22 December 2015

Happy Christmas

Oops, I have been a bad blogger again and neglected to update, again.

December has been a really busy month at work due partly to increased demand, but also to there being absences and such. Plus prepping for Christmas take a bit of time and energy. These are excuses and really I should be better prepared, but that's why there's been no update for a few weeks. I'm off work now until the new year so will try to get some posts stored up and get back to updating regularly. I've realised that this year hasn't been so good for regular updates as previous ones. I'll try to do better.

I'm not religious any more (haven't been since I was child, when I was technically Anglican), but I do celebrate Christmas in a secular way with my husband who isn't religious, and my family who are a mixture of Christian, Atheist and Agnostic. We usually have a fairly quiet Christmas which involves eating traditional food and watching various Christmas films. Plenty of time for blogging amongst that.

Happy Christmas!
Best wishes whether you are celebrating or not.

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Here's a terrible picture of me being an elf the other week when I was volunteering at a community event. I do not take many selfies, you can probably tell.

3 December 2015

The Loss

Episode: s4, ep 10

I think this episode is trying to do something good, I don't know how much it succeeds. There's serious stuff amongst the levity again I'm afraid.

What Happens
Troi is counselling a recent widow who is proud (even smug) about keeping herself busy and positive. Troi points out that she's avoiding her feelings and gets her to express her grief. Troi has a headache and goes a little blank as her patient is leaving. On the Bridge Worf momentarily thinks he detects something, then same thing happens to Data. When they try to move the ship stalls, and it turns out they're being dragged through space by something. Any attempts to move away make the ship judder. As the headache worsens Troi calls Crusher about it, but sickbay is busy with those injured by the stalling starship.
Crusher tries to help Troi, and suggests she rests, but a senior staff meeting is called and even though Troi feels foggy they both go. In the meeting Troi realises that not only can't she sense anything outside, she cant sense anything at all. Crusher finds brain damage which has stopped Troi's empathic abilities. Crusher suggests Troi needs counselling and Troi gets grumpy about it. Riker offers to lend an ear and Troi angrily points out that people treat the afflicted differently. Meanwhile Geordi and Data tap consoles and realise that the ship is surrounded by 2D stuff that's not been seen before. Troi tells her widowed patient that she's lost her empathy. The widow spent a night crying and says she feels much better. Troi tries to point out that that's not how it works, but her patient says she's wrong and Troi can't sense her feelings so she believes her.
Data and Geordi explain that 2D things (possibly lifeforms) are dragging the ship along in a cluster. Troi takes it personally when Geordi says it's a shame they can't tell if the 2D things are sentient. Troi tells Crusher she can't work any more, ignores Crusher's reassurance and accuses her of neglecting her medically. Troi tells Picard she wants to resign because she can't do her job and Picard tries to reassure her but she shuts down his inspirational-disabled-person story. Riker visits Troi and comforts her a bit, but when she gets angry with him he points out that she's just on equal footing with everyone else now. Further attempts to escape the 2D things don't work and make the ship shake. Guinan talks to Troi in 10 Forward, says she want to apply for vacant Counsellor post because it's like being a bartender. Troi points out why it's different before seeing what Guinan is doing.
The Enterprise is being pulled towards a big, glowy, purple space string that's very dangerous because gravity. With 7 hours to go Worf suggests shooting the 2D things, which doesn't work. Troi's patient visits her and admits she was hiding her grief again, confirming the Troi was right. Picard tells Troi how bad the string situation is and asks her to help Data figure out why 2D things are pulling them towards string. Data suggests 2D things have simple intelligence and Troi says maybe they're going towards string like a moth to a flame. If they're acting on instinct they can look at things a different way. With little time to spare Data tells Picard they can mimic the vibrations of the string behind the ship so hopefully the 2D things will go in opposite direction. They do this and the 2D things slow down or stop or something happens to free the Enterprise. As they fly away Troi senses that the 2D things weren't going to be destroyed by the string, it was the place they most wanted to be. (I think this is meant to be comforting, but it's still kinda like the moth thing, and just because they feel happy about it there's no definite indication that they weren't about to get fried or crushed.)
Troi explains that the strength of the 2D things' emotions was so strong she got short-circuited. She apologises to Crusher, who says therapists (and doctors) make the worst patients. Guinan tells Troi she was just being human and asks if Counsellor's job is still free.

Riker: adventurer, middle-management, ex
Riker tries to offer support to Deanna and keeps talking to her even after he is rebuffed. I suspect that their closeness is partly why Deanna lashes out at Riker so early. In some respects it can be easier to do that with people who are close, especially in a setting where she has to keep a professional relationship with most people. Plus I could understand that she fears and/or resents a change in attitude from Riker more than from others. When he later accuses her of being biased towards her Betazed (Betazoid?) half I'm not sure whether he's exercising some tough love or just getting pissed off at her. I mean she called him out about walking on eggshells around her, so is he doing the opposite on purpose? Alternatively, from the way he talks about the advantages her empathy gives her, I could see this being something that he actually thinks and maybe something that has bothered him in the past. Either way, when Troi gets upset he offers a shoulder (or should that be chest) to cry on.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
This episode is trying to explore some important things and I feel unqualified to comment on how well it does that. I'm sure that I've been guilty of some of the ableist stuff mentioned here, and though I try to be aware and do better I don't have personally useful insight into these issues. I suspect this could be something that some people find helpful and others don't. If anyone has important stuff to raise on this I welcome feedback in the comments, for now I'm just saying what I've noticed. I'm going to split this section because I generally aim to keep these posts light, but there is heavier stuff to say.
The Frivolous Bit: This is the most time Deanna has spent in her office in any episode. It's good to have an episode focusing on her career and professional standing. I joke about her moonlighting as Picard's PA, but when we see her she's usually sitting next to him on the Bridge, a place I suspect most Counsellors don't spend a lot of time. Picard even mentions that he's advantaged by having an empathic Counsellor. I get the feeling that Deanna has been relying pretty heavily on her empathy to do her job. Obviously she's trained in psychology, so even without her empathy she understands people's reactions, but because she can't feel it she doubts herself. Of course her advantage helps her to help people so that's good, but at least we see she's got knowledge and skills to back that up. While it's odd that Troi is being grumpy and defensive I almost feel like the tension could be heightened. If you suddenly felt like everyone around you was less real wouldn't you be more unpleasant to them? (Isn't that a problem with the internet?) Though this is TNG and it is not a show that enjoys sass or strength of (negative) feeling, so snapping at your friends is probably about right.

The Serious Bit: I think this is an exploration of ableism and how people without disabilities try to make things better for themselves at the expense of the disabled. Troi has some good points about how able-bodied/neurotypical people can treat the disabled differently and she does call out some crap in this area. Picard's placating crap about how disabled people can find compensations for their condition, or else make super inspiring anecdotes needed to be countered. Though since Picard mentions blind people I'm kind of surprised Geordi doesn't feature more in this plotline, seems like he would have a useful perspective. I think this episode is also showing how distressing suffering a loss like this can be. It is clear all the way through that Deanna has lost her self-confidence, and she's experiencing fear as well as anger. The word disability is used by Deanna and her situation is described like the loss of a physical ability, but it could be seen as an analogy for mental health problems too. Having said this I get a feeling that there are some ways in which this episode is not great in its handling of these themes. The main one is that Deanna is magically cured before the end of the episode, even her intense headaches are only at the beginning. While her fear over spending the rest of her life in what she sees as a diminished state is very real and powerful, she's suddenly fine so there's no real repercussions. Given the episodic nature of the show I think it's clear that this would happen, which does rather undercut the message. Phew, thank goodness that's over, no need for more character development! I have seen people angered by characters getting 'miracle cures' on more serialised and serious TV shows (Matthew's magic spine from Downton Abbey leaps to mind). It's like TV shows want to include disability (which is good), but only to the point that it isn't inconvenient (which is bad). Witnessing long term disability -especially one that causes ongoing pain- would be such a drag after all, let's just chat about it and leave it at that.
The other thing that occurred to me is that Riker might be right about Deanna's attitude towards humans. I certainly don't think it's conscious and she's never condescending to anyone about it, but this episode does make it clear that living as all humans do is unacceptable to her. I hope this doesn't seem like I'm making light of the exploration of disability here, but I do feel that another way of reading of this episode is that it's about someone losing a privilege. Deanna has an advantage over others that helps in her work and her life, and of course it's distressing to lose that, but all it does is put her on an equal footing with everyone else. I don't think that this was entirely intended by the writers, it's not explored much, but I think it is a way of looking at what's happening here.

Hat reminiscent of Farscape's Pilot
Guinan's Hat: Blue
While being a counsellor is definitely different to being a bartender, I do think that Guinan could totally do it (not any bartender mind, Guinan). She describes herself as coming from a race of listeners, and she is often able to get people thinking about themselves/their situation in a different way. Like how she does it here, with the counsellor. Also she's amazing! I mean she can sense when Q's coming (which Troi can't). While her powers are less well-defined than even Troi's nebulous empathy (which at least has a name), I'm pretty sure she's like a Time Lord-Jedi so that's cool.

Girl Talk
Troi talks to Ensign Brooks, it's partly about her husband's death, but mostly about the Ensign's feelings and how she's coping. This is Troi doing the job that she loves and helping someone. Troi talks to Crusher about her health and even though they're friends Crusher doesn't baulk at giving bad news. It's a mix of professionalism and care and Crusher displays a lot of tolerance for Troi's reactions. Guinan discusses the counsellor's role with Troi in what seems to be a discussion about Guinan's career aspirations, but is really a way of getting Troi to realise her abilities.
I think this episode has about 6 different scenes that pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test, with 4 different women! (The Test is actually a low bar and not by any means a gold standard, it's just presented that way because so few things even achieve the low bar.) That seems like tonnes compared to most episodes of this show (or indeed episodes of many things that are on TV even 25 years later). This was done simply by having the A-plot focus on a woman and having some of the other people she interacts with also be women, it's not tricky.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Senior staff are called (and we actually hear the announcement in this episode). They discuss the fact that the ship is being pulled along by something they can't sense. Troi realises she's lost her empathic abilities.
2. Geordi and Data explain about 2D things, which couldn't be detected by sensors before because they were looking at them along their edge, in the dimension they don't have. The ship is trapped in a cluster of what could be lifeforms because of gravity or fields or something. No one is sure if the 2D things know the ship is there. Troi takes speculation about the situation as a comment on her current failings -which is not how it was intended- and storms out.
3. Picard calls Troi and asks her to help Data, she takes a bit of convincing but Picard points out that even if she can't sense what's going on she still has psychological insights which may well help.

Death by Space Misadventure
Ensign Brook's husband died in an accident. The details aren't specified, but clearly this kind of thing happens in space. It's interesting that it's all about her grief and how she's dealing with that. It's the emotional reaction of the woman not the death of her husband that's important. It's counter to certain common Hollywood tropes, being about feelings not action or vengeance.

The End
The episode ends with a bit of banter between Riker and Troi, and a moment where it looks like they might kiss, though it might have been a joke. What's going on with these guys?

22 November 2015

Final Mission

Episode: s4, ep 9

Survival is more important than questions about magical fountains.

What Happens
Picard is going to mediate a dispute between some aggressive miners. First he tells Wesley that a place has opened up at the Academy and Wesley will be admitted in 2 weeks. A planet in another system sends a distress signal, an unknown ship has appeared in their orbit and is leaking huge amounts of radiation. As ever there's not another ship nearby, so Picard orders Riker to go help the planet. A small mining shuttle collects Picard and Wesley before the Enterprise leaves.  The shuttle has various malfunctions and has to crash land on a moon.
Moon of Hats!
The shuttle crashes into a desert and when it turns out that the shuttle captain, Dirgo, has no rations Picard insists they trek to the distant mountains. Meanwhile theEnterprise discovers that the radiation ship is an unmanned junker and will need to be taken through an asteroid field and sent into the nearby sun. The radiation levels are dangerously high on the planet and put the Enterprise crew in danger too. The miners contact the Enterprise to say that Picard and Wesley never arrived. Riker says they can't go and help search until they've dealt with the radiation. Crusher organises her medical team to help on the planet. Geordi is wary about towing the radiation ship and suggests using drones to steer it remotely. It's a good idea, but one drone detaches and trying to move the ship causes more damage and more radiation. They will have to tow it even though it's dangerous.
As Picard, Wesley and Dirgo hike to the mountains Wesley's modified tricorder picks up an odd energy reading coming from the mountains. He doesn't know what it is, but they don't have any choice about their destination. They find a cave with a fountain that's protected by a forcefield. Dirgo tries blasting it with his phaser, which makes an aggressive, swooshing light appear and shake the cave. Dirgo ignores this, and Picard's orders for him to stop, until the light swooshing light knocks his phaser out of his hand. Picard pushes Wesley away from falling rocks and is hit by them himself. Later Wesley is checking Picard's wounds, and Dirgo reckons the Captain is a goner. Picard quietly tells Wesley that he will have to keep Dirgo in line while he figures out how to get the water. Wesley doesn't want to face the fact that Picard might die. Dirgo uses Wesley's fears for Picard to make the Ensign help him shoot at the forcefield again. This results in Dirgo being attacked by the swooshing light and encased in a hard, transparent substance. Wesley tells Picard that Dirgo is dead and as the Captain moves in and out of consciousness Wesley tells him that since coming on the Enterprise he's lived his life entirely to make Picard proud of him.
The Enterprise tows the radiation ship through the asteroids towards the sun. Radiation levels get higher on board and approach critical levels. Power is diverted to the shields and the tractor beam, but any attempt to speed up destablises the beam. Crusher has most of the crew moved to the middle of the ship. The miners say they've started looking for the missing shuttle, but they don't have a lot of ships that can search, they ask the Enterprise to come soon. Eventually they clear the asteroid belt, with just seconds left before the radiation would have become lethal. Once the toxic load is headed for the sun they go to search for their missing crew.
Picard tells Wesley to seek out the Academy groundskeeper, a very wise (and presumably long-lived) individual who helped Picard when he was there. The Captain tells Wesley that he's always been proud of him. Wesley desperately promises to save Picard. He examines the fountain and the energy coming of it, then activates the forcefield with his phaser. The swooshing light appears and Wesley halts it by frantically pressing keys on his tricorder. It fluctuates a bit and then swooshes through Wesley without visibly harming him. When he turns around the forcefield disappears and he's able to collect water for Picard. Later Wesley is woken by his relieved mother as the search team finds them.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard does his whole stern headteacher act when giving Wesley the news about the Academy, it's actually kind of nice. The Captain has assured the Academy that Wesley is capable of catching up on what he's missed. It sounds like the Academy backfill places rather than having a second intake - what happened to the person whose place Wesley is filling? Picard is respectful of shuttle captain Dirgo, and gets respect in return. He may share Wesley and Geordi's snobbery about the small, rough vessel, but he isn't rude enough to show it. Later Picard gets firm with Dirgo because it's a survival situation and that's the priority. He's a little appalled that Dirgo doesn't have emergency rations and later that he's been sneaking alcohol, which is awful for drinking in this situation, but useful for other stuff.
After he's injured Picard accepts that he may not survive and focuses on giving advice to Wesley. He's in and out of consciousness for a while, but hears Wesley's confession and gives him the validation he's been craving.

Doctor Doctor
Dr Crusher asks the planet about radiation levels and sickness, then briefs her team about making and distributing anti-radiation medicine to areas on planet affected. She asks them to coordinate with medical teams on the planet, this kind of cooperation shows respect. When Troi tells her that Wes and Picard are still missing Beverly is very worried, but focuses on her lifesaving work. When the Enterprise has to tow the radiation ship anti-radiation medicine is pumped through the vents (I assume that's Crusher's idea, or at least came from her team, though that isn't specified). As the radiation levels increase towards the point where the medicine can't help, she orders that non-essential crew and family members be contained within internal corridors to limit their exposure.

Blind Engineering
Geordi was bemused by Dirgo's efficiency modifications to his ship, but he tells Picard it'll be safe. Clearly he was very wrong (and again the other Engineers all seem to be... um, wherever it is that they go). He's clearly bemused by the mining shuttle with it's non-standard modifications, and though his comments to Dirgo are fairly neutral he's clearly giggling about it with Wesley.
I actually understood Geordi's solution to moving the radiation barge. This almost never happens (admittedly I've largely stopped trying). Towing is very dangerous, so send a drone to do it remotely. Makes sense. Turns out it doesn't work (the first solution never does), but I understood what was happening. The towing scene doesn't seem very dramatic because the radiation is invisible and though the ship is being pushed to its limits everyone is being calm and professional about everything.

He's late to see Picard at the start because he was doing a volatile experiment, do all the kids and/or Ensigns on the ship get to do whatever volatile experiments they like? Wesley has also been studying how outpost legal decisions affect Federation law, so Picard thinks the mining dispute will be useful. Though it turns out it's kind of an excuse for a trip. Wesley is snobby to Dirgo about his shuttle, which is unnecessarily rude. Wesley then gets defensive about Picard and his orders whenever Dirgo is doubtful, which I think embarrasses Picard a little.
Wesley doesn't want to accept that Picard could die. As a doctor's son he's firm with Dirgo about applying pressure to Picard's wounds, but can't keep Dirgo in line elsewhere. It's not surprising as Dirgo is a stubborn adult who's not used to taking orders. Wesley wants to investigate further but as Dirgo wants action so he rides roughshod over Wesley's objections and uses the lad's concern for Picard against him.
Wesley tells Picard that all the stuff he's been doing since he's been on the Enterprise is to make the Captain proud of him. On the one hand it's kind of sweet that Wesley has been so inspired by his role model. On the other it seems a bit odd that Wesley has done so much (excelling at school, extra study, experiments, working on the ship, becoming a crew member, applying to the Academy) just to make one man proud of him. Picard has never placed any such requirements on Wesley; though he and the other crew had always encouraged Wes, it seemed to stem from his own ambition. Did Wesley actually want to do any of that stuff for himself? If not then this nice moment takes on a weird edge, but given who smart/exceptional/precocious Wesley is I can see he would've been a problem if he hadn't been kept occupied. I can understand that Wesley views Picard as a father figure, the Captain is friends with both of Wesley's parents and is the one who brought Pa Crusher's body home after he died. I feel like Wesley may have gone a bit overboard in a way that might not have happened had his father still been around. Picard doesn't seem to have much to do with Wesley's upbringing (which is absolutely fair enough, they aren't related). I hope that Beverly had a word with Wesley at some point about taking on too much, or doing things for himself sometimes.

Future Is Better
As Captain, and sole operator, of a mining shuttle Dirgo seems to fulfil various US working class stereotypes. At least I think that's what happening, my main sources are admittedly US TV and film, but I see similarities here with other depictions of/stereotypes about working class people. The Enterprise and most of its crew have always struck me as being very middle class. Wesley is initially amused by Dirgo and his crappy little ship, which just comes across as snobby.
Dirgo himself is proud of his ship and the work he does, and defensive about his limited resources, which is fair enough. This episode shows just a glimpse of the differences between those living on Starships and those who live and work in more dangerous/less privileged situations.  Dirgo starts out thinking Picard isn't tough because he's is formal and a Starship Captain, so he won't be able to cope with a load of rough miners. Picard being English/French (I don't think it really matters which in this context) probably adds to that. Dirgo by contrast seems straightforward, a working man doing his job as best he can, ignoring the giggles of those posh Federation folk with all their resources. The episode goes on to show him as stubborn, impatient, crafty (for the sake of booze no less), argumentative and unwilling to accept what he doesn't understand. In an episode (and a show) full of officers and diplomats it's a shame that Dirgo is the main antagonistic character here. I mean a lot of the words I've used to describe him are lazy stereotypes, but that's how Dirgo is. Plus, as we never see or hear from any of the miners (just someone reporting their messages asking the Enterprise for help because they don't have good enough ships), Dirgo is basically representative of all of them. The main other thing we hear about them is that they are prone to violence, the image of the Undeserving Poor just paints itself really. I don't think there's any attempt to examine anything here, just the writers wanted a working class character and this is what they came up with. He's never malicious but the fact that his own stubbornness and ignorance get him killed feels patronising and off.

No Magic Here
On a desert moon there are mountains, in the mountains is a naturally-formed cave with naturally- formed steps and a naturally-formed entrance tunnel that's conveniently shaped like a doorway. I guess that the naturally-formed fountain is protected by a naturally-formed forcefield and a naturally-formed creepy spirit thing? Hmm, actually I'm pretty sure this is a magic cave with a magic fountain. Why is it guarded by something that looks like it should be living in the Ark of the Covenant and melting the faces off of Nazis. Plus the guardian can somehow encase people and things in an amber-like substance. I realise that survival takes precedence, but no one seems the slightest bit curious about what's going on here. Is it the remains of a forgotten-but-advanced civilisation? Is it a manifestation of a lifeform unlike any encountered before? Is it an alien who's just curious and wants to be friends but doesn't know how? Seriously this is Star Trek, it must be one those!
I know Wesley keeps mentioning energy fields and electrically-deposited something-or-other and scans the hell out of everything, but that doesn't answer my questions. I was kind of hoping it would be the Fountain of Youth, or a healing fountain maybe, which I suppose it might have been because Picard was on death's doorstep. It's odd that after carefully testing the forcefield and the swooshy guardian and defeating them with button pushes Wesley doesn't stop to check that is just water. It could have been anything.

Near-Death by Space Misadventure
Everyone and their families has to huddle together in corridors on specific decks. Just standing there waiting to get radiation sickness. Join Star Fleet today!

Actual Death by Space Misadventure
Dirgo, a mining shuttle captain who logged ten thousand hours of flight time. While it is true that his stubbornness and impatience contributed to his death, it is also true that he didn't have the Federation resources that might have prevented it. Assuming of course that he is dead and not just magically frozen or something. Maybe if a handsome prince happens by in a hundred years...

The End
While being carried out of the cave on a stretcher Picard tells Wesley that he will be missed.

15 November 2015

The Best of All Possible Worlds

This is the first book I've read by this author, and I really enjoyed it.

The Best of All Possible Worlds
Karen Lord

My version has the hummingbird cover, but the elephant one is also cool.
The Sadiri home-world was destroyed leaving the galaxy's elite diminished and scattered. Many refugees were taken in by Cygnus Beta, a planet that has always been accepting of exiles and refugees. Councillor Dllenahkh is a leader in this new, mostly male, Sadiri community. Grace Delarua is a Biotechnician and translator working for the government in the area where the Sadiri have settled. They devise a scientific mission that involves travelling around the diverse and varied communities of Cygnus Beta, searching for communities that might wish to follow Sadiri ways, or women who have Sadiri traits and might be willing to become wives and mothers of the next generation. The missions faces various adventures and set backs and even a few disasters. Meanwhile Delarua discovers bad history within her own family and some surprising capabilities within herself. Growing closer to the Sadiri, especially Dllenahkh, she learns to see through their emotional restraint and they learn to accept their new environment while overcoming their reduced circumstamces.

Delarua is so great, I love her. The bulk of the book is told from her point of view and I found her narrative voice very easy to get along with. She's confident and competent in her work, she has a fun manner and a good sense of humour. She's mostly cheerful and positive with her friends, clearly loyal and kind of protective to those who mean a lot to her. It's clear she cares greatly about her family, even though that turns out to be a source of pain and conflict within the story. She's not perfect though, like anyone she's capable of focusing on her own flaws and failings. She can overlook or diminish her own accomplishments and achievements. She's happy to help others but wary of asking for/accepting help because she fears being a burden on anyone. She seemed like precisely the sort of person I might want to be friends with, but might equally be a bit intimidated about approaching. Plus a lot of her internal irritation at herself seems familiar to me. Dllenhkh is also  good character, we see shorter sections of his viewpoint, which makes sense as he's less open and effusive than Delarua. Despite this the book gradually uncovers a deep well of feeling within him that is compelling.

The tour of the planet is interesting because it displays so many varied kinds of societies and cultures. That shouldn't be surprising really (just look at our planet now), but I think I'd gotten used to the SF shorthand 'planet of hats' trope, where each planet/nation/species/race displays a single type or quality. At the end of the book the author explicitly states that she was basing the the varied cultures of the planet on the Caribbean. I knew that I didn't know much about the Caribbean, but that was a moment that made me realise the depths of my ignorance while also piquing my interest. Within the world of the book the reader is given glimpses of things that have a wider unseen context. I think the word 'matriarchy' is only mentioned once, and it's not a big thing in context, just a passing comment. I realised that quite a few of the cultures we're shown seen seemed to be equal or matriarchal, but it's not in your face, or making a point, it's just background. That makes sense, why would someone who'd always lived in a matriarchy find it something worth commenting on? There is much mention of different types of people, and it was never explained because the characters never needed to explain it to each other, that's the way their world is. I got the impression that various groups that are mentioned are all different types of human from different worlds, and can be considered akin to ethnic/racial groups or heredities, but with different types of abilities. Of course I could be very wrong as I was just picking up on hints.. There's a lot of world around the edges of the story we see here, which is great. The focus isn't on those edges but there's just enough details or mystery to intrigue. The occasional references to Terra (Earth, I assume) were enigmatic, and I felt sure that I was getting only a glimpse of something. In fact I could see potential for lots of different stories on different scales to what we get here, and it's both clever and tantalising.

The central story itself was really rewarding. In some respect it's a bit strange to have a scientific mission focusing on what is essentially a search for genetically suitable wives. There could easily be something off with this concept, but Lord avoids any creepy eugenics tone. It is clear that the Sadiri have little choice but to find new (and creative) solutions for their civilisation, and this is just one option. There's no denigration of those who are different to the Sadiri, nothing imperial or controlling about the project. If anything looks like it could go that way Delarua and her Cygnian colleagues would shut it down fast. With so many cultures that have varied social structures, including polyamory and selective breeding, a different approach is not something that is hard for everyone to understand. The set up initially seemed like the kind of scientific mission that gets interrupted by something else which turns out to be the true focus of the plot (like in a certain TV show I have written many reviews of on this very blog). Except that here the scientific mission is the focus of the plot. Though things often don't go smoothly, and at times are actually disastrous, that is all part of the mission itself. It's a series of adventures -like you might get in sci-fi TV- some linked to place, some to circumstance/events and some to character background. Some are resolved in a fairly short time, others have deep and underlying consequences that ripple through the story and beyond. Throughout all this the core of the story is seeing this group of characters who have been thrown together in a professional capacity grow into a strong group with friendships and romantic tensions.

I would like to talk about the romantic tensions for a moment, because it turns out that this book has exactly the kind of thing I like and didn't realise I needed in my life. This isn't a romance story and it certainly isn't erotica (not that there is anything wrong with either of those genres). It's a science fiction story which has a strong character-focus and it turns out that certain of those characters are in love. I liked that there was an established married couple on the mission, because it's nice to see stable, long-term relationships represented. Then there is a blooming romance which grows, without the characters quite realising at first, between someone who has various issues in that area and someone whose culture is emotionally restrained. I loved that so much! Also I've had issues and can be a bit restrained, so it was great to see that neither character was shamed for who or what they were. I loved that both had good intentions and no one was trying to 'win' or get control. That it was just two people whose circumstances took a while to line up was brilliant. I love slow-burn romances! When done well I find them so much more satisfying and effective than characters falling in love (or into bed) in a sudden, emotional whirlwind. Now this is just my own preference, and one I'm only gradually coming to realise (my own slow-burn romance with slow-burn romances, perhaps?) Also I really prefer romances where people are nice to each other and support and show respect, not that everything has to be all sweetness and light all the time, but it really helps if no one involved is behaving like a jerk.

I consider myself more of a fantasy reader than a science fiction one, but I realise that I may well have a slightly blinkered view of science fiction as a genre of writing. If this is the kind of thing that's out there then I would like more please (not that my to-read pile isn't big enough as it is - I went to a convention last month). So if anyone has any recommendations of stories like this, or ones that contain the type of romances I was just talking about, I would be glad to hear them.

5 November 2015

Future Imperfect

Episode: s4, ep 8

A direct sequel to a series 1 episode you might have seen and one that feels kind of formulaic.

What Happens
It's Riker's birthday and he has a trombone and candles, but no cake which is surely the best part. Data and Picard are about to join the party when one of the Bridge B-team (who we don't normally see) calls Data over. The Enterprise is being probed by a nearby planet and so Picard calls Riker from his own party because an away team is needed and apparently only Riker knows how those work. Riker, Geordi and Worf beam down but there's interference that makes beaming back hard. As the toxic gas on the planet makes the away team lose consciousness the Enterprise tries to beam them back but its more difficult than it should be.
Riker awakes in sickbay where Crusher asks if he remembers her and calls him Captain. He's been in a coma for ten days, but has lost his memories of the last 16 years. She explains that he caught a virus on the planet that remained dormant for years but has merged with his DNA and removed all of his memories since the point of infection. He is now Captain of the Enterprise, Data is his First Officer, there are Klingons besides Worf onboard (though we don't see them) and a Ferengi Ensign. Picard is an Admiral now and he and Troi are escorting a Romulan Abassador to sign a peace treaty that Riker helped negotiate. He also has a son he can't remember at all and his forgotten wife died 2 years earlier. Riker isn't certain about going ahead with all this stuff he can't remember, especially when he discovers the Romulan Ambassador is the Enterprise's former foe Tomalak. Admiral Picard insists that they will support Riker through this. When Riker voices his suspicions he is called to sickbay because his son has been mildly injured. Riker tries to bond with his son, Jean-Luc (yeah, I know), aware of how odd the situation is. He curiously looks at pictures of his wife, and recognises her as Minuet. That's when he gets angry, goes to the Bridge and yells at everyone. He knows none of it is real.
Insubordinate Riker is fun
The holodeck projection disappears leaving Riker with Tomalak, who reveals that he's in a secret Romulan base. The Romulans scanned his memory for info, and when they couldn't find tactical secrets they used his memories to create a fake-future situation where "Captain" Riker would tell them what they wanted to know. Riker figured it out because the Computer was slow and his "wife" Minuet was never real, just a holodeck projection he created in series 1. The whole set-up doesn't make sense to Riker (or me), but ignoring his questions the Romulans throw him in a cell with the boy whose image was used for his son. The scared child tells Riker he found a hiding place on a previous escape attempt. They knock out the Romulans that come to take Riker away and the kid shows him a large vent to hide behind. It leads to a series of tunnels and caves that are underneath the Romulan base. It looks surprisingly comfortable, but Riker is determined to signal the Enterprise. The boy warns that Ambassador Tomalak controls the comms and Riker is immediately suspicious. It sounds like the Romulans are coming, but Riker realises he's in another fake environment.
It turns out he and the boy are alone in a cave which has neural scanners embedded in the rocks, which are probably powered by magic or something. Unless it's the kid who is magic, I'm not sure.
Riker contacts the Enterprise, confirms that he is fine and so are Geordi and Worf who were beamed back successfully. The boy says he was left there by his mother, to keep him safe. Their people were attacked by enemies and so the mother created this sanctuary for her child to hide in, but she knew she was being pursued so she drew them away. The boy just wanted company so he kept Riker on the planet and used the neural scanners to create a world Riker would want to stay in. The boy reveals his alien face and Riker offers to take him back to the Enterprise so he won't be alone.

Don't trust him, look at his beard!
Oh Admiral My Admiral
Picard's facial hair should have been a clue that something was up. Only Riker and Sisko (to my knowledge thus far) are allowed to grow facial hair and not be the evil versions of themselves. This is one of the more accurate aged-up versions of Patrick Stewart I've seen, the hair is the main difference.

Riker: husband, father, Captain
The trombone is back and it's like a whole thing. Just in case you had forgotten that Riker played the trombone that one time in a series 1 episode and that apparently equals a hobby. In fact if you haven't seen 11001001 then this episode will probably seem even more random as it's basically a sequel. Riker gets what he's always wanted, a promotion without having to leave the Enterprise (and without Picard dying). It's telling that when Beverly wants to take him somewhere familiar to jog his memory he insists on going to the Bridge instead of his quarters because "My life was on the main Bridge. Always has been". That's kind of sad really, especially as I think Riker's supposed to be the "cool" member of command staff. He's quite the workaholic, no wonder no one else can organise an away team, bet he doesn't give them chance. I think that's why he and Troi didn't work out, though she's always on that Bridge too (despite having an office elsewhere), so perhaps the real question is why it takes so long for them to get back together? Riker doesn't seem to have accounted for the fact that after a 16 year memory gap he doesn't have the slightest clue what's going on. At least he's embarrassed when everyone stares at him for doing nonsensical stuff.
What sport was this kid even playing?
The whole thing with the dead wife and the unexpected son is perhaps less part of Riker's ideal future, but of course the little alien boy wanted a daddy so badly, or something. Riker realises how weird and potentially damaging this situation is for his kid and tries to create a bond, which is of course what the kid wants. Though it seems a little odd to tell his kid that the last he can remember he was in a place where he wasn't sure if he even wanted a kid. The legacy of Pa Riker the jerk still lingers. No reason is ever given for why the little alien boy chose Riker, unless it was just that Riker was the one left behind (not sure how much control the kid had over who could beam away, I kind of thought he was controlling everything). Come to that no reason is given why the kid pretends to be Riker's son, could just have easily been a daughter seeing as how it was all shape-shifting.

Counsellor to the Admiralty
As with Crusher the future Troi has a little grey in her hair and wears it up now. That's what happens when women get older in Star Trek, I guess? I'm not surprised "Admiral" Picard asked for Troi to come with him when he changed role, she'd been his unofficial secretary for years. Troi is the one who tells Riker about his wife "Min" (that was a clue!), who was also the ship's counsellor. I'm guess the alien kid realised Riker has a type.

Future Ain't Better
I don't understand why Riker refers to his wife as Mrs Riker, William T. Um, I know he doesn't know what it is yet, but she will have her own damn first name! He immediately assumes they were married, presumably because they had a kid, which doesn't have to be the case at all (unless you're a Captain maybe?). Then he uses a form of address that's kinda old-fashioned nowadays (admittedly my family tend to use Mr & Mrs D when addressing letters to me and my husband -lord knows why- but I have only once in my life heard someone in real life vocally call a woman by her husband's full name, and that was an old, posh lady). At first I hoped the computer was failing to find her details because his wife wasn't actually called William. I appreciate it's being done so as not to mess with the reveal, but it seems bizarrely conservative for the future.
I honestly don't understand the mores of relationships and family in Star Trek. I get the impression it wants to be progressive and in a previous episode Troi has mentioned the idea of a man marrying a woman because he impregnated her as primitive, but here there's no question that Riker wouldn't be married to the mother of his son. Just like when Lwxana Troi was really horny and that meant she had to find a husband, for no clearly explained reason. It's all confusingly old-fashioned and vague, but I guess it was made in the early 90s, so there's that.
If it was Nog *that* would be impressive

That there is a Ferengi Ensign on the Star Fleet flagship in the fake future might seem prescient. At this point I'm guessing Nog (the first Ferengi to join Star Fleet) has never even met a humon. Also Geordi not needing his visor any more is another good prediction. Of course it's all a bit less impressive when you realise that this was an episode full of things the writers later realised they could use. Not that I'm knocking it, that's pretty sensible, but not a cause for amazement.

Staff Meetings: 1
1. Riker expresses suspicions about Tomalak, Picard and Troi try to reassure him. When he keeps asking questions he is called away by a convenient emergency.

Near-Death by Space Misadventure
Riker (2nd in command), Geordi (Chief Engineer) and Worf (Security Chief) all nearly die from poisonous gases on a planet that probably wasn't a good place for humans and Klingons to go. Turns out the planet not only had toxic gas but also interfered with the transporters.
None of these away teams go down with space suits or breathing equipment, ever! They also don't seem to send probes down first to check the atmosphere and pressure. They don't even do a test-transport with a plant or an animal to make sure that there's nothing blocking the systems. Not that we see anyway. They just beam people down and it always seems to be fine, except for this one time when everyone is almost asphyxiated. Bet they won't be wearing space suits next time though. Just as everyone you meet is a biped it seems like every planet you encounter has Earth-like pressure and atmosphere. If away teams were so expendable that you could just chuck 'em down on a planet to see if the air is breathable they wouldn't be staffed by senior crew.

The End
Riker beams away from the planet holding hands with the little alien kid. I assume we never hear of him again.

Does the shapeshifting alien kid take Riker's place and use his memories to impersonate him? My guess is no, not at all, but that would have been really interesting.

31 October 2015

FantasyCon 2015

This time last week I was in the middle of FantasyCon 2015 in Nottingham, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society. It was a really marvellous time. I'm only posting this late because of my own failings (been feeling a bit odd and tired this last week).

This year's con really had a great atmosphere and for once I really felt like I hit the right mix of socialising and going to panels and events. Dave and I got to see and talk to a lot of friends we only usually see at conventions, and there was a lovely, unexpected appearance from some friends who live locally. I also got to talk to people I've not met or chatted to before. There were a few people I could have spoken to more, but I certainly did some nodding and smiling to people in corridors. I'm not going to list names, because that would probably make for dull reading plus I would almost certainly forget someone and would feel very bad about that. If we did end up having a natter at FantasyCon then believe me I enjoyed it and it all contributed to a great weekend.

This is our haul of (mostly) free books

The programme was a fairly traditional mixture of panels, reading, launches and signings. There were various good panel discussions, including one on using history in fantasy and another about podcasting and audio books. I enjoyed seeing Juliet E. McKenna interview Brandon Sanderson as they are both authors whose work I enjoy. I attended a couple of useful workshops and fun readings (mostly featuring Emma and Peter Newman now that I think of it). Plus the book launch of Heide Goody and Iain Grant's Hellzapoppin' which featured a monk robe and audience participation in the reading. I also moderated a panel for the first time, it was about screen and script writing and the panellists were all very knowledgeable and had a lot to say, which made things easy for me.

Finally much congrats should go to the con organisers and the redcloaks, these volunteers all made sure everything ran smoothly and did a brilliant job.  I'm aware there were a few venue issues in the background, but as an attendee you couldn't tell. Also thanks to Al, who is a great giver of pep talks. We left before the BFS awards ceremony, which was a slight shame as I was a juror for two of the categories and it does feel nice to be involved.

My post on FantasyCon in 2014 can be found here.

15 October 2015


Episode: s4, ep 7

This episode follows on from the events of two previous episodes. Blimey, it's like this show has story arcs or summat.

Also it is super hard to find pictures from a Trek episode called "Reunion", I have scrolled through so many convention photos of the actors.

What Happens
A Klingon ship intercepts the Enterprise and Picard is hailed by K'Ehleyr, Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. She is also Worf's ex-lover who we first encountered in The Emissary (still not of Bajor). Worf asks Picard not to make him go and meet her, citing his discommendation from Sins of The Father as the reason he shouldn't approach other Klingons. Picard doesn't accept this and orders him to do his duty. K'Ehleyr arrives with a small child, he seems to be Worf's son.
K'Ehleyr tells the senior crew that the Klingon Empire is heading for civil war because the Council leader is dying and he's come to meet with Picard. The Captain goes to see the old leader, who wants Picard to mediate between his potential successors and find out which one poisoned him. Poisoning is very un-Klingon, so whoever
did it can't succeed. Worf tells Picard it's probably Duras, the guy whose family reputation Worf protected by accepting the discommendation. Picard tells Worf he's going to investigate and mediate as asked, it's like he forgot Duras tried to have them both killed that time. Neither potential leader is happy that Picard is involved and want to get it done quick. Picard takes K'Ehleyr's advice on stretching things out. A bomb goes off, and kills two Klingons, but no one with a name or anything.
Worf spends time with the boy, Alexander. K'Ehleyr tries to get Worf to acknowledge Alexander, but Worf refuses because his dishonour will pass to his son. K'Ehleyr explains her reasons for not telling Worf, but she's realised that she does want to be with him after all. When Worf still refuses she questions him about the discommendation, but he won't tell her anything. She tries to ask Picard, but he won't tell her anything either. Gowron tries to extort K'Ehleyr, making him seem suspect. The bomb was a Romulan design, which is shocking as Romulans are deadly enemies of the Klingons, though Duras's father betrayed his people to them (which is what Worf and Picard helped cover up before).
K'Ehleyr looks into what happened when the Enterprise went to the Klingon council. She finds various records sealed by Duras. He learns that she was looking into things and confronts her. Worf brings Alexander to her quarters and finds K'Ehleyr dying. She says it wasn't Gowron and after the medical team arrives Worf leaves Alexander with them (and the corpse of his mother) and goes to Duras's ship for revenge. When Riker and Data arrive Worf kills Duras in front of them, as is his right as K'Ehleyr's mate. (Yes, that really is the word he uses to describe their relationship. And yes, I do think it's kind of dumb and sort of feel like she would've hated it)
Picard rebukes Worf over the killing, even though the Klingons have let it go. Worf explains why he's still not telling the truth about what happened. Worf acknowledges that he is Alexander's father then sends the boy to live with his foster-parents on Earth.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard ignores Worf's request not to greet K'Ehleyr and tells him to do his duty, which will be a theme of their conversations this episode. I don't know whether Picard knows about Worf and K'Ehleyr's history. On the one hand there's no reason he should and I'm sure he would publicly profess no interest in the matter. On the other hand if it is generally known (which it might not be, Worf's pretty private) I bet that Picard knows (like how teachers actually do know the playground gossip but usually pretend that they don't) and sends Worf to greet her anyway for laughs.
Picard's diplomatic skills are required, except that in actual fact Picard is meant to play detective. It turns out Klingons are very much against secret assassinations, which makes sense as part of their culture. As the mediator seems to be largely a ceremonial role I guess Picard was probably chosen as he's the only outsider who knows the true events surrounding Worf's discommendation, and his team were the ones that figured out what actually happened. I do find it odd that Picard keeps giving Duras the benefit of the doubt when he's already tried to secretly kill Picard and Worf once. Picard tells Worf that he won't hold Duras responsible for his father's treachery, but Duras arranged to have them killed all by himself. Picard even mentioned that earlier in the episode. Admittedly he doesn't know Gowron at all, but if assassination is generally anathema to Klingons then surely this history makes Duras the prime suspect?
Picard and K'Ehleyr cook up as many ways as they can to prolong the succession ritual, including resurrecting ancient ceremonial speeches. It sounds like a deeply tedious but effective way of stalling for time. It's clear K'Ehleyr enjoys the prospect of using stuffy Klingon rituals against other Klingons. I think Picard also enjoys bringing Worf along as a disruptive presence, which suggests he might not have been totally sincere earlier when he said he understood that Worf was uncomfortable around other Klingons.
At the end Picard has to reprimand Worf for killing Duras; it might have been legal under Klingon law, but Worf is an officer and must act according to Star Fleet rules. Picard mentions having crew from 13 different planets aboard, all with different belief systems* which he respects, but everyone has agreed to serve Starfleet. The Captain's view is that if their beliefs don't allow them to do that then they should resign. This is an interesting stance on people serving as part of a multicultural crew, and the intersection of duty and belief. Or it would be if we ever actually saw any of these other crew members or the issues they might face in the course of their work. As it is, almost everyone is human -even if they're from planets besides Earth- and they all seem to share the same basic moral background with only Worf providing an Othered viewpoint.

Klingon Warrior
It turns out Worf is a dad. When he sees Alexander his eyes widen (still not as bug-eyed as Gowron).
Though, how old is Alexander? The Emissary is at end of series 2, and this is early series 4. I don't know anything about Klingon gestation or child development, but I guess this isn't a one series = one year kind of deal or Alexander would still be a baby, surely. I don't always agree with his outlook on things, but I do feel really sorry for Worf here. That's no way for a person to find out they're a parent. Much as I really like K'Ehleyr I do think it was a dick move not telling Worf he has a child. Especially as she's so insistent for Worf to claim Alexander, and even tries to guilt him into it, despite the fact that that seemed to be the very thing she was avoiding by not telling him about the boy in the first place. I get that she wasn't sure about marriage, or being in a traditional Klingon family, or even Worf himself, but it does seem like she finally made up her mind and just expected Worf to go along with that. Plus even if she didn't want Worf involved in her life, she still could've told him. I assume he couldn't have married her without her permission, and even if Klingon custom/law allows for that she's a Federation Ambassador, there would be protections in place. Besides Worf is not the sort of person who would force someone to be his wife, she wouldn't like him if he was. Worf's reaction when K'Ehleyr dies shows the depths of his feelings for her. It's all terrible timing as I'm sure she could have eventually talked him round to being part of the family and he would have liked nothing more. Worf is good at self-sacrifice and avoiding happiness.
Worf sort of bonds with Alexander, but refuses to acknowledge him as he doesn't want Alexander to be tainted by his dishonour. K'Ehleyr makes clear that she wants Alexander to choose his own path, not to be bound by Klingon traditions, which seems to confuse Worf. That was always an area where they couldn't agree. Worf watches over Alexander at the playschool and shows the boy his bat'leth. You've mostly got to feel bad for Alexander here. His mother says he doesn't spend much time with other children, so presumably she's been dragging him around with her on diplomatic business. I don't suppose he has many other people in his life. He's introduced to a strange man who starts building a bond with him. Then he sees his mother die, the man scares him with a death roar then tells him to remember the moment (as if this is the kind of thing anyone would forget.) Then the man runs off as soon as the medical team arrive, and they largely ignore him to tend to his mother's body. Finally the man, who turns out to be his father, sends him off to live with strangers. Now we've already see that they're very nice strangers, with experience of raising a Klingon boy, but it's still a dreadful thing to happen. I assume K'Ehleyr's parents aren't around?
On the professional side of things Worf is uncomfortable being around other Klingons because of his dishonoured status, but he will do his duties as normal when ordered. I believe Picard does use Worf's status to disrupt things, but he also sticks up for Worf as a member of his crew. Picard and Worf are the only people who know the truth behind Worf's dishonour and they both keep it secret as agreed. At the end Picard suggests that Worf could reveal that his dishonour is false since there's no reason to protect Duras, but Worf continues to keep the secret for the sake of the rest of the Klingon Council. Plus it sounds as though he and his secret brother have a plan to change things later. Have they been plotting?

Gowron has the buggiest eyes of any Klingon

Staff Meetings: 5
1.  K'Ehleyr explains the Klingon situation and how she thinks it could affect the Federation. Then tells Picard that he has been invited to see the dying Klingon leader alone.
2. Picard and K'Ehleyr meet with the two candidates and tell them they will be using old, long version of the succession ceremony, it could take hours or days. The candidates are angry.
3. Senior staff and K'Ehleyr meet to discuss how a Romulan bomb was planted on a Klingon ship. There is concern that a Klingon-Roumlan alliance would drastically shift power balance and make problems for the Federation. K'Ehleyr reveals Gowron's suspect conversation with her.
4. Picard talks to the two candidates about the bomb and asks for the results of their investigations, you get the sense neither really tried very hard. Worf comes in deliver the results of the Enterprise's investigation, provoking immediate disgust and anger from both candidates. Picard insists on Worf's presence and when he mentions the Romulan connection both leave to check their findings.
5. Picard rebukes Worf for killing Duras and reminds him of his duty to Starfleet. Worf receives a reprimand in his record, but Picard is glad he doesn't resign. He sympathises about K'Ehleyr and asks if Worf wants to reveal the truth about his father.

Death by Space Misadventure   ...OK, more politics than misadventure, but it does happen in space.

Those 2 unnamed Klingon guys die in the bomb blast. The one who worked for Duras had the bomb embedded in his arm, so that was a suicide, but apparently taking an enemy with you is perfectly honourable in Klingon culture.

K'Ehleyr, Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire was murdered by Duras for poking into files that he'd sealed and figuring out the truth of a secret at the heart of the Empire. It's sad because I really liked K'Ehleyr, she was smart and confident and mostly cool. She and Worf were both outsiders in Klingon society, but whereas Worf reveres the culture and tradition that he grew up without K'Ehleyr rejects and mocks those parts of it she doesn't like or finds constraining, even while it's clear that she knows a lot about it. K'Ehleyr had a strong personality and she must have been pretty badass as she worked closely with the Empire despite being half-human and also while being a single mother.

The End
Worf admits to Alexander that he is his father and they hug before Alexander is sent away. Bit sad.

* Is it one belief system per planet? That can't be how it works, just look at Earth! Plus isn't the Federation made up of a lot of planets/species/cultures? In that circumstance only 13 planets seems kind of low. Or is he just referring to the crew from non-Federation planets, like Worf?

9 October 2015


We have Netflix now.*

My husband and I watched Sense8 after we had both heard a fairly detailed (but not spoiler) assessment of it from a friend, so in many ways I think we went in prepared for it's strengths and flaws. It does meander, and there are some iffy plot and dialogue moments. Generally some of it is a bit odd, but you really care about the characters and that's the beauty of it. Overall it is actually kind of great, but I could understand if it is not for everyone.

The premise is an interesting one. Nothing about it that strikes me as completely novel or unusual but now that I think of it I'm not aware of much that's like this on TV before. I can think of examples in books, but even them the idea is used very differently, mental bonding across spaces using being to do with a destiny or magic or to add to a plot, rather than being about so completely and intimately about the characters themselves.

I suppose what makes it feel different is the scale of  the differences between the characters. I like the idea of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures not only being featured but treated mostly equally (as far as I could tell, I'm sure I have blind spots in this area) as characters within the story. This is a TV show with global characters and setting, and that's something that would have been harder to do in previous decades and I suspect would have been treated in a very different way. I can see other shows handling a similar concept by doing a lot of fish-out-water stuff with the non-Western characters and their countries; othering them rather than showing their lived experience in their own terms. It is refreshing to see people and places explored with little assumption of which are 'normal'. Admittedly half of the linked characters are white -two Americans and two Europeans- and there's only one of each other ethnicity in the cluster. That said as each main character has their own complete lives outside of the cluster there's plenty of diversity in the cast as a whole.

It's also good for portraying non-heterosexual characters and the premise explores gender fluidity. Of the three cluster-members in relationships two are in same-sex relationships, and those are also the only two that are are happy relationships. The sexuality of two more cluster-members hasn't been defined yet. The idea of fluid sexuality is explored in the infamous 'psychic orgy' scenes, which weren't quite as explicit as I thought they might be. The two cluster-members who are physically having sex are doing so with same sex partners, an the cluster-members who are only involved mentally two are straight guys who are experiencing this without any sign of disgust about the other men involved (though Will later gets weird at Lito for suggesting they had sex - but he's the token straight, white American guy, so I guess that's cultural or something). The premise has the potential to play with notions of gender too. Nomi is a transwoman, which informs but does not singly define her arc. Everyone else is cis, but they all experience the physicality of the others regardless of gender. So far this has been used in comedic or shock-value ways. Lito experiences many of the symptoms of menstruation/PMT (PMT is a Western cultural concept and not a globally recognised thing btw), which is played for laughs and is perhaps a little overdone. Though saying that there is a sort of joy in seeing a man dealing with it and having no idea what's happening. There's also an odd moment when Riley has a vivid recollection/flashback to being pregnant and Will gets a baby bump - that was sort of odd. Still there's potential for further exploration of how this could impact gender.

What struck me when I first heard the premise is that in many ways it's a TV show that's using a fairly light (though interesting and useful) SF concept to explore the increased connectivity between the global population. I'm not massively social online (or elsewhere if I'm honest), but on twitter I do follow people from all over the world and so I will glean bits of info here and there about their lives (and that's with the language barrier of me being mono-lingual). Those more digitally sociable and outgoing than myself can easily end up with friends, supporters and collaborators across the globe. When viewed this way the slower paced getting-to-know-you conversations that the characters have between the fights and chases are central.

While you are initially trying to figure out where a conversation is taking place (and possibly what time it is) you soon realise that it is foolish to assign such physical concepts to interactions to are largely mental. Just as a Skype conversation cannot be said to be happening in one place (unless you're being lazy and Skyping someone from across the room), so the interactions between the senseate** characters are happening in different places and yet they are together. There has never been more opportunity to find like-minded people than there is today and emotional distances can be very small despite vast geography. Being that we are still in a period of transition (one that I expect could take place across a generation or so) there are still plenty of people who will insist the friends and connections made online aren't real. There is still much focus on the idea of 'real life' being offline, but this is something that I think is changing, even as our existing social structures are still ill-equipped to deal with it. With this is mind Sense8 is very relevant. Most scripted TV shows will make concessions to the digital world, Sense8 is the main one I can think of that is exploring it.

Spoilery Thoughts (which are likely to make little sense if you haven't seen the show)

I'm assuming Capheus has not seen those Jean-Claude Van Damme Coors adverts. I hope he never sees them.

Is Kala's fiancĂ© basically the nicest man in India? I think he might be. Breaking his heart would be like disappointing a particularly large-eyed puppy. I kind of feel like if she explained that she didn't love him he'd be pretty understanding, but then how terrible would Kala feel? She's a compassionate woman and can't handle this romcom situation.

Why would Nomi and Amanita hide in their own house for so long? Why wouldn't the people tracking Nomi not constantly watch their house? I know they figured no one would look for them there because its the last place people on the run would go, but there is a reason for that.

Poor Sun, all the men in her family are colossal jerks who do not deserve her.

I think I like Riley's dad more than her. I realise Riley's been through some crappy stuff and that probably influences the bad decisions she makes, but still I didn't warm to her so much. Also, is Riley an approved Icelandic name? It seems like they're pretty strict about that there.

I was so ready to be suspicious of Daniela, I really was. I'm not even sure why. It felt like she was fetishising Lito and Nando, but I guess the gender-switched version of that is a whole branch of the porn industry, and if they're fine with it that's the main thing.

That tough agent-guy's reaction when he thinks Amanita was on her period, so funny. He would not have acted that way if he thought she was bleeding from anywhere else. I swear some men are so phobic of menstrual blood and I don't even get why, it's not like it affects them. Admittedly I found the birth scenes a bit much, but that's a perfectly rational thing for me to be wary about.

Will is OK. In a less interesting show he'd be a really bland hero, he's mostly saved by the company he keeps. I'm not too bothered about him and Riley if I'm honest.

Wolfgang switches between me liking him and being uncertain about him. He's had a crappy upbringing too, but for some reason I feel better about some of his bad decisions than I do with Riley. Maybe it's because Wolfgang plans what he does, which considering the kind of things he does is probably worse from a moral standpoint.

The chemistry between Wolfgang and Kala is more interesting than Will and Riley, but I can't help feeling that he would be very bad for her in practice.

All the sex did not make make as uncomfortable as I thought it would. Not sure if it's because I kinda knew what to expect before watching or whether I'm growing as a person. Hopefully the latter.

I loved when they're all singing. So joyful!

*I must remember to cancel the Lovefilm subscription. Though Lovefilm (or Amazon thingamajig) is much better for films than Netflix but it's kinda crappy the way they handle TV series.

** I don't think it's spelled with an 8 in-world.

30 September 2015


Episode: s4, ep 6

This is like a series 1 or 2 episode and at this point I know the show can do better.

What Happens
The Enterprise receives a distress call from a malfunctioning freighter and arrives just as it explodes. The escape pod crashes onto a planet that is entirely bad neighbourhood; it's the lawless colony that Tasha Yar came from. The away team don't meet the violent response they expected, but they are intercepted by one of the two ruling factions, who say the escape pod landed in their enemies' territory. The faction offer to help retrieve the crew in exchange for weapons, Riker refuses and beams back. Picard isn't happy about things on the planet, but thinks that having already established contact they should keep in touch. The gang-leader does some homework and contacts the Enterprise, offering to help them rescue the crew-members for free. He sends as liaison Ishara Yar, sister of Tasha.
Ishara briefs the crew on the layout of the underground city and the methods of the rival gang. She expects their scepticism about her identity and offers to take a DNA test. One of the missing crew sends a broadcast saying their captors will kill them if they don't pay up. Ishara knows where the escape pod is and Geordi can use it to find where the crew are. A team beams to the pod and Ishara creates a distraction by setting off her enemies' alarms. She provides cover for the Star Fleet crew while Geordi tracks the captives. Riker has to save her. After the risks she took for them everyone is more accepting of Ishara and Dr Crusher confirms that she is Tasha's sister. Ishara calls Tasha a coward for leaving and Picard tells her about her sister's bravery.
The captives are hidden deep underground and Ishara can't lead them there because her gang-implant will alert the other faction. Data suggests a way the implant could be removed without harming her. Ishara and Data talk about Tasha and about how he makes friends. Ishara agrees to have her implant removed and says she'd like to join the Federation. The Enterpise shoots a hole in the planet (as you do) so the team can beam down near the captives. During the rescue Ishara goes to shut down the power supply for her rivals' security system. Data catches her and she reveals that her faction have people ready to move as soon as the security system goes down. Data can't let her do that as the Enterprise crew would be complicit in the resulting deaths and so he stops her. The crew members are rescued and Ishara is taken to the Enterprise. Ishara's leader demands she's returned and Picard sends her back despite Riker's preference for her to be punished. Ishara tells Data that their friendship wasn't entirely a lie.

Oh Captain, My Captain
The Enterprise was heading to an archaeological survey, and given how much Picard really likes old stuff I bet the detour to rescue some guys was an irritation. Picard's assessment of the factions running the planet is that they might have reasonable-sounding names but their behaviour is that of "urban street thugs". This is clearly something he takes a dim view of, as is missing out on archaeology no doubt.
When Ishara calls her sister a coward Picard tells her about the act of bravery that first brought Tasha to his notice. He also tells her about the bravery that led Tasha to her death. At the end Picard lets Ishara return without any further trouble. Riker queries the Captain's leniency, but Picard says they were all too quick to trust Ishara because she reminded them of Tasha and they all wanted to like her.

Riker: lover, adventure-junkie, middle-management
Riker and Data are dominating at the poker game. Riker shows Data a card trick, but Riker's hand is not faster than Data's eye and the android sees what he did. This means Data gets all the money even though Riker did complete the trick.
Riker leads all the away teams, as usual. When he puts himself in danger to rescue Ishara Picard has a stern word about taking unnecessary personal risks. I wonder if Riker enjoys taking these risks? Despite his senior position he's always on the away teams. Maybe that's why he won't accept the promotions they keep offering him? Captains are supposed to live safer than Riker does.
At the end of the episode Riker talks to Data about trust, vulnerability and balancing the benefits of closeness with the possibility of betrayal.

Does Not Compute
Ishara becomes particularly close to Data, as many visitors to the Enterprise do. You'd think having no emotions would put him at a social disadvantage, but humans seem drawn to it. She talks to him about Tasha and friendship. Data explains how his systems allow him to get accustomed to people, in what he claims is an facsimile of friendship. Data is the one who advocates most for Ishara and she tells him that she's thinking of joining Star Fleet. It's possible that in this case Data is chosen for his naivete, which is saddening. He's the one who discovers Ishara betrayal's and won't let her enact her plan, though she later tells him that their burgeoning friendship wasn't entirely a lie.
At the end Data tries to work through his feelings about Ishara by talking to Riker, all the while pretending it is just a learning experience and nothing to do with feelings that he obviously doesn't have. He claims that he's spared the emotional fallout of betrayal because he can't feel. I don't think Data realises he's lying, but he is. I am less and less convinced by Data's assertion that he doesn't feel, I believe he is repressing/deluding himself in that respect. I know what repression looks like and I suspect Data has told himself he can't feel anything and persists with this belief in the face of all evidence to the contrary. I can identify with that (of course I could be projecting). Either way, his reactions certainly seem like emotional ones, even if he wants to couch it all in computer terms. If you doubt this just look at Data's face at The End

Klingon Warrior
Worf is bad at bluffing (except for when he's not), which is why he's no good at poker. (Of course Troi was doing badly too and she apparently has the ability to tell when people are lying, except for when she can't, which is actually most of the time.) He is paranoid that Data and Riker are in cahoots, which is ridiculous because Data wouldn't do that. Of course this grumpy paranoia is entirely lacking later when Ishara starts to win everyone's trust. There's a moment when it looks like Worf may be questioning Ishara's idea to join Star Fleet, but he too is warmly respectful of her for her sister's sake. Picard is right that everyone desperately wants Ishara to be like Tasha. Still it's a bit disappointing in Worf as his job (and most frequently used character trait) is to see possible threats everywhere (and to be ignored by everyone regardless of whether his suggestions are sensible or not).
Worf warns about Dr Crusher going down to the planet, he's the only one in the whole episode to bring up the rape-gangs Tasha mentioned. His concern is well-meaning but it does single Crusher out as the only woman on the away team. There's no suggestion that anyone else is in particular danger, even though Riker is also weaker than Worf and Data, being just a human. Crusher refuses point blank to be put off, which is good. She has a job to do and is armed like everyone else.

Planet of... Urban Gangland Dystopia
What we see of the planet see is a shadowy, decaying underground city complete with random pipes that vent clouds of ominousness. We are told that the gangs are violent without actually seeing them do much. This is not to undermine Tasha's brief horror stories from series 1, but although Worf mentions rape gangs once as a security concern Ishara says nothing about that kind of thing and there's little sign of intimidation. Yes, people are shooting at each other, but it is basically a war-zone, plus the Star Fleet crew with their better phasers and undetected movement are actually more of a threat than anyone else. The gang we meet don't threaten the away team and they're stealing booze with the attitude of excitable teens rather than serious criminals. The main bad thing I noticed is that most of the non-speaking parts for gang members looked to have been filled by people of colour. Star Trek is meant to be progressive, but probably only for certain characters, everyone else can be damaging stereotypes, sure why not?
We are told part of the history of the place. Terrible unrest, civil disturbance, and weak government caused it to split from the Federation thirty years earlier. The last contact Star Fleet had was death threats issued 6 years earlier against any away teams that showed up. Isn't this kind of thing exactly what the Federation is there is prevent? I mean their totalitarian brand of utopianism surely means Star Fleet should have intervened when this place first started to go bad. After they've issued death threats to authority shouldn't that authority have swooped in with their starships? (I'm not saying I think that's the best way to react at all, it just seems like the kind of thing Star Fleet Admirals would do.) These are not pre-warp people, so there's no Prime Directive stopping anyone with enough authority from going in and forcing them to completely change their way of life.
I don't understand the present set-up. The gangs were originally issued with proximity sensors by the authorities, and took them as badges of membership, which makes sense. What I don't get is that now there are no authorities but the sensors still alert the gangs to each other's presence. Complex deceit involving an unexpected third party is required to be rid of one. Does it not occur to either of these gangs to just start recruiting people who don't have the sensors? I mean the government's been gone for over a decade (maybe two), how many more of those sensors can they even have? It doesn't make any sense.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Ishara explains the situation with the gangs. A message from the captives is received, and Ishara tells them to take it seriously. She reveals that she knows where the crashed escape pod is.
2. Data tells Picard that Ishara will have her implant removed and wants to come away with them. Troi says that Ishara has only ever known this way of life, but she can't tell if she's definitely trustworthy and insinuates that Data likes her.

The End
After talking to Riker about how he keeps thinking about Ishara, even though he apparently can't feel anything, Data stands alone in a corridor and looks down at the implant Ishara gave him. I don't care what he says, he is hurting.

This android is sad