Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Flash: "Stolen Mass"

Every rotation, she diminishes and I increase. I will be my sister's grim reaper. I can imagine that, at first, our parents were ecstatic. A twin star birth would be a powerful one, enough to increase our galaxy's standing against our neighbors. Then I and my sister emerged, not the promised identical twins of legend, but ever so slightly mismatched. Already, she is an orange-red subgiant, doomed to a cooling core.

This flash is a "six sentences" format and I've recently posted on the Six Sentences social network.

Happy New Years Resolution! Come a bit early, I suppose.

Looking to connect with other flash writers, read, and share your own work? Find me here:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

TNG Ep. 59: The Hunted

The Enterprise investigates Angosia as an applicant to the Federation. During the investigation, the crew assists in the capture and detainment of a criminal escaped from a lunar colony, Roga Danar. The Enterprise learns that the criminal is an war veteran psychologically programmed and physically modified to be an adept soldier. These modifications leave the veterans with tendencies towards violent, even murderous outbursts. The Angosia government has imprisoned all such veterans on the lunar colony with no plans to reintegrate them into mainstream society. Roga Danar escapes The Enterprise and frees several of his fellow inmates, who then hold key members of the Angosia government hostage. It appears as if several of the Enterprise crew will become involved in the conflict, but Picard orders non-interference and they all beam out, leaving the Angosians to their own troubles.

Well, that was sure depressing. Not the ending, but the whole premise. The US government does a lot to attempt to provide for its veterans, but they can never guarantee a good reception by all of society. Just last summer I was hearing that veterans that had left service after 9/11 had a higher unemployment rate that their fellow veterans and also higher than the average citizen. Tsk, tsk, society. Scarier than that, though, is the idea of the super soldier, and of our inability to turn a super soldier back into a regular citizen. You can't just wipe the training and the memories of war. You can't say "just kidding" and rewind time for them - just like you can't take back the bad experiences that happen to numerous poor and otherwise disadvantaged people around the world, except that with soldiers, its more directly our fault if they turn out too Super. But maybe we could give them a chance at a job, out of respect for the fact that they risked so much for us.

Of course, the super soldiers in the episode are a bit more extreme than our real veterans. Most real veterans aren't more likely to, say, knife us in the back, and we try really hard to identify those who are, so that they can get help and not give the rest a bad reputation. We try not to give them multiple personalities and all that fun stuff. But, hey, with Scifi, anything is possible! It's more exciting that way! No, wait... still depressing.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Special Time of Year from PV

Listen to a special message from Pendragon Variety!

In related news, I finally worked out a decent setup for recording prose. The last couple of projects that I had tried to record were full of noise that no amount of editing could eradicate. Now I just need a decent pair of headphones so that I might join the Ladies Pendragon on their group recordings.

Oh, and Merry Christmas, every one!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

This Year, Next Year

Despite moving and having a baby, this year has not been a total loss writing and podcasting wise. Here's what I've been up to both here on the blog and elsewhere, and what I'm planning for next year:
  • TNG Reviews. I had made it my goal for the year to write TNG episode reviews every week and that I have. It has been great practice for writing nonfiction and for posting regularly, to a deadline. I found that I prefer to write a bunch at once and schedule them ahead of time. As such, the reviews will continue for the beginning of 2012, but I plan to close this chapter of the blog in the spring. I'd like to finish TNG and get to DS9 ever in my life. Plus, I have something else to review now!
  • YA Book Reviews - I’ve been writing the YA Report at SFFWRTCHT. Bryan Schmidt, scifi author and orchastrator of the weekly #sffwrtcht chat on twitter, runs author interviews and the like on the associated blog. I do a small part of the work, writing reviews and interviews for the YA Report column. From now on I'll be posting here to let you know about these reviews! Here's what's up so far:

  • NaNoWriMo - My biggest fiction writing achievement this year was with NaNoWriMo. I set my goal at 25k based on my most productive days since the move and the baby, and I outlined ahead of time using the notecard method and the suggestions in Scribe's blog, Ink Stained Scribe. The final piece of my success was my use of Write or Die. I'm hoping to edit this novella (The Real Woman) in January. The whole family has been sick for a month, prompting a break from such endeavors, but the real culprit has been holiday shopping. January is a new year!
  • Pendragon Variety Podcast - I haven't been able to join in on the recordings, but I've been doing a little bit of work on the backend, like uploading the mp3 files. These ladies are pretty funny and insightful, and there are some changes coming next year, so go check it out*! The Ladies have also been involved in a reading of A Christmas Carol.
  • Theory Train - I've mentioned before that I'm staff on this specific magazine. Recently I helped judge submissions and now issue 3 is out! Keep us in mind if you're looking for something short to read or submit.
  • Lesson Plans - I used to work in afterschool education and now I'm planning on homeschooling my own kids. They're only two and zero, but that's not too early for lesson plans! I've been writing math activities and looking into teaching at a homeschooler's coop. Bet you didn't know that!
  • Pendragon Express - We had a great time at *! I started a newsletter for the project, but it's been a bit on hold. What I really need is local people who want to run tables and small events to represent independent publishing. I'd love to play backup, helping prepare displays and talk to authors and the like, but I can't be the main person going to these events. Please let me know if you're interested because otherwise the entire project will need to go on hold.
  • Flash! Next year I'm hoping to get back into writing flash fiction (regularly. I did write some!) and participating in the drabblecast forums. I thoroughly enjoyed being an active forum member there and I miss the people and the flash fiction - both my own and theirs. And I loved podcasting flash, and even have a mic appropriate for it. Flash fiction fits best into my current life style, what with two small kids, so my obsession with trying and failing with longer forms doesn't make sense. Folded Word might be releasing an anthology of my flash next year. Why not stick with what I know? Here I come #flashfriday and @dribblecast ! I would also like to submit any of said flash any where by the end of the year. Perhaps I'll refine this part of my goals at a later date. ;)
  • Questions for Writers (tag QfW). My amusement with this has ended! This is not currently in the plans for 2012.
What are your goals? What were your goals last year and what did you accomplish?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

TNG Ep. 58: The Defector

The Enterprise rescues a Romulan craft pursued into Federation space by a Romulan warbird. The Romulan warbird turns tail and the single Romulan occupying the craft boards the Enterprise, announcing his intentions to defect and claiming knowledge of a secret Romulan installation in the Neutral Zone. At first Picard is suspicious because the defector claims to be an insignificant clerk, but then Picard learns that the defector is actually Admiral Jarok. Jarok eventually gives Picard detailed tactical information, convincing him to investigate the supposed base. The Enterprise does, only to be attacked by cloaked Romulan ships. The Enterprise is ready with three cloaked Birds of Prey, so the Romulans turn tail. Jarok was set up, used as a pawn to lure the Enterprise into a trap. He can never return to his wife and family because he defected, but staying in the Federation will mean that he is tortured if he does not give up Romulan secrets. He chooses to kill himself, and this ends the episode.

YES. I love the twist at the end of this episode. It would have been too simple if Setal was double-crossing the Enterprise, yet too easy if he really did know about a secret violation of the treaty. Instead, every one gets screwed in some way or another - check mate! Political intrigue isn't my favorite kind of premise for an episode, but I enjoyed this one any way because of how well they characterized Setal and Picard. I also tend to enjoy episodes that can't be easily summed up in four sentences or less.

And I know that last week I was complaining about that episode being depressing, but here it totally makes sense that Setal would kill himself at the end. Where would he go and what would he do, if he were alive? No doubt he had Romulan secrets that he didn't want to tell the Federation despite his defection, and they probably would have just tortured him until he died any way. Usually I'm totally against stories ending in suicide - don't get me started on how much I hate The Awakening! - but this one I can accept, in part because he isn't a main character of the series. The writers wanted to get him out of the way, and I can understand that as long as his actions aren't out of character, which they aren't. Boohoo, a Romulan died. The end.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

TNG Ep. 57: The Vengeance Factor

Upon investigating a raided Federation outpost, the Enterprise is drawn into a long-standing clan war among the Acamarian people. One faction, The Gathers, who were responsible for the raid, have exiled themselves from their home planet, refusing to take part in the others' treaty(s) ending the clan wars. Picard convinces the Acamarian Sovereign to once again seek reconciliation. The Sovereign brings her personal servant, Yuta, who secretly attacks one of the Gathers at the first peace meeting. At first it appears as if the man died of natural causes, but Dr. Crusher soon discovers that it was actually a microvirus that had to have been genetically engineered to target a certain Acamarian clan. Data and then discovers that it is Yuta who carries the virus, and Riker rushes to stop her before she can kill The Gathers' leader. He arrives at the peace talks just in time, but must kill Yuta, whom he has been infatuated with. The Acamarians are grateful and go on their way. Riker is put out by the whole affair.

Aw, how sad. But who doesn't love a good murder mystery?

Though, seriously, that woman should give it up. Maybe I just wasn't raised with enough feuding instructions, but I find Yuta's character to be a prime example of why people should grow old and die at a rate proportionate to their fellow human beings. Otherwise you'd have those die-hards (pun intended) who would be carrying on prejudices and the like for eternity, because their papa raised them that way. Think about it - if people didn't die out in their natural time, we'd probably still have segregated buses (or have them again). Note that this is also why cryogenically frozen Klingon soldiers are a bad idea. Yuta might as well have been frozen all this time for as much as she was willing to change her character and sense of purpose.

Poor Riker. They might have been good together if it wasn't for the whole obsessive assassination thing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

TNG Ep. 56: The Price

The Federation is in a bid for what appears to be a stable wormhole, with The Enterprise as its representative. If the wormhole is actually stable, it could mean a cheap form of transportation to wherever the other end of the wormhole happens to hang out. The Ferengi suddenly appear and demand to be included, after which things start to get messy. The Enterprise obtains permission to run some tests on the wormhole, with the stipulation that they share all of the data collected with the other bidders. But, since the Ferengi don't trust any one, the Ferengi insist on being allowed to run their own tests. Meanwhile, Troi has a passionate affair with one of the negotiators who is secretly a mind-reader as well. Their relationship becomes strained when Troi finds out that her new lover uses his powers to deceive his competitors and otherwise gain the advantage. The shuttle team goes through the wormhole and discovers that it is not stable and that the other end does not stay in the same location. They try to warn the Ferengi, but the Ferengi shuttle won't take their word for it and end up stranded, with no possible rescue. Back at the negotiations, Troi's lover has worked up a ploy with the Ferengi that Troi feels she must call him out on, revealing his secret. She ends their relationship. Everyone learns that the worm hole is worthless, and all go their separate ways.

Pluses for this episode include Ferengi, gambling, and distraught Troi. Not that I don't like Troi, but I do have to admit that I like the Soap Opera Factor. Perhaps I should start giving out Soap Opera Points? I bet that the SOP score would correlate with how much I enjoy an episode. This would be especially true when I can stand behind at least one character's choices, because I wouldn't have stayed with Ral, either.

It's also good to have other things happening in the episode. Distrustful Ferengi are always good for a laugh, even when they get stranded by a worm hole which is almost the same as getting dead. And where there's Ferengi, there's often some sort of gambling, and I find it hilarious that they weren't even invited initially. It was also a nice touch that the gambling centered around a tantalizing scientific possibility. Man, what if there really was a stable worm hole? I imagine that after the newness wore off it would become an everyday super highway, even if they couldn't replicate it, but there's always that Ooooo factor when something like that is first discovered. Kind of like "Oooo, fire." Fiiiiiiiiire. Fire is pretty!

Er, I mean... Yay, science!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

TNG Ep. 55: The Enemy

The away team beam down to a dangerous planet to find a downed Romulan spaceship. Geordi gets lost on the planet and does not make the rendezvous to beam back up to the ship. Worf and Riker beam up without him, towing along an unconscious Romulan survivor. Dr. Crusher learns that the Romulan will not survive without a transfusion from Worf, which Worf refuses on the basis that he's a Klingon and the dude is Romulan. Meanwhile, another Romulan ship appears and demands that the survivors be returned to them, which causes some hoopla about the neutral zone and who is breaking what treaty more. Back on the planet, Geordi runs into another survivor, and they quickly learn that they must work together in order to survive and get beamed the heck out of there. Once they are beamed back to the Enterprise, Picard returns the Romulan to the other Romulan ship, narrowly avoiding an epic battle.

As the Wonder Pets say: "What's gonna work? Teamwork!"

Feel free to imagine that with cheerleaders and pompoms in addition to the duck, turtle, and hamster. What an unlikely Trio!

One thing the Wonder Pets have over the characters in this episode is that they don't hate each other to start off with. Thus, the title of the episode, in case you were wondering. Team work is easy if you don't hate each other! It's much harder if you're expecting to be killed and/or tortured in the foreseeable future. You don't want to be part of the team work that leads to your own torture, because that makes you a chump. But neither do you particularly want to die. Sigh. Decisions! Decisions are hard!

Yep. That's pretty much the take-away from this episode. Decisions are hard. I suppose that's a solid enough premise.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TNG Ep. 54: Booby Trap

The Enterprise finds an old ship left over from a battle. After inspecting the ship they find that the debris field is a trap. Geordi must figure out how to get the Enterprise out of the trap, and to do so, he has the Enterprise create a holographic projection of a star ship designer - and guess what? She's cute. Together they figure out two methods that might let the Enterprise escape. One requires handing the ship over to the computer, and the other requires shutting down all nonessential functions and drivings the ship manually. Picard drives the Enterprise out of the trap and Geordi says goodbye to his holographic sweetie.

The opening scene where Geordi is on a date was pretty funny. As much as I like the shooty-guns bits of Star Trek, sometimes its nice to be reminded that they actually live on the ship, 24/7, inbetween the alien attacks. There's also a precedent for this kind of topic already. You might remember this scene from "The Dauphin" where Riker and Guinan pretend flirt as an example for Wesley. I probably shouldn't have mentioned that, because in comparison, this scene was pretty lame. Ah well. Maybe its because of the pat answer that Guinan gives, which amounts to "just be yourself." What would have been 'truly amazing' is if that lesson had somehow tied in to the rest of the plot.

OH WAIT. In true Star Trek fashion, it did. Geordi "meets" a young, smart woman - or rather, her holograph - that helps him solve the ship's problems. It's kind of creepy, and by kind of, I mean a lot. At the end of the episode the holograph assures him that she'll always be with him, every time he...touches the ship. And does Geordi learn anything about interacting with real women? Probably just that he shouldn't bother because his one true love is now a woman who is out of his reach on some star base or research station somewhere. Yeesh.

To contrast with the message that holographic women are awesome, the Enterprise crew goes the opposite direction when they escape the mine field. Geordi says that their chances are the same whether they let the computer try or do it themselves, so they opt to do it themselves, with Captain Picard at the helm. I'm all for believing that humans are superior to non-sentient machines, especially if those humans are Captain Picard, but in this case I'm not at all convinced. The escape depended on reaction time and correct calculations, not "intuition". I think the computer could have handled using the asteroids' mass to sling shot around and increase their speed. Letting Picard do it instead is like letting your legally blind great-grandfather drive you to the hospital.

Picard's references to building ships in bottles is cute, but eh. I never built ships in bottles. This episode had a lot of technical babble that I didn't care for, but at least ended with a big explosion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

TNG Ep. 53: The Bonding

The away team accidentally triggers an explosion which kills Lieutenant Marla Aster, leaving behind her orphan son. A mysterious being from the planet appears in the form of the late Marla Aster, claiming to be his mother. The being causes other illusions that are designed to make the boy feel more at ease with his strangely undead mother. When the crew catches on, they try reasoning with both the boy and the alien. Eventually they win out by pointing out that the apparition can never be his real mother, and that he has the other crew members to help him through his grief.

Grief is always a hard subject to tackle, but I think this episode does a good job of it. It helps that they use a kid as the focal point, so that grief can be simplified for the limited time we have to explore it, but Worf and teenage Wesley are also adeptly used. In fact, their interactions with Jeremy are a bit like what self-parenting might sound like. Like, a part of you feels one way, but another, more mature part of you knows better.

And then there's the underlying question of what makes something real. If believing were everything, then insanity wouldn't exist, but if hard facts were everything, then delusions wouldn't exist because there'd be no room for them. Jeremy is offered a tempting fantasy. What, exactly, makes that fantasy wrong? Is it that he would always know that it was just a fantasy, so he could never fully accept it and be happy? Is it that it only mimics a lost reality, and can't actually replicate it exactly? Man, I got philosophy in my Scifi TV!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

TNG Ep. 52: Who Watches the Watchers

When the Enterprise stops to repair an observation outpost, the outpost's shields are accidentally disrupted and one of the proto-Vulcan Mintakan are injured. Dr. Crusher beams the Mintakan aboard, fixes him up, and wipes his memory, but something goes wrong with the memory wipe because he remembers seeing Picard. Once returned to his people, he starts a religion revolving around "The Picard" which ultimately can only be stopped by Picard himself showing up and offering to get shot by an arrow. Before that, though, Riker and Troi try other stupid ideas that only cause more chaos.

I like this episode because it deals with Prime Directive issues, but not in the "we're going to break the Prime Directive on purpose" way. Even the Enterprise crew makes mistakes! And does the mistake they make get to be the small, insignificant kind that fizzles out on its own? Ha! No. What kind of an episode would that make?

The one thing that's disappointing about this episode are the various comments degrading religion in general. I have no problem with the premise of the episode being that a religion builds around an alien sighting. Shoot. People make their brains jump through all sorts of hoops to explain what to them is the unexplainable. That doesn't mean that Star Trek has to make it sound like all religious people base their beliefs on random weird things that happened to their predecessors. We just don't want a religion based on an accidental sighting of Picard! And there the episode gets it right - the only way to correct such a mistake is to tell the truth. If the unexplainable is explainable, explain it. Especially if you're the one who caused the misunderstanding in the first place. Even the Prime Directive agrees. (Right? It should).

It is also nice to see that the Enterprise crew tried to fix the problem without revealing themselves further. You know, like they actually care about that Prime Directive thing they all swore to follow. Plus, the episode would have been really short if Picard beamed down at the beginning to tell every one what's what. Instead we had to wait until lives were actually at stake. That's the Star Trek way!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

TNG Ep. 51: The Survivors

The Enterprise crew finds a devastated planet with only two survivors. The crew's attempts to convince the two to leave their doomed planet are consistently interrupted by the mysterious appearance of an unknown enemy ship. Meanwhile, Troi is bed-ridden by a psychic audio hallucination of music, music that matches a music box found at the survivors' house. Eventually one of the survivors, Kevin, admits that he is an all-powerful alien who has been causing the enemy ship to appear and the music to play in Troi's head, all to keep from being bothered and/or found out for what he really is. He tells the story of the planet's destruction, and how in a fit of revenge he killed off the entire species that murdered his lover along with the planet. This he regrets, and he had thought to live out his days alone with her specter, created by himself. Picard decides to leave Kevin to his self-exile.

Ah, for once we meet an all-powerful being with something of a conscience, and one who can relate to humans. Oh, I suppose the shape shifters in The Dauphin (Ep. 36) also qualify, but that episode and its Wesley googley-eyes is best forgotten. I'm pretty sure Kevin is more powerful, any way. Something about killing 50 billion beings on a revengeful whim.

There's something about that kind of power that makes the moral question presented intriguing. As a species, we're often struggling to keep our moral compass up-to-date with our newest powers, usually technology. We, too, have weapons that we're reluctant to ever use. Nuclear Holocaust, any one? But this goes beyond that because WWIII would probably harm the very people who unleash such weapons. Kevin's powers are more precise, so he experiences no physical repercussions, even when its a whole species that he wipes out. What would keep us from blowing our enemies to smithereens if we could be sure that we'd suffer no physical harm in return? Whenever we're powerful enough to annihilate someone else, there's usually something like resource dependence, or even powerful third parties, to keep us at bay. What if you could kill your enemy with a thought?

Well, I suppose first you'd enter a truce with the rest of your all-powerful species not to use such powers on each other. And then, if you have a lot of you running around, it could get quite messy if every one is always acting on a whim. You'd think Q would be more careful, eh? But Kevin is different than Q in that he seems to have a conscience quite similar to ours, or what we hope ours to be. He made a mistake and he regrets it. He doesn't like to play god. That makes him a likeable character, and therefore makes this a likeable episode.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

TNG Ep. 50: The Ensigns of Command

Hey, the name for this episode comes from a line in a John Quincy Adams poem. So says Wikipedia.

The Enterprise rushes to rescue a lost human colony from the cold-blooded Sheliak. Data, the only one of the crew who can withstand the planet's atmosphere, is tasked with convincing the colonists to leave. His efforts are met with opposition as the leaders of the colony argue for staying and fighting the Sheliak. Data does make one friend, Ard'rian, who attempts to help him. Meanwhile, Picard stalls the Sheliak until he finds a loophole in their treaty with the Federation. The loophole allows the colonists the time needed to evacuate. Data finally convinces the colonists by showing them how powerless they are against advanced technology. Facing certain death as the only alternative, they agree to leave the planet.

As far as episodes staring Data go, this one was not one of the best. Perhaps its the well-intentioned woman following him around like a little puppy. Perhaps its because we're a little too sure that Picard will succeed in getting more time from the Sheliak. Perhaps it was just too predictable. Seriously, they get to save every one? No one is stubborn enough to be left behind, just for the principal of the matter? These colonists aren't nearly as difficult as some of the other people that the Enterprise has tried to help.

I do like the idea that the Federation has a treaty with aliens that can barely stand their existence. I also liked the role reversal - that Data would have been the best person to quibble contracts with the Sheliak, and Picard would have been the best person to convince the colonists that they should leave (or perhaps Riker) but because of the poisonous atmosphere, both must try to do the job that they are less suited for. It's kind of like handing Picard an iron bar to bend in half, and handing Data a puppy to pet and play with - oh, wait, Data did get a sort of puppy. Only, if she had been a real puppy, he might have known what do to with her like he knew what to do with the kid in "Pen Pals" back in episode 41.

So, Picard finds the loophole and Data blows up an aqueduct to show the colonists how pathetic they are. Next.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

TNG Ep. 49: Evolution

Wesley accidentally releases nanites on the Enterprise. They then become self-aware and nearly destroy the ship before Data can establish communication with them. The Enterprise is also harboring a scientist who atagonizes the nanites out of fear that they will interfer with his research aboard the Enterprise. He nearly gets himself killed, but after Picard offers to bring that nanites to an unoccupied planet, every one goes on their merry way again. Wesley feels ashamed for his part on the near-disaster. Crusher has returned, and several crew members have been promoted since the end of the second season.

Dr. Crusher is back! Eee!

Ok, I had to get that out of the way first. I never hated the other doctor, but she was never Dr. Crusher, and I like the idea of the mother-son relationship being part of the show. I'm sure that has nothing to do with my having children myself, or that they're both boys. I'd apologize for the tangent, but actually, this episode is mostly about Wesley, the fact that he's growing up, and what that means for his relationship with his mother.

Every one has those mistakes that turn out to not only be really dumb, but really important. For instance, when I was young I accidentally broke a car windshield because I was throwing rocks up into the trees, trying to get a toy down. Yes, I was old enough to know better. I was also old enough to know that the broken windshield was a big deal. That was the day I learned what it really means to tell the truth even when you really, really don't want to. But even if you learn that lesson at a young age, sometimes older children (and adults) convince themselves that they can fix the problem on their own before they have to tell any one. It feels like it should erase the mistake, as much as a mistake can be erased.

The problem, then, can come when you can't fix the problem yourself. It's the big mistakes and the important mistakes that suffer the most from this. They're also the ones that you most wish that you could erase. Stupid reality. Stupid nanobots, eating the ship and becoming sentient.

Wait, take that back a step. It's totally awesome that they become sentient, and Wesley can almost take credit for that. If he'd invented sentient robots without the big mistake looming over his discovery, we'd have to hate him, but as it is, we see that he does have flaws that are't totally annoying. Must be why his mother keeps him around, eh?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

TNG Ep. 48: Shades of Grey

Riker contracts a virus that feeds off of endorphines. To treat him, the Enterprise must stimulate his neurons to relive bad memories. Crappy montage follows.

You've got to be kidding me. This is the season finale? It was painful even to write the episode summary. This isn't what I would call an episode at all. This is what I would call "we ran out of money but have contracted to produce one more show."

If you haven't watched this episode yet, don't bother. It's nothing more than a collection of clips from previous shows, and Troi complaining about Riker being in danger.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

TNG Ep. 47: Peak Performance

The Enterprise crew trains in a simulated battle using the Enterprise and an old Federation ship, the Hathaway. Riker faces off against Picard, commanding the Hathaway, which is sorely outdated compared to the Enterprise. Riker, with Wesley and Worf's help, tricks the Enterprise into thinking a Romulan ship has appeared, and scores a hit while the Enterprise is distracted. Then a real Ferengi ship appears, and, seeing two Federation ships apparently fighting, tries to take the older Hathaway which they assume must hold something valuable. The Enterprise's phasers are stuck in demo mode but the Hathaway crew uses warp drive to make it look like they've been blown up. Then they cause a phantom Federation ship to appear, and the Ferengi flee. During all this commotion, Data faces off in a game of Strategem against an alien advisor, Sirma, who came to help with the Enterprise's training. The first time, he loses, which sends him into an existential crises. At the end of the episode, he beats Sirma by playing towards a draw instead of a win, causing Sirma to get frustrated and give up.

This episode was designed to erase any dislike you might have still had for Riker. Here we get to see why Picard not only puts up with him, but actually likes him. He's not an immature Picard clone, which would be boring, yet he still has that captain-y potential. He knows how to improvise.

And Wesley knows how to cheat. Yeesh, I wish the writers would decide which way they want to go with his character. One episode he's all gooey-eyed for a girl who just happens to be his age, and then in this one he's treating a simulation as seriously as if it were the life-and-death situation it mimics. Good thing, too, since it turns into a life-and-death reality. Any one see that coming? I did, but I was glad for it, because otherwise this episode would have felt a little too unimportant. Like, blah blah Riker wins.

Oh! Except that we did have Data figure in as a side plot. I suppose if he was a main character in every episode, I'd get bored of him... right? Side plots are good! The writers are convincing me more and more that Data is more than a smart machine. As such, it's appropriate for him to learn what all humans must learn, which is that it's possible to perform perfectly and still lose. Sometimes there is no right answer, or there's more than one. Amazing how that relates to the main plot, too, because Riker's always looking for that other right answer that nobody else sees. What a coincidence, that the two should relate!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

True Artists

True artists can inspire you with the oddest things, such as a kid's TV show.

Everyone who helps produce the Backyardigans must love their job, and it shows. Each show has a musical and dance "theme" and each song helps tell the story of the episode, which in turn is often a take on a well known story such as Zorro. So, you might end up with a hippo singing a song that sounds like "Be my Baby" and talks about escaping from a dungeon. And the animated dances? Dance moves performed by real dancers to aid the animators. This blows my mind.

If they can make an episode where aliens use pancakes to power their ships, I can write about anything.

If my roommate can make a quilt that looks like the embodiment of halloween, I can finish that 30k novella.

If people can sneak out at night and crochet over parking meters, I can submit my work to publishers - and get published.

What inspires you?

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!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

TNG Ep. 41: Pen Pals

At first you might think that the plot is going to involve a great deal of Wesley, but we're quickly saved from this when Data gets a primitive radio signal from a dying planet. The voice on the signal is a little girl, and soon Data has the whole Enterprise rushing to violate the prime directive to go save his new friend. When the Enterprise gets there, the trouble with the planet turns out to be something geological that Wesley knows how to fix. While they right the planet, Data beams down and personally saves his little friend, who lives way too close to exploding volcanoes. Then, they wipe her memory and return her to her parents on the surface, leaving Data oh-so-lonely. As a last act of defiance - er, I mean, tenderness - Data leaves a stone as a comforting trinket for the girl, once again violating the Prime Directive.

The weakest part of this episode is that Data didn't get in trouble for any of his bending of the Prime Directive. ... No, wait. The worst part was the kid's makeup. Flashbacks to the lizard suit in TOS, anyone? Anyway, the fact that Data made a little friend is adorable, because deep down, we want to see Data as being a child himself. He's like pinochio, just wanting to be a real boy. With super human killing strength and amazing intelligence.

I love it that Data had contact with this little girl without informing his supervisors, as he technically should have. You see, he's smart enough to know that Picard will probably tell him to stop talking to his new friend, and it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission (as the Bynars have already pointed out). Data also knows that he's likely to follow the Captain's orders as long as they jive with general Star Fleet principles, because he's sworn loyalty to Star Fleet and to Captain Picard. So, it was easier for him not to tell Picard, and it makes Data intelligent in a way that's more than just equations and correlations. It's almost, dare I say it, emotional intelligence. And indeed, by waiting, Data helps force the hand of Picard and the Enterprise into helping his little friend.

Some people might be annoyed that Picard broke the Prime Directive, but let me remind you that this isn't the first time they've bent those particular rules. The Prime Directive is a principle, but not one that always makes sense for an individual case. It's the delicate balance we all have to achieve when our principals run into each other, for instance, the principal that we like to help people, versus the prime directive. Real life isn't as simple as our supposed absolutes. As for the Enterprise possibly getting in trouble for their actions in this episode, I see to recall being pleased that another of Picard's Prime Directive flaunts was called into question near the end of season one. Because of that, I feel it's unnecessary for us to see such a calling out again. The gist I get is that yes, the rules are very important to Star Fleet (otherwise why have them?) but they love people like Picard specifically because they trust him to know when to break the rules. I mean, they'll investigate him or what have you, but they don't put people in charge of ships like the Enterprise unless they have some common sense and some empathy, some humanity. They don't promote people to Captain if they wouldn't want to serve under them. At least, not in a perfect universe. And for this episode, everything turned out perfectly. They saved the little girl, and the only hitch is that she can't remember.

But Data can remember. Daaaaaaaw...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

TNG Ep. 40: The Icarus Factor

Riker is offered a promotion, but it requires him to not only leave the Enterprise, but talk to his dad. It turns out he has some daddy issues that stem back to his father being just as stubborn and competitive as he is. After avoiding him for much of the episode, Riker engages his father in a martial arts match, which puts the two back on track with their relationship. Troi and Dr. Pulaski also talk about relationships, specifically theirs with Riker and his father. Riker decides not to take the assignment. He doesn't say why exactly, but his attraction to Troi might have something to do with it.

Thank goodness. This episode could have gone wrong in so many ways. I mean, Riker? (Ha.) Father-son issues? ... Klingons? There's even a fake Asian martial arts, but that didn't bother me because I'm not a martial artist. I'm sure any one who knows anything about real fighting would be popping veins over this episode, but for me it was just a pseudo-futuristic tool to make the boys actually talk to each other.

Speaking of which, I found the women's commentary hilarious, and gender stereotypes be darned. I've always believed that it would be impossible to get rid of all gender roles in our society, so if Star Trek had gone all high-and-mighty on that point, it would have been as ridiculous as when the crew talked about Capitalism in Season One. Instead we get a couple of grin-worthy jokes about stubborn men. In truth, it's nice to see that Riker's personality actually comes from somewhere, from both his upbringing and whatever genetics contribute to such things.

And, I can't leave off this episode without mentioning the Worf subplot. I can't say that I didn't find it a little humorous where it wasn't supposed to be, but I did appreciate the parallels between the two plots. Rights of passage and all that. Of course, we fully expect Klingon rights of passage to involve pain and yelling. Kudos to Wesley for putting up with that, eh? It's one of the few times the boy gets to show that he's actually growing up.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why "The Hunger Games" Trilogy Is Excellent

... It made me cry. So very few things make me cry. Out of all the books I've ever read, the only other ones that have brought tears to my eyes have been "Bridge to Terabithia", despite already knowing the ending, "Stranger in a Strange Land", and (cough) "The Lord of the Rings," although I'm not quite sure why for that last one.

To give some perspective: Other things that have made me cry include the beginning of the movie Up, but not the ending of Grave of the Fireflies. Meat Loaf's song "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are" is banned in my household because it makes me break down EVERY TIME, but I can hear "Seven Spanish Angels" (Willie Nelson and Ray Charles) and "The Little Girl" (John Michael Montgomery) without batting an eye.

And then of course there are plenty of non-comedic things that are excellent but don't make me break down into tears. You probably already know that the Thomas Covenant series is one of my all time favorites,* but that never elicits any tears. Neither did "A Boy Called It" despite it being a true story about horrendous abuse. I still hold these books in high esteem, but there's something special about the ones that actually make you sniffle (...or sob). So, what makes something a tear-jerker? What's the difference between a novel that has sad, dramatic scenes and one that actually makes your bottom lip tremble?

And why am I SUCH a girl? (Just kidding!)

*If you don't already know this, then you haven't been listening to Pendragon Variety (.com)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

TNG Ep. 39: Time Squared

You can tell by the name that this episode will have something to do with time. I'm a sucker for wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff! Er, even when it's not Dr. Who. ANYWAY.

The Enterprise runs across a damaged shuttlecraft, which upon rescue, turns out to be an Enterprise shuttlecraft with Captain Picard in it. That makes two of them - both the shuttlecraft and Captain Picard were already on board, and it turns out that the new Captain and shuttlecraft are from six hours in the future. The crew also recover, with some difficulty, a partial video and log from the future shuttlecraft which shows the Enterprise being shot to pieces inside of some kind of vortex. The crew debates about fate and whether a time loop can be broken. In the meantime, the future Captain Picard is unhelpful because being out of time has put him in a kind of half-coma-nightmare state which only wears off as the Enterprise reaches his rightful time. The Enterprise encounters the vortex, which seems to be sentient, and all attempts to escape fail. Picard confronts Picard in his attempt to define his options and chose the best one. He choses to send the Enterprise into the vortex, and it works - unfortunately he has to shoot himself to do it, but at least the dead Picard and the future shuttlecraft disappear, leaving only O'Brian and the Doctor as the wiser. (Haha, the Doctor...)

I like that Picard decides to continue on their previous course, knowing that time loops aren't so easily avoided as simply turning around. Or maybe they are, but we don't get to find that out. Kidding, kidding. Picard seems to have learned from all his encounters with super powerful alien beings that like to run experiments on the Enterprise and so forth. The universe isn't that simple or that easily foiled, otherwise the episodes would be much shorter.

This episode doesn't connect much to the emerging overall plot of TNG, but I still felt that it was done well. The episodic quality is used to emphasize that "where no man has gone before" feeling. The Enterprise meets something strange, but it's a short encounter, and they don't have to learn everything about the vortex-creature for the episode to end. They're mostly just glad that they survived!

Except for future-Picard. He did not survive. Even if you take into account that he no longer exists because the time loop was broken, for a moment there, present-Picard shot him and he was dead. I have to say, that's pretty ballsy. It's one thing to know intellectually that you have to shoot someone who is, in one sense, you, and quite another to actually do it. On the one hand I'm willing to bet that Picard has personally shot people to death before. We know that he's at least ordered the destruction of a hostile Ferengi ship, but I mean that he's probably killed people in one-on-one combat. How else would he have survived so long in such a dangerous line of work? But then add on top of that the fact that it was himself that he shot, and... Well, I wouldn't want to be him. Or at least, I wouldn't want to be the sacrificed future-him!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

TNG Ep. 38: The Royale

It's kind of like a holodeck episode, minus the holodeck.

The Enterprise finds a strange building on a strange planet. While investigating, they find the remains of a long-dead NASA astronaut - Also, the away team becomes trapped in a Casino-like atmosphere as described in a book that the astronaut happened to have on him. It appears that the casino was constructed by misguided aliens who wanted to give the astronaut a nice home after accidentally killing every one else on his crew. To escape, the away team must analyse the novel and convince the artificial patrons that they are the "foreign investigators" described therein. Luckily, the novel's fairly predictable.

Unfortunately for this episode, the back story sounds more interesting. We don't actually get to meet any aliens, just stereotypical casino lurkers. Now, the premise of the aliens basing their construction off of a book, and the away team being trapped therein, that part is fine. That's the interesting part, the part that screams Twilight Zone. But a casino? Eh. Didn't we have a mobster holodeck episode back in Season One? Also also in the original series? For some reason casinos and mobsters are linked in my mind, and Sherlock Holmes isn't all that tangential. So, for me, this episode feels like the revolving door that poor Riker tries to leave out of. Man, I hate revolving doors.

You know what might have been cool? If the astronaut were still alive! That might have added some urgency to the situation, even if the Enterprise wasn't able to save him in the end. It might have introduced more screaming and horrified looks. Screaming is always good!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

TNG Ep. 37: The Contagion

The Yamato experiences systems failures while investigating the fabled, extinct Iconian civilization within the neutral zone. The Enterprise changes course to assist, but the Yamato experiences warp core breach and is destroyed in the meantime. Upon their arrival, the Enterprise also experiences systems troubles, caused by a virus transmitted by an automatic probe from Iconia. Picard, Data, and Worf beam down to the planet to investigate, and find a portal that rotates its destination. Data attempts to access the Iconian computer systems but also becomes infected with the virus. Back on the ship, Data eventually shut down and reboots automatically, restoring his systems to a save point from before the virus was introduced. At the same time, a Romulan Warbird decloaks near the Enterprise and seems to be experiencing the same problems. Geordi, using Data as inspiration, clears the Enterprise of the virus, and the Romulans are also able to reboot their computers.

I like how the virus problem in this episode is relatable to computer problems I've personally experienced, yet I'm not quite sure how realistic it is that Geordi wouldn't already have the solution at his fingertips. Maybe, since spaceships aren't directly and permanently connected to any larger network, computer viruses aren't usually a problem. Yet, viruses aren't the only thing that can force you to reload an operating system. The more I think about it, the more I'd better ask my dad if I'm using the right tech lingo here, or if I even know what I'm talking about...

... and I don't. His words were something along the lines of "that's not how it works but you can still use that as an example." Shoot. Star Trek, you win this one! I can't critique something I don't understand.

I guess that leaves me with the obligatory "Data is Awesome!" commentary. I like that he has an automatic reboot, because if he didn't, that'd be ridiculously stupid of Soong. And I'm glad that Geordi can take a hint.


Monday, August 1, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different!

After a month of just Star Trek (and a baby picture or two), I'm going to back to the previous once-a-week schedule, and on top of that, post about anything else. Like, that #flashfriday thing that I like to participate in? Or Pendragon Variety? Or Theory Train? Pendragon Express? All of those things that you haven't heard about in at least a month.

In fact, I've got a piece of micro-fiction for you now:

Birds chirped sweetly in the gray morning air, stirring a rumble from underneath the roots. "Who dares wake me?" demanded the tiny dragon, practicing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

TNG Ep. 36: The Dauphin

Summary: The Enterprise transports future world ruler, Salia, and of course, things can never be easy. First they run into problems with Salia's protector, who is, well, very protective. Secondly, Wesley tries to convince Salia to stay on the Enterprise because he loves her. He kisses her and they flirt. Then it turns out that both Salia and her protector are both powerful shapeshifters, which complicates matters. It also turns out that Salia has a duty to her people, and so she decides not to stay on the Enterprise. Wesley is shocked and disappointed. Every one goes home sad.

This is the episode that explains to me what some people don't like about Wesley's character. Now, that's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, but when I try to single out it's merits, I come up basically empty-handed. It's a typical boy-meets-girl, only with a shapesifter thrown in as the girl.

It's nice to be reminded that Wesley is old enough to kiss, but his character is so naive that it hurts. Specifically, his 6-year-old-like resentment of the fact that she is a shapeshifter. And this from the dude who's best friend is blue and can't breathe our air. You'd think he'd be a little more tolerant. Heck, he could even be thrilled to have kissed a super-powerful being.

It also made me roll my eyes that he felt so betrayed that she was leaving. I was never convinced that he should believe there was a good chance of her staying, especially after Riker told him to forget about it. (Thank you, Riker. That made me laugh). Come to think of it, the most entertaining part of this episode is the banter between Riker and

I mean, Wesley asking the adults for dating advice? Sure. Even adults ask other adults about that stuff. Acting like a baby because she's a shapeshifter?

Meh. I guess not every episode can be "Riker lives with Klingons."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TNG Ep. 35: The Measure of a Man

No! Don't cut open Data!

Summary: Data receives a transfer order from Star Fleet that essentially requires him to undergo brain surgery, performed by a doctor Maddox that doesn't even believe he is sentient, and more importantly, hasn't done enough research to prepare for the operation. Data is worried that the procedure will strip him of his personality, a personality which Maddox does not even acknowledge exists. Picard brings the problem to Starfleet Judge Advocate General Philippa Louvois, who reveals that the Enterprise must prove that Data is not just property, so that Data can legally refuse the order from the Federation. Problem is, Riker must represent Maddox or there can be no trial because the Judge Advocate is currently understaffed. Picard then sets out to prove that Data has more than just strength and intelligence, but also wishes, desires, and many of the same things that humans have. The judge determines that Data is sentient, and therefore cannot be property. Data officially refuses the operation, but promises Maddox that he is interested in his research and may be willing to cooperate in the future, after Maddox has worked out more of the details.

The theme of this episode certainly wasn't unique, but I also feel that it couldn't have been placed earlier, like anywhere in season one. We had to see enough development of Data's character to believe the resolution here, and in that sense it certainly was a success. And, of course, it was a success because it had significant amounts of Brent Spiner's acting. And there weren't any lines that made me groan, so the writers held up their end on the dialogue.

This episode also benefited Picard's character, and was benefited by it. In a way it harkens back to that first episode where Picard was forced to argue on behalf of all humanity in Q's court of law. Except of course with less Q, and more of a stubborn, anal retentive woman that gets along with Picard only slightly better. Something about the court martial of the Stargazer, Picard's old ship. I gather Picard isn't very fond of trials.

But back to Data, since he and Picard are the only real characters in this episode - sorry Riker, but you get the shaft here once more as a second fiddle. Anyway, Data was awesome. The end.