Geek Night Update: ST & SG-1

We’ve started up with two new shows.

Of course, they’re not really new shows, so much as shows some of us were familiar with from long-standing fandom. More-or-less.

We’re still doing two episodes a night, generally, mixed in with eating (especially chocolate cake, when I’m lucky), and–in addition to the now-seven-year-old–two (count ’em, two! and soon to the three!) babies. This is a hoot. The first episode is a classic Trek, because we feel comfortable that the boy-o can enjoy the show without parents worrying about any PG-13iness.

The second hour is an episode of Stargate: SG-1, which is where I’ll stop for the moment. More on SG-1 next time.

Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor a reader’s response

What fun this book has been.  I wasn’t able to follow the issues as they came out last year–the one comic book shop I found which had actually ordered any (and the only one that knew of it when I first asked), had only ordered a small number since–as the clerk (owner?) told me–the other Star Trek titles that had some out lately hadn’t sold well.  This I knew from having pursued the shelves before asking… So my wife got me the collected volume for my birthday!  Whee!

John Byrne’s artwork is terrific.  Bones looks just the way he should.  These stories take place after the five-year misssion, during the Enterprise’s retrofit that is coming to a close when Star Trek: The Motion Picture begins.  So Bones is lean, and has a big ole beard.  The series has a framing device; the issues are presented as letters from Bones to Admiral Kirk.  There’s an exception to this, I’ll get to later.  The uniforms, the looks of the main characters (including Gary Seven, who had been the protagonist of an earlier John Byrne miniseries), and the feel of the backgrounds and layouts are all very Star Trek.  There are some echoes of Gold Key Comics and the Marvel Comics print eras as well.

The stories are terrific, too.  The energy of them kept me turning pages, and I was finished with the book sooner than I hoped I would be, and I wanted more.

About the stories themselves.  Dr. McCoy encounters some medical adventures which would rank right up there with the best episodes of all of Star Trek.  There’s a mysterious plant-based illness.  There’s a strange aging-but-not-aging illness.  There’s a time travel story that nicely side-steps most of the problems with time travel (this is the story that plays with the framing device).  And there are other stories.

In each of these stories, the characters are realized through both position within in the story, but also in terms of that character’s motivations and background.  The single biggest weakness on this front is McCoy’s primary medical companion.  I expected more from him, and from his presentation than Byrne gave us, and this is a pretty significant weakness in the series, I think.  I mean, this guy’s girlfriend gets a more nuanced treatment than he does.  My point being not that the girl gets better writing or that she was elevated to be a primary character.  I like that.  Rather, a character I was led to believe was a primary became a secondary.

McCoy’s character is wonderfully rendered.  And there’s a neat bit of inside fandom where the commanding officer of the Excelsior and the Excelsior’s chief medical officer share a panel.

This is a comic book way, way worth reading, and even worth owning.  And that’s high praise indeed.

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye: Reader’s Response

The Nearly Full MoonSure enough, there was nothing in this book about the volcano.

You might think that would be enough, but, heck, I’ve read the thing, why not respond in some detail? So, first, I had to take a break about half way through to read the Neil Gaiman “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” because Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was… pretty wooden.

However, there are some good points. The adventure and action sequences are pretty good, and there are plenty of these. (Not much plot beyond them, though.) Chases, blowing things up, shooting and light sabering, and more chases, and fist fights, and a dungeon crawl, and more fist fights, and shoot outs, and light sabering. And then there’s Darth Vader. Now, when we get to Darth Vader, it is difficult to keep our knowledge of how he came about and where he wound up from coloring our response to him. But bear in mind that this novel is really only the second appearance of this character. The author didn’t even know he was Luke & Leia’s father. (Indeed, the novel contains significant internal evidence that, at this point in the development of the Star Wars saga, the Empire was presumed to have been around for 40 years*.)

Still, even with those caveats in mind, hoo-boy is Darth Vader scary. Luke and Leia are fairly well drawn as well. Luke is more competent than I would have expected, and his facility with the Force is greater than maybe it should be. Maybe not. Leia is petulant, and hot-headed. But here’s something really interesting. She’s also terrified in a way we never really see in the movies. Remember that scene in the original movie where Darth Vader has her imprisoned on the Death Star and that droid floats into her cell with the huge ole hypodermic hanging off the side of it? The the cell door slams shut, and we don’t really hear much of it again. In this novel (and I presume in the novelization of the original movie), there is discussion of the torture Leia underwent. This torture has lasting effects on the character of Leia. This is quite good, though it has the effect of making Leia sometimes little more than a damsel in distress.

Anyway. I’m glad I read it, but I’d still like to figure out how, in 1978, the volcano story trickled into the consciousness of me and my lower elementary school-aged friends.

(*A case can be made that these references to a 40 year period are consistent with the film saga. Palpatine probably was moving pieces into place at least several years before the opening of the first movie, and anyone on the wrong side of those early moves could reasonably date the earliest days of the Empire to those times.)

The end of The End of Eternity

It ended strong. I’m quite impressed with this novel. The manliness manliness of it was explained in context. I’m not sure that, if Eternity as described were actually possible, women would actually prove incapable of dealing with it. But I’m completely willing to accept that the organization and design of Eternity would make women unwelcome and unlikely to succeed. I’m particularly willing to accept this within the realm of this novel, since Noÿs is shown to be more than she seems.

In any case, plot summaries abound for the book. I’ve already written about how the characters is nicely rounded, and the plot is compelling, so I’m not going to dwell too much on how good a book it is. I do want to talk about the time travel element of it a bit, though.

One of the central elements of the way Eternity works in this book is that the people in it have taken it upon themselves to make things better throughout human history. Or at least the parts of it Eternity can reach. (Eternity is more of a brand name or a realm outside of ordinary space/time, and it touches on human history from the 27th Century on to the end of the solar system. It gets its power from when our sun goes nova.) Ordinary space/time is called Reality, and the people in Eternity meddle in Reality in order to maximize human well-being.

Finally, the people in Eternity are just people. They’re ordinary humans identified in Reality, and recruited into Eternity to do the work of keeping things improving. They age and die, they have flaws and egos, and all the normal things you would expect of a nearly all-male cadre of engineers, academics, and janitors.

There’s a problem, however, with the system. Two big ones anyway. The first is when they meddle, no matter how significant the change they’re working toward, things have a way of settling back into the previous pattern. An example I just made up. Suppose they determine that in the 3,000th Century a terrible war is going to wipe out half the human population, but that by making a change in the 2,900th Century it can be avoided. They make the change, and the war in the 3,000th doesn’t happen, but by about the middle of the 3,250 Century, there’s no change in circumstances from the previous condition.

The other problem is there’s a range of centuries in the far-far future the 100,000th century to much, much later that the Eternals cannot get to. They can go past them and see that there are no humans left. So the Eternals are unsure what this means. There are humans around right up to the point where they’re locked out of Reality, and no humans around once they can get back into it.

As a reader I found both of these ideas really interesting. Firstly, the idea of the inertia of history neatly gets around the paradoxes of time travel. The technology of Eternity protects Eternals from being affected by the changes. Also, this means that Eternity is populated entirely by people who can’t go home any more because, due to the constant meddling by the Eternals their homes simply aren’t there any more. Things have changed since they’ve been gone, and it’s entirely likely that they were never born in the new Reality, or if they were, that they are virtually unrecognizable. Asimov also gives some though to the emotional burden of this kind of life. I also found it interesting because Doctor Who recently used the phrase “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff,” which is very much like what Asimov seemed to be describing, and which so many of the Star Trek fans whose musing prompted this blog in the first place don’t seem comfortable with.

The second thing about all this I found interesting as a reader is that the Eternals were locked out by Somebody. Discovering who the Somebody is, why they set the lock, and what their relationship with Eternity actually is turns out to be the central mystery of the novel, though Asimov disguises this very well until nearly the end of the book. It also has interesting implications for time travel stories. But Asimov doesn’t flesh that part out in much detail because, I suspect, it would get in the way of the story, and because maybe he simply didn’t work it out for himself. I’m not going to speculate too much about it here, but I think the idea of two sets of time-traveling peoples, with different technologies, different goals, and different perspectives on the best outcomes for humanity is really interesting.

Also, along the way, Asimov touches on the Galactic Empire, which I didn’t especially need as a reader, except to the degree that he does mention something I wondered about, but didn’t mention when writing about it, when I read the other two books. Namely, where are the space aliens in Asimov’s books?

Reconsidering Kirk’s role in Star Trek: Generations

There’s been some reconsideration of Generations over at TrekWeb recently. I made a comment which received some approval, so I plan to revisit the movie, and see if I can expand on the comment. Here’s what I wrote, pending a more complete consideration.

RE: Looking back at Generations
By: SM (Odo’s file, contact) @ 06:06:33 on Aug 13, 2010

Kirk may have been the greatest captain of all time, but in the events leading up to his death he was:

  • recently removed from a bucolic dream, motivated, sure, and in good physical shape all things considered, but not in shape for adventuring
  • decades out of his own time-frame, and facing a villain, who–if Soran had ever even heard of Kirk–didn’t care who he was beyond being an obstacle to overcome (compare with Khan, who was so obsessed with Kirk’s Kirkiness that he was blinded by hate and made bad decisions, despite which Kirk would still have lost without Spock’s actions)
  • and, probably most importantly, he was removed from his team (his Enterprise), his crew (all of them), and his heart and soul (McCoy and Spock).

My point is that, no matter how well regarded Kirk was as an historical figure, when Picard brought Kirk into the final conflict with Soran, Kirk was stripped of the context in which his justified reputation was built. Kirk without his ship, crew, and most trusted advisers is (over) confident and apt to let his personal frustrations (overly) influence his actions. He still has all his Kirk qualities, but they aren’t channeled by his Kirk responsibilities, and he becomes an anachronism, not able to overcome the challenges he faces.