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.