31 December 2014

New Year

I'm lucky that 2014 has been a mostly positive year. I could definitely have done more, though I think that every year.

My new job at a university
Being on the Skiffy and Fanty Show at World Con
FantasyCon - which included my 5th Wedding Anniversary and my first time on a panel

I haven't planned much in 2015 yet. When it comes to cons I'll be going to FantasyCon in October. I expect I'll go to Edge Lit too, and possibly part of Nine Worlds in August (seriously everyone who goes to that con raves about it) depending on work. I feel like I should go to cons a bit more (which would help with my first resolution below), but I'll have to see. I also think I should go to more stuff happening on campus, there's always plenty going on and I might as well take advantage of that.

  • Friends - Spend more time with friends by inviting people over more, and hopefully seeing friends from out of town more. I've been asked to restart the board game nights we hosted early in 2014, so that'll be a start.
  • Swimming - I'll aim to go swimming at least once a week, it's the only exercise I get. I've been trying to do that since I started working at the university (which has a pool on campus), but I've been a bit hit and miss.
  • Writing - As ever I need to do more. I want to rewrite my novel draft in the first part of the year. I get easily distracted at home, so I'm going write at work each day. The campus has dozens (maybe hundreds) of places I can sit and write, so it'll be good for writing and seeing more of the university
  • Teeth - I have a lot of cavities, and I need to spend more time and care looking after my teeth. It's that or reduce snacking, and while I will look into eating better I can't reduce the frequency of snacking because I wouldn't be able to function. I only do the minimum when it comes to beauty, but though it's often presented as an appearance thing, really looking after your teeth is a health issue, so I need to adjust my thinking there.
  • Mindfulness - I think that's the right word. There are times when I have difficulty focusing on things, when unwanted thoughts seem to flood my mind and get in the way. I want to get better at shutting them out and being able to focus on the present.
It's probably a sign of what I need to improve that most of my resolutions involve building a routine and managing my time better.

I know various friends have had a difficult time in 2014, I really hope 2015 sees things improve for you guys.

21 December 2014


Oops, dropped the ball on blogging a bit. I'm sure you can understand that December can be a distracting month. Plus they've offered overtime at my work to try and catch up with this year's record breaking amount of applications, so I've been doing some of that as December can also be expensive.

I feel as though I'm in a good place in general, with work, with family and with writing at the moment. As ever there is stuff I could improve, mostly seeing friends more.

With January coming I am resolved to get out and see people more and do better with the blogging by building up my posts again (I was doing so well earlier this year). But more on resolutions closer to New Years.

Good wishes to you, whether or not this is a time when you are celebrating.

This is me at a recent work Christmas party, wearing a ridiculous Christmas hat of my own design.

That hat won me a prize for Most Festive Outfit (there was a separate category for festive jumpers, of which there were many). I'm standing like that because the hat did not entirely fit in the picture otherwise. The expression is just how I tend to look in photos. I'm sure I look more normal the rest of the time, but for obvious reasons there's no photographic evidence of that.

6 December 2014


Episode: s3, ep 23

What Happens
The Enterprise is hosting unspecified negotiations with a mysterious species we never see, but who sit in pools of slime. The negotiations will be held by Ambassador Sarek (Spock's dad), who is the only person in the entire Federation these aliens know. Picard and Riker are geeking out about their eminent visitor. His staff arrive first and tell them he's really old and tired and should be kept away from people and events. When Sarek arrives with his wife he doesn't seem as feeble as suggested. The crew start being randomly angry, argumentative and violent.
At a concert the Ambassador sheds a single tear, and because he's a Vulcan that's super weird. Crusher slaps Wesley for no reason, then tells Troi about it. 10 Forward breaks into a massive bar fight. Troi reports that this has been increasing ever since Sarek came on board. She reckons something telepathic has been happening between Sarek and his Vulcan aide. Crusher says they think the Ambassador has a rare Vulcan form of dementia, but there's no cure and loads of stigma about it.
Picard tries to approach Sarek's staff and his wife about his illness, they all deny it. Then he confronts Sarek himself, who dismisses it at first, but Picard goads him to rage quickly. In the circumstances the negotiations should be postponed, but they can't because all mysterious alien races are super unreasonable -so goodness knows why the Federation tries so hard to talk with them. Picard offers himself to take on Sarek's emotions, which is very dangerous, but it actually just makes him pull a lot of odd faces and moan. This means Sarek can finish the negotiations that will seal his reputation and allow him retire with dignity.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard and Riker are totally fanboying about Sarek as they go to the transporter to meet him. They're so excited they have put on their best frocks. Picard actually met him briefly years ago and was totally tongue-tied. Not a mistake he plans to make this time. He's very flattered when Sarek's wife says that her husband has followed his career. Of course he's disappointed when the aides suggest that the Ambassador will be too tired to spend much time with the crew. Picard talks about wanting to talk to Sarek and get to know his thoughts about all the cool stuff he's done and his place in making history (he's practised the conversation in his head, hasn't he?). Given what happens later it is as though a genie heard him and -as is their wont- granted his wish in the most inconvenient way possible.
It is apparently very dangerous for a human to take on Vulcan emotions. Picard accepts this and has Dr Crusher with him the whole time for medical and moral support. The Captain is in a lot of pain, both
emotional and physical. Patrick Stewart gets to do powerful Shakespearean-level acting of remorse and regret and anger, which means it's very large for something viewed on a TV screen (this kind of acting is designed to fill a theatre).
Shouts at: Riker, on the Bridge, over whether to do the awkward thing and confront Sarek about his illness.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
In an unusual moment of geeking out Riker is as excited as Picard about Sarek's visit.
Riker keeps an eye of crew behaviour; commenting on unusually bad reports and insubordination. He stops Geordi and Wesley fighting, acting like a stern but disappointed babysitter. Later he and Worf (who seems unaffected, possibly because he's constantly suppressing Klingon anger) wade into the bar fight and Riker is socked by a medic.
Shouts at: Picard, on the Bridge, over whether Picard should do the uncomfortable thing and confront Sarek about his illness.

Does Not Compute
Plays violin at a concert and has settings that allow him to imitate a variety of violinists. While giving a tour of the Bridge the Vulcan aide asks about Troi and Picard and seems to be hinting that Sarek may not be up to his job, possibly he talks to Data because he's all with the logic and such. Later Data approaches the Vulcan aide to ask frankly about the situation.
Doesn't shout at anyone, no emotions.

Doctor Doctor
Beverly is given something to do! She's not had a whole lot going on this series. I'm still glad she's back, but I kinda still miss her because she's not around much. She's not got her own subplot here or anything like that, but she gets to use her expertise and isn't just there as Wesley's mum (though obviously that happens too). Could be worse, at least she's not being Picard's-old-friend-who-he's-attracted-to-but-doesn't-want-to-ruin-their-friendship-and-it's-complicated.
Crusher is mean to Wesley, shouts at and slaps him for no reason. She immediately consults Troi about it, which is sensible, though one hopes she patched things up with Wes too. She and Troi do an off screen investigation into the angry outbursts and their correlation with Sarek's arrival. Why don't we get to see that?
Beverly monitors Picard/Sarek during the mind meld and stays with the Captain while he's feeling all of Sarek's pain. At one point he ends up sobbing in her arms, there's little more either of them can do.
Shouts at: Wesley, in their quarters, over why he didn't attend the concert

Blind Engineering
Geordi and Wesley set up the room for the aliens, including their slime pool. Geordi congratulates Wesley on getting a date with an attractive ensign.
Shouts at: Wesley, in negotiation room, over whether he will get any from an ensign that's out of his league

It's Not Easy Being Troi
As a woman Troi knows that other women have ears and can appreciate music, so she suggests to Picard that maybe if the Ambassador can't attend the concert his wife might like to.Of course Picard uses it as a way to see if she can get the Ambassador to come with her.
At the concert Troi notices something about Sarek's emotions and senses what his aide is doing. It's a nice scene showing telepaths/empaths reacting to the unseen.
Troi is the one who realises that the anger is related to the Vulcans, especially the Ambassador. She tells Crusher about it when Beverly consults her about her own episode of uncontrollable rage. Together the women pool their knowledge and investigate Troi's hypothesis until they can present a theory to the Captain.
Doesn't shout at anyone, presumably protected by her empathy.

Poor O'Brien
The transporter chief and some fellow yellowshirts start a fight over seats with some blueshirts in 10 Forward. It becomes a full on brawl. Where was Guinan? I'd expect to see her knocking some heads and calming the whole thing down.

Not Actually An Ensign
Wesley helps Geordi, because again all the qualified engineers are busy. He has a date with an unseen woman who outranks him (unless Geordi was referring to something else when he said that she was out of Wesley's league).
Shouts at: Geordi, in negotiation room, over Geordi's jealousy of his lovelife and Geordi falling for holodeck women (so people know about that huh?).
Also shouted at and slapped by his mother for hardly anything. It's Wesley, but that's still harsh.

Girl Talk
Crusher and Troi talk kinda about Wesley and how she slapped him, but it's more about her anger - could be a Bechdel pass depending on how strict you're being. They investigate the situation together, as is natural given their jobs, but we don't get to see it. There is a distinct lack of the main female characters working together to solve a problem and generally being good at their jobs. And it can't be because it's dull! Look at all the console tapping, infodumping and technobabble from Geordi, Data and Wesley we have to sit through every other week! I rather suspect that as neither woman was being eye candy, having an emotional plotline or doing something healing/caring it was deemed unimportant for screen time.
The Ambassador's wife is introduced oddly, like they kinda forgot she was there, so her husband has to point out who is she. When Picard visits her she says she doesn't get her own visitors, but Picard is really just trying to get to her husband through her anyway. The Ambassador's wife does collude with his staff to manage his illness, though it seems bad she didn't talk to him about it. Then again it does sound as though she's experiencing a certain amount of denial, pushing for him to get through this one last job before he can retire. Plus she's likely to be his main caregiver and seeing how violent the crew gets when influenced by Sarek no one could envy her what's coming.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Dr Crusher consults Troi about her uncharacteristic anger
2. Picard talks to the Ambassdor's human aide, who says the negotiations cannot be delayed, and denies Sarek's illness or its consequences.

The End
Sarek and party leave. He shares a special goodbye for Picard and they do that Vulcan hand gesture thing.

2 December 2014

SF from the Beeb

There are a couple of things I'm looking forward to from the BBC.

Good Omens radio play
Radio 4 will be broadcasting an adaption of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman each evening during Christmas Week. I've said here before how much I love Good Omens. Obviously I'm pretty excited about this, I've memorised bits of this book through rereading it so much. I'm working two days that week so I might well have to catch up on the first few episodes.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell TV series
Next year there's going to be a TV adaption of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which I read and enjoyed years ago. I still have my copy, which is a very large hardback, possibly explaining why I haven't reread it. Though I don't do much rereading anymore. There isn't a release date for the TV series yet, and it's supposed to premiere on BBC America, but hopefully it'll be on over here at around the same time. It's period drama, which the BBC does well, but with fantasy too. I'm rather excited that Eddie Marsan is going to be playing Mr Norrell, he's one of those actors who pops up all over the place in TV and film. I've seen him play a variety of roles, including period drama, so I'm sure he'll be good here.

The BBC's last few forays into TV sci-fi haven't gone so well (I'm not counting Doctor Who that's kind of a given and not new anymore). Outcasts was interesting but also slow and weird (but not weird in an engaging way). Hyperdrive was terrible, but sci-fi comedy is tricky, even Red Dwarf is pretty hit and miss. I quite liked the Dirk Gently TV series they did, but understand why big fans of Adams and the original books didn't. The last real hit I can think of is Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, which were more police shows with vague SF elements. Perhaps fantasy will be a better direction, and a well-made adaption will bring in a preexisting audience. It's not like they can't do this stuff well, look at In The Flesh.

I do have one request, and it's not even SF. Can they bring back Up The Women? There was talk of a 6-part 2nd series on BBC2 last year, and then nothing. I liked that, it was funny and clever.

24 November 2014

The Most Toys

Episode: s3, ep 22

One of the most interesting and tense Data-heavy episodes, in which Data meets a real adversary.

What Happens
Data is kidnapped and his death is faked in a shuttle explosion on the orders of a weird collector who wants to own Data. The Collector won't accept that Data isn't his property and Data refuses to accept he is a captive. The Enterprise mourns Data, but has to get the unstable cargo of rare stuff to a planet that needs it to decontaminate their water supply. Geordi is especially troubled by Data's death, and thinks that something suspicious has happened. At first Picard doesn't believe Geordi.
Data's escape attempts and demonstration of passive resistance cause his ruthless captor to threaten his ow ndeputy with slow, horrible death in order to make Data cooperate. The Enterprise crew discover that the poisoned water supply on the planet was artificial. They track this back to the trader who happened to have the right amount of the rare stuff to sell at the right time. He couldn't have made a profit as the rare stuff is really expensive. A look at his record reveals his passion for one of a kind objects and everyone realises Geordi was right and this guy probably has Data.
The collector's deputy, who previously refused to help Data, is angered and scard by his willingness to kill her and they try to escape together. They are caught in the attempt and the Collector does kill her. He and Data end up in a standoff, and the Collector goads Data to see if he really will kill him. Just as Data has to act he is beamed to the Enterprise. The Collector is apprehended and put in the brig. There is a question about whether Data was about to kill him.

Guest Star
The Collector is played by Saul Rubinek, who I recognised as Donny from Frasier. He's also Artie from Warehouse 13. Here he excellently plays a ruthless, vicious person. It's a great portrayal and unusual in TNG that's it's not a monster, there's no misunderstanding in the situation, or even antagonism from differing cultures/values/points of view. No this guy is very humanly selfish, ruthless and terrible.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard has to go on captaining despite the tragedy. He immediately contacts the Collector and tries to get as much info as he can about what happened. He listens to Geordi's concerns with patience, but essentially has to tell him to keep working as their mission is time-sensitive. Picard's sadness is shown briefly; the book of Shakespeare he gave the android is returned to him and he quotes some lines (if you hire an actor for their Shakespearean credentials you need to make use of them from time to time).
Riker recommends promoting Worf to replace Data, and Picard agrees. Picard calls him Data during his first shift, but quickly realises his mistake. It's going to be an adjustment for all of them, not least because Data was an android and therefore had abilities that Worf won't be able to match.

Does Not Compute
This episode explores Data, his programming and his development. These topics are regularly touched on, but here there's more depth and Data is put to the test in ways he hasn't been before. It seems that Data should be able to defeat a mere human, but here we see him pitted against someone more ruthless and calculating than we've seen on this show before (except for maybe the tar monster and the big scary face, but those were aliens and therefore it's expected they're monstrous). Data states that he was built for peace (which I assume is why he doesn't have eyes that shoot lasers) and has a deep respect for living things. He can kill when needed, but the question becomes when is it needed? This strength of his programming is exploited as a weakness by the Collector, who clearly takes perverse glee in testing the limits of his new toy.
Speaking of perversity, there's some super creepy, possibly sexual subtext here. I suspect wasn't intentional, especially given when this was written, but I read it into the Collector from the start. When Data first asks why he's there the Collector -elated by his new acquisition- slightly coyly says "You have been brought here for my enjoyment and my appreciation." It reminded me so much of Iron Man 3 when the villain, with an air of embarrassment, admits to Pepper that she's there to be his sex slave - it's horrible both because of his intention and the way it's presented. It's not an exact comparison because with the Collector it becomes clear that he feels no embarrassment or shame for his crimes, but that's what I thought of. Later, when Data refuses to wear the outfit the Collector has provided for him, the Collector manipulates him into wearing it by throwing acid on his Starfleet uniform and destroying it. "Personally, I'd be delighted to see you go around naked. I assume you have no modesty." He's so creepy! If you have trouble seeing how creepy this entire situation is imagine Data is coded as female. Horrible, isn't it?
Data refuses to comply, but every time he angers his captor he is punished and manipulated. At first he politely and logically points out why the situation is wrong, which the Collector ignores. Data's captive has already set up tech to preserve his safety and compensate for the android's increased physical abilities. By destroying Data's uniform he forces him into a situation with two unpleasant choices. Data tries passive resistance and basically goes into statue mode, embarrassing the Collector in front of his guest. So the Collector, knowing about Data's respect for life, threatens to kill his own deputy in a slow painful manner unless Data does exactly as he's told. Seeing Data sitting in that chair like the display item his captor wants him to be is powerfully unsettling.
In the end the villain is of course undone by his own villainy and lack of consideration for his underlings, this is pretty typical and made me think of Syndrome from The Incredibles. Data is put in a position where he can kill his captor and escape, but only by using the slow, painful horror-phaser that the Collector used. The standoff is actually tense, with the collector goading Data to kill him, because he's positive he can't. He also taunts Data for his inability to feel anger about what's happened. As Data is transported to the Enterprise the horror-phaser fires. When Riker asks about it Data suggests it must have been triggered by the transporter. Do we believe him? Was he truly going to kill the Collector? If so, was it out of anger, or the only logical way to stop him? If the latter why lie? Can Data lie? The fact that these questions are there show the development of Data.

Blind Engineering
Geordi's grief is probably the strongest. He and Wesley go through Data's stuff, he owns about 7 personal affects. After a dream about the logs recorded before the accident Geordi starts listening to them obsessively. I don't know if this is supposed to be keen insight or simply the act of man in denial about the cause of his friend's death. Either way Geordi identifies that Data never reported leaving the Collector's ship. It's a small thing, something most people wouldn't bother to say because they'd know the Enterprise was tracking them, but it's unlike Data not to do things entirely by the book.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Geordi explains to Picard and Riker that he's unable to find anything to explain the explosion besides pilot error, which he can't believe.
2. The away team report that the water contamination seemed to be artificial. Discussion leads to the conclusion that the Collector set the whole thing up to get Data.

Death By Space Misadventure
It seems as though Data dies in the shuttle explosion, transporting unstable cargo, and the only shocking thing is that it happened to Data. The Collector's deputy, Varria, is killed by him using a banner weapon that's like a phaser but ensures a slower, more painful death.
The End
Data visits his captor in the Enterprise brig, and the Collector says he will not repent or beg for mercy, and muses on their role reversal. Even now he is arrogant and seems confident he will return to having power over Data. The android informs him that his collection has been seized and is being returned to the rightful owners. The Collector suggests Data is getting pleasure from this. Data counters, as he often does, by pointing out that he cannot experience pleasure, he's only an android. This time I'm less certain than ever.

20 November 2014


Some months ago I was happy to say that I had (for the first time) finished the first draft of novel. Though in some ways that achievement felt a bit unreal as I know there's loads of work still to do. I've been letting the story percolate in my brain while I wrote other stuff (mostly TNG blog posts as you've seen, but also some short stories). I know it needs loads of work, and so far I've been able to identify big things.

The biggest thing I need to do next is worldbuilding. It's a secondary world fantasy story, and so that means I'm creating the whole thing. I already have a feel for the setting, I had to in order to write the story, but I skimmed a lot of detail that I know have to fill in (at least in my head, if not in the story itself). At Fantasycon I went to a great worldbuilding session by Tom Pollock and Kate Elliott, who both had some great things to say and gave me a lot to think about. I like the idea that worldbuilding is not about piling on details, but thinking about what is different to your setting, what assumptions you bring with you and why, and how your own assumptions and those of your reader can be challenged. I also liked that they mentioned worldbuilding being about what you don't show as much as what you do. 

I don't want to do a traditional pseudo-Western Europe setting, which is used a lot in fantasy (which is not to say it isn't done very well in some cases). As someone who has lived her entire life in Western Europe (apart from a couple of holidays) I know that I am going to have to step outside my comfort zone and do my research. I'm a bit out of practice with research, having last done it seriously 7 years ago when I was studying. Luckily I now work at a university, so I have easy access to vast amounts of research material. I'm hoping that researching is like riding a bike (something else I haven't done in years).

I'm looking forward to the process, as well as feeling a little daunted by it. I want to create a world that feels like it makes sense, as that is something that so often jolts me out of stories. I know that while I'm trying to create something different from what I'm used to my own ideas and assumptions are going to influence whatever I write. I will try to be aware of that and keep questioning myself.

12 November 2014

Hollow Pursuits

Episode: s3, ep21

If this is what it's like to be an ordinary crew member I understand why we hardly see those guys.

What Happens
An Enterprise crewmember called Barclay causes trouble in 10 Forward, fighting with Riker and flirting with Troi.  It is a holodeck simulation. Geordi complains to Riker about Barclay being always late and kinda nervy. A container of some steaming stuff breaks and has to be destroyed. When Barclay shows up Riker reprimands him. Barclay tries to fix a faulty, floaty trolley. The ship is taking some stuff to some place, because B-plot. Riker and Geordi go to Picard about getting Barclay transferred, but Picard tells Geordi to try harder and make friends with Barclay. Geordi whines about this to other crew members (including other engineers). Wesley calls Barclay Broccoli*, as do Riker and Geordi. A cup has a hole in it and spills on an engineer and that is a problem, because replicators.
Geordi tells Barclay to investigate the floaty trolley and the cup hole, then tries to boost a nervous person's confidence by making him speak at a briefing. Wesley shuts him down and Barclay goes to the holodeck. His holodeck simulations feature senior crew as buffoonish Musketeers, and Troi as a platitude-spouting goddess-type. More unrelated systems do weird things, no one knows why. Geordi walks in on Barclay's insulting simulation, and they have a talk in 10 Forward. Barclay explains the problems he has with shyness. Geordi offers to help and orders him to go see Counsellor Troi.  Barclay visits Troi, gets freaked out and runs to the holodeck. The ship is going faster and no one can't stop it. Geordi, Riker and Troi go after Barclay and see the ridiculous versions of themselves. Geordi suggests Barclay has a problem, and tells him he's needed in the real world. None of the engineers (or Wesley, who is hanging out in Engineering this week) understand why weird things keep happening. Barclay suggests that the engineers themselves are spreading something. They check and it turns out it was that broken container of steaming stuff from the beginning. After a lot of technobabble, and the ship being in danger due to increasing acceleration, the problem is fixed. The ship is saved. Geordi commends Barclay.

Oh Captain, My Captain
It's good, and surprisingly nice, that Picard won't give up on an officer but wants to create a positive environment to bring out his potential. On the other hand, Picard didn't like people telling him how to relax in Captain's Holiday, so why is it OK to order Geordi to become best friends with someone he doesn't like? The answer is cos he's the damn Captain, that's why. A starship is not a democracy.
When Picard unintentionally called Barclay, Broccoli to his face it was funny in an awkward way. Then as Picard stood there and realised what he'd done it just got awkward. He could have just walked away immediately, but he stands there and looks at the man while acknowledging his mistake and waiting until he leaves.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Here we see what a jerk Riker can be if a member of the lower orders annoys him. He's the one who tells Geordi that Wesley calls Barclay Broccoli. Real mature Commander, passing on childish nicknames like primary school gossip. Riker is fed up of seeing Barcley's name on reports. We never see these reports because we don't see the paperwork parts of Riker's job. All the rest of the time I bet he's dealing with forms, even if they are on a tablet. Riker is the first to suggest that Barclay was recommended to them by someone who wanted to get rid of him. Has Riker pulled this stunt himself? Is that his plan for transferring Barclay?
Riker is obviously angry about the party-size holodeck version of himself Barclay has created, anyone would be. Can't blame him for that. Though Troi is right to be amused, it is hilarious..

Does Not Compute
Data is the one to point out, in his figuring-out-social-mores way, that everyone using Broccoli to refer to Barclay is actually mean. Data also tries to help explain Picard's slip of the tongue, but has gotten used to facial cues enough to stop at a glare.
The holodeck-musketeer version of Data kind reminds me of the V masks. I guess it's the pale skin and that style of facial hair. (See my Bonfire Night post before this one to see a load of fellows sporting the style.)

Blind Engineering
Geordi doesn't get on with Barclay, not just because he performs badly, but because he makes Geordi and other crew nervous. I expect it's people picking up Barclay's nervousness and responding badly to it. I might feel bad for Geordi -it's not fun having to spend time with someone you don't get on with- except that he's senior staff and he whines about it. Gee, it's so irritating when your boss expects you to use people management skills on your subordinates. He keeps calling Barclay his "project", which is a really helpful way to think when attempting to befriend a person. Also he's the one that refers to Barclay as Broccoli in front of the Captain, while he's supposed to be having a serious meeting. Hardly professional, Geordi. Though this is not the first time Geordi has had issues working with his staff. Maybe this is why Geordi's best friend is an android. Geordi uses the Broccoli nickname until Data points out it's mean, then in fairness he does try to shut it down.
Geordi manages to have an honest talk with Barclay, after finding him in the holodeck. It's good that no one mocks Barclay about his hobby, and though there's disapproval there does also seem to be concern. Geordi obviously doesn't fully understand Reg Barclay's shyness, confident people often don't, but he does listen. This conversation with Geordi is probably the closest anyone gets to connecting with Barclay. He suggests Barclay go to Troi, because to him that's the obvious thing to do in that situation.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi gets to be a Counsellor here (as opposed to Picard's assistant, which is her unofficial role), and again
she proves to be good at her job. She tries to put Reg at ease in the counselling session using a simple breathing exercise to start. He won't let things go any further and flees. You'd think she must sense that he's really nervous and attracted to her. Then again as the show's eye candy (her official out-of-universe role) she may be used to sensing those feelings in others.
Troi is supportive of Barclay's escapist tendencies, if they are useful for him. The reveal of Barclay's holo-Troi does anger her, and would seem to undermine her point, but her anger is as natural as Riker's. Besides I suspect it's less the attraction she has a problem with -though she'd be justified in feeling creeped out by it- than the fact that Barclay's version of her is superficial and spouts nonsense.

Not Actually An Ensign
Mmmm... pie
Wesley started the Broccoli nickname, though there's no indication why he did something so juvenile. Barclay doesn't like Wesley, probably due to the name calling. Or perhaps many of the non-senior staff don't like Wesley. He's not gone through the Academy like they did and he's on the Bridge, flying the ship and buddying up with senior officers, all because his mum is the Chief Medical Officer. I could see Wesley being disliked because of the favouritism that is shown to him.
I'm not sure why Geordi bothers explaining Wesley's presence in Engineering. After the Bridge it's the main place he hangs out. Geordi probably shouldn't have tried to make Reg feel better by inviting to contribute to a briefing also featuring a precocious know-it-all. Not a confidence building moment, being bested by an unqualified teenager. It's no surprise Wesley has a place in Barclay's revenge fantasy, though I'm not sure why he's scoffing pie. Wesley does at least acknowledge that shutting Barclay down was unhelpful when Geordi explains the situation later, and feels pity for Broccoli.

Guinan's Hat: Dark Blue (in the holo-deck, mirroring holo-Troi's outfit) and Orange - orange (the colour) felt that looks kinda like an orange (the fruit)
Pulling it off
Geordi talks to Guinan about Barclay, cos she's the person he goes to when having interpersonal issues. He complains about having Barclay as his "project". Guinan refuses to dismiss Barclay. Yes, he's quiet and often alone, but she doesn't judge him for it. She also knows that Barclay is imaginative. She compares him to her unpopular uncle, who was actually really funny when you got to know him. She also indicates that she didn't quite fit in either, and that she's since rejected the idea of fitting in. When Geordi tries to argue that Barclay's nervy attitude makes other people uncomfortable, Guinan counters that anyone would behave like that if they knew they were unwanted. Thank God (which she is in the Muppets universe) for Guinan's non-judgmental, compassionate attitude.

Poor Broccoli
I cannot decide with Barclay. Is he an average, introverted person working in a place where most people are overachievers who lack social anxiety? Or is he a slightly creepy guy who spends more time than is healthy working out his frustrations with revenge fantasies and titillation involving his coworkers? Probably somewhere in between.
The show wants us to feel sorry for Barclay. He's the only member of the Enterprise crew that I've ever seen being derided. Even when people disagreed before there was always respect, which is just missing here. Guinan makes an excellent point that people don't thrive in hostile environments. His escapism is only natural. There's a suggestion that Barclay has behaved like this in the past, but it could be that the pressure of working on the Enterprise and meeting their standards has caused him to indulge more. He's become dependent on his coping mechanism to the extent that it's interrupting his work. When Barclay is describing his awkwardness and anxiety in social situations my heart went out to him. I'm sure anyone who's felt out of place at a party can sympathise. I suspect that while various crewmembers are characters for Trek viewers to aspire to, according to the old stereotype Barclay is one they can identify with.
The creepy thing really comes down to the content of Barclay's simulations. Most of the in-show objection to this seems to be that it lacks respect, and that people understandably don't like seeing his versions of them. Riker thinks it's bad to use crewmember's images, there's distaste there, but I doubt confident, straight-talking Riker would ever think of using a holodeck this way. The episode says that Barclay is attracted to Troi, and enacts simulations where she responds positively to him. It never says he sleeps with holo-Troi. Then again people assume that is happening. We don't know if the holodecks on the Enterprise even allow for sexual entertainment, it's never suggested that they do. These aren't Quark's holosuites from DS9. If Barclay is sleeping with holo-Troi that would be creepy. Just as it would be creepy if his sword fights with other holo-crew involved slicing them up with realistic gore. Again the show doesn't suggest this, and in this case no one seems to be assuming it. Holo-Beverly tells holo-Wesley Barclay will spank him for misbehaviour, but that is about infantilising Wesley, not something Barclay would actually do.
When Barclay is pushed to really focus on his job due to an emergency he performs well, loses his nerve and solves the problem, thus saving the day. His usefulness means people will be his friends. That's how this social structure works.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Riker and Geordi tell Picard about the Barclay problem, hoping to get rid of him. Picard insists Geordi try harder with him and orders him to become Reg Barclay's best friend.
2. The Briefing in Engineering. Geordi tries to increase Barclay's confidence, by getting him to talk in front of everyone. Wesley totally talks over Barclay even though he doesn't actually work there and is not involved with that project.

Geordi has a one-on-one with Barclay in 10 Forward, which isn't really official.
Barclay has a very short counselling session with the real Counsellor Troi, but is too nervy and bolts after doing some breathing exercises.

Why can't the other crew members find Barclay in the holodeck? It's not a massive room (though bigger than Troy and Abed's Imaginarium in Community). I know there's holo-landscape in the way, but I don't get why. Surely the holodeck should open on the part of the scene the player (user?) is interacting with? Though at least the holodeck is operating normally here; no creating matter that survives outside, killing people, or creating life.
It's interesting that Riker assumes it's against protocol to simulate crewmembers in the holodeck. Geordi doesn't think it is, and surely if it were the Computer would have stopped Barclay doing it? Except Barclay's an engineer, and engineers of certain rank can do just about anything on these ships. Also, if those regulations do exist Geordi very purposely got around them in Booby Trap by creating a replica of a real scientist. Initially he did it for work purposes, but he admits to Barclay that he fell in love with her (an accurate simulation of a real stranger that he had created). What he leaves out is that he was supposed to be saving the ship at the time (and it was assumed he was doing so with his actual staff). Plus it's not like Riker has never got carried away over a holodeck simulation, perhaps even fallen in love with one, thus endangering the ship.

Communication Breakdown
When Barclay is hailed in the holodeck he continues his conversation with holo-Troi, which includes the word "darling", before responding. How does the comms system know not to broadcast that? The whole Computer voice command thing is really confusing. People don't ever tell it they've stopped issuing commands, but carry right on speaking to others. It seems fine to say "Computer" in a conversation without accidentally giving instructions (unlike that XBox Play advert). It always does things immediately, unless you're gonna belay the order or change the instruction. Does it know when you're paying attention to it? Is it a hobgoblin?

The End
Barclay strides onto the Bridge, and thanks everyone before saying farewell. Then he ends programme because of course he was talking to his holo-friends. He tells the Computer to erase all his programmes, except one. Oh Barclay, you scamp.

* Due to watching TV I've known since childhood that in the US broccoli is the worst of the vegetables, like some kind of green tyrant king or something. It was only a few years ago that I learned why. It's because the first President Bush became president so that his mother wouldn't make him eat broccoli anymore, and in a fit of loyalty to their leader Americans have vilified that vegetable in their media ever since.

5 November 2014

Bonfire Night

It's been a long while since I've done a history post. I think I'd forgotten that I used to do them. Also I've probably been distracted by TV.

Anyway today in the UK it is Bonfire Night, also known as Fireworks Night or Guy Fawkes Night.

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot

Theoretically we are celebrating the 409th anniversary of King and Parliament not being blown up. Though most people are probably just enjoying watching fireworks and attending bonfires, which for the sake of convenience tend to happen more on Friday and Saturday nights.

I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot

The image of Guy Fawkes has come to mean different things over time. Especially recently with Alan Moore's V for Vendetta graphic novel, the film version in 2005 and the use of the V mask from the graphic novel/film by various groups, including the Occupy movement. These are all things that make their own very reasonable point. The original Guy Fawkes wasn't motivated by citizens' rights or ending corporate greed. For him it was all about religion.

James I/VI
The Gunpowder Plot took place at the start of one of my favourite periods of British history, the reign of the Stuarts. James VI of Scotland came to the throne of England as James I in 1603. His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was cousin to Queen Elizabeth I -who had had her executed, but possibly didn't really mean to. This was the first time England had had a King since young Edward VI, and the first time there had been an adult King with a family since Henry VIII (he of the many wives).

In 1603 England was a Protestant country and Catholics were persecuted. They had to pay recusancy fines for not attending Protestant Church services. Many rich Catholic families would attend Mass in secret, performed by travelling priests and Jesuits who would be tortured and executed if discovered. Many stately homes from the period have priestholes, hidden rooms and spaces where the Jesuits could hide if the house was raided. The general attitude towards Catholics in England and the 17th Century can be compared to the fear and paranoia of the 'reds under the bed' attitude in 20th Century America.

When James I came to the throne English Catholics had reasons to be hopeful, his mother had been Catholic, though she'd barely featured in his life due to her extended imprisonment and eventual execution. His wife, Anne of Denmark, was also a Catholic. Before becoming king Jame hads made promises of leniency and religious freedom to Catholics who came to see him. At first various measures were relaxed and recusancy fines were dropped. This led to Protestants at Court, especially the more Puritanical ones, protesting and pressuring James to reverse his lenient measures. One of the stronger anti-Catholic voices was that of Robert Cecil, who had been prominent under Elizabeth and was one of James I's chief advisers(check). The Catholics of England felt they had been betrayed, especially when James denied ever making any promises, brought back recusancy fines with arrears and ordered all priests out of the country. This new dynasty would be no more friendly to them than (most) of the Tudors had been.

The Plot
The chief arhcitect of the plot was Robert Catesby, who seemed to be a charismatic and convincing guy. He and 5 friends initially discussed blowing up the House of Lords during the OPening of Parliamen(check) thus removing King and Parliament altogether and creating a power vacuum. The plan was to take James' eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and install her as a Queen who would bring England back into the Church. They seemed to think they would meet with a swell of support from all English Catholics, who would ride forth to crown their new Queen.

In fact Catesby and co were radical hot-heads and didn't even have the general support of their oppressed community. Most Catholics were willing to keep quiet and hope King James would return to leniency. The Plot also was not sanctioned by the Pope, the Church, or even the Jesuits who were protected and hidden by the plotters and their families. Even Catesby saw the Plot as a last resort and the plotters tried to find other means, including going to Catholic Spain to see if there would be help from overseas. As it was Spain made a peace treaty with England that made no mention of the treatment of English Catholics. What the plotters did get from Spain was a gunpowder expert called Guido Fawkes.

Everyone had that kind of beard then

The Man
Guy Fawkes had left England to fight alongside the Spanish, which was why he often went by 'Guido' (the Spanish version of Guy). He and the other plotters gradually filled a basement underneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder, this included replacing barrels that had spoiled and of course always being very careful they were not discovered and their powder did not ignite prematurely* [*Diana Wynne Jones Witch Week]. At the start of November, assuming the authorities had no idea of their plan, the rest of the plotters left London, leaving Guido to watch the basement and start the explosion. Guido was probably chosen for this as his career fighting in Europe meant he had experience with Gunpowder.

As it was the authorities had known for days that something was coming. The Parliament buildings were searched and Guido was found, initially claiming to be a servant called John Johnson. He was arrested and interrogated. Torture could be used by permission of the King, who unsurprisingly granted it. Guido was tortured for days, revealing the Plot, but only naming names after being told his fellow conspirators had been arrested. His final signature is barely legible and a sign of his suffering. Fawkes was eventually hung, drawn and quartered along with 3 of his fellows.

It All Went Wrong
The main reason the Plot was discovered was because of the Monteagle letter. Over time the Plotters grew from a handful to a group of 13. One of the plotters sent a letter to his brother-in-law Lord Monteagle advising him not to go to Parliament. The letter was received on 26 October 1605  and spoke of "a terrible blow". Instead of burning the letter, as it advised, Monteagle took it to Robert Cecil. There are claims that Cecil had known about the Plot for along time, and allowed it to run its course in order to further implicate and demonise not just the Plotters themselves, but Catholics in general. I don't believe Cecil instigated the Plot, or knew about it at its early stages, but he did wait until the rewards of discovery were maximised, and waiting almost a week after getting the letter before telling the King.

News of the arrest of "John Johnson" spread fast and the Plotters fled into the West Midlands.Back then there was no major city in the region, Birmingham (which now dominates the area) was a small town among other towns of similar size. Revelations from London meant a lot of the hidden priests went out to check on colleagues and were caught. The remaining Plotters raided Warwick Castle for supplies, but received little help or sympathy from the family and fellows, who were terrified of being branded traitors too. The fled to home of one Plotter and spread some of their damp gunpowder in front of the fire to dry - this is why these guys needed a powder expert. A spark set it off and  badly burned three of them. Eventualy the Sheriff of Worcester arrived, besieged the house and the last Plotters were killed or arrested.

The outcome of the Plot was that life got even harder for English Catholics, with strict limitations enshrined in law, some of which were not repealed for centuries. Jesuits and priests were blamed and hunted more ruthlessley, even though none had known of or condoned the actions of the Plotters. Parliament felt a wave of goodwill towards the King, and Cecil leveraged this to get a lot of money off them. Foreign, Catholic powers were assured that England bore them no ill will, and they all denounced the Plotters.

When Parliament finally met (in January 1606) they declared that 5th November should be an annual commemoration of the near miss. The act remained in force until 1859, and even today we still celebrate it. Bonfires, fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes were soon part of the festivities. There's a tradition of kids making effigies using any old clothes and and paper, then selling them in the street with the cry of 'penny for the Guy'. I've never seen that happen, but when I was a kid it was the kind of thing adults talked about from when they were kids. Guy came to mean a man in scruffy clothes, and then any male.

Bonfire Night is one of the main UK holidays that remains largely unchanged in how it's celebrated, though nowadays the anti-Catholic sentiment and effigy-burning have been removed. Most other traditional holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.) have had their traditional festivities altered over time. The Victorians often pulled stuff like this, Queen Victoria being responsible for importing and promoting the traditional German-style Christmas celebration. It's mostly about people enjoying fireworks, bonfires and toffee apples nowadays, and November is a good time to have them because it's dark by 5pm.

Happy Bonfire Night!

If you're interested and want more there's Gunpowder Plot Society, their website has a lot of info.

31 October 2014

Tin Man

Episode: s3, ep20

What Happens
The Enterprise is doing something dull but necessary when a less-prestigious Starfleet ship unexpectedly catches up. It brings secret new orders and a mission specialist. He is telepathic prodigy who specialises in first contact situations with non-humanoid alien. He used to be Troi's patient. He's also infamous for being involved in a disastrous first contact in which 47 people died, including people Riker knew.
Tam, the telepath, is hard to get on with. He insists on being alone and responds to people's thoughts before they vocalise them. The only person whose mind he can't read is Data, and so he finds the android's presence restful. A science probe orbiting a sun about to go into supernova has discovered a living, organic starship. It has been codenamed Tin Man. The Enterprise must go and make contact, and quick, not only is the sun going to explode but the Romulans -who claim that part of space- are sending ships of their own. Picard assigns Data to work with Tam, who is more concerned about the lifeform than the Romulan danger.
Troi goes to her former patient and asks him about why he's making them dislike him. He reveals he has enough self-doubt and guilt without knowing that others doubt and distrust him. He was on a planet with beings that think so slowly they were very relaxing to him. He only exposed himself to a big ship because he was fascinated by Tin Man. He reveals that despite the lightyears distance he has made contact with the giant entity.
The Romulans have been tailing the Enterprise, a slower ship nearly destroying its engines to keep pace. When they reach the unstable sun the Romulans attack the Enterprise and head to Tin Man. The telepath senses that they will contact Tin Man or destroy it. He sends a telepathic warning; Tin Man has a flashy self-defence mechanism that destroys the Romulan ship and damages the Enterprise. More Romulans are on the way and Geordi works fast to fix the damaged, especially as the sun could blow at any minute. Picard takes the telepath to task for his carelessness. Tam insists on beaming aboard Tin Man, Data offers to go with him. At first Picard won't have it, but when more Romulans show up he allows it.
The Romulans are on a revenge mission and will kill Tin Man. On Tin Man Tam gets a memory overload but swiftly bonds with the creature, who came to the unstable sun in order to die after its crew died. It's very old and tired. Tin Man creates a chair for Tam, who announces that he will stay, he finally has peace within Tin Man. Data tries to remind him of the mission, but Tam tells him to explain his reasons to Starfleet. The Romulans approach and Tin Man does it's thing, pushing both Romulans and the damaged Enterprise out of the orbit of the sun to safety. Data is returned somehow (not by regular transporter) and Tin Man and Tam leave.

Guest Star
Tam is Harry Groener. Best known, to me anyway, as the Mayor from Buffy - and the Secretary of West Wing. The internet has just told me that he's also Clint, Ted's hippy stepfather, from How I Met Your Mother, which I totally didn't realise. I suspect the beard did it. I assume that for this part he is wearing some kind of contact lenses as his eyes are really, noticeably dark. Either that or his pupils are enormous.
Agriculture in the

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is old friends with the Captain that catches up with them. There's a slight sense of rivalry because the Enterprise is super fancy and this guy mostly ferries stuff about.
Picard is hard on Tam. He's a private person so perhaps he's generally wary of telepaths -as seen by his attitude to Lwaxana Troi. He reprimands Tam for forgetting about the Romulan threat, and adopts an necessary hostile and peevish tone when talking about him with Troi and Dr Crusher. His personal feelings do seem to be a factor, but Picard's concerns do make sense. He puts Data with Tam to ensure he doesn't make dangerous mistakes or oversights.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker tells Geordi all about the Incident. It's clear that even though the official enquiry blamed the mission's Captain, Riker reckons Tam was actually to blame for the previous loss of life. Of course Tam knows Riker thinks this, and calls Riker out on his blaming thoughts.

Does Not Compute
Data is restful to Tam because he can't sense his thoughts and emotions.  For a while Data is the only person Tam sees. Tam tells Deanna that he enjoys getting to know a person gradually by talking, it's novel for him. Data suggests to Tam that he can't sense anything because he is artificial, Tam tells Data that he's just different and though he may have heard otherwise it's not a bad thing.
Data offers to go with Tam to Tin Man and though Picard has his reservations he eventually allows it. Data points out that Tam likes him, and Data will be able to remind him of the mission. In the end Data doesn't seem able to sway Tam, but then Tam has already decided he'll fulfil the mission his way.
Data's talk to Troi at the end reveals he's growing in emotional capacity and awareness.

Blind Engineering
There's no real B-plot here, but due to the Romulan attack and the effects of Tin Man's defence mechanism Geordi must work hard to get the shields back up and the engine working properly. He's also pressed for time as more Romulans are approaching, and the sun could supernova (which the shields can't deal with). He gives orders to silent-and-obedient engineers, says words, taps consoles and has to override safety procedures. Busy, busy, busy.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi tells Picard Tam was her patient, which I would've thought would be protected by confidentially (do they have that in Trek?). Later she discusses his state of mind and medical history with Picard and Crusher. She is the most sympathetic, and reveals that he was born with his strong telepathy instead of growing into it like most Betazeds. His condition is rare and incredibly stressful for him.
When she visits him his fragile mental state is apparent as he opens up to her about the chaos of thoughts and feelings he experiences being in proximity to so many people. He never could block out thoughts. He admits that he should have been more forceful with the captain during the Incident. Troi is one of the few who understands what his life is like, and tries to comfort him. It sounds as though they were both out of place on Betazed, searching for somewhere to belong. Presumably this was because he was too telepathic, and she not enough (being pretty much only empathic). He comments that Troi has found her place to belong. She's shocked when he lets slip that he's already in contact with Tin Man, it's impossible even for him, but Tin Man is very powerful.
Troi is concerned that Tam is losing himself when he merges with Tin Man, she fears this and asks Picard not to let Tam go aboard Tin Man, even though it's all he wants. Picard is tempted to send Troi with Tam when he boards Tin Man, but Data makes the case that he should go.

A Ship, A Living Ship
So a probe finds and scans a massive, organic starship and the codename they give it is Tin Man? Really? It's not made of metal, which apparently they can tell, as they scanned it's structure and skeleton. I do not understand where the name came from, and no one ever explains. On the other hand the designers did well here, we only see brief images of the ship-creature and the info in the briefing is background stuff, but it looks good and like someone put some thought into it.
It's sad that Tin Man is suicidally lonely. It's not seen any of its kind for perhaps millennia, and its crew were all killed by radiation that Tin Man was able to survive. I wonder what it's crew were like. There's little indication that they were humanoid. Tin Man can alter it's internal structure to fit its inhabitants, creating a chair out of nothing, so they could have looked like anything.
Tin Man's defense mechanism is a cool spinny, energy burst thing, which is clearly a lot more deliberate than Starburst. It can also control it, using it to push the Enterprise and Romulan ship away from the dangerous sun.

Girl Talk
Troi and Crusher discuss Tam sympathetically. Beverly discussing what's in his medical records and Deanna explaining about his history and experience. Beverly speculates on how stress can affect different people. It doesn't pass the Bechdel test as they're talking about Tam, although depending on how you look at it they are having a professional conversation.
Also Picard is there being peevish about Tam's status as expert, for some reason.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Tam and Data brief the senior crew about Tin Man.
2. Picard asks Troi and Crusher about Tam's mental state and history.
3. Picard asks Troi and Data if Tam can be trusted. They both insist he has good intentions but can't predict the consequences of his actions.

The End
Data explains to Troi why Tam went away with Tin Man. Apart they were both broken, but together they had a sense of belonging. Troi says Data does understand. Data reveals that when Tin Man returned him to the Enterprise he too felt a sense of belonging. It is a touching ending.

27 October 2014


I have been writing a short story for a month.
I am out of practice with short stories.

One of the things I like about short stories is the shortness (both as a writer and a reader). As a writer it's great because there's a manageable number of words. The issue isn't just coming up with the words and writing them down (though of course that's a big part of it). The issue is that you have to really look at the words you've written down and make them good. This is editing and I'm out of practice with that too.

It's only been fairly recently that I've felt like I got better at editing. My Guardian's Guardian is the first story where I felt as though I was deliberately shaping and improving not just the words, sentences, paragraphs, but the whole story.

I am aware of various of my writing flaws; many of them involving grammar, sentence structure and overruse of certain words. It's only recently that I've become aware that editing isn't just about leaping through your story, putting right what you once did wrong. It's about shaping the whole thing.

I feel this is a useful realisation, as I'm going to start editing a novel in the foreseeable future. I've never done that before, it's a daunting prospect. Especially as I'm coming to realise that the draft I was so happy to finish back in July was really more a loosely connected group of scenes, with characters that need fleshing out and a setting that's rather sparse. Still I'm encouraged that I've identified these problems, that's the first step towards fixing them.

For now I have nearly finished editing this story. The part of my brain that does this is feeling fairly knackered, but I think I'm almost done. It's good to be at this point.

18 October 2014

Captain's Holiday

Episode: s3, ep19

I like that this is called Captain's Holiday as opposed to Captain's Vacation. Being English that is what Picard would call it. Except that he's French... and the French for holiday is vacances... so it doesn't actually make sense. But I still like it.

What Happens
Aliens turn up at Risa, a resort full of scantily-clad people (not a mainstream Midlands nightclub full of scantily-clad girls). They are looking for Picard. He's not there and he's not expected. They resolve to wait.
Picard and Troi return from difficult negotiations, Picard is grumpier than usual. Troi reckons he should a rest, as do Dr Crusher and Riker. All three try to get him to take a holiday. None of them listen to what he might enjoy in a holiday, and insist he must have fun their way. Troi eventually threatens him with her mother, and realising he'll get no peace Picard agrees to go to Risa as suggested.
Picard arrives at Risa and a lady trying to escape a Ferengi kisses him then leaves. He tries to read by and keeps being interrupted by female employees. It turns out a souvenir Riker asked him to pick up -a Horgon- is a sign that you are looking for adult fun times. Picard hides the Horgon and is bothered by a Ferengi who wants him to give a menacing message to a woman about a disc. Picard is annoyed, says he's got no idea about it and sends him away. Then the kissing lady, Vash, shows up, she's the one with the disc and is trying to avoid the Ferengi. Picard talks to her a bit and the Ferengi sees them together and believes Picard is her associate. She slips the disc into Picard's pocket. In his room Picard is approached by the carpet-wearing aliens, who are from the future and are looking for a legendary artifact that was stolen and sent back in time. They have records staying Picard will find it on Risa, he agrees to return it to them if he finds it.
Picard gets pulled into a treasure hunt. Vash, the Ferengi and the time travelling aliens all want the McGuffin. The disc contains research from an academic Vash may have worked with, pinpointing its location. She and Picard set out to find it in some caves. They get friendlier and whilst camping have sex (one assumes). The Ferengi catches up to them in the morning and makes them dig for the McGuffin. Then the future-aliens arrive to claim it. It turns out that neither Picard nor Vash have been completely honest with each other. They dig for ages but can't find it, it must be lost and the future-records are wrong.
Picard prepares to leave but visits Vash before he does. He reckons she found the McGuffin a while ago and concocted the whole hunt to throw everyone else off the scent. She reveals it's hidden in a Horgon. The time-travelling aliens arrive, but there's doubt that they're the rightful owners. Picard, having planned for this, gets the Enterprise to destroy it using the transporter. Vash and Picard say their goodbyes and Picard returns to the ship.

Guest Star
The Ferengi is played by Max Grodenchik, who plays Rom in Deep Space 9. When they use Ferengi actors (well Max Grodenchik and Armin Shimmerman mostly) I can tell it's the same actor. In this case the character is different enough that I didn't sense any resemblance to Rom. Of course this Ferengi is unlikeable (as per the TNG policy on Ferengi). Really it's a testament to the characterisation on DS9 that a race designed to be sneaky, greedy and often creepy are characters you care about. I believe this is the first time we see Ferengi misogyny in action. I don't think there had been any Ferengis and women on screen together in Star Trek up to this point. I had the uncomfortable feeling, based on the mannerisms, that there was also an unpleasant stereotype going on here. I guess it works in a villain.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard's grumpiness is worse than ever, as is his stubbornness when people badger him to take a holiday. Though it is irritating when everyone rejects your ideas for having fun and insists you do it their way. So what if Picard wants to attend lectures, do something cultural, or read? Personally that sounds like a pretty good holiday. When threatened with non-stop prodding, and the spectre of Lwxana Troi, Picard agrees to try somewhere relaxing instead of interesting.
I think this is the first time Picard has a love life on screen.We know he has exes, meaning that (unlike Kirk) the women he's been involved with survive, and have lives of their own. I guess Picard attracts a more successful type of love interest. In fact if your character is going to have episodic relationships this is a reasonable way to do it. They aren't always there cos they've got their own stuff going on and it's not a committed, codependent arrangement. More sincere than someone apparently being the love of your life then disappearing.*
The episode also plays into Picard's idea of himself as cultural, and the reality where he's unable to miss out on adventure. I was confused that Picard's love of archaeology didn't feature more prominently since it's an Indiana Jones type of story, and Picard really really likes old stuff. But as the McGuffin is from the future it probably doesn't interest him. Plus he's really the archeologist's love interest here.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management ...and prankster
Picard usurps Riker's normal role here by fulfilling two of the above descriptors (while still being senior management). Picard is never actually like Riker in the episode, even if he's got the kind of plot Riker usually gets.
Riker is very familiar with Risa, and the Horgon system. He goes on and on about the women of Risa. To the point where Troi (who is a very easy going ex) suggests he's been going on about these women more than necessary. Apparently in Riker's world sex is a mandatory holiday activity. Riker pranks Picard, first by suggesting Risa at all, and second by tricking him into getting a Horgon. As it turns out Picard can get women all by himself... as long as there's camping involved.

Doctor Doctor
Beverly obviously enjoys having the power to order Picard to do things, but she's too professional to do that. Or maybe it's because she knows he'll resent it and be super grumpy.

Klingon Warrior
Worf wants to send a security officer with the Captain. Seems a little over the top, but suggesting this sort of thing is Worf's job. This is another time when no one listens to Worf's security concerns, and yet again they turn out to be valid. As we will discover in DS9 Worf really doesn't get Risa, though his presence there does highlight the need for security.

Vash and the Crystal McGuffin
Vash is basically a female Indiana Jones. Making Picard one of those women who turn up, help out and then returns to their own lives, while the protagonist is off having more adventures. Of course being male and the main character Picard is allowed to be much more competent and useful, plus we see his viewpoint.
Certain types of film have taught me that if you go off on an unexpected adventure with a stranger, and you don't quite trust them, then you have to sleep with them (unless you both work in law enforcement). So I guess this episode is fully compliant with the standard convention.

Planet of...Paradise Resort
Risa is a paradise resort complete with female employees who will provide erotic massage and presumably other sexual services. These ladies can be summoned by a wooden statuette called a Horgon (which does the opposite of what the name would suggest). It's a bit like restaurants where the waiters keep bringing you meat until you flip over a coaster, but with sexual favours. It's never once made clear whether there are male employees who provide similar services, but if there are then they must have a different system in place.

Transporter Magic
So the transporters can make things explode if certain setting are used and prepped in advance. That seems useful, perhaps it'd be worth remembering.

Future Fashion
The costume designers were issued a challenge, how short can you make a mini dress so that it'll cover all of the buttocks but none of the legs? They flirt with that line quite a bit in Risa. Though they had the same challenge with Picard's shirt.
As seen above the time travelling aliens are overdressed, apparently wearing layers of glittery carpet. Perhaps they are from a more modest/cooler time?

Even in the 24th century jodhpurs are de rigeur for archaeological-type adventures.

The End
Picard returns to the Enterprise. Gives Riker the Horgon and threatens to have a chat with him about it. Troi asks if it was relaxing and Riker is happily smug that Picard had a good time. There's no real joke here, it's lighthearted but not cheesy, and a little pointless.

*Did Kirk airlock all those girls or disintegrate them?

14 October 2014

Real Life, contains rats

Apologies for the gap between posts.

I've been desperately trying to finish a short story, which didn't want to stay short. Also I got 3 pet rats, which was pretty distracting. I've not had rats before, though I've long wanted some. These are adults that I got from family who're short on space. We're all getting used to our new living arrangements (which involved rearranging our spare room), but the rats are fun.

The books posts will be slowing down for a while. After FantasyCon I have a load of review copies to read, so I'll be focusing on those for a while. I'm sure I can think of stuff to post instead. You wanna see more rat pictures, right?

1 October 2014


Episode: s3, ep 18

What Happens
Picard is kidnapped by a Monolith, which leaves a replica in his place. He's taken to a strange cell already occupied by a green-skinned Star Fleet cadet and a grey-skinned bureaucrat. They've tried to escape but were punished by a painful beam. Beds and discs of 'food' are available but there's nothing else for their comfort. Their captors haven't shown themselves.
On the Enterprise pseudo-Picard carries on mostly as normal, able to pick up where actual-Picard left off. He changes of ship's courses and sends them slowly to a pulsar. Pseudo-Picard tells Riker that this is one of those times when he can't be open about his reasons for doing things and Riker accepts this. Later pseudo-Picard drops in on a senior crew poker game, gives Geordi extra orders and has an odd chat with Troi. He invites Dr Crusher to dinner in his quarters.
A 4th cellmate appears, a hairy, toothy, bestial fellow from a race without laws. He can't eat the food discs (though how does he immediately know they're poison, maybe they just taste gross) it's suggested he could resort to cannibalism in a few days, meaning swift escape is vital. Picard tries to figure out how to escape as each cellmate throws around distrust, paranoia and accusations. Each is riled by aspects of he others' personality. All are accused of being a collaborator or a plant.
He and Beverly have a dinner date, he seems to be playing games with her emotions, which she calls him on. Riker starts to worry about the Captain's behaviour and has a word with him but is rebuffed. Then pseudo-Picard goes to 10 Forward and sings with the crew. Riker knows something is wrong and discusses it with senior crew.
In the cell Picard gets everyone working together to get the door open, only to find a solid wall behind it.
The most fabulous forcefield
Picard suggests this is all just an experiment. He identifies the green girl as the plant because she knew stuff about his recent missions that a cadet wouldn't know (I noticed he was suspicious that she knew too much, but assumed she was from a different time). She splits into 3 bulbous-headed aliens, who were doing a psychological experiment. They're telepathic and don't understand other types of communication. Picard orders them to return everyone. He materialises on the the Enterprise Bridge with one of the bulbous-headed guys just as Riker is accusing pseudo-Picard, who also turns into a bulbous-headed alien. Using eye contact a message is sent around the Bridge while the aliens go on about how primitive they all are. Worf drops a pink forcefield, trapping the aliens, trapping them. They complain that they cannot stand captivity. Picard points out that that's rich and sends them on their way with a warning.

Oh Captain My Captain
In a captive situation Picard automatically takes command, which is naturally accepted by the cadet. The other two (real) cellmates are opposites of each other and need either pushing along or reigning in. Picard uses his speeching powers to stop everyone from bickering and threatening each other. He tries to hold himself above the recriminations, but does get involved in some of the distrust, before pointing out that there's nothing they can do about it, so they might as well work together.
Psuedo-Picard seems to have all of Picard's memories, that's presumably what the Monolith scanned him for before taking him. No one notices anything different at first, he gives slightly odd orders, but there's nothing in his manner to undermine him. It's only as the replica deviates from Picard's behaviour that people become suspicious. This has happened before, back in series 1 when the Captain got possessed by that glow cloud (all hail the glow cloud). Plus there was that time a load of admirals got taken over by brain lice. Though here there's never a reason why the duplicate slowly takes them to the pulsar and then gets too close. It looked like it might be building to something, but it never did. Was it just a random test? The motives of the creature pretending to be Picard are never clear and so it's actions don't make sense. The pulsar seemed like it was only there to provide a flashy lighting effect for the confrontation scene.
The like doubling up on Patrick Stewart's roles in. It's at least the 2nd time he's appeared as 2 versions of Picard. The only other person who's close to that so far is Brent Spiner who played Lore as well as Data.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
Here Riker has to mediate between the crew and Captain. He's the main person to be suspicious of Picard's behaviour because he's probably the crew member who spends most time with Picard. His initial acceptance of Picard's secrecy works because the duplicate does what Picard would do and tells Riker there's stuff going on that he can't tell him about. However when pseudo-Picard won't address Riker's concern it rings alarm bells with Riker. As 1st Officer it's his responsibility to protect the Captain, but also to protect the crew from a Captain who may be compromised. He gathers senior staff to discuss the situation. At the end pseudo-Picard's lack of concern for crew safety is the proof Riker needs.

Doctor Doctor
Pseudo-Picard asking for a physical early surprises Dr Crusher, he's normally very reluctant about it. Does this mean the duplicate is checking it's disguise? Beverly is only a little surprised that the Captain invites her to an intimate dinner in his quarters. The dinner gets a bit odd when he brings up the topic of their relationship and the choices they've made in the past. She tells him that their relative positions do stop them getting closer, but she's also happy with their current relationship. I'm glad she knows what she wants from him and is open about it. He asks her to dance and kisses her, which is clearly weird and not respecting of what she just told him. She suggests he's playing games with her. He swiftly suggests the evening is finished, ushers her out and leaves her confused in the corridor. When Riker raises his concerns Crusher mentions how strange it is that the results of the Captain's physical are identical to last time.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Pseudo-Picard takes Troi out of the poker game to ask how the crew feel toward him and his mysterious orders. She answers that no one is worried. He asks her to let him know if their feelings of trust towards him shift. She agrees, but is concerned that he's even asking. It's clear that she can't sense that he's a duplicate, which you'd think would be a handy use for her powers. Then again she had no idea Picard had been possessed by a space cloud before, even when talking to him about it.

Planets of...
Bureaucratic Pacifists and Bestial Anarchists
It is of course wrong to take a single individual from a group and judge the entire group by the behaviour and characteristics of that individual... unless you're using an alien on a sci-fi TV show, in which case it's standard operating procedure. The important thing is that aliens conform entirely to a type (whichever type you should need for your plot), and that type can be very quickly summed up by their appearance, actions and some brief dialogue. The grey-skinned guy is pompous and a coward, his species are known for being collaborators and simply do whatever is the most peaceable option. This of course means they have no courage, rather than acting from a moral or cultural standpoint. He also likes to meditate, which I assume plays into some kind of stereotype.
The bestial guy has big tusk-fangs, is all hairy, growly and aggressive, and it's never quite clear whether he's actually willing to resort to eating his cellmates. His people have no laws, are very violent and apparently care for no one. Picard calls him an anarchist (cos that's what anarchy is kids). Somehow his people have managed to survive without any social codes, or more likely no one outside can tell what those social codes are. I kinda feel as though he actually is what the show sometimes presents Klingons as. He and the grey-skinned guy have nothing but contempt for each other. Good thing there's a moderate, middle-of-the-road human around to balance these conflicting and equally wrong ideologies individuals.
It was a little annoying that the only female character in the cell scenes turned out to be the deceiver. Plus she wasn't even real, just a disguise for some males. Well, the gender of the bulbous-headed aliens is never confirmed, but they're played by male actors and their body type looks male, so that seems to be how they're coded. I suppose in the original series Kirk would have flirted with her and probably had sex with her, where Picard treats all his cellmates according to their actions as opposed to gender. Though she is the only one that considers herself inferior to any of the others, seeing as Picard is a famous Captain and she's just a cadet. She's also the one who seems to get most upset by things. Although she gives as good as she gets when the accusations are flying.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Pseudo-Picard calls Riker to his ready room to explain that he'll have to keep him in the dark for a few days. Riker has no qualms, these things happen.
2. Riker calls senior staff to his quarters for a secret meeting about why the Captain is being so weird. Everyone mentions something odd he's done. Data mentions the weird energy detected in the Captain's quarters before. Worf says they don't have enough evidence to mutiny. Riker says that's not what the meeting is about and ultimately decides to do nothing yet. Seems unlike Riker, but he's so loyal to Picard.

The End
Aliens dealt with Picard hopes his duplicate didn't cause trouble. Riker says it was convincing but he doesn't think the Captain is such a good singer. Picard is confused and perhaps slightly alarmed. Dr Crusher comes to the Bridge (presumably not aware of the whole duplicate thing?) and smiles at Picard in a way that makes him nervous. He orders the ship to its next destination.
I think this is meant to be lighthearted, not sure if it's actually supposed to be comical. I didn't find it particularly funny, but at least it wasn't cheesy.
When your boss tries to be one of the guys, by singing