30 April 2014

Promise of Blood

Promise of Blood
by Brian McClellan

General Tomas has just killed the King and his Council of Privileged magicians in a coup, to stop the country from being sold to their enemy the Kez. Now he and his powder mages must try to keep order in the nation and capital. Investigator Adamat is called in to find out what the dying words of the Privileged meant and later to discover who among his allies is trying to assassinate the General. Tomas's son Taniel, a legendary Powder Mage, is sent to track down and kill his old friend, the last of the King's Privileged. What he finds proves a greater and stranger threat to his father and the nation. Promise of Blood has magic, warfare, politics and myth and is an impressive open to a series.

Set in a world of revolution and gunpowder this story has a different setting and a different feel to a lot of secondary-world fantasy. The existence of gunpowder and muskets, not to mention magic-users who rely on them, changes the traditional sword-based epic fantasy dynamic. Adra is an early-modernish setting, which I found satisfying as it's a period I'm roughly familiar with. There's suggestion of a world beyond Adro and the Kez, and of a history that stretches back into the myths that many modern folk have dismissed.
The magic is interesting. Privileged are traditional wizards, with power over elements. They've long been part of the upper classes and are bound to the rulers of nations. Powder Mages are a newer kind of magic-user, discovered along with gunpowder. They snort gunpowder to gain strength, can direct bullets and explode powder. Their existence is a threat to the Privileged and in neighbouring Kez Powder Mages are hunted. Then there are people with Knacks, one magical skill that people are born with apparently at random (a bit like a mutant power). The investigator with a perfect memory and the bodyguard who doesn't need sleep are examples of the Knacked. One thing that is interesting (but I can't go into too much detail about) is how a very domestic seeming form of magic ends up being used very powerfully to affect large numbers of people.

Tomas, Adamat and Taniel are the main viewpoint characters, though we also see through the eyes of a servant who protects her young noble charge from the bloodshed of the revolution and its aftermath. Through Tomas we see the political, the weary, difficult, dangerous work of a man who tried to do what's best for his country and found its all more complex than he thought. From Adamat we see a street-level view of the capital, and its covert, criminal world. The investigator uncovers the motivations behind the key players in revolution and the sinister forces that lie behind that. His loyalties are torn between his work and the threat posed to his family. Taniel, who has been abroad on campaign for a while, and is quickly sent away from the capital again so he doesn't have to face his fiancee who cheated on him. He heads to a sacred mountain to hunt down his oldest friend, who may pose a threat to his father and discovers he's on the front line of a possible invasion, from armies and magic. The characters, viewpoint and otherwise, are all complex with understandable motivations and they have backstories that crop up naturally throughout the story. Adamat tries to do what's right and protect his family, while Tomas and Taniel have a chilly father-son relationship.

The story was engaging, although different to what I expected. I thought it would be more about warfare and was pleasantly surprised by the investigation and political plotlines. There was also more magic and mythology than I expected. The myths and legends of the area are spelled out gradually and are far more present than I -or most of the characters- would have expected. This is an interesting read that tells a good story and sets up interesting and surprising events for the next book in the sequence.

24 April 2014

The Price

Episode: s3, ep 8

Troi gets involved with a guy I think is sleazy, but she seems to like him for a while.

What Happens
Picard asks Troi join the guests looking at the wormhole. The premier of a planet has just discovered the first stable wormhole. She's holding negotiations on the Enterprise in the hopes that the wormhole will bring prosperity. The negotiators are mustached-human (Mendoza) for the Federation; a tall, big-headed guy for tall, big-headed aliens; a non-mustached-human (Ral) a freelance negotiator. Ral is accompanied by a woman everyone pretends they can't see, and Troi can't keep her eyes off him. Everyone watches the wormhole become visible. Unexpected Ferengi crash a meeting between the premier and negotiatiors and make an unneccessary fuss about chairs before offering to top anyone's offer.
Troi looks up Ral's personnel file, it's the Star Trek version of Googling him. Ral arrives, there's flirting and weird hair stroking and Ral invites himself back. When he comes back they skip dinner, though its faster than Troi normally goes. Picard, Mendoza, Riker and Data discuss the wormhole. Picard is concerned that the wormhole hasn't been tested yet and asks about sending a manned probe. The Ferengi doctor administers a poison that will give a severe -but non-lethal- allergic reaction to anyone who shakes the lead Ferengi's hand. He plans to go after Mendoza and later the Federation negotiatior collapses. The Ferengi demand to send a manned probe into the wormhole too. Picard orders Riker to take over negotiations for the Federation.
Geordi and Data go into the wormhole in a cramped pod, accompanied by a Ferengi pod. On the other side Data realises they aren't in the right place. The wormhole is supposed to come out in the gamma quadrant, but they're in the delta quadrant. Geordi, who can see the wormhole when it's not visible, sees that its being strange and they have to go back straight away. They warn the Ferengis to return, but they don't listen and after the Federation pod has gone they watch the wormhole zoom away from them. Ral and Troi get closer, and Ral confesses that he's secretly part-empath too. Ral is able to open up to Troi in a way he hasn't with other people. Troi and Crusher discuss quick and intense relationships. 
The tall negotiator pulls out, the wormhole will take up too much admin and resources. Riker asks if Fed can come to an agreement to add their resources to Fed bid, but tall alien already agreed to do that with Ral, which flummoxes Riker. Troi accuses Ral of using his empathy to gain an unfair advantage in his work. He says that she does the same because she uses her empathy for her ship's advantage because she doesn't announce her abilities to everyone they encounter. In 10 Froward Ral compliments Riker's skills then tries to rub his relationship with Deanna in Riker's face, but Riker just says she'd be good for Ral.
The Ferengi ship moves and is about to fire on the wormhole, destroying the pods in the process. Picard tries to stop them. Ral comes in and talks the lead Ferengi down by announcing he's won the bid and will give the Ferengi exclusive access. Troi announces that Ral is an empath and she thinks he's been using his abilities. She also points out that the exchange between him and the Ferengi was contrived. The pod returns with Data and Geordi; they announce that the wormhole is only stable on one end and that might destabilize eventually. Though the deal is bad Ral is philosophic, there are always risks and his clients know that.

Riker: adventurer, lover middle-management
Sometimes it seems like there's no new skill to which Riker can't apply himself. This week, negotiation. Turns out it's basically poker but with higher stakes, and no cards, and no chips, so Riker will be fine. I guess. As soon as Mendoza praises Riker's observation skills you figure he's going to have to take over.
Riker displays a very sensible attitude towards Deanna and Ral, he certainly better behaved than he has in the past. *cough*Haven*cough* Ral tries to use his relationship with Deanna to rile Riker, but as Riker points out he's fine with where he and Deanna are now, and if Ral brings her happiness that's fine by him. Riker also shrewdly points out that Ral could be improved by Deanna's influence, but doubts Ral will see that. I wonder if Ral's realisation at the end means he was influenced by Riker's words?

Blind Engineering
The wormhole is only visible every 233 minutes when the radiation builds up. Geordi is the only one who can see the wormhole all the time. This saves him and Data from being trapped in the delta quadrant.

Counsellor Pointless
Troi's empathy is useful in revealing the 'scene' between Ral and the Ferengi. She points out that neither was tense during the supposed standoff, as if they were reading a script. Ral is tense as soon as it looks like she's about to reveal his secret. Ral himself points out earlier that empathy isn't much different to simply reading a person, which is what I suspect Troi usually does.

Why I don't like Ral
1. When we first see him Ral has a mute, nameless, female on his arm like an ornament. How sleazy. He apparently sends her away after meeting Troi, she might as well have been a pair of cufflinks.
2. Ral criticises Deanna for being 'Counsellor' Troi, suggesting she is too devoted to her work. He's only just met her so I don't think he can judge, especially considering his devotion to his own work. He may also be using it as a distancing technique, trying to stop her finding out about him.
3. He's overly forward and the hair stroking is weird. I'm not even sure Troi enjoys it. Then he says he's coming round later and she doesn't say no, WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS YES! Stop promoting creepy/presumptuous behaviour as romantic, BAD TV!*
4. He suggests he used his empathy to influence her at first, which I don't think is right. Though Troi doesn't seem worried by that, so maybe among empaths that's fine?
5. Ral tries to rub his relationship with Deanna in Riker's face, after finding out that Riker is her ex.
6. When she raises the question of empath ethics in relation to his work he immediately turns it round on her. Not sure if he's defensive, trying to get the upper hand, or actually believes that. Still it seems like he must have a reason for keeping his empathy so secret.

Why their relationship works
1. Deanna's definitely attracted to him. Though is that because he used empathy to influence her?
2. His attitude towards her work may be a way of getting her to focus on herself as a person outside of her job. He says she must get tired of hearing others talk about their lives and doesn't want to add to that.
3. Ral makes Deanna happy. It's different to other relationships she's had, but she's enjoying it.
4. He is attentive to her. In one scene he's massaging her feet and offering to prolong negotiations so they can be together longer.
5. He makes himself vulnerable by telling her his secret. He says he felt isolated and hardened his heart until he met her, and he talks about himself and his family honestly, which I don't think he's used to doing.
6. He eventually realises that he wants to change, and it's being with her that has made him examine himself. He asks her to stay with him and help him change, he knows he needs her.

Planet of ... new wormhole
As a DS9 fan I may be biased, but the wormhole in this episode doesn't look as good as the one by Bajor. Of course this may be to do with changing special effects tech.
The Premier infodumps about her planet. "And as you all know"... why say it again then? The planet is inhospitable to most other races, which is why the negotiations are on the Enterprise. Their species have long relied on others. They have no natural resources. Not sure how that works? It's later revealed that they don't have manned spaceflight and discovered the wormhole with a probe. It sounds like they're pre-warp, so surely they should be left to themselves? Except they clearly know about the interstellar community, it sounds as though they've already had contact with space-faring races. They can't use the wormhole themselves, but the premier seems to think they can become prosperous selling the rights to it. It's actually really sad for her when it turns out to be no use. The episode doesn't seem to care about that, but I thought it was a shame.

Girl Talk
Deanna joins Beverley in a room with two parallel mirrors and they do, I dunno, some kind of exercising with stretching and hand holding. I don't know if there's another use for that room. They discuss Deanna's relationship with Ral. Deanna is happy and out of control and seems confused that there's nothing rational to their relationship. Beverly points out that you don't always need rational. Troi isn't used to this kind of relationship and asks if it's possible to fall in love in one day. Beverly says she did, but that relationship only lasted a week. It took months for her to figure it out with her husband. Troi considers whether she should slow down and catch her breath, but she and Beverly both say no. I think this means it's more serious for Ral than Troi. Nice as this chat-while-stretching is (I'm not sure if this is meant to be sexy, is it?) it definitely doesn't pass the Bechdel test as they're talking about men.

The End
Ral is leaving, he's been recalled to explain. He doesn't seem worried about his job, his employers understand the stakes and he's done good work for them before. He admits to Troi that he sensed the premier was going to go with the Federation so he did whatever he could to change that. He says he's examined himself and wants to change. He asks Troi to come with him and be his conscience. She says she already has a job as Counsellor.

It's cool that she knows what she wants and is proud of her work despite his initial criticism of it.

* I wish I could say that that was the 80s and today this doesn't happen, but it still does.

18 April 2014

The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear
by Patrick Rothfuss

This sequel to Name of the Wind returns us to the stories of Kvothe. The main narrative starts with Kvothe  studying at the University, barely able to scrape by financially and dealing with continued enmity from a rich student. He is encouraged to take a break and travels to another country to help a nobleman court his preferred bride. Events take a turn for the strange as Kvothe encounters a magical character from folklore and spends some time outside of the world. Further travel sees him tested by folk from a completely different culture to his own. Each event adds to the reputation and legend of Kvothe, which we have snippets of from the framing narrative, which also moves forward. The framing narrative is Kvothe, living incognito as an innkeeper, telling his own story to a chronicler who has tracked him down. They are joined by Bast, Kvothe's magical and mysterious friend.

This review gets a bit spoilery, just so you know.

This was a very long book, it had many pages and small print, but I got through it fairly quickly. Kvothe tells the story of his own life well, not surprising for someone raised as a musician and travelling performer. I didn't always agree with Kvothe's decisions or actions, but I always understood why he was doing what he did. There are references to the previous book, but not a lot and they information is dropped in fairly naturally. It had been a while since I read Name of the Wind, so a lot of the details weren't clear in my mind. Kvothe's story doesn't have quite the change in status and fortune as the last book did, but there are much stranger changes. Kvothe's life at the University involves Kvothe having friends for the first time, and a feeling that seems like home, even if Kvothe doesn't think of it that way. The magic learned at the university is a mixture of scholarship, engineering, science and medical training. I did love the descriptions of the University's huge and idiosyncratic library, or anywhere in this world that is where I would like to visit.

The book explores more of the world Rothfuss has created. Kvothe visit a country that is similar to the one where the University is, except that they are a lot more suspicious of magic. This shared culture and language is commented on a little, but the main change is that for the first time in his life Kvothe is living among the upper classes, as one of them. The real change comes when Kvothe takes an unexpected trip to the little-known mountain land of Adem, after learning some of their language and customs from a mercenary he travels with. Adem is entirely different to the countries Kvothe has previously travelled through, and Rothfuss has created a different kind of society, culture, language and even understanding of biology. It was interesting to see it through Kvothe's eyes, as he learns more.

There was one section that initially made me roll my eyes, when Kvothe runs off with a legendary sex-fairy. It did seem as though Kvothe's ability to overcome her wiles was a function of his status as Protagonist, he must've used a lot of plot points. However, as what I initially took to be a brief diversion went into more detail about the mystical other realm, and the events that took place there became more plot-relevant, I found myself enjoying it, and seeing that it did fit with the big -but so far vague- reputation Kvothe has later in his life.

Another slight niggle I had about worldbuilding comes from Kvothe's time in a very foreign culture that doesn't believe in fathers. Which is to say that they do not believe sex = babies and therefore have no concept or understanding of "man-mothers", which are known in other lands. Now, it's not unheard of for societies to believe that babymaking is something that women are able to do by themselves. This is found in various ancient cultures, so I got why the author wanted to use the idea. It was funny for a girl to point out to Kvothe how unconvincing his arguments for fathers were. However what is never mentioned, let alone explained, is how a culture with no sex taboo (which makes sense as they don't believe in conception) and no contraceptives actually operates. There's no suggestion that the women are pregnant a lot, and one has had sex loads without pregnancy, and I found that omission odd and unconvincing. I can understand the problems with trying to write modern sexual mores in a culture without reliable and easily accessible contraceptives, but it felt as though the author had just shrugged and decided not to cover that. Which I found bit odd, I was waiting for the explanation, especially as this section came after he'd managed to convince me about the validity and personality of the sex-fairy.

I liked the way that stories are using within the narrative. Of course the bulk of the story is Kvothe telling his own life to the Chronicler. There is also a story around that telling, as macabre creatures invade the life of a sleepy, rural community - who have no idea a legendary hero is in their midst, even when Kvothe tries to confess his true identity to a farm lad. Also there's Bast, now revealed to be from the other realm, he is able to comment on Kvothe's time there and add an extra dimension that that part of the tale. There are many stories within Kvothe's story, those told by travellers, some of which foreshadow what is come (the sex-fairy for example) and some which I suspect foreshadow later events in the series. Kvothe himself actively uses stories to boost his reputation, something that is less necessary after he does some truly incredible things. I also really liked that Kvothe entirely skips over a major part of his story because he finds it dull. The chronicler pulls him up on this, apparently his trial is amajot part of his legend and well renowned. Kvothe points out that in that case enough people know it, and from his point of view it was tedious. That subversion of the chronicler's expectations is great.

The Wise Man's Fear is a good book, with a great use of viewpoint and story. The writing is good and the characterisation is great. The plot is engaging, some unlikely events and their consequences are mixed with routine aspects of life in different settings and situations. The pace wasn't always fast, but that worked well, allowing the reader to settle down and get a bit comfortable in the less dramatic parts of Kvothe's life. The world is full of the ordinary and mysterious. The issues I raised above are small in the scheme of things and did not spoil my enjoyment of a fascinating read.

12 April 2014

The Enemy

Episode: s3, ep 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 April 2014

Noir Carnival

Noir Carnival
edited by K A Laity

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

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

3 April 2014

Booby Trap

Episode: s3, ep 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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