30 March 2018


Not much actual reading for me recently. Well, I'm gradually working through Tim Peake's Ask an Astronaut, but that's non-fic and I'm mostly reading little bits at a time. The baby was having some sleep-regression/teething/eczema issues, so evenings and a few nights have been interrupted. Hopefully he's working through that now. Still listening to podcasts on my commute whenever I don't have the baby with me.

Scar Clan by Carrow Narby (Podcastle 512, narrated by Becky Stinemetze)
About a woman who works in a vets late at night and helps patch up local werewolves. She encounters a fat werewolf nicknamed Thunderhead, mean and reckless even for a werewolf. The story shows us the nighttime work of the veterinarian and how she helps the werewolf population and keeps their existence unofficial. We learn about the narrator; her own history with werewolves, and her ritual of getting a tattoo to cover/comemorate scars. We see that daytime and humans aren't necessarily safer and that being a monster isn;t about whether you can change shape.

The Fumblers Alley Risk Emporium by Julian Mortimer Smith (Podcaste 511, narrated by Wilson Fowlie)
An intriguing story set in what intitially seems to be a magical shop, but is actually somewhere much stranger, where the proprietor runs a strange game of chance where the stakes can be seemingly anything. It is told from the point of view of a regular, but one who is in a desperate frame of mind, which lends a tense edge to all that trasnspires. It is a story full of mystery, including the cause of the narrator's desperation, the nature of what he wants and the identity of his tormentor.

A Study in Symmetry or the Chance Encounter of an Android and a Painter by Jamie Lackey (Escape Pod 619, narrated by Trendane Sparks and Divya Breed)
This was so sweet and lovely, as well as being really well done. It's about HK182 and Lawrence going about their days; she is contented as usual, he is hungover and vulnerable. Then there's the chance encounter and further meetings, and it works on an emotional and story level. The Dual narration works really well as the story focuses on each character's POV and captures their different mindsets very well. The contrast between human artist and android landscaper is strong, but the interest they have in each other and the growing areas of compatibility are built up really well. Definitely a story to cheer you up.

A Cure For Homesickness by S. L. Scott  (Escape Pod 617, narrated by Eric Luke)
An insectile being is confused by his human crewmate coming back to save him during a dangerous mission. When her rescue attempt leads to injury he ensures that she is cared for, and whilst talking to her as a distraction he diagnoses her with homesickness.  The captain's cure is bizarre, but fellow humans will likely find it adorable. This story works really well because the clash of cultures and mindsets doesn't stop there from being much respect and affection between the characters. It's a great example of crewmates-as-community, a sci-fi trope I enjoy more and more. It's often cool to see humans from an 'alien' perspective, to have our foibles played back to us to expose how weird they are. The ending is pretty cute. Max struck me as a fun character, very clearly American/Western, and her attitude contrasted strongly with Krem, the main character who comes from a strongly communal society. The story made me think of Becky Chambers work, especially Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

My Generations Shall Praise by Samantha Henderson (Escape Pod 616, narrated by Alethea Kontis)
This was difficult and powerful. It's super dark which isn't normally my scene, but it was so well done and somehow intriguing . The narrator does good work to make the horrible POV character somehow understandable despite being a sociopathic baby-killer. That took real skill and the narrator deserves praise for her amazing performance. The central SF concept is intriguing and the ramifications of how things could work out are fascinating, while also being kinda awful whichever way you look at it. There's a conundrum at the heart of the story, which keeps your intellect occupied even as your emotions are reeling. I think the dispassionate voice of the main character, who relates horrors in a matter-of-fact way, is what kept it from being too much for me. I felt really bad for the main character's daughter, poor girl was surrounded by such awfulness and barely spoken of with affection. It's interesting that the respectable, wealthy woman in the story came off almost as cold and hard as the murderer; the story could spark discussion of how someone's background influences their outcome.

It's hard to blithely recommend this story, as it could easily be too much for people, there's reference to murders and sexual assault, and no sense of remorse. I'm surprised I managed to enjoy it, I must've been in the right frame of mind, or perhaps it helped that I was travelling while I heard it. If you do listen, maybe have one of the happier stories I mentioned further up ready to go as a pick-me-up.

An American Refugee by Tiah Maria Beautement (Cast of Wonders 295, narrated by Julia Rios)
A story set in a future where Americans have fled their country and are being accepted by other nations, we see a girl in South Africa getting used to being allowed to run outside and meeting one of her future schoolmates. As the story unfolds we find out more about the narrative character, her family and their uneasy status as refugees. We also gradually find out more about the situation in the US. It sounds like a dystopia, but it's eerie in it's plausibility. Sadly there are loads of actual people who would applaud the awful measures we see in the character's reminisce. It's also a story about a boy and girl meeting. The host of this episode makes some good points about how difficult being a teenager can be, and how things are made worse for many people.

18 March 2018


Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
The first in the October Daye series, about a half-fairy PI whose life was in limbo for 14 years. Set in San Francisco and full of different kinds of fairies (I think mostly Gaelic/Celtic, but not entirely), it's an engaging read that hits various familiar beats. The reluctant former-PI who has a bad past and lost her shot at a "normal" life is pulled back into the world she's tried to disengage from by a death and a mystery. Admittedly there's a curse pulling Tobi back into fairy stuff and despite her attempt to seem totally isolated she has a lot of friends and allies around, as well as dangerous enemies. The reveal didn't particularly surprise me, but the journey there was fun.

Sparg by Brian Trent (Escape Pod 614, narrated by Alasdair Stuart)
This story is cute, poignant and kinda heartbreaking. The reveal is gradual and done cleverly. Told from the point of view of a pet it masterfully examines the way human behaviour and circumstances can affect the animals who live with us.

Lonely Robot on a Rocket Ship in Space by A. Merc Rustad (Escape Pod 615, narrated by Christopher Cornell)
A teenager tries to tell his dads a truth about himself, but it's hard to make them understand. Luckily his best friend and a supportive online community are there for him. The story is fairly sweet in itself, but also feels like an uplifting metaphor for all sorts of things, including gender-identity and neuro-divergence.

Granny Death and the Drag King of London by A. J. Fitzwater (Glittership 49)
This story, read by the author, is about a New Zealand drag king living and working in London and saddened by the death of Freddie Mercury. She discovers that the weirdness she experiences around death is actually a kind of power. The story describes what it was like to be in the queer community during the AIDS crisis. The narration is great, full of anger and despair of the main character.

A Non-Hero's Guide to the Road of Monsters by A. T. Greenblatt (Podcastle 509, narrated by Mike Flinchum)
A story that looks at quest stories/tropes with a sarcastic eye. The setting and character initially feel fairly simple, but further depth is revealed as the story progresses.

1 March 2018


Episode: s5, ep 14

What Happens
Crusher is treating a lady who injured herself in the holodeck. Riker and Ro are arguing. Troi and Data are playing chess, Troi wins so Data has to make her a fancy cocktail. A small ship approaches and scans the Enterprise with green light, it's a weird scan, but Picard doesn't order the shields up in time. After the green light passes everyone has amnesia, even Data.
Picard, Riker, Worf, Geordi, Ro and some redshirt dude who's also on the Bridge deduce that this is their ship, and they have the skills to operate it, but don't remember anything else. Worf decides he must be captain because he has a shiny sash. He reckons they should prepare for combat. Picard steers him towards checking the status of the rest of the ship, so a vague message is sent out. Riker and Ro do an away mission on their own ship. Crusher realises pretty quick that she's a doctor, her patient isn't comforted by this because she's just Patient-in-a-Bathing-Suit. In 10 Forward Data decides he must be a bartender because he's behind the bar, and Troi discovers she's the only one with empathy. She knows Riker is familiar, but not why. (Where's Guinan? I feel like she'd cut through this nonsense super quick, which is probably why she's on holiday or something.)
Personnel files are found for all the characters I've mentioned by name so far, and that random redshirt dude from the Bridge, who is apparently an Executive Officer (suspicious). Everyone assumes their correct ranks, and Worf apologises for claiming a command he didn't earn, but Picard is cool about it. Further investigation reveals that the ship is called the  Enterprise, their organisation is the United Federation of Planets, and they've been at war for 6 years with some guys I've never heard of, who've been making ships disappear with a new weapon (very suspicious). It turns out the Enterprise's mission was to go and destroy the enemy's central command in order to end the war. Meanwhile Troi tells Riker he's familiar again, and Ro sneaks into Riker's quarters so they can have sexytimes, which is fine as neither remembers they can't stand each other.
There's an encounter with a small enemy ship and Random Redshirt Dude (seriously, who are you?) pushes Picard to destroy the weaker ship. He does, but isn't happy about it. Sensing Picard's reluctance, Random Redshirt Dude tries to argue him into following the written orders they found without confirming the situation externally. Troi tells Riker that the war feels wrong, and he says that's probably how war is supposed to feel. Crusher has found info that might help with a treatment, but she needs everyone's medical records before she can try it. Random Redshirt Dude is the one who is chosen to try her treatment, and he says it hasn't worked. Hmm, convenient that.
Random Redshirt Dude talks to Worf privately and uses the word warrior a lot to convince Worf that Picard doesn't have the guts for combat. When the moment comes Worf should do what Random Redshirt Dude says and shoot stuff.
He doesn't even go here!
The ship approaches enemy territory, 3 tiny drones try to stop them and present no challenge, it'ssuspiciously easy to just rock right up to the command base. The command base has crappy defensive capabilities and no weapons. Redshirt Dude urges Picard to destroy them, it wouldn't be difficult. Picard refuses because he might not remember who he is, but he knows he doesn't kill the defenseless. Redshirt Dude tries to commandeer the ship and approaches Worf's console while ordering him to fire. Worf doesn't and tries to swipe him away, but Redshirt Dude chucks Worf aside. A human shouldn't be able to do that, so Worf and Riker fire phasers at him, revealing he's not human.
Then a big cut to later, and Picard's log informs us that Crusher has been working to restore memories. This skips both the mopping up of Redshirt Dude and people remembering who they are, which feels like a missed opportunity. Imagine all the shocked-face acting we miss out on here. Turns out Redshirt Dude was from a race that were at war with those other guys, and this was the plan to destroy their enemy once and for all. In the penultimate scene Riker identifies the major flaw with this episode, if just one of those dudes could single-handedly remove people's memories, but not their useful skills, and alter all their computer files (and Data), why go to all this effort with the Enterprise? Picard responds that Redshirt Dude's people had lesser weapon's capabilities, and for some reason Riker has no follow-up questions, even though Picard in no way answered the question. Then Riker must face Troi and Ro.

Oh Captain My Captain
Even without his memories Picard's morals and leadership skills are still present. He argues with Random Redshirt Dude about aggression and not attacking those who can't defend themselves. Though it's Picard's initial desire to appear friendly by not raising their shields, that is what got them into this situation in the fist place.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
Riker still identifies Picard as his superior, even without their memories - he's basically just imprinted on him. As well as doing his duty in weird circumstances Riker still has time for fun. He happily goes along with what Ro initiates, but gives her plenty of opportunities to make her intentions clear and back out if she wants. He kind of bonds with Troi too, but it's clear the feelings are more on her side. Amnesiac Riker is surprised to discover he plays trombone. It's clearly a weird hobby in the future.

Klingon Warrior
It makes sense for Worf to take command, his big, insignia'd sash is more impressive than Picard's tiny collar buttons.* Unsurprisingly he thinks of combat over people and is still guided by Picard a bit.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
She feels the strong bond with Riker from the start, but doesn't push things with him much. She finds evidence they were close and they almost kiss, but then Ro comes in. I bet Troi can sense what's happening between Riker and Ro, it's pretty obvious. No wonder she races out of there. She kinda senses stuff is wrong, but as ever not quite enough to be useful (I mean Guinan could see through a whole alternate timeline. Troi couldn't even sense Random Redshirt Dude was lying). At the end Troi continues to be a good ex to Riker, though she'll take the chance to make him uncomfortable.

Staff meetings: 3
1. Picard and Redshirt Dude report to Capt Worf. No point being Captain of the Enterprise unless you get to run a staff meeting. Worf's highest priority is combat readiness.
2. With ranks -but not memories- restored Geordi and Data explain about the long-running war, the enemies' brain disrupting weapon and their vital mission to destroy the enemy's central command. Troi suggests they get confirmation of what they should be doing, but Worf is against that. All the recovered files say they must maintain radio-silence, so Picard orders them to continue as seemingly instructed.
3. Worf and Random Redshirt are pleased about destroying a tiny ship. Ro makes tactical suggestions. Picard is uneasy and urges Crusher to restore memories, Data and Geordi are ordered to help her by finding everyone's medical files.

The End
Riker sees Ro and Troi in 10 Forward, he's proactive about speaking to them, no evasion, but clearly he's uncertain about where they stand. Ro and Troi are being friendly with each other (elements of ladies against hapless man, TV does this a lot, as though female bonding and info sharing is a threat somehow). They're kind of friendly to Riker, but with enough edge that he's not sure where he stands with either. The ladies refuse to be awkward about things, which is fair enough. No one here did anything wrong, but at the end Riker looks a little put upon, and I don't think he deserves to be punished. Is this supposed to be funny? It's pretty blah.

Poor little ship, never stood a chance

* Is this why long-haired crew tend to wear their hair up all the time, so people can see their rank clearly on their collars?