27 February 2016


Episode: s4, ep 14

I think the Red Dwarf version was funnier, but this is reasonable.

What Happens:
Picard has declared leisure time. Riker, Troi, Geordi and Worf are doing tai chi with various unnamed crewmembers, Crusher is putting some bulbs under a desk, and Picard and Guinan have finally arranged that holodeck session we've never heard them talk about. Guinan goes into the Dixon Hill programme, flashes her confusing, primitive suspenders at the holo-receptionist and eventually gets to see Picard with his trench coat and dodgy accent. There's a holo-shoot-out and Guinan questions Picard's idea of fun, so he explains the joy of a mystery and following clues (something makes me think this is foreshadowing). Data rings the holodeck on the holo-phone so as not to spoil the illusion or bother the imaginary people and tells Picard he needs to return to the Bridge. Even though every planetary system seems to have at least one Class M moon it turns out that whenever anyone notices a new one they have to stop and investigate. As they approach there's a small wormhole and everyone is knocked out except Data.
Everyone wakes up and Data says they were out for 30 seconds. The wormhole was a small, local one (not like those big corporate wormholes), so they aren't too far away from where they were, in star ship terms anyway. The planet they spotted before turns out to be the wrong kind now, Data says the initial scan must have been wrong. Troi feels uncomfortable. Crusher tells Picard that the moss that she was growing under a desk has had a day's growth. She's certain a day has passed, despite what Data says. After a meeting senior staff investigate without letting Data know, and Crusher discovers a day has definitely passed.
Picard confronts Data with the evidence and sends him to Engineering for a diagnostic with Geordi, which is awkward. Troi feels weird, Worf escorts her to her quarters then she freaks out because she sees someone else looking out of her face in the mirror. Crusher finds that Worf's wrist has been broken and repaired recently, suggesting that they were conscious during the missing day. Picard and Geordi find that the recent scan of the planet is a doctored image, they confront Data who is still unhelpful. Picard tries to order the truth from Data, but the android still refuses and seems willing to face a court martial over this, though it sounds like he thinks he's protecting everyone with his actions. Picard turns the ship around and goes back to the mystery planet.
Green energy from the planet goes to Troi and then she goes to Data and tells him in an alien voice that the ship needs to be destroyed. Data and whatever is steering Troi go to the Bridge and Data reveals that Picard himself ordered Data not to say anything. Data explains that the beings on the planet hate outsiders, so they usually knock out anyone who comes near then send them far away, making them think they've just gone through a wormhole. Data is the first being not affected their knock-out method, and he woke up everyone else. The aliens wanted to destroy the ship and didn't believe Picard's promise that over a thousand people could keep them a secret. The alien used Troi to break Worf's wrist. Picard agreed to let the aliens mind-wipe everyone (which took about a day) and ordered Data never to tell them what happened. Picard decides that the only problem with his initial plan was that they left too many clues, so this time everyone is ordered to remove the clues and the aliens are allowed to mind-wipe them again, so that everyone's now lost two days. When they wake again Data tells them it's only been 30 seconds and suggests the wormhole is harmful, Picard believes him and the ship moves on.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard's invited Guinan but not waited for her before starting so she has to go in on her own and is new to the whole thing. Picard explains the fun of a mystery to Guinan and while I think they're both good problem-solvers I suspect Picard enjoys an intellectual challenge whereas Guinan's happier with helping others, meaning this might not be the holodeck programme for her. Just when it looks like we might have to listen to Picard's bad US accent for more than five minutes Data intercedes.
It's cool that Picard immediately trusts Crusher. He asks questions about the moss to check the situation, but at no point does he doubt what Crusher is saying. Then he tries to give Data the benefit of the doubt, even though it's clear that he's either malfunctioning or deceiving them. Though Picard shouldn't have tried to out-logic Data, that's not going to work out. Picard also trusts Data enough to try and find out the truth rather than just do the logical, procedural thing and court-martial him, ruining his career.
Picard can decide that the entire ship should be mind wiped? By aliens who hate them for no reason and would be happier killing them? And he does this twice in as many days? I get that star ships are not meant to be democracies and that this episode highlights this to us without necessarily meaning to. I mean Star Fleet captains can be total dictators and make major decisions about the lives, bodies and minds of all on their ships, but I very much hope everyone on board knows that's the deal and gave consent in some way. While it's sensible of Picard to fix the clues to achieve a different outcome I question how much he's looked into the side-effects and health implications of mind wiping all these people. He's asked less questions about this than he did about Crusher's moss.

Does Not Compute
This episode would suggest that Data isn't very good at lying (which I'm not entirely sure I believe). The senior staff are all suspicious of Data, which must mean there's some serious intuition going on here because normally everyone just trusts Data (even strangers who've never met an android before, as demonstrated by the previous episode and various others). Picard didn't seem to think of this the first time, but I guess he's never asked Data to lie before. You would think that Data could use his knowledge of performance and fiction to figure out how to be more convincing. The second attempt suggests that it wouldn't have taken much for him to hide the truth. I guess this is an episode where Data is more in robot mode than becoming-a-person mode.
Data is so determined to follow Picard's orders that he continues to not tell Picard the truth even when it's likely that it could ruin his life. Though I guess he thinks he's not going to have any emotions about that if it happens. Data only reveals what he knows when the ship is in danger, which shows he's not just blindly following orders but is genuinely trying to protect everyone.

Doctor Doctor
Crusher's hobby is growing moss. It doesn't seem very cool, but I understand it's useful for medics to have a soothing hobby to de-stress from their work and this is hers. Plus Crusher has previously mentioned that her grandmother (or mother?) was a botanist, so I guess there's a family connection there. Crusher is really the one who discovers the mystery and does the investigating to prove her theory. This does mean there's some bio-babble, which to be fair is about as dull as the techno-babble, but it does have something to do with circadian rhythms, which I have heard of.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
First she has a terrible headache, then she has a terrifying moment when she sees another consciousness staring out of her face. Is that a memory? No one seems to investigate that, it's probably just there for heightening tension. Then an alien takes over her body and it turns out it's the second time it's happened in as many days. This kind of thing just seems to happen to Troi (and Data too, but he usually seems to have more choice about it).

Guinan's Hat: jaunty, early-20th Century
During Guinan's first trip to the holodeck she has issues remembering her character background and is irritated by they obstructive receptionist (wow, these futuristic games). We do get to see that Guinan is even wearing confusing, period-appropriate hosiery. Then when the action starts Guinan tries to get a holo-gangster to open up while he's threatening them, then there's gunfire, they have to duck and Picard is keen to investigate the holo-murder. Guinan questions how Picard has fun and I see her point.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Senior staff discuss what happened with the wormhole, Data suggests something very unlikely and Picard sends him away. Then the rest of the senior staff discuss whether they believe Data. No one is convinced and everyone wonders what really happened. Something could be wrong with Data. They investigate timeline but they don't want Data to know (which is smart after that time he hijacked the whole ship in about a minute.)
2. Picard presents Data with the evidence that it has been a day and sends a security offer to escort Data down to Engineering for diagnostics. Data is calm but not helpful.
3. Crusher shows the senior crew that Worf's wrist has been broken and fixed, suggesting they were conscious during the missing day. Worf points out that Data is one of the few people on the ship who could injure him. Picard, Riker, Crusher and Geordi discuss the idea that Data thinks he's protecting the ship and crew, which for some reasons suggests either that they lost something or got into a stalemate. Picard orders the ship back to the planet that started it all.

The End
After Picard orders a warning to be left before the Enterprise flies away there's a close-up on Data. Does he look a little satisfied?

16 February 2016

Devil's Due

I'm now half way through Star Trek: The Next Generation!
I did not quite expect this to take so long, but periods of regular posting have been interspersed with major gaps. I plan to do the rest quicker, if only because I'd like to finish TNG before the new Trek show starts (or at least airs in the UK). Anyway on to the episode!

Episode: s4, ep 13

Do you ever get the feeling that the interesting stuff is happening off screen?

What Happens
Data is playing Scrooge for Picard in the holodeck, the scene where Scrooge is first visited by Marley's ghost and Scrooge doubts his own senses in the face of the supernatural. Picard and Data discuss these acting sessions and Data talks about studying the Method, but instead of using emotions to develop his performance he wants to use performance to develop his emotions.
The Enterprise gets a distress call from a science station on a planet, there's a mob outside and things have gone badly wrong. When the ship arrives the lead scientist can be retrieved but the rest have been taken hostage and can't be beamed away (for some reason). The lead scientist explains that the planet used to have a science-based society (presumably they achieved warp, or else the Federation has no business being there), but a thousand years earlier they changed to being a peaceful, agrarian society uninterested in technological advances. Legend says that the millennium of peace happened because the planet made a contract selling themselves to Audra, a supernatural being that the lead scientist compares to the devil. The planet's leader firmly believes that Audra is about to return due to earthquakes and visions, and so social order has completely broken down.
Business Casual
Picard goes down to the planet and sees the leader, who is very apologetic about the missing scientists, but has also lost his grip on things and is scared. Then Audra appears to claim what she is owed. The planet leader is ready to give everything over to her. Picard confronts her, not convinced that she is what she appears and she demonstrates shape-shifting and earth tremor powers. Picard isn't convinced and is immune to her flirting, he leaves Data to look into the local legal system and returns to the Enterprise. Later Audra appears in Picard's chair on the Bridge, does some magic and lays claim to the Enterprise and everyone on it because the contract stated she owns everything in orbit around her planet too. Picard is convinced Audra is a con-artist and is determined to expose her. He discusses the situation with Data, then sends him down to the planet to look through the contract and find any legal precedents that could be used against her.
Audra comes to Picard's quarters while he is sleeping and tries to seduce him with a variety of outfits, but he's just irritated by this. Then she transports him -in his pyjama-robe- to the lab on the planet where Geordi is working with the lead scientist. He can't be beamed back to the Enterprise, so Data is sent to collect him in a shuttle with a spare uniform (so funny!). On the way back Data explains that he has found a precedent for arbitration. As they approach it the Enterprise disappears. Back on the planet the Enterprise can't be found within a light year, but Geordi has noticed something odd on the scans and says if Audra does more magic tricks he might be able to pin down what's happening and find the ship.
Business Smart
Picard requests arbitration, but Audra isn't interested so Picard makes it a bet and offers to take her to some ruins I've never heard of where there's a jewel I don't know about. She's not interested in that but says she'll agree if Picard will give himself to her entirely of his own free will. She chooses Data as arbitrator because even though he's a member of Picard's crew he will follow the rules and can't deceive (how would she know that?). Data tells Picard to refuse, because he will apply the rules exactly, even if it means Picard loses. Picard agrees. In arbitration Picard questions Audra and she demonstrates her powers; shape-shifting, earth-shaking and making Picard disappear and reappear. Meanwhile Geordi and lead scientist notice something in orbit above a pole. Picard argues that the peace was created by the inhabitants of the planet, not Audra, but the Leader is unwilling to speak out against the powerful being that now rules his planet. Geordi arrives with info and Picard requests a recess. Geordi and the scientists found the source of Audra's powers, a cloaked ship hiding above the magnetic pole and a variety of tech. TheEnterprise is just where they left it, but cloaked. Back in arbitration Picard tells the leader that he can steal Audra's powers. He creates earth-tremors, changes shape and dares Audra to stop him, which she doesn't. Picard explains that a team from the Enterprise has taken control of her ship and they're now operating her pre-set programmes for Picard. Audra's crew revealed that she is a con artist with many aliases. It's a shame we don't get to see any of this, or even how the people on the Enterprise figured it out, I expect it would have been interesting.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard commends Data's performance even while pointing out that Data can't experience fear (which I guess is a compliment). He's confused that Data is studying the method, which is outdated by the 24th Century (plus Sir PatStew is a British thesp and the Method comes from a very different, more American traditional).
Picard never wavers from his belief that "Audra" is a flim-flam artist (and he's apparently turned into a newspaper man from the 1920s), though his actions -or lack thereof- after the arbitration suggest that he became more interested in proving his point and winning than in protecting the people of the planet. Considering the danger than Audra and her unseen crew can pose you would think that Picard/Star Fleet/the Federation might want to do more than just best her legally. Picard's irritation with her flirting and seduction attempts is amusing, though the wider of trope of a man who manfully ignores the sexual advances of a beautiful femme fatale is not one I'm overly keen on.
Picard and Data chat about Audra and Data plays devil's advocate (see what I did there?) by speculating on whether "Audra" is actually a powerful, supernatural being. Picard speculates that the fundamental theology of the planet may have created a latent fear in the entire population, which is interesting. Picard references their scene from Scrooge and the previous discussion of fear, thus tying that all together in case we didn't get it.

Does Not Compute
Formal Nightwear
Data plays Scrooge as a croaky-voiced old coot, reminding us again that Brent Spiner can do various faces and voices. (It's a more comedic portrayal than Sir Patrick Stewart's haunting version of Scrooge inA Christmas Carol.) Data's attempt to reverse the Method for his own purpose makes some sense and Picard praises that Data came up with his own interpretation instead of just imitating.
Data tells Picard that he can't deceive and that he's a rules robot or something and so won't act outside of a load of laws he just found out about, even if it's in the best interests of others and the safety and freedom of a whole planet hangs in the balance. What I don't understand is why everyone knows that androids are all neutral and incapable of lying. There are only two androids out there (so far as we know, there's no reason another species shouldn't have come up with artificial versions of themselves), and the other one is Lore. Murderous liar Lore who, based on the last time we saw him, is probably less stable than ever. Even if he's keeping a low profile it seems like word could have got round that androids are creepy jerks, since everyone can always identify them from appearance alone.
As arbitrator Data gets the best lines:
"The advocate will refrain from expressing personal affection for her opponent."
"The advocate will refrain from making her opponent disappear."

No Magic Here
Little Red Number
There's never any suggestion that Audra is really has any magical powers, and I don't know why. They've met Q several times now and though Audra's powers aren't as great as his, her performance on the Bridge is a lot like the kind of thing Q does. There was also that magic old man who just wanted to protect the wife he'd resurrected and keep people off his lawn. There was Troi's dull alien baby, which created itself then disappeared in a ball of light. Hell, their bartender is kinda mystical. It's not like supernatural beings are unknown, so why shouldn't Audra be among them? I guess because that's not what this story is about no one really considers it. It seems that interest in filthy lucre is not in-keeping with higher beings, dead giveaway apparently.

Future Is Better
Seductive Nightwear
Con artists have a dizzying array of tech in the future. I mean "Audra" and her crew were able to destabilise the geology of a planet and beam aboard a top-of-the-line Federation Starship, block it's transporters and then cloak it. That's got to be some high level gear they've got, where did it come from? How often are criminals going around doing this stuff? Are there whole systems ruled by species with more advanced tech than the natives pretending to be deities? I mean Picard was briefly worshipped as a god by accident. It's all a little Stargate really.
Having said that "Audra" is a bit stupid challenging Picard as she does. I mean targeting the planet Enterprise and further provoking Picard by getting into his quarters and then hiding his ship may have been in character but it made the whole thing a Federation matter.
when it had a Federation presence was a bit risky, but releasing the unseen scientists should have made the Federation leave. Maybe she thought seducing Picard would distract him, but when that seemed to rile him perhaps she shouldn't have pushed things. Claiming the

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Picard and senior crew discuss the situation on the planet with lead scientist, things are getting worse and they must secure the return of the hostage-scientists (whom we never see).  Troi observes that levels of distress on the planet are approaching suicidal. Picard decides to go and see the leader himself.
2. Picard and senior crew discuss Audra. Pic believes she's flimflam artist. Rker and Crusher suggest she could be a Q, or even their Q, Picard dismisses the idea that she's their Q and focuses on her interest in financial matters. Troi says her mind is focused so she couldn't sense deception and Picard confusingly suggests this is due to some kind of sleight of hand. Picard sets crew to investigate.

The End
"Audra" is proud in defeat and walks out of the room. It's not clear whether the guards who walk with her are taking her into custody or just following her out (they didn't come in until after she had been exposed). Happy to have been proven right Picard takes no further action and leaves with Data.

We don't hear anything about how this planet and its leader are presumably left to pick up the pieces of it's entire population being distressed and terrified to the point that the social order fell apart. Nor does anyone show concern about Audra being on a planet where most of the inhabitants believe she is their god. But who cares about all that?

Star Trek Cosplay

6 February 2016


KT Davies

The inventively foul-mouthed, half-human thief known as Breed encounters a demon after escaping from a dragon, returns home to assassination attempts, is imprisoned and then released into a well-meant but deeply inconvenient slavery spell. Breed ends up travelling with a soppy priest, a disgusting beggar and a rat-faced girl, searching for a powerful relic belonging to a legendary hero. Even as Breed tries to escape from all enemies, allies and responsibilities things get more complicated and deadly as prophecy and politics influence events and motivations.

This story is told entirely from Breed's own irreverent, cynical point of view, and though the character largely resists affection or sympathy they are mostly very amusing. The action is quick-paced with Breed running, falling and sometimes being bundled into further adventure. They are a reluctant hero insofar as being heroic, preferring self-preservation over noble action, but Breed isn't slow to get into a fight and has been raised by a deranged crime boss as a thief, fighter and partial magic-user. Breed is an interesting hero in many ways, half-human and half-thoasa (a lizard-type warspawn) with orange scales, spikes, seven-toed feet that don't fit into human shoes and senses that humans can't match. Everything is told through Breed's viewpoint, so there's a lot about the character and the world that is left to the reader to figure out, which makes for an absorbing read. The world we see through Breed's eyes is grimy and soiled with all manner of unpleasantness. This is worldbuilding from the lowest levels, with a definite subterranean theme to many of the locations and plenty of insalubrious characters. Sewers, caves and tombs feature prominently in the story, as do street-level criminals and regular common folk. When the action takes place in loftier, more respectable venues such as courtrooms and temples that's when things are likely to take a turn for the worse, not that there are many turns for the better. The world has a strong sense of history, with a past that sounds like pure epic fantasy, when mages created the non-human warspawn to battle demons.

While the story is fast-paced, action-packed and fun this book is not a only an adventure. There's a theme of inequality within the story too, but it's handled subtly, present but not overpowering. Breed's mixed parentage means people make certain assumptions, and for the most part the character is jaded by this treatment, nowhere near happy but used to it. It's clear that humans occupy the positions of power in this world and those like Breed who aren't fully -or at all- human are subject to suspicion. There are humans who don't have a problem with non-humans, but they are either the exception or else they're apathetic about how non-humans are treated in society. The broader plot of the book makes the scale of the prejudice explicit. The non-human characters who are doing well are either involved in organised crime or are in underground communities. As in Davies' earlier book (The Red Knight, which is also a good read) the supporting cast contains a lot more women than is common in secondary world fantasy and there's no sign of traditional or assumed gender roles. There are female guards, magistrates and criminals scattered throughout, with no indication that a person's gender might affect a person's ability within these roles. It's sort of sad that such a simple thing still feels noteworthy. There's a scene with one of the antagonists that inverts the gender roles of a common trope in fiction, dealing with it in a more nuanced manner than is often seen and thus highlighting the issues with the usual approach. I shan't say more for risk of spoilers but it was something that surprised me.

Breed is an engrossing read which is amusing and makes you think. Definitely recommended for fans of epic and comic fantasy.