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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Star Trek: season one: episode four: The Naked Time -- "The Episode That Started All the Clichés"

Summary:

The ship’s mission is to watch the planet disintegrate.

Spock and a crewman, Joey, go down to a frozen planet and find a dummy (presumably she is supposed to be a real female strangled) frozen in the snow. The crewman takes off his glove to scratch his nose with a droplet (blood?) gets on his hand and so he suffers the same fate. Lifeboat support systems have been turned off. The scientific personnel they were to pick up are all dead.

Joey starts to feel disillusioned with space exploration. This is no place for humanity, he thinks.  “If a man was supposed to fly, he’d have wings.”  (Probably this is a jab at those against space exploration. Before the plane, some did not believe that humanity would fly; therefore, by extrapolation, thinking space exploration is ridiculous is also ridiculous.) Joy threatens himself with a knife, accidentally stabs himself, letting blood so that Sulu and another crew member get Joey’s blood on them spreading the blood disease.

Joey loses will to live so he dies even though his wounds aren’t that bad. Sulu, meanwhile, skips work on the bridge in order to workout. O’Reilly, too, becomes uninhabited. Sulu takes his fencing out into the hall, chasing down crewmembers. The ship begins to fall towards the planet because O’Reilly has taken over engineering with delusions of grandeur. The disease begins to spread to all crew. O’Reilly is taken over all channels.

Analysis with spoilers:

Christine confesses her passion for Spock. Even Spock has fallen for emotions – far more quickly than the other crewmembers. O’Reilly has turned off the engines, and Scottie needs 30 minutes to warm up the engines. Scottie wastes his breath complaining rather than trying to make it work.  It’s never been done, but there is an intermix.  McCoy finds a serum.  The water on the planet has become some hocus-pocus bogus science. The ship goes backwards in time three days, so they reverse power. Now they have the power to go back in time.

This pretty much ran the gamut of bad science – chemistry of water as a polymer, biological effects of said water as an alcohol, physics of time, astronomy of the planet disintegrating (where does the matter go?). But hey, we got to see the secret fears or desires of major crew members.

John D. F. Black wrote this episode.

Notes:

1.       First appearance of Christine, McCoy’s assistant.
2.       The sideways red drop on the crewman’s hand is kind of cool.
3.       Scotty wears his first red shirt.
4.       The first instance of instant food is made.
5.       First appearance of Sulu working on the bridge.
6.       Spock performs his first knockout neck massage.
7.       Spock is a ladies man.
8.       The first time the bridge members throw themselves around due to some disturbance. The substitute navigator laughs.
9.       Scotty doesn’t say I need more time Capt, but he may as well have.

Quotes:

1.       Instruments only register those things that are designed to register.
2.       Space still contains infinite unknowns.
3.       His capacity for self-doubt has always been high. My question is what brought it to the surface.
4.       Bones, I want the impossible checked out, too.
5.       It’s never been done before, but...
6.       Scotty: I can’t change the laws of physics.


Teacher and writer-hopeful is whisked away to an unknown location because he wrote fiction.

This poor guy--Patrick McLaw, a middle school teacher--wrote a story set in the future about a school shooting. The opening reads like a classic detective scenario, and the detective is mourning the losses. It is not glorifying. The school not only took McLaw's job, but also banned him from setting foot in any public school and sent him to a mental institution. The book is fictional. Did anyone actually read his book first?*

He does need an editor. Adjectives, adverbs, and Latinate words abound. If he had had a good editor, the negative attention might have brought in a horde of readers.

I do wonder if he wanted some sort of attention. His pen name, Dr. K. S. Voltaer [Que es Voltaire? or what is Voltaire] alludes to Voltaire, who caused not a little scandal with his books. Candide questioned the common assumption of the day that everything happens for the best--prevalent despite the book of Job that explicitly states otherwise (some still hold this view). In the book, Candide, terrible things happen by chance, yet everyone persists in the folly of this perspective.

I hope people help this man stand back on his feet. And get him an editor.

* Granted, I have not either except the openings of his two novels, but from the sample, they seem a serious effort at fiction, not at glorifying destruction. Plus, he's written two books, which shows dedication to the craft at the least.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Star Trek: season one: episode three: Where No Man Has Gone Before

Summary:

The starship Enterprise encounters a ship, the Valiant, that went outside the galaxy, which is the mission of Enterprise. They encounter on a small lifeboat the Valiant’s ship record aboard. 

They encounter an unknown force field.  Ship’s electronic equipment fry, and two crew members get shocked, nine dead.  No warp ability.  The two that survive have ESP ability.  Gary Mitchell receives silver eyes and higher cognitive abilities, not only reads faster than ever but also memorizes what he reads, even watches Kirk watch him, can make things happen just by thinking about it. He suddenly knows how engineering works. 

Analysis with spoilers:

Spock surmises that Gary’s powers are accelerating and that Gary will become a superhuman and that will he’ll be an antagonist to the humans.  Spock suspects the Valiant suffered the same fate.  They need to maroon Gary on a nearby planet after refueling.

They sedate Gary and put them on the planet inside a force field while they refuel. The psychologist believes Gary is safe, Spock does not, but Kirk and Gary go back 15 years together as good friends so Kirk is hesitant to hurt him but has planted a bomb on the planet in case it becomes necessary.  Energy can drain him, briefly make him normal. The psychologist wants to stay behind with Gary, Gary kills a man shocks Kirk and Spock, and converts the psychologist into someone like himself.  Kirk orders neutron radiation of the planet if he does not survive trying to kill Gary.

Gary considers himself like a God.  Laser beams have no effect. He plans to kill Kirk, but the psychologist drains him of energy, so that Kirk can do him in. It would seem that the writers believe that the confrontation between superman and man must result in a battle – which means the little guy has to strike first.

This episode was written by Samuel A. Peeples, a Western novelist, which makes this a rather impressive achievement, therefore. He wrote some nice dialogue.
Notes:

1.       First appearance of Scottie.
2.       A psychologist has the ability to do ESP.
3.       The scriptwriters have a preoccupation with the Superman.
4.       McCoy is not the doctor on this trip.
5.       First classic Captain Kirk brawl.
6.       Star Trek the next generation may have plundered ideas from early episodes. Here we have ESP, ship psychologist and an all-powerful man like Q.

Quotes:

1.       Kirk: What makes you're right and the trained psychologist wrong?
Spot: Because she feels. I don’t.
2.       A man and compassion is a fool’s mixture.

3.       Morals are for men, not gods.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Lieserl" by Karen Joy Fowler

First appeared in her collection, Peripheral Vision.  It was up for the Nebula and Locus Awards and reprinted in a few major retrospectives by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, James Morrow, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel.

Background:
Fowler will depart from true history, so before reading the story, it would be useful to know a little background about Albert Einstein, his first wife Mileva Marić, and what was probably their first child, Lieserl (I have edited the text only to show the things that Fowler refers to) [from Wikipedia]:

"Einstein's future wife, Mileva Marić, also enrolled at the Polytechnic that same year, the only woman among the six students in the mathematics and physics section of the teaching diploma course. Over the next few years, Einstein and Marić's friendship developed into romance, and they read books together on extra-curricular physics in which Einstein was taking an increasing interest. In 1900, Einstein was awarded the Zürich Polytechnic teaching diploma, but Marić failed the examination with a poor grade in the mathematics component, theory of functions.... 
"With the discovery and publication in 1987 of an early correspondence between Einstein and Marić it became known that they had a daughter they called "Lieserl" in their letters, born in early 1902 in Novi Sad where Marić was staying with her parents. Marić returned to Switzerland without the child, whose real name and fate are unknown. Einstein probably never saw his daughter, and the contents of a letter he wrote to Marić in September 1903 suggest that she was either adopted or died of scarlet fever in infancy. 
"Einstein and Marić married in January 1903. In May 1904, the couple's first son, Hans Albert Einstein, was born in Bern, Switzerland. Their second son, Eduard, was born in Zurich in July 1910. In 1914, Einstein moved to Berlin, while his wife remained in Zurich with their sons. They divorced on 14 February 1919, having lived apart for five years."

Summary and Commentary (the story cannot be spoiled, but I do discuss the whole story, so caveat lector):
Where Fowler departs from the above supposed facts is Einstein's mother suggests that their relationship would not be a good and not get involved with Mileva.  She "plays tricks."  Whatever tricks these are, if any, Fowler does not directly suggest.  Perhaps there is no trick and Einstein tricks himself for believing there is a trick.  Or perhaps the existence of Lieserl is a trick.  Perhaps she never existed; or if she did, maybe she was given away as the above text suggests.  However, in terms of the story's greatest impact (even if it did not occur this way in real life), we should probably assume that there is no trick.

Mileva is an infinitely patient lover/wife.  She understands Einstein is a busy, important scientist and leaves him to his studies in an apartment away from Mileva and Lieserl.  She mails letters on schedule, talking about their daughter, Lieserl, and about how she grows up.  The letters are the best part of the story.  They are heartbreakingly cute, detailing how the daughter loves her papa:
"Papa, papa, papa, she say.  It is her favorite word.  Yes, I tell her. Papa is coming....
"I am not interested in boys, she answered.  Nowhere is there a boy I could love like I love my papa.
"Have I kept her too sheltered? What does she know of men? If only you had been here to advise me."
And so forth.  By now, you know the heartbreak.  Fowler's Einstein never visits his daughter.  He misses everything, from holding his daughter as a child to helping her choose a man.  Einstein passages about himself are comparatively (and probably designedly) boring. Oh, Einstein! the reader says sadly.

I used to have problems with writers using real people as characters, especially if it has something negative to say, but now I now I look at these as creations. This is not the Einstein of reality although there may be men like Fowler's fictive Einstein, and that's the point.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Star Trek: season one: episode two: Charlie X

Summary:

Deposited by the starship Antares, Charlie Evans comes aboard the starship Enterprise to go to colony alpha five, after losing his family 14 years ago. He interrupts the officers, and wonders how many people are human like him. He’s a little odd, knowing little about human beings and their social customs. Kirk gives him a lesson in manners.  

Charlie is a little anxious about people liking him. He continues to make social faux pas. Kirk cons McCoy into educating the boy. Spock believes the planet Thanis, where the boy was found, must have intelligent life because the food concentrates should have run out after a year, not 14.

Charlie meets Janice, and attractive blonde crew member, in the recreation room; finds Uhara singing to Spock’s lousy accompaniment like instrument; and stops her singing. He also proves he can transform playing cards into pictures and transfer them inside dresses.

Analysis with spoilers:

The starship Enterprise receives a message intended to warn the captain; however, Charlie happens to be on the bridge and cancels the message so that they cannot hear.  Starship Antares has been destroyed although only the audience knows that Charlie caused it. He also melts chess pieces when he loses a game of 3-D chess. Unlike other women, Janice smells like a girl, and he’ll give the whole universe to her.  Again Captain Kirk to rescue: he explains the universe and tries to teach the boy how to fight. 

Charlie exposes himself by making a crew member disappear for laughing when Charlie fell.  Spock suspects Charlie of being somehow related Fasian due to his ability to transmute objects. He has no regard for human life.  He only respects Captain Kirk.

When Captain Kirk tries to change course away from colony alpha five, Charlie stops them.  Spock suggests that Charlie may not back down at some point.  He surprises Janice by walking into her quarters unannounced.  She strikes Charlie for his boldness, so he gets rid of her.  They try to lock him in his quarters, but he vaporizes the wall, turns a woman old, destroys the face of another.

Their final gambit is to overload Charlie: run every device on the ship.  The Fasians arrive, return the ship and crew members to normal.  They want to take Charles away, but Charlie wants to stay as the Fasians don’t love or touch.  Kirk makes a feeble protest, but they take him anyway.

This story bears some resemblance to Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life” although the alien angle differentiates it. Bixby wrote four episodes of the series although not this one. The authors here were D. C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry is the series producer, of course, and Fontana is a female writer along association with various incarnations of the series.

Interestingly, the original series used a teenager to show the necessity to mature. Star Trek: The Next Generation tried to draw a teenager realistically – that is, in his immaturity, no doubt to pull in the younger demographic – and suffered a drop in popularity as a consequence.
  
Notes:

1.       First use of an energizer.

"The Political Officer" by Charles Coleman Finlay

First appeared in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Reprinted (one, a major retrospective), by Gardner Dozois, John Joseph Adams, Alan Kaster, Rich Horton, Sean Wallace. Up for Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards.
Summary:

Part locked-spaceship mystery, part thriller, part space-opera, part science-fictional sneak-peek into a possible secular-religious society--"The Political Officer" has much to intrigue the reader.


Maxim Nikomedes is a Political Officer aboard a small spacecraft, which means he shares some of the commanding duties aboard the ship with the captain and Lukinov, an officer of Intelligence. Intelligence has a rivalry with the political officers. Maxim's job is to seek out a suspected traitor, whom initially we are led to believe Maxim doesn't know who it is.

During Maxim's investigations, he is almost strangled, so he needs to find his would-be assassin and the man conspiring to get the people of Jesusalem in a war.

Analysis with spoilers:
I said "secular – religious society" as their society goes by the name of Jesusalem, a play on the name of Jerusalem and perhaps a mixture of Jesus and Salem, where Puritans burned supposed witches – suggesting that maybe a witch-hunt is underway. This has impacted the ship crew members in that only one is female, a victim of every faction in her society. However, no one appears especially religious or shares any religious convictions/thoughts, especially our POV character. Usually, there is also a religious hypocrite or two in the upper echelon of any religious organization. We do not witness this in this particular tale, though. Perhaps the narrator himself is the hypocrite although it is difficult to say without knowing more about Maxim's religious convictions.

The POV character, Maxim, is not particularly likable. While he does prevent a war, he busts into rooms, uninvited. He interrogates only the female ensign so viciously. He sets her up to take a fall. He promises she'll be okay in the end although necessarily she will have problems with her record. Granted, she was to be used by the other side, and they intended her to take the fall of a murder, far worse. However, Maxim does not appear moved by her impossible plight. She tried to follow three different orders on a ship with three different leaders.

Does the mystery play fair with the reader? Sort of. Initially, it says, "Now it was time to shake them up again to see if he could find the traitor he suspected." All true. Although we are in his point of view, we do not learn whom he suspects. Finlay gives immediate misdirection: "He brushed against Kulakov on purpose as he passed by him." This leads us to suspect Kulakov, but it isn't Kulakov, and it isn't clear why he would brush against Kulakov purposefully except to be a pain in the butt.

Clearly, this is a psychologically complex tale. The reader feels no particular admiration for any character. The sequel, "The Political Prisoner", which appears to share with this story the distinction of being Finlay's most popular and critically acclaimed stories, may shed light on mysteries still left behind about the character psychologies and societal customs--Maxim in particular.

F&SF did an interview about the stories with Finlay here. Whenever he finishes the series, it might be kind of a big deal. Let's hope he gets cracking on it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Dear Owner of This 1972 Ford Crew Cab Pickup" by Desirina Boskovich

Appears in Nightmare.

The title says it all.  Any townie--who has had to walk out, late at night, to talk to a kid or a drunk or whoever has their truck revving, music thumping, or headlights blasting into you bedroom--will empathize.  Maybe this is a lower-class problem.

I read this on Cat Rambo's recommend.  While I didn't find it chilling as Rambo had--probably because I guessed the outcome from the title--it didn't need to be to be enjoyed.  Boskovich does a great job evoking sympathy for our protagonist.