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Sunday, August 31, 2014

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.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Star Trek: season one: episode one: Man Trap

Summary:

Capt. Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and crew member Darnell beam down to planet M – 113 to investigate an archaeological site and its scientists. They encounter Nancy Crater, a woman who has a different appearance for each person. Darnell is enchanted to the dismay of his commanding officers. Nancy’s husband, Prof. Crater, is unwelcoming and wants no medical examinations, but does want salt.

Nancy finds Darnell that with red pucker marks on his face, said toward eaten a native plant, a type of nightshade. However, there is no trace of memorable and poison in his system.

Uhara flirts with Spock, who doesn’t react. In fact, Spock is unusually cold, not just emotionless. Spock seems not to have mastered his role yet, or maybe they were still exploring who Spock is at this point. Either way, Spock becomes adorably emotionless, rather than cold.

Analysis with spoilers:

Darnell has no salt in his body, which makes it pretty clear what happened, although it takes a while for Kirk and crew to figure it out. Prof. Crater is unhelpful. He runs off to give Nancy salt. Two more crewmembers are dead – – one of whom is named Sturgeon (perhaps a nod to Theodore). Nancy takes the shape of one dead crew member, Green, and is teleported aboard the ship. Green pursues a crew member with the model salt. Green, or Nancy, takes on various crew member forms. More pucker-faced bodies appear. Kirk and Spock go back to the planet to find the professor for answers. They get none, but they discover Green ‘s body. The alien is masquerading as Dr. McCoy gets on the bridge.

A little slow on the uptake, Kirk and Spock figure out that the alien can take any form and warn the ship. Professor says the alien is the last of its kind. Nancy voluntarily gave her life to the alien to help it survive.

Spock accompanies Prof. Crater and the alien masquerading as McCoy to help administer truth serum so that Prof. Crater will tell where they alien is. Nancy beats up Spock and then kills her buddy, Prof. Crater. The alien flees to McCoy for his help and pleas in the body of Nancy. Capt. Kirk lures out her alien personality with salt, so she attacks him. After some convincing, McCoy shoots the alien.

The alien is not too bright. It suddenly eats way too much salt. Supposedly, the alien ate less than 25 pounds of salts in the period of a year or two, so it doesn’t make sense that it would need to kill so many people in so short a time.  That comes out to about 15 to 30 g of salt per day. I guess that might make someone a little anxious to be so low on salt. I couldn’t find how much salt the body has. It may be 15 to 30 g, but that would only mean one person per day.

Yet you’d think Nancy would use the same caution she’s used for two years. Why not continue to eat the salt you do have instead of potentially exposing yourself?

Plus, where does the salt go? How does she use the salt? Sodium and chloride, as a metal and gas respectively, do have a lot of energy, but in their ionic state, which is how Nancy’s eating it, they have low energy. This makes sense. Something highly reactive will react and tend to remain at its low reactive state. Chemicals are like little kids. If they have a lot of energy, they will run around until they use it up. Once they use up their energy, they want to take a nap. So there can’t be a whole lot of energy in a salt. Maybe they process it as a nuclear being, but you’d expect Prof. Crater to be dead by now, if so.

It seems to have had a good symbiotic relationship with Prof. Crater but suddenly decides that it will ditch the professor. This doesn’t make sense, especially because if she had waited, she could have had all the salt she needed before she attacked (albeit, it sounds like she needed an extra ration of salt, up to five times as much, so they probably should’ve asked for more). Moreover, if they needed salt why was Prof. Crater chasing the Corey and Capt. Kirk off the planet?

That said, it’s still a pretty cool alien. It’s sad it had to die. This episode provides a good concept that needed a little more developing.

George Clayton Johnson, a Twilight Zone writer, wrote this episode.

Notes:
  1. Capt. Kirk does a little more narration in the story than normal, as if he’s the narrator as opposed to the audience occasionally overhearing his Captain’s log. Potentially, the difference could mean everything in interpreting this series.
  2. When getting in the elevator, crew members hold on to a knob on the wall.
  3. Sulu and Chekhov are not on the bridge. Although Sulu makes an appearance elsewhere, Chekhov has not.
  4. It would appear that the latest incarnation of Star Trek that the idea for Spock and Uhura’s relationship began here.