30 November 2012

End of NaNo

I have a confession to make, I am stressed.
I didn't realise just how stressed I'd gotten until just over a week ago, when I had some time off work and fell apart a little bit. There are a lot changes happening at my workplace, I don't want to go into details, but things are getting to me.

Not wanting to overload myself I decided to take NaNoWriMo fairly casually and just see what happened. In many ways November was not the best month to do this as there were a few preexisting plans, some of them involving travel or hosting family members, which ate into writing time.

I managed 21,456 words which is just over a third, not bad considering I didn't give it the necessary time and energy.

I'm not sure if I'll do NaNo again. I think if I do I'll have to decide earlier and do more planning.

I did NaNo to get myself writing again and I think that has helped, so that's been positive.

22 November 2012

The Child

Episode: s2, ep1
This episode lacks tension and I didn’t really care about anything. Welcome to series 2 everyone!

What Happens
The Enterprise picks up a new doctor and goes to collect samples of a deadly plague that must be taken to a science base. Geordi has designed special containers to hold the samples. A sparkly light goes inside the ship and flies around until it finds Troi sleeping and slips under her covers. Picard finds the new Doctor in 10 Forward, she tells him that Troi is pregnant. In a staff meeting the senior crew discuss what Troi should do. The foetus is growing unnaturally rapidly, Troi gets overnight pregnancy-belly, but seems otherwise unhindered. Troi has the easiest birth ever (her makeup isn’t even smudged), and names her son-clone Ian Andrew, after her father.
Picard contacts the plague planet, the Inspector there wants to check the security arrangements and Picard wants to check the manifest. The tedious triple-checking takes ages. Picard visits Troi, her kid looks like a 4 year old. Picard seems unnerved, but if anything Ian seems normal and distinctly uncreepy. Meanwhile the plague samples take ages to sort out because even the safest could kill everyone on board. Eventually they’re transported into Geordi’s containers.
Next day Picard and Pulaski visit Troi and Ian (who now looks older still). It’s revealed that Picard has never played with puppies, which might explain a few things. Ian burns himself and cries, Pulaski thinks he did it on purpose. Picard wants to know why Ian is there, but it’s still too early for the kid to answer metaphysical questions. Troi thinks he knows but isn’t ready to tell them. Wesley and Guinan talk, he is tactless and she is helpful.
One of the plague specimens grows, which is really bad news. Data figures out that it's reacting to some kind of radiation, the cause is obviously Troi’s kid, but it takes the characters a while to realise. Ian knows he’s the problem, he tells Troi he must leave, Troi is upset. His body dissolves into sparkly light. The light flies into Troi’s hands then leaves. Troi now knows Ian was a curious life form who decided to understand them by living as one of them (no Jesus analogy explicitly is made).
The specimens are safely delivered, Troi isn't sad her kid is gone and Wesley asks the Captain to let him stay on the Enterprise.*

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard displays a shocking lack of sensitivity. He gathers the senior staff, fails to introduce the new Doctor, and then bluntly tells everyone that Troi is pregnant, even though she’s clearly a bit embarrassed. He invites everyone to discuss what to do about the unknown life form breeding inside the Counsellor. It is clear that Picard has not asked Troi about this before calling the meeting. At no point does he ask for her opinion or offer her support in this strange situation, insensitive arse.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker has a beard now. I’d gotten used to seeing Jonathan Frakes’s chin.
At the pregnancy staff meeting Riker is surprised by the news and asks Troi who the father is, not that it’s really his place to do so. After Troi explains that there’s no physical father (she was entered by a presence) Riker wants to know what’s gestating in there. He’s certain it was deliberate, but doesn’t agree with Worf that it’s a threat. He asks Pulaski if Troi would be harmed by an abortion. Riker, it is not your job to ask that! At no point does he ask for her opinion or offer her support in this strange situation, insensitive arse.
Later Riker lurks around at the birth, which seems weird to me.

Does Not Compute
Data takes Troi to sickbay when she goes into labour and offers to stand in as the father. Pulaski doesn’t think he should and dismisses him as just technology, but Troi asks him to stay. Data then fires questions at Troi until she points out that the birth is happening now.
Doctor Pulaski mispronounces Data’s name and is surprised that Data corrects her about it. She had been assuming he was just a robot-man, and wasn’t expecting bruised feelings, though she still doesn’t treat him as a person.

Wesley ‘for some reason’ Crusher
Wesley and Picard share a lift, Wesley stares at Picard awkwardly, so Picard explains to Wesley that his mother is away being head of Starfleet Medical. I’m sure Wesley already knows this, I smell infodumping. Or perhaps Picard just needed to break the weird silence. Wesley has mixed feeling about leaving the Enterprise. Personally I don’t understand why he didn’t leave with his mum.
Wesley hangs around 10 Forward and stares moodily out of the window so Guinan advises him to put his own feelings first. He tactlessly questions her about her past, “People say you're very old.” Luckily he is called away before he can say anything else incredibly rude.
Picard keeps calling Wesley Ensign, surely he’s still an acting-Ensign. Apparently there has been a collective decision to forget this. Meanwhile the actual Ensigns, who don’t get to fly the ship all the damn time, seethe and plot in the corridors.

Counsellor Pointless
I really feel for Troi in this episode. First she is mystically impregnated without her consent, and has to consult a Doctor she doesn't know. Then her boss drags her to a staff meeting about it, where her colleagues insensitively discuss her situation as though she isn’t there and doesn’t matter. From the way they act they might as well be discussing the engines. The fact that Troi is sat alone at the end of the table is isolating, and makes it clear that she and her baby are now just another problem to be solved. While the discussion rages about her Troi seems to hear the baby’s heartbeat (is this one of her powers?) and announces that she’s keeping it. No one contradicts her, which is the first good thing most of them have done this episode.
The pregnancy lasts about 2 days, and the birth is completely painless. The baby looks about 4 years old the next day and older the day after. Troi adjusts to this weird facsimile of motherhood, as does everyone else. The teacher says Ian has visibly grown in the time he’s been in puppy class** and treats it as though it’s normal. In fact Ian is happy and no trouble, he should be creepy, but he isn’t, he’s just dull.
When the two plotlines intersect, as it was long obvious they would do, Troi and Ian can sense the worry on the ship. Since Ian is a mystical alien child, and not just a supposed empath, he knows that he is the cause and leaves. Troi is distraught at losing her son-clone, but the shiny ball of light comforts her before it goes, so it’s all fine really.

Klingon Warrior
At the pregnancy staff meeting Worf immediately assumes Troi’s baby is a threat to the ship and suggests it is terminated and then analysed in lab.(Troi and Worf are going to date later, and I think we should remember this when that happens.) At no point does he ask for her opinion or offer her support in this strange situation, insensitive arse.
At the birth Worf bursts in with an all-male security team, because apparently all the female security personnel were busy. Worf, you are not making yourself look good here. At least they do what the Doctor says and stay out of the way.

Doctor Doctor
Doctor Pulaski seems fine, she’s capable and forthright and seemed to be sensibly advising Troi about her situation before Picard turned up and Captained at them. She doesn’t understand Data as a person, only a strange machine, which is kinda reasonable since she’s not met androids before. I don’t get any sense of warmth from her. I’m told she’s meant to be a female Bones, but I don’t really know Bones so I’m not that bothered about that. I think I'll miss Beverley, she was great.

Blind Engineering
Geordi is Chief Engineer now. No mention of what happened to the previous guy, but after the contretemps they had in Arsenal of Freedom I assume there was a bitter battle behind the scenes.
Geordi is responsible for the containment of the dangerous plague specimens. He has to work with a slightly belligerent Inspector. I appreciate that the samples are the main ‘peril’ in the episode (rather than the dull alien kid) but it's like watching people argue the semantics of Health and Safety. I cannot bring myself to care.

Guinan’s Hat - Purple
Guinan is not introduced, she’s just there, tending bar and giving advice. It’s her first episode and she convinces Wesley to stay, which is not an auspicious start in my view. Wesley quizzes her about being very old and knowing Picard before the Enterprise, which I'm assuming is foreshadowing.
I like Whoopi Goldberg (she’s God in the Muppet universe) and was somehow expecting more.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Troi’s pregnancy is announced to senior staff, Pulaski briefs everyone and Picard invites discussion. The circumstances are troubling, but even so a massive amount of insensitivity is displayed.
2. Doctor Pulaski briefs Picard on the birth and how it was too easy. Is this really any of his business?
3. Wesley formally asks Picard if he can stay on the ship rather than being returned to his mother.

Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?
Riker suggests moving people to the saucer section when it looks like a deadly plague could be unleashed on board. Unfortunately there’s no sign that anyone follows up on his suggestion.

And They Never Spoke Of It Again
Troi has a mystery alien baby and yet experiences no pain (apart from getting briefly upset when he ‘dies’) and Pulaski says that you can’t even tell she was pregnant. So there’s no need to bring it up ever again.

In fairness I haven’t seen a lot of episodes, so I don’t know precisely what they never speak of again, but I have noticed a tendency to wrap events up tight so that there’s no need for issues to resurface in other episodes.

The End
After Wesley asks Picard if he can stay the Bridge crew jokingly discuss who will care for him. Data will see to his education. Worf offers to tuck him in at night (clearly a joke). Riker is asked to take care of everything else to do with growing up. It’s all very jovial and establishes that even though Dr Cusher has gone Wesley will be staying.*

* Can I change shows now and see what Dr Crusher is doing instead, please?
** There is an actual class where children play with puppies. I have no idea why. It's cute but pointless.

12 November 2012

Nano - Progress Report

It's nearly two weeks into November and so far I'm behind on word count.

I have been bad and entirely missed some days. Some of this was due to family visiting, some of it was me being a bit useless. On all but one of the days that I wrote I was above target, and some of those even made up for a couple of the missed days.
I'm told word count is meant to be the name of the game, but it's not entirely about that for me. It's about reminding myself that actually I do have time to write, and I do have the ability to write plenty. It's about getting out of a stupid slump that I don't have any proper explanation for.

Storywise things are mixed.
The main Nano project is a story featuring characters I initially came up with about 10 years ago, and who were there at a time in my life when I wasn't very happy with myself. Not that the original idea was angsty, it was something I used to escape angst and reality.
Maybe that's why I've come back to it now, I'm mostly fine with myself but not happy with my professional life, which takes up a large chunk of my time. In this version the characters are older (older than me) and their earlier adventures will be told as flashbacks. These bits are clear to me, I already wrote them once, and I'm seeing this as a chance to write only the good bits of the older story.
It's the current story, featuring the older versions of the characters that's giving me issues. I thought I knew what the plot was, but it turns out I only had the start of one (this is the second time I've done this recently and I'm concerned that I've somehow forgotten how plots are meant to work). The characters are strong in my mind, though I think they need to grow up a bit. The world is familiar and good enough for a first draft, somewhere I have loads of notes I made about it in my late-teens. However there are lots of conversations and not much doing, so I need to throw some problems at the situation and get people moving.
At least I've realised that's the problem, which is an important first step.

As for yesterday, well yesterday I my have cheated a bit by writing something else and counting the words. I have a short story with a deadline and I need to get that done, regardless of whether I'm doing Nano. As this is intended for the eyes of others in the not-too-distant future it actually needs to be good. I've been writing it more slowly, looking up relevant things online, making sure it fits together and makes sense. It's still a first draft, but it's one I feel fairly happy with. I only need to figure out one story element and then it'll be whole in my mind, if not yet on the page.

I've got some time off work coming up and I intend to use that to get back on track. Though even if I don't 'win' I still think it's good for me to have done this, to get back into a pattern of regularly putting words together for something besides this blog.

4 November 2012

Recent Reading

The Alchemist of Souls 
by Anne Lyle

I like me a bit of historical fantasy and was pleased to discover that this one is well-written and very entertaining. Elizabethan London is a popular setting, and here it felt authentic but also original as the author has taken a few (obvious and intentional) liberties with history. This is not a secret history with the supernatural pulling the strings behind the scenes (not that I have any problem with such stories, as you can tell from my attitude to the work of Tim Powers). In this book the New World proved to be home not just to other races of human but to a non-human, intelligent species called Skraylings. In post-Reformation England there are mixed attitudes to the Skraylings, their magical wares and mysterious ways. There are those who think them demons or fairies, while others see them as powerful and useful allies. Thrown into the middle of all this is our Hero Mal Catlyn, an impoverished gentleman who is appointed bodyguard to the Skrayling Ambassador.

It's the characters that really make this book such a joy to read. They're all rounded and fun to read about, each with their own perspective and voice, but I don;t want to give too much away. The relationships between them -both good and bad- feel genuine. Much of the action is set around a theatre company preparing for a competition, and it is in this environment that the characters are freer to pursue their desires than they would be in other parts of late-Tudor society.

The plot is well paced, with danger thrown at Mal and his friends fairly regularly as mysteries crop up and secrets are gradually revealed. There isn't a particular character who acts as an investigator, different things happen to each character, given the audience a wider (but still intriguing) picture of what's really going on. Conspiracies abound and at times it's hard to see how it'll all come together, though it does. Though a few are recruited to spy for different people, none of the main characters are naturals at intelligence work, often they seem to be people who've somehow gotten themselves in over their heads.
The Skraylings are interesting and not quite like anything I've read before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The reader discovers more about them throughout the book, but there are still many questions at the end.

by China Mieville
 I've owned this book for over year but only recently remembered this fact.
This is a British urban fantasy and as such it has a lot of the hallmarks of the subgenre. An ignorant, mundane person is pulled into the shadowy hidden world of the supernatural that exists under/around/between the normal reality of London. There's a dangerous landscape of weird magic, warring gangs and factions, a knowledgeable guide/companion character and truly horrible killers. Having said that, these comparisons have only come to me now that I've stopped reading, at the time I was engrossed enough in the book that it didn't even occur to me to play Magic London Bingo (though one could get a pretty decent score).

There's an apocalyptic feel to this book, as different groups try to stave off or cause the/an apocalypse. The book is full of the feeling and discussion of end-times and the characters struggle against this even as it's clear that they (and the reader) don't really understand why or how the inevitability of the end of the world has come about. This is a book full of twists as the characters think they've discovered what it's all about, only to find that actually it's about something else entirely. This happens several times, some make more sense than others. Similarly character motivations seem to keep changing as veils of deceit are removed. Lines of enquiry are followed by officials, individuals and gangs, each has it's own logic (in a world governed by the power of metaphor) and the plot has been carefully put together to produce something very intricate. By the time you get to the last reveal the book has almost finished and you're surprised there's room for another one.

I enjoyed reading this book. I liked a lot of the ideas, which are very weird as one would expect from the author. The juxtaposition between the weird and the mundane really enhances the oddness of the supernatural world, though I'm sure it could have been odder. To me it felt weirder than the alien world of Embassytown, but didn't seem as strange as Perdido Street Station, though the latter contained a lot more focus on non-human characters. There were some great ideas and bizarre visuals mentioned and touched upon, at times in an offhanded way. The world was explored to an extent, but too much exploration would have become tangential, though it's clear that the author had a lot of interesting ideas.