Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Memory Was Not Enough: Reading "Children of Dune" (part 2)

Alrighty, picking up from Part 1, let's see if we can stay focused long enough to work our way through the second half of:
  
  
CHILDREN

OF

DUNE
  
  
     The password was given to me by a man who died in the dungeons of Arrakeen.  You see, that is where I got this ring in the shape of a tortoise.  It was in the suk outside the city where I was hidden by the rebels.  The password?  Oh, that has been changed many times since then.  It was "Persistence."  And the countersign was "Tortoise."  It got me out of there alive.  That's why I bought this ring: a reminder.
  
—Tagir Mohandis: Conversations with a Friend
  

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Universe Would Not Turn Backward: Reading "Children of Dune" (part 1)

Say, y'all, remember Dune Club?
  
Well, it seems as if the artist formerly known as Comic Book Girl 19 is perhaps not going to do a third round of it, or at least not any time soon.  I myself want to continue to read through Frank Herbert's novels, though, so the time has come to tackle the third in the series, Children of Dune.




Rather than divvy the reading up into separate posts, I think I'll just lump it all into a single entry.  I'll be writing it diary-fashion, and this time I'll provide dates for when the actual reading (and blogging) was done.  Why?  Well, why not?

The structure will be something like this: I'll use asterisks to delineate between chapters.  As with the first two novels, Herbert provides no chapter numbers, so in order to help us keep track of where in the novel we are, I'll begin each section by quoting the epigraph that opens the chapter.
  
From there, we'll just see what happens.  I suspect this post will not be as in-depth as some of the ones for the first two novels were, but who can say?  Muad'Dib could, but he's dead and gone.

Isn't he...?

*****

     Muad'Dib's teachings have become the playground of scholastics, of the superstitious and the corrupt.  He taught a balanced way of life, a philosophy with which a human can meet problems arising from an ever-changing universe.  He said humankind is still evolving, in a process which will never end.  He said this evolution moves on changing principles which are known only to eternity.  How can corrupted reasoning play with such an essence?

Words of the Mentat
    Duncan Idaho

Sunday, April 12, 2020

This Was Not My First Crisis: Star Trek, episode 14, "Court Martial"

As of the moment I type these words, it's been (consults records) five months since my last review of a TOS episode.  Anything much happened since then, y'all?

Ahem.

Well, pandemic be damned, here we are again, primed and ready to dive into:


 
 
Spoiler alert: it's a lousy episode.  I'd argue that it's handily the worst of the 14 we've looked at thus far.  Consequently, I'm inclined to write relatively little about it.  I hope that's not a disappointment to anyone; I'll try to at least not half-ass what I do write.  But honestly, there's just not that much to be said.  It's a dud.  I'll give you a few reasons why I find it to be so and then we can move on.

First, though, I'll tell you what I think works reasonably well.  Hint:

Friday, March 27, 2020

''Star Trek: Picard'' Season 1

What follows is a journey through the first season of Star Trek: Picard, written weekly as the series progressed. 

Buckle up; you'll need a restraint harness for THIS bumpy-ass ride.
  
  
"Remembrance"
  
  
(season 1, episode 1)
  
airdate:  January 23, 2020
written by:  Akiva Goldsman and James Duff (teleplay); Akiva Goldsman & Michael Chabon and Kirsten Beyer & Alex Kurtzman and James Duff (story)
directed by:  Hanelle M. Culpepper
  
Many years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, we meet up again with Jean-Luc Picard, who is living a sedentary life at his chateau in France.  His life post-Nemesis has seemingly been defined by a pair of events: first, the supernova which destroyed the Romulan system; second, a vicious attack on Mars perpetrated by "rogue synths" (i.e., synthetic life forms) that apparently not only destroyed thousands of lives but rendered the planet uninhabitable.  The end result of all of this is that Picard grew to feel that Starfleet was no longer Starfleet, and so he quit the service and, as he puts it at one low point, has been waiting to die ever since.  Another significant factor is the loss of Commander Data; it is revealed that B4 failed and was dismantled, meaning that Data is truly dead.  Into this melancholic existence comes a mysterious young woman, Dahj, who has reason to think Picard knows her, even though she herself does not know how that could be.
  
  
  
  
I'm always reluctant to write about television shows as they are airing; I prefer to look back on these things from a vantage point of seeing them a second or third (or fifteenth) time.  But there's something to be said for getting reactions down in real time.
  
What I think I'll do with this space is just that; just jot down some reactions.  Then maybe at the end of the season I'll try to find something meaningful to say.  Or not, as the case may be.  Or maybe I'll find something meaningful say as we go.  Who the fuck knows, man?
  
Anyways, here are the things buzzing around in my head after seeing the first episode:

Saturday, February 22, 2020

''Babylon 5,'' Season 2

Well, folks, continuing the episode-by-episode looks at Babylon 5 proved to simply be more than I was capable of, time-wise.  So here we are, stuck with a season retrospective.
  
It'll have to do!
  
And without further preamble...
  
  
"Points of Departure"
  
  
(season 2, episode 1)
  
airdate:  November 2, 1994
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Janet Greek
  
About a week after the assassination of President Santiago, Babylon 5 receives a fresh blow when Commander Sinclair's (offscreen) mission to Minbar turns into a permanent reassignment.  He is replaced by Captain John Sheridan, an Earth Force officer known by the Minbari as "Starkiller" for his success against them during the war.  His first day on the new job is marked by strife as a renegade Minbari warship, the Trigati, resurfaces and begins making trouble.
  
  
  
The big news for the season-two debut is that Michael O'Hare -- and Sinclair -- is out and Bruce Boxleither -- as Sheridan -- is in.  Accounts vary as to what exactly prompted O'Hare's departure; conventional wisdom for many years was that O'Hare's stilted performance was blamed for the show's failure to become a hit in its first season, so he was shown the door.
  
J. Michael Straczynski has gone on the record, however, as saying that this was not the case; that instead, O'Hare suffered from serious mental-health issues and asked to be released from his contract after the first season.
  
Whatever the case may be, with the arrival of Boxleitner/Sheridan, the show's true star and protagonist has finally arrived.  Many aspects of the remainder of the Sinclair story would be folded into Sheridan's plotline, so while this episode certainly does mark a pivot point, it doesn't mean that what follows is wholly a compromised version of the originally-intended story.  Some plot threads from the first season go unresolved; many do not, even though they are modified.  So it seems, at least; it's hard to say for sure.
  
In any case, Sheridan is here, and he's not going anywhere, and that, my friends, is that.
  
As a Sinclair fan, that bums me out, but Boxleitner is a more dynamic performer in every way than Michael O'Hare was.  In this debut episode for his character, he's still getting the feel of things.  Sheridan makes an impression; he's confident, hard-edged, slick, charismatic, and maybe even a bit mysterious despite all that.
  
The bulk of the episode involves the Trigati trying to use Babylon 5 to essentially commit suicide by cop.  Sheridan doesn't fall for it; he's no easy mark for such shenanigans.
  
Elsewhere, Delenn is still in her chrysalis, Garibaldi is still in a coma, G'Kar is still away from the station, and Lennier still sucks.  We hear nothing from Londo, or from Talia (who is barely a character at this point in the series, so infrequently does she appear), or even from Na'Toth, though we do see the latter in the opening credits, long enough to know that Julie Caitlin Brown has been replaced by Mary Kay Adams.  Speaking of the opening credits, we are also introduced therein to a new character, Warren Keffler, a Starfury pilot played by Robert Rusler.  He's apparently a series regular.  Don't get used to it.
  
Overall, it's not much of an episode.  Sheridan makes a decent initial impression, but otherwise the show still feels cramped and cheap and undercooked.  It was this as much as anything else that moved me to a season-digest format.  See, I'd remembered that the show improved immediately with the debut of season two.  This is not the case; this episode is essentially still the same in the production department as it was in season one, and is maybe even a bit shabbier.  At least three of the show's better actors are entirely absent, so that doesn't help. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

There Are Always Alternatives: Star Trek, episode 13, ''The Galileo Seven''



En route to Marcus Makus III with a cargo of medical supplies.  Our course leads us past Murasaki 312, a quasar-like formation; vague, undefined ... priceless opportunity for scientific investigation.  Onboard is Galactic High Commissioner Farris Ferris, overseeing the delivery of the medicines to Makus III.
  

Kirk's opening log entry establishes the stakes against which the remainder of the episode is set.  I like stating the obvious, and I also like restating the obvious, so let me give that to you again: what's going on aboard the Enterprise this week is that they have been tasked with transporting an important dignitary to a planet named Makus III, where he must be in five days in order to administer the delivery of medical supplies to the New Paris colony, where a plague is underway.  While en route, the Enterprise encounters the quasar-like phenomenon Murasaki 312, a very shiny object which catches Kirk's eye.  He decides to invoke a standing order the ship has to investigate all quasar-like phenomena, which is fine because they are only three days away from Makus III.  They've got two whole days to spare.  What could possibly go wrong?


 
   
Spoiler alert for this blog post: I don't think this is a bad episode, but I do think it is in many ways a badly-conceived episode.  This begins right at the outset; nothing about this conflict-of-missions setup makes a lick of sense to me.  I'll admit that if I'm willing to turn a blind eye to that aspect, the episode works relatively well; and indeed, I've been viewing it that way for most of my life.  Ask me before today, I'd have told you, "Yeah, that's a very good episode!"  Ask me after today, I'm pulling out my bucket of asterisks and going to work.

Such is the life of a blogger, I guess.  But I can't deny it: the deeper-investigation aspect of this process has caused "The Galileo Seven" to more or less fall apart for me.  Because let's face it: if there's a deadly plague ravaging the New Paris colony on Makus III, why oh why would anyone think it was a good idea to schedule the delivery of much-needed medical supplies for five days from now given that the ship making the supply run is a mere three days away?  I'll confess that if one were determined to do so, one could invent a reason: the people on Makus III are deeply superstitious and will only do things in increments of fives, and death to all those who refuse to comply.  That's dumb; but you get me -- something like that, if not necessarily that.  Yes, one could invent such a reason; but at that point, you're just making shit up.  And if you're going to just make shit up, feel free; I've been known to do that very thing myself from time to time.  However, I insist that you not give the episode credit for your made-up bullshit; you grant me that, and I won't blame the episode for it, either.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

''Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,'' Season 3

It's been over three months since I watched an episode of Deep Space Nine -- I'm watching alongside the Mission Log podcast, and they took an unexpectedly long break, so I broke right along with 'em.  I've been looking forward to getting back to it (sort of), and without further delay, so I shall.
  
  
"The Search, Part I"
  
  
(season 3, episode 1)
  
airdate:  September 26, 1994
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (story); Ronald D. Moore (teleplay)
directed by:  Kim Friedman
  
Sisko arrives back on the station after a visit to Earth, and he's brought with him a surprise: a teensy little Starfleet warship called the Defiant.  Its purpose: to carry a small crew -- consisting, basically, of the series regulars -- to the Gamma Quadrant on a mission to find the Founders and convince them that the Federation poses no threat to the Dominion.  Along for the ride is a Romulan officer who is monitoring the use of a loaned cloaking device.  Things seem to be going pretty well up until they aren't; the ship is discovered and attacked, Dax and O'Brien are captured, and Odo takes Kira with him on a mission to a nebula that has been drawing him the way Roy was drawn by the UFOs in Close Encounters.  The two of them arrive at a rogue planet, and on its surface they find a whole pool of Odos -- our shape-shifter has found his people at last.
  
  



You may or may not recall that the season-two finale left off on not a cliffhanger, exactly, but certainly on an unresolved note of menace: the Dominion had tired of the Federation incursions into the Gamma Quadrant, and had more or less forecast a shitstorm headed their way.  It's logical that this is where the third season would pick up, and so if you enjoyed that previous episode, I expect you'll enjoy this as well.
  
I did on both counts, and while I wouldn't give this season premiere super-high marks, it's confident and enjoyable.  
  
You may have noticed a new name in the credits above: Ronald D. Moore, who joined the writing team this season.  The Next Generation had ended its run at the same time DS9's second season ended; Moore's tenure there being done, he made a lateral move to the spinoff.
  
Are the effects immediate?  I don't know that I'd say they are.  That's not to imply that his work on this episode isn't good; it's fine, just nothing you'd call inspired.  However, most of the character work is good, and Sisko in particular seems to have a spark that he hasn't had in a long while, if ever.  (Avery Brooks, too, for that matter.)  Dax even points it out: this looming threat of conflict with the Dominion has given Sisko a passion he's lacked since his wife's death.  Brooks plays it well, and even has a funny scene -- a very funny scene, actually -- in which he coerces Quark to join the mission.
  
Other major developments:
  

Sunday, July 28, 2019

All the Ghosts Are Dead: Star Trek, episode 12, ''The Conscience of the King''

  
  
The sweet Lenore hath "gone before," with Hope, that flew beside,
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride—
For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
the life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes—
The life still there, upon her hair—the death upon her eyes.
  
—from "Lenore" by Edgar Allan Poe



 
  
Thinkest thou tonight's post be in danger of wild pretense?  Thou hast struck true.

We'll be attempting to catch "The Conscience of the King," a most pretentious episode.  Not, in many ways, a particularly good one.  But might there be more to the story than that, o weak and weary?
  




Before we go much further, let me state an essential fact: I don't think this episode works.  The plot didn't work particularly well in 1966; in 2019, it barely works at all.  That said, I watched the episode three times during the preparation for writing this post: the original version; the Remastered version; and the original version again for the purposes of note-taking and screencap harvesting.  Unexpectedly, I enjoyed each viewing more than the one before it, and by the time I'd finished taking my notes, I'd found myself rather haunted by the episode.  2139 words' of notes didst I take; that's considerably more than is typical for me in these TOS revisits, which typically involve me jotting down a few reminders for later expounding.  And sure, some of my "Conscience" notes were of the boy-howdy-this-sucks variety; but most were not, and I began to realize fairly early in the process that I was responding to ... what?  To something.  Beyond that, I was not immediately certain; but a response was being had, and that was more than I expected when I began working on this episode.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Nothing's the Same Anymore: Babylon 5, ''Chrysalis'' (season 1, episode 22)

Well, at long last, we're back on Babylon 5.
  
We last looked at an episode way back in February, and lest this seem like too lengthy a gap, let me plead innocence: it wasn't my fault this time!

Here's my story, yr. hnr. -- see, I've been watching Babylon 5 in chronological-by-airdate order, but mixed in with a rewatch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and THAT show I've been watching in tandem with the Mission Log podcast.  You've heard all of this before; I'm just restating the facts, judge.
  
Anyways, Mission Log wrapped its coverage of DS9's second season in February, then took an unannounced hiatus that ended up lasting nearly four months.  So what can I say?  The pace car got a flat tire, judge; we all had to wait.
  
In some ways, I didn't mind.  Things haven't been great here at the offices of Where No Blog Has Gone Before these past few months; unexpected work issues have made for some long weeks with nowhere near as much leisure time as I'd like, so I question whether I'd even have been able to find time to keep up with blogging up B5 episodes on a weekly basis during the Mission Log hiatus.  Those guys kind of did me a favor by taking four(ish) months off from their regular podcast.
  
They're back now, though, and so am I ... in my case, wondering whether finding the time for continued Babylon 5 blogging -- and maybe even the season-summary DS9 blogging I've been doing -- is doable.  I'm just not sure it is.  I'm enjoying it, but since my blogging time has been cut severely, can I really afford to spend it on posts like the one you're about to probably skip read?  Man, I just don't know.  Probably not.
  
In any case, I'm going to defer the decision for now.  Maybe I'll come to one at the end of this post; maybe I'll continue to play it by ear.  Time will tell.
  
  
Tonight, on the season finale: while Londo and G'Kar bring yet another diplomatic crisis before the advisory council, Garibaldi stumbles upon an assassination plot that could have far-reaching consequences.
  
  
  
  
(season 1, episode 22)
  
airdate:  October 26, 1994
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Janet Greek
  
  
It's worth mentioning that "Chrysalis," the season-one finale, aired more than two months after the penultimate episode of the season.  Why PTEN would have scheduled the episodes that way is a mystery to me.   In any case, it's twenty-five-year-old news, so we need not dwell on it; but I think it's worth bearing in mind that for anyone watching the series live in 1994, this must have been frustrating.  The upside: they'd only have to wait one week until the second-season premiere.  Weird move, guys; weird move.
  
As season finales go, "Chrysalis" is effective enough.  It brings several of the concerns that have been popping off throughout the season to a head, advancing each; it resolves none of them, but sets the show's characters on paths that, presumably, builds anticipation for the next phase of the series.  I think it works from that standpoint reasonably well.  Some of the production flaws that plague the first season plague its finale, which arguably blunts the impact a bit.  My sense is that if you can't let go of that a bit by the end of the season, the season is probably forever dead to you.
  
Twenty-five years on, I find it difficult not to succumb to that sort of negativity.  Blogging about the series is having the curious effect of both worsening that tendency and alleviating it: I'm constantly seeing things that just flat-out do not work at all, but I'm also seeing moments where things do work, and work in a way that was (to say the least) uncommon for syndicated sci-fi in 1994.  DS9 was already making moves in that direction, but its feints toward serialization -- certainly at this time -- seem half-hearted and reactionary.  On Babylon 5, they feel considered and weighty; Straczynski and his cast and crew are not always capable of achieving their ambitions, nor do they have a clear line of sight toward knowing quite how to even try -- but that they have those ambitions at all is still a thing worth celebrating.
  
"Chrysalis" is certainly one of the more successful attempts to this point in the series.  As alluded to earlier, the episode shoves many of its central characters toward points of transformation.  Heck, it's right there in the title: a chrysalis, after all, is a thing from which one emerges very much changed, or from which one emerges not at all.  It is Delenn herself who goes into a literal chrysalis -- as was foreshadowed in "The Quality of Mercy" -- by the end of the episode.  We'll have to wait a few episodes to find out what her emergence brings; I can't quite remember how many, but it's several.
  
Elsewhere, metaphorical chrysalises are also entered, both by individuals and by entire cultures.  Let's run down the list:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I Wouldn't Examine That Dream Too Closely: Star Trek, Episode 11, ''Miri''

We recommence our (unforgivably long-paused) exploration of Star Trek today with:
  
  
  
  
Is there any Trekkie anywhere whose favorite episode is "Miri"?  I'm sure there must be, and I'm equally sure there must be one or two somewhere whose rock-bottom least favorite episode is "Miri."

In both cases, I'd hoick a skeptical-Spock eyebrow.  I find this to an undistinguished but inoffensive episode.  There are pros and cons alike, and I'd like now to run through a few of each.
  
Pro: