Wednesday, September 28, 2011

TNG Ep. 46: The Emissary

The Enterprise receives an emergency mission to intercept a Klingon crew awaking from hibernation. With the help of half-Klingon K'Ehleyr as ambassador, the Enterprise attempts to convince the Klingons that the war with the Federation is over. In the end it is Worf, not the ambassador, that has the bright idea to bend the truth just a wee bit and make it look like Klingons hold high positions in Federation ships like the Enterprise. Another Federation ship then arrives to take over the Klingon's re-education. During the episode, we also learn that Worf and the ambassador have a previous history together, which quickly develops into a confusing love relationship. When the ambassador leaves, Worf is upset to see her go, and also upset that she won't agree to marry him right then and there.

Human and Klingon half breed? Yes, please. Or, maybe what I liked the most about Ambassador K'Ehleyr was that she is hot. She's intelligent and she smirks. It's almost like her character was created specifically to be a believable love interest for Worf. Much more believable than Data and Tasha, although that's probably Denise Crosby's fault.

The plot didn't hurt, either. It's the kind of thing that feels uniquely scifi because it makes you believe that it requires far-future technology, which in this case is working cryogenics. Actually, you could have a similar plot with spectacular magic in the stead of spectacular technology, but that's the writer in me starting to ramble, and you probably don't want to hear about Rip Van Winkle. Or, if you do, you'd rather hear it from the pen of Washington Irving.

Where was I? Right. Klingons. It is of course positively believable that Klingons that have had the misfortune of being frozen in time would be more difficult to handle than the every day sort. They barely admit that they're human's allies now, so I wouldn't relish trying to convince an ancient generation of that fact. Especially if I wasn't Klingon myself, which if you hadn't noticed, every one on the Enterprise suffers from that ailment, except Worf of course. Unfortunately Worf suffers from being Worf, so the Federation doesn't want to trust him (curse him?) with the task. Instead they send what must be the only Klingon or part Klingon negotiator they have, and even she thinks the mission is impossible. Why? Because they're Klingons! Klingons are always impossible!

Especially if you're trying to convince them to get married. Oh, wait. That's humans. Oh well. I suppose it would have changed the show a bit too much to throw in a new main character by having the Ambassador stay on the ship just because she and Worf spent a night together. Yet, it would have been disappointing if nothing had happened between them, especially with the background presented to us of their former history, their almost-relationship of yore. This way we get proof that Worf can get along with someone, and that he is capable of a romantic relationship. (He's the one who wants to get married, remember?) This is a relief when compared to other hints we've gotten previously, which basically amount to "no way is this man hitching up with a 'normal' Klingon." We like our main characters to at least have that capacity. Heck, even Picard has a past history with a hot old woman.

In the end, the good aspects of this episode can be summed up as: No Klingon death yell and pan out. Seriously, I don't think I can ever let that one go.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

TNG Ep. 45: Manhunt

I was very pleased with myself when I guessed that Troi's mother was about to show up. Nothing else makes her stand up and take the Lord's name in vain quite like that!

The Enterprise transports fish-aliens to a conference. To their surprise, they also have to transport Troi's mother. The biggest problem with this fact is that Troi's mother is undergoing a type of menopause where her sexual drive has skyrocketed, and she's chosen Picard as her first target. Picard spends considerable efforts thwarting her, and she finally gives up, but not after thinking for a moment that Riker, of all people, might marry her instead. About to transport to the conference, she reveals that the fish-aliens, who have been in a comatose state until then, are actually assassins. Worf takes them away and every one gets to leave with their skin intact.

My mother pointed out that Wesley wasn't much in the previous episode where we see Troi's mother because of the naked wedding idea. Surprise, but he's not much in this one, either, besides making a few jokes about fish-aliens.

Speaking of which, Worf was absolutely hilarious in this episode. I love how he thinks the fish-aliens are handsome, whereas all the humans think that they look like, well, fish. He doesn't have much better to do besides admire the catatonic fish people, since it's his job to guard them - at least until the end, where Ms. Troi finally does something useful and announces that they're assassins. A good thing, to, since otherwise she was mostly a pain in the butt to the crew.

The only thing I didn't like about this episode was the Dix Hill stuff. It makes sense that Picard would go to his regular fall-back for entertainment, but at the point where he's nearly been "shot" twice, I expected him to turn the dang program off and pick something else. Has he no imagination? I know he's stuffy, but jeez. He could have asked for a beautiful woman in a bar, minus the impending encounter with an illusion who wants to shoot him.

Not that I didn't find everything else amusing. The whole point of the episode was to be amusing, and they pulled it off much better than that very early episode in season one where Picard binds himself with an energy being. In this episode you can actually tell that they're joking around. Actress Majel certainly helps, since she pulls off the characters so very well. It gave the writers a chance to make fun of Data, and it gave Riker a chance to make fun of Picard. Hilarity all around! And no one got assassinated. I call that a win.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vivid Imagery: Thinking Without Words

Let me share with you a mental pre-writing exercise I do to improve my imagery. I’m not much of a visual person, so I need to consciously add visuals, and I’m lazy, so I like any thing that theoretically shortens the editing process. Your reasons for trying this out might differ.

So here’s what you do. Sit where there are no distractions and close your eyes. Wear noise reduction head phones, if need be. Now, think about one of your stories. Alternatively, you can see whatever idea comes to mind, or you can start with an image that doesn’t have any attachments. Whatever you’re thinking about, begin banishing all thoughts that contain words. Refuse to even let the words finish forming. Focus on visuals and movement, and anything that doesn’t lend itself instantly to speech. Think without words.

If you just thought, “That’s crazy!” Well, of course it sounds crazy. Crazy is a word, and the word part of your brain thinks of itself as essential to your very being. Words are, after all, the main vehicles by which you communicate ideas to others. Don’t believe me that there is a word part of your brain? It’s called Broca’s area. (Cue Rainbow! The More You Know...) Linguists have a running debate on whether the language you speak shapes the way you think - but the point is, we CAN think without language, and you probably think differently when you think without language’s influence. This can lead to the kinds of ideas that normally wouldn’t even occur to you. Perhaps it will be the germ of a new story, or perhaps you’ll finally light upon something that makes that villain extra memorable.

Example: While practicing this exercise in preparation for this post, I saw a tabby cat with swirls for stripes. Next, a bird with triangles for feathers. There are so many ways I could chose to go with that. Main characters in a children’s book? Golems in a fantasy story? Constructs in steampunk?

And yes, I am essentially asking you to see things that aren’t there. So go to your quiet place, close your eyes, and see what you see.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TNG Ep. 44: Up the Long Ladder

Who doesn't like a chance to make fun of the Irish?

The Enterprise responds to an SOS signal from an unknown Earth colony. The colony's sun is destabilizing, so the Enterprise beams all 200 aboard - them and all their chickens. The colony isn't technologically advanced, but they're also no dummies. They are cultural relics but all-in-all they get along with the Enterprise crew after they discover that they can't set fires in the cargohold. Meanwhile, the Enterprise discovers another colony in the system that was colonized at the same time, but is technologically advanced. Unfortunately, the colony is a colony of clones made from the only five survivors. The clones attempt to steal DNA from Riker and Pulaski after they refuse to give it freely, but Riker and Pulaski freely destroy the incubating clones and shake their fingers at the colonists. Then the crew has a brilliant idea - dump the Irish colony unto the colony that needs breeding stock. Picard manages to convince the two colonies that it's a good idea, and everyone goes happily about their new lives. As a parting note, Dr. Pulaski suggests that to ensure the future of the colony, the first generation of women should each have three husbands.

Compared to the episodes before it, this episode is mediocre. Compared to season one, this episode is still pretty awesome. The best part was the loud-mouthed woman that Riker took a liking - and more! - to. The mediocre part doesn't really come in there, but in little details like OH let's just murder some clones! Or we'll just shout "Murderers!" and that will suffice. Maybe if they'd spent less time making fun of the Irish, they'd've had more time to explore issues like that. Not that I didn't enjoy watching Worf give the colonist a harsh Klingon drink.

The end made me wonder about gene pools in a population. I'm generally familiar with the concept of gene pools and why five people wouldn't work very well for a colony, but I'm wondering how over-simplified Dr. Pulaski's suggestion is. I'm wondering if they could still have monogamous relationships if each simply had enough children. Each child, after all, takes a different bit of its parents genes, like a dice throw with a bajillion sides. But then, I guess each woman would have a harder, or at least different, kind of burden if they each had to have a dozen or so children. Three children begins to sound much better.

And maybe loud-mouth lady already has a child by Riker. That should help the gene pool, if they're lacking in bull-headedness.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

TNG Ep. 43: Samaritan Snare

So, the title spoils it some, but the Enterprise is about to get caught up in some trouble when they go to help some people. Just thought I'd spell that out for you.

Picard leaves the ship in order to have his heart replaced, a common surgery that he wishes Dr. Pulaski not to perform for unknown personal reasons. Wesley also leaves to take some kind of Academy examines, although these are never clearly explored. Back on the Enterprise, Riker receives a distress call, which he answers. The aliens that have put out the distress signal appear to have some trouble with their ship, and also appear to have limited mental capacities. Troi warns Riker that something is up, but Riker sends Geordi over any way. The aliens kidnap Geordi and nearly kill him with his own phaser. The Enterprise gets Geordi back by tricking the aliens, and just in time. Picard's surgery is going very badly, and the Enterprise returns so that Dr. Pulaski can save his life. Picard wakes up to find Dr. Pulaski there, grumbles, and everything goes back to normal.

I do like that the aliens are smarter than they first seemed, but still aren't geniuses. It is a little creepy that they look, uh... like certain humans with a certain disorder? Did anyone else catch that, or is my brain making with the crazy? In any case, I do believe that they were purposefully creepy, since they were the antagonists of the episode and all.

The thing that bothers me most about this episode is the idea that they kind of got away with it. They didn't get to keep Geordi, but they're still out there. They're not in prison, or to our knowledge have been put on any sort of social quarantine. We're not left with any sense that the Enterprise bothered to inform any one else of what happened, beyond their usual log reports. I suppose that's because Picard wasn't there to captain. Ha! Just kidding. Riker did a good enough job. He could have listened to Troi a little more, especially considering that he likes her (as in, like like!), but we're long ago convinced that he has his share of arrogance. Man, those aliens? They look totally harmless. It's just the Rabbit of Caerbannog.

Poor Troi. And poor Geordi.

Oh yeah! And Picard almost died. Except that he's Picard, so we knew that he wouldn't actually die. We got to see him look grumpy, though. That saves the episode, right? Seriously, though. The best part of this episode is Picard's crankiness, and his ability to hold it in when he's stuck with Wesley on a six hour flight in a shuttlecraft. Like all kids, Wesley sure knows how to ask questions.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pantsing: Scene by Scene

Usually I outline the plot from beginning to end before I set pen to paper (or...fingers to keyboard?). The outline might only exist in my head. It might be short, or vague, or sport a few large holes, but it will contain at least a beginning and an end. I like to know where the story’s headed so that I have a goal to shoot towards and so that I have some idea of how long it’s going to take me to get there. It’s these two things that keep me slogging through to the end of a first draft. At least, this is what I tell myself. Part of my success with outlining is just that I’ve made it a habit, and habits are maintained by, well, by doing them.

Then I took a six month break from writing fiction. I had just been through a move and it had completely obliterated the forward momentum I’d had on a large writing project. I switched to editing a short story and had to abandon that, too. I was suffering morning sickness and “looking forward” to moving some time before the baby was due. Frustrated, I decided that it would be better to take a purposeful break than to feel ashamed for accidentally not getting any thing accomplished*. But now that the break is over, I find myself writing... differently. It’s a bit like how I used to write before I decided to take writing seriously and develop My Way of Doing Things. But that’s not necessarily bad. It feels good to rediscover my roots.

My root is the scene. I used to think that my writing root was the characters, but it’s not. The characters are like the little tendrils that break when you mercilessly yank that pansy out of the pot for replanting. They grow to fit the container you put them in, and they regrow after you brutalize them like the heartless, character-murdering god you are. The scene, on the other hand, is how you present to the reader not only the characters but all the other good stuff, like car chases. And the Big Idea. You know, whatever there’s room to include.

The interesting thing about my scenes is that I also plan these in advance, even if “in advance” is only ten minutes beforehand. Envisioning scenes in my head is simply how I think about my stories most of the time, and although details such as exact wording will change once it’s actually written, I never find myself staring at the proverbial blank page. I do this because I can’t stand the idea of wasting time, so I’m brainstorming through scenes when I’m doing things like getting ready for bed or waiting at the doctors. If I give up on a story, it’s always at a scene break. That part hasn’t changed.

But now, instead of these scenes following an outline, they follow what I can only describe as developing action. I’ve got a basic world idea, a main character, and a theme. The more scenes I write, the more characters and events I have to draw from for following scenes. I think of two characters together, or a theme like, what would this character think about such-and-such? and from that come the scenes in my head. Then, before I actually write the scenes, I try to eliminate any that don’t have enough forward action. By forward action I mean any kind of discovery, decision, or action that has significance for the theme of the story and/or the main character. Compared to my usual method, this is flying blind. This is writing [i]too early[/i], before I know how the story will end or even who all of the main characters are. Example? After writing in it for a week, I finally have bad guys.

Part of me is screaming - how can I possibly finish a story like this? Won’t I paint myself in a corner at some point, or run out of ideas? But then the rest of me is enjoying myself. I’m banging out 1000 words a day after 0 words a day for six months. And since I naturally tend towards short fiction writing, 1000 words a day is a pretty good haul for me**. 2000 words is when I go buy myself (and my toddler) ice cream.

I suppose I won’t know how I feel about this New Way until I see how the project turns out. In the mean time you can take bets on if this hobbled-together method will have me cursing myself by Christmas, or if I’ll turn out with a workable first draft. If I do, maybe I’ll find some way to refine the method or explain it in more detail.

Does this sound like any thing you do? What works and what doesn’t, for you? Maybe I’ll get lucky and one of you will give me a heads up for what NOT to do when writing by the seat of your pants. Ready, set, COMMENT. Do your good deed for the day.

*Technically I wrote a couple thousand words during this break. That’s kind of like saying that you exercise at work by walking to the water cooler.
**Seriously. The first draft of this post was 1000 words and it felt like the longest thing ever.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

TNG Ep. 42: Q Who

Q appears and asks to join the Enterprise. When Picard informs him that the Enterprise crew doesn't trust him enough, Q insists that the Enterprise needs him. To illustrate, he flings them years away from any Federation starbases, where they meet the Borg. The Borg are a collective entity that captures and consumes other species and their technology. Gaigan, who turns out not to be a human, reveals that her people have encountered the Borg and faired poorly because of it. The Borg nearly destroy the Enterprise, but at the last minute, Q deigns to save them when Picard is willing to ask him for help. Picard talks with Gaigan about the future of the Federation, now that the Borg are probably coming for them.

I KNEW IT. I knew it was the Borg!

Honestly, I think this episode must have been more exciting for me than it would have been for the people first watching it without any future knowledge of Star Trek. For me, I know that we'll be seeing the Borg again. I mean, yes, they tell you that at the end of the episode, but Star Trek hasn't had the best reputation with continuity up to this point, and I knew before they even had to say it. The Borg was my favorite part of Voyager (or the only part I liked. I can't remember for sure). I am extremely pleased that this episode and the Borg reach back all the way to the first season finale. In fact, I'm going to have to start reminding myself that this particular Star Trek series is actually trying for overreaching plot and continuity. In case you weren't convinced earlier, this is no TOS. And that's coming from someone who loves TOS.

Another clue that continuity is the new in-word: Q is back! I knew he would be, from what I vaguely remembered from when TNG first aired, but I worried about how they would bring him back. Thankfully, it was plausible. It was quite apparent last time that Q pissed off some of his fellow Q people, so now we learn that they have rightfully kicked him to the curb. I enjoy the fact that he wants to join the Enterprise, but doesn't understand why they don't want him. He manages to make his point in the end, but there's also the subtle fact that he proved their point - Q is untrustworthy. He flung them at the Borg, for goodness' sake.

The one thing I'm confused about is Gainan. The other characters act like her alieness is no surprise to them, so from the viewer's perspective, it's like the writer's were winging it. I mean, 10 Forward didn't even exist when we first saw Q in season one, otherwise we would have heard about some of this silliness then. I don't mind her being powerful or knowledgeable, I suppose, but I do hate it when it feels like the writers are just throwing darts at a board. Maybe the explanation would be that Gainan joined the ship between the two seasons. Hopefully, since season two has been so much better than season one, we can look forward to less scrambling to fill in plot holes like this one.

To summarize, Borg + Q = awesome!