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