonde from the planet to the Enterprise where she fearfully identifies the thing in orbit as God. God is angry they’ve taken someone off the planet and watches closely. Apparently God has found out all about the Federation from Data and will punish the entire ship if they break their own codes.
On the planet there is much eloquent discussion of law and justice, and no one appears to have any feelings, besides Beverly who doesn’t want her son to be executed. Picard makes a speech at the sky. God apparently agrees because the crew (Wesley included) transport away and leave without any further interference.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker is obviously thrilled to be on the planet of free-lovin’ and engages a disapproving Worf in a conversation about love and ‘plain old basic sex’. Then again he doesn’t actually seem to get any, and despite his reputation hasn’t been sexually active on screen so far. I guess the beard increases his allure later?
Riker runs to Wesley’s rescue and punches out the guy who tries to give the kid a lethal injection. William Riker: man of action.

The Boy
Wesley is sent to play with some people his own age  –something that apparently never occurs to anyone while he’s on the Enterprise. He breaks a box of young plants, while in a mysterious and arbitrary punishment zone, and is almost executed. I’m not sure I’d be that bothered if it weren’t for his mother.
Beverly Crusher is so far either the Chief Medical Officer or Wesley’s Mum, however even without plotlines to herself she already has a wry sense of humour and is one of the most capable crew members. I like her and I don’t want to see her suffer.

Planet Of… Stereotypical Blondes
The upside of this planet is that it appears to be gender equal, at least insofar as sex, flirting and the prohibition on underwear are unconcerned. The downside is everything else.
Everyone is blonde (and therefore white), incurious and promiscuous. Everyone moves at a bouncing run and no one wears anything under their small white garments. The entire place looks as though soft core porn is happening just off screen, there’s lots of rubbing and kissing. Also no one looks like they’ve gone far into middle age (I initially assumed there was some kind of Logan’s Run situation going on – it’s not mentioned either way).
I’m not a person who enjoys eye-candy (in either gender), it’s often so clumsily done that it makes me eye-roll, so having a planet of blatent eye-candy is annoying to me. These scenes are trying so hard to be sexy that they end up being hideously embarrassing. 

In Space No One Cares About Your Emotions
Beverly is, unsurprisingly, upset that her son might be executed. Picard says he’ll tell her in person, but then doesn’t, so she finds out from the away team’s report. When she tries to talk to him about it he cuts her off so he can talk about God with a Blonde. When Beverly is finally allowed to express her feelings Picard grimly says that he feels the same way and goes on about how hard this all is on him. Jerk.
Later, when Beverly is allowed to see Wesley, she’s the only one (including Wesley) who seems to have any emotional involvement in the situation. Everyone else is concentrating too hard on their important-and-meaningful speeches to actually emote.

Awkward Moment
When the away team (and Wesley for some reason) arrive on the planet and are greeted by the overly-friendly Blondes. Of course all the hugging, kissing and nuzzling is purely heterosexual. Even Troi seems kind of embarrassed, and given the way her mother is that's saying something.

The Prime Directive is a Harsh Mistress
Picard can’t beam Wesley away from the ridiculous death sentence, even though the Blondes twice suggest this as an option, because the Prime Directive doesn’t allow it. If he breaks the Prime Directive the orbiting God will see this as a sign that the Enterprise crew are untrustworthy and may destroy them all (although God itself never actually says this). It seems to be a choice between Wesley and the rest of the crew and one assumes Picard will have to find a clever way around it. Instead Picard delivers a short speech to the sky, Riker adds a one-liner, after which God is apparently convinced and allows Wesley to be beamed away. Just as the Blondes suggested earlier, twice. 
So they did break the Prime Directive… but it was fine… because...something?

I’m not quite sure what the Prime Directive has to say about casually visiting a planet that clearly doesn’t have warp drive technology, not disguising the fact you aren’t from that world, and actually taking an inhabitant on board your star ship. That seems like the kind of thing that’s against the rules, but what do I know?

No Magic Here
Data vs. God Bubble. God Bubble wins.
God is a multiple, displaced entity that isn’t entirely real, which is why it doesn’t seem to be fully there. It manifests as a mystical bubble and flies through the Enterprise, its voice is rumbly and terrible. It lands on Data’s forehead and makes him fall down (which is funny) before taking all the info it can. It can block the Enterprise’s communications and transporters at will presumably because it’s very advanced, not because it’s actually some sort of God. Even though it’s very powerful, exists in multiple places and has worshippers.

Staff Meetings: 1
Data briefs Picard on what he learned when the God Bubble sat on his forehead, they discuss values. Then Beverly interrupts because she wants to see her kid and no one’s really spoken to her about the whole execution thing.

The End
Picard addresses the orbiting God and says they’ll remove the human colonists from the star system if it gives them a sign. It disappears, which is taken as a sign. They leave, and I am baffled.

So that's what the kids are wearing these days. Oh dear.

15 August 2012

The Brandenburg Gate on Books

Working in a library I see a lot more books than I read and there are certain cover trends that become apparent.
If you ask most people to name a famous landmark they'll probably name one from their own country, or else one they've seen detroyed by aliens or a meteor in a Hollywood film. However in the world of book covers it's a different story. In the 6+ years I've worked in libraries the one landmark I see again and again is the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Now I can't remember the Cold War myself, but I understand that the distant view of the Brandenburg Gate was a major symbol of divided Berlin (as much as the Berlin Wall itself) and the power of Soviet Communism in Europe.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold 
by John le Carre

 A black and white picture of the gate is obscured by tangles of thorn-like barbed wire. The sense of peeping into dangerous territory is strong, emphasised by the off-centre shot of the gate.

 Barbed wire again and everything in blue tones, the picture is surrounded by clouds or fog, which I guess is meant to suggest mystery.

 This version has the gate in dramatic silhouette against the sunrise and is the only cover I've found where it's actually a sunny day, though it looks a little misty too.

Day of Judgement 
by Jack Higgins (the Legend)*

 I like the jaunty angle and the sense that the sun is about to rise behind the chariot statue.

I'm more familiar with this cover, which focuses on the iconic chariot statue. Here photographic trickery makes it look glowing and ghostly so it stands out starkly against the black cover. 

Agent of Deceit 
by Chris Morgan Jones

This one has gone for an umbrella, rather than barbed wire as foreground detail. It's clearly a cold and snowy day in Berlin, the black and white picture adding a grim tone.

The Arms Maker of Berlin 
by Dan Fesperman

 The cold green-blue makes it look like it's underwater, though I suspect it's to blend in with the storm clouds massing behind.

 The more life-like yellow tones of the gate here contrast with yet more inky storm clouds. It doesn't look much warmer or friendlier than the previous cover and shares the dramatic uplighting.

The quote on the copy we have at work claims that Fesperman is "the closest thing the US has to le Carre". This struck me as an ambiguous statement, and possibly suggests a cloning attempt that didn't entirely work. (Begging the question what DNA was used to fill in the gaps in the le Carre genome?)

by Henry Porter

 Like Higgins this one goes for white on black, bleaching the whole structure to a white not even marble can realistically achieve. It looks as though the picture was taken from one of the porch sections to the right of the main gate.

Another picture that seems to be taken from the right. The focus is on the horses and the top of the gate, and the colours haven't been altered that much.

The barbed wire is back, along with making the whole thing blue and lighting it from behind. At least this barbed wire isn't obscuring the shape of the gate itself.

Berlin Game 
by Len Deighton

This is actually the cover of the 1991 audio cassette version of Berlin Game. The book covers don't have the Brandenburg Gate on, although some have bits of the Berlin Wall (or a wall anyway). In this version it's Big Ben that's more identifiable, where the Gate is only partially shown and is recognisable by it's position in relation to the Berlin Wall, which isn't pictured on other covers (unless you count the barbed wire). I guess the Wall isn't as photogenic.

by Tim Powers

Again there are storm clouds and everything is blue, though the Anhk and the mountains are individual to Declare.

This is the only one of these books I've actually read, though the earlier edition I read had a cover that was split between the Eiffel Tower and the Kremlin (there are a lot of places featured in Declare).

Two Brothers 
by Ben Elton

This is a new book, not published yet as far as I'm aware. The giant children's faces are different, though the hint of barbed wire in the background has us in familiar territory. The swastika banners very strongly suggest that this is set in Nazi Germany. All the colours, beside red, have been bleached out and the day looks clear yet cold.

From the evidence of these covers you'd be forgiven for thinking that Berlin is rather cold, prone to bad weather, and perhaps inhospitable. I went there three years ago and can assure you that isn't the case. It was an interesting and vibrant city with plenty to see and do, and really hardly any barbed wire. It was also really sunny and warm for almost the entire time I was there.

The Brandenburg Gate on a clear, sunny day in Berlin - photographed by me, September 2009.

* I noticed a couple of years ago that all the new and reprinted Jack Higgins books had 'The Legend' printed before his name. I assume this is an official epithet.

9 August 2012

Lonely Among Us

Episode: s1, ep 7
In this episode we learn just how powerful a starship captain is and that Troi might as well be somewhere else. Saying that the episode is fairly fun, Data is amusing and there's minimal Wesley, so things are looking up.

What Happens
Enterprise is picking up delegates from warring species that both want to join the Federation, in order to take them to the negotiation/peace-making planet called Parliament.* The delegates loathe each other and try to start a tiny war in the corridors. There are various wacky alien shenanigans for Riker and Lt. Yar to deal with.
The Enterprise passes through a strange space cloud and Worf is attacked by blue lightning. The blue lightning goes into Dr Crusher, then the helm, where it causes various malfunctions. The senior officers assume there is a saboteur and Picard starts talking about crime fiction, especially Holmes. Engineer Singh is killed by the blue lightning and Data starts pretending he is Sherlock Holmes.
Troi realises Worf and Dr Crusher were possessed and reports this. The blue lightning possesses Picard and takes the ship back to the space cloud. The senior staff discuss the Captain’s odd behaviour and dither. At the space cloud the blue lightning lifeform reveals that it wants to go home and it’ll be taking Picard with it. Picard disables the bridge crew by blasting them with Force Lightning from the consoles, then transports into the space cloud.
After an hour of searching, Riker is about to leave when Troi senses that Picard wants to return. Picard is saved from the space cloud because his pattern was still in the transporter, but he has no memory of being outside the ship.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker tries to keep the peace between the robed lizard aliens and the furry-faced, bulbous-headed aliens. Along with Lt. Yar he ends up babysitting them including taking away their weapons, telling them off and trying unsuccessfully to get them to stay in their quarters. Basically he’s the straight man of the comical B-plot.

Does Not Compute
Data is told about Sherlock Holmes in one staff meeting and by the next one he’s found out everything there is to know about the fictional detective and has adopted a Holmes persona. This includes smoking a pipe, saying ‘elementary’ and being both hilarious and annoying. No deerstalker hat though.

Counsellor Pointless
Troi’s job is to sense when stuff is weird. This is why she has a chair on the bridge rather than being in her office ready to counsel people. So far she’s able to tell when stuff is weird, but is absolutely no use in actually coming to any conclusions based on this info. In this episode she senses something’s up with Worf and Dr Crusher, discovers they were possessed using hypnosis, and reports this to the senior staff. Then Picard is possessed right in front of her and she doesn’t notice a damn thing.

Poor O’Brien
O’Brien is failing to escort one of the furry-faced, bulbous-headed aliens back to their quarters, when a robed lizard alien comes into the corridor and they end having a fight almost on top of him.

Security Breach
Captain Picard, Sith Lord
If you’re the Captain of a starship, or you’ve possessed the Captain of a starship, you can do whatever you damn well please. Including going completely off mission and turning a ship around just to satisfy your ill-explained curiosity. Awesome.

Future Prejudice
While discussing the possibility of sabotage the senior staff assume that one of the troublesome alien delegates could have done it, and therefore must be in the pay of the Ferengi. I’ve not seen any evidence to suggest that the Ferengi would do that, where’s the profit?

Staff Meetings: 6
1. Geordie reports to Picard about Worf’s accident.
2. & 3. Officers meet in lounge to discuss mysterious malfunctions. The difference is whether Data is being Sherlock Holmes (and whether Engineer Singh is alive).
4. Troi reports her theories about crewmembers being possessed.
5. Senior staff discuss Picard’s weird behaviour, then fail to do anything.
6. Riker and Dr Crusher express their concerns to Picard, but don’t take any action, thus alerting the lifeform possessing him to their suspicions. This leads to the bridge crew being Force Lightninged.

Death by Space Misadventure
Engineer Singh is killed by the blue lightning lifeform. I’m not sure why he dies since it had already possessed 3 people without harming them and later says it didn’t mean to kill Singh. It certainly didn’t seem to gain from his death in any way.
At least Singh's family can be comforted by the knowledge that his death led to an android adopting a Sherlock Holmes persona in order to (barely) investigate his death. That’ll make the funeral easier for them.

The End
This is the first episode in the series which doesn’t end with Picard or Riker ordering the ship to it’s next destination accompanied by the uplifting sound of space trumpets. 
Instead Picard humorously decides to let Riker remain in charge for now after hearing that one of the alien delegates may have been killed (and is soon to be eaten) by other alien delegates. Apparently this very amusing.

*It doesn’t sound like any version of Parliament I’m familiar with.

8 August 2012

Recent Reading

Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers

Sid Cochran lost his wife in a strange incident on New Years Day, a couple of weeks later he checks into an asylum. There he meets Janis Plumtree, a woman with multiple personalities and a strange fondness for him, who claims to have killed a king on New Years Day. After an earthquake coincides with strange events in the asylum Cochran and Plumtree escape from the clutches of a doctor who doesn't seem to have their best interests at heart. Meanwhile Scott Crane, deceased King of the West Coast, is taken by his old friend Arky to the supernatural household of Angelica and Pete Sullivan, and their gifted foster son Kootie. When Cochran and Plumtree are drawn to the others a plan is formed to seek the goodwill of the God of the Vine and resurrect the dead king. However their is mistrust among this group and various supernatural dangers lie ahead.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as I did The Anubis Gates and Declare, which is not to say that it isn't an excellent book, I just thought the overs were better. Set in and around San Francisco in 1995 it has many of the hallmarks of Powers' other books; magic existing around everyday life, powerful beings with their own rules, antagonists who amorally use the supernatural for their own ends, and protagonists who are simply trying to set something right. In this book the supernatural is brought up and discussed much more matter-of-factly than in his other works that I've read. All the characters besides (apparently) Cochran have well-established backgrounds in dealing with magic, ghosts and the supernatural. The magic in this book is much to do with ghosts, which are not only spirits of the recently deceased, but also parts of people's consciousness. The magic seemed weirder and more freaky than in the 3 other Powers books I've read, but those were all historical so there was already a sense of a world at a remove. There is also a powerful background being of the type seen in Declare, it is Dionysus, come to America with the Californian vines. There are many references to Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and types of wine; I'm not familiar with any of these things but still found the book intriguing and enjoyable.
I quite liked the characters and was glad that Plumtree (or parts of her, at least) proved to be a major player in the plot. I'd noticed that the main female character in On Stranger Tides was really passive and even in Declare Eliza was mostly a love interest.

Warrior's Bond by Juliet E. McKenna

Ryshad (whose sections are told in first person POV) has just been made a Chosen Man of the noble house he serves, but isn't used to the change in station and continues with a hands on approach to his duties. Temar has come to the capital of the Empire he left many generations ago and finds that he is a stranger in this new world of gossip and fashion and plotting. However he must take on new responsibilities and adjust to the modern ways of doing things if he is to protect his people in the distant colony.
This book takes place at roughly the same time as the previous installement (The Gambler's Fortune) and follows Ryshad and Temar as they try to figure out how to live with the new paths their lives have taken. From a geographic point of view it's the least ambitious book as it takes place entirely within Toremal, the capital city of the Tormalin empire. There's no travelling or questing in this installment, but there's still plenty of peril, intrigue and challenges facing the heroes. The social and political positions of the characters are examined and though there is plenty of combat and scheming there's a greater sense of being amidst wealth and civilisation than the travel-heavy stories in previous volumes.
I enjoyed the different tone of this book. Instead of seeing several different nations and peoples the story is focused on the Tormalin Empire, especially the nobility. It is interesting to see the modern nobles through the eyes of those who lived centuries earlier. I admire the author's way of adding depth of history to her world, and here it is more evident than in previous volumes.

2 August 2012

Where No One Has Gone Before

Episode: s1, ep 6
This episode takes what would've been an interesting look at the edge of the universe and metaphysical ideas, if it hadn't been a vehicle for confirming Wesley's Mary-Sue status.

What Happens
The Enterprise is having a series of Warp Drive Engine tests from the arrogant Mr. Kosinski (and his alien assistant) despite Riker's misgivings. Wesley watches what Assistant is doing and even suggests changes, the alien is impressed by this. The Enterprise goes really, really fast, and Assistant starts phasing in and out, something weird is happening. The ship goes impossibly above Warp 10, so Picard orders a full stop. The Enterprise has left the known galaxy and arrived in the galaxy of sparkly objects. It would take 300 years to get home at normal speeds.
It's soo shiny!
There is much discussion and though exploration is tempting Picard orders Kosinski to try and get them home. Something similar happens this time and there is much shiny zooming. It’s clear (to Wesley and the audience) that Assistant is really running the show, but the effort exhausts him. When the ship stops it’s in a blue place with floaty lights, which seems to be the edge of the universe. The crew start having hallucinations, often to do with childhood memories, dreams or fears, which become real. Wherever they are it’s clear that thought and matter are closely related.
Wesley convinces the adults that the exhausted Assistant knows what is going on. The alien explains that he is called the Traveller and he was going from ship to ship exploring their reality. He didn’t mean to bring them so far and though he’s ill he will help them return. In private the Traveller tells Picard that Wesley is Very Special and must be encouraged. The entire crew thinks good thoughts at the Traveller so he’ll be strong enough to take them home. It works, but the Traveller phases out during transit. Picard orders Wesley to the bridge and makes him Acting-Ensign.

In a corridor Picard sees his dead mother drinking tea. She is clearly French, with an accent and everything.
Management Technique
Picard seems to think he can order the crew’s thoughts. When he sees a crewmember has created fire he impatiently tells him to put it out in his mind. Calmly talking about water would’ve been more helpful and reassuring.

The Boy/Mary-Sue
Don't let the gormless expression fool you.
The Traveller identifies Wesley as a savant, apparently he is to propulsion and space travel what Mozart was to music. This is after Wesley both understands the alien's Warp Drive techniques and is the only one to notice that the Traveller is doing all the work. When they arrive at the edge of the universe Wesley swiftly comes to a metaphysical conclusion about time/space/thought that the Traveller tells him is dangerous. Wesley says he is friends with the Traveller and protests when Picard orders Dr Crusher to keep the alien conscious. He also shows some moxie and points out that he has a name, and isn't just 'the boy'. This actually impressed me.
The Traveller secretly tells Picard that Wesley is special and needs encouragement, but he doesn’t want Wesley or his mother to know yet, as that could change how he turns out. Picard makes Wesley an Acting-Ensign and orders him to learn all about the ship before he goes to Star Fleet Academy. Wesley's dreams have come true and the audience groans.
This episode explains why Wesley knows more than trained engineers, why he’s so interested in space engines, why he probably has trouble relating to people his own age, and why he gets special treatment. I’ve been thinking of Wesley as highly functioning, and it looks like that was a fair assessment. Of course knowing the reasons doesn’t make him less insufferable. At some point could this programme for grown ups be less about a teenager who is automatically better than everyone else?

Klingon Differences
Worf hallucinates a hairy, spiky warthog-thing, which is apparently the Klingon equivalent of a housecat. It's kinda cute.
Random Crewmembers
The hallucinations seem to affect the whole crew, and we see a few interesting ones. There’s the Georgian string quartet in the canteen, a crewmember being a ballerina in a cargo bay, and 2 crewmembers running in terror from something we don’t see.
Apparently Geordie isn’t Chief Engineer, despite being on the bridge and going to the staff meetings. The Chief Engineer is a Scotsman called Argyle, do they have to be Scottish, is that a rule?

Humans aren't so great
The reason there aren't any historical reports of encounters with the Traveller or his kind is that humanity (and presumably other Federation races) have only recently become interesting enough to bother visiting.
Well that's us told.

Future Fashion
Wesley is wearing what appears to be an orange jumper that once had aspirations of being a poncho, but it didn't quite have the nerve to really go for it, so settled for being a jumper.
Hopefully once he's Acting-Ensign he can wear some sort of uniform and look like less of a twit.

No Magic Here
The edge of the universe is where magic comes from!
Mr Kosinski doesn't believe it at first 'you're asking us to believe in magic', but what you think becomes real. Magic!

Space Trumpets
The first time the Enterprise goes above Warp 10 (which doesn’t make everyone turn into strange little creatures because that Voyager episode apparently doesn’t count) the displays flash and the engine lights go crazy but we don’t actually see the ship going fast. Luckily the music is there to tell us that it is all very exciting.

Staff Meetings: 1
Bridge crew and Kosinski discuss the situation and how to get home.

The End
The Enterprise returns to where it was and very little of substance is learned about the sparkly galaxy, the edge of the universe, or the Traveller. Wesley is made Acting-Ensign, so we can stop questioning why he's hanging around in the operational parts of the ship and simply be annoyed by his presence. But it's OK cos he'll be sent off to the Academy soon ... Right?