a smattering of recently consumed media (not a comeback post)

Despite appearances here I have not given up on reading and interacting with artifacts of culture. This isn’t an apology for not posting book reviews, mind you, just an acknowledgment that they have been lacking. It’s possible I’ll be able to wrestle myself back into the swing of things soon.

One of the books I read in the close of 2014 and loved was Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, which was about 12 dancing princesses in 1920s New York City. It took its fairy-tale roots seriously and was horrific in an utterly believable way.

I’ve also finally watched the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was an ordeal. Not because the show is bad or hard to watch, but because I wanted to get it all done before a friend returned from vacation, which meant I watched 144 episodes in 21 days. That is a lot of television. I liked the show generally. To me it’s a 3-season show about highschool Buffy followed immediately by a sequel show about more grown-up Buffy. I liked the first show better, but recognize that they were doing more interesting things in the later show. The Body is probably one of my favourite episodes of television ever. Anyway. Now I have Opinions about Buffy, so if that’s your thing we can converse!

I’m currently slowly reading a C.J. Cherryh novel called Fortress in the Eye of Time. It is slow going. A coworker is reading the Kingkiller Chronicles and I’m very jealous of reading fantasy that you can’t put down. I can put this down so easily.

I recently read Pinocchio Vampire Slayer and was also underwhelmed by it. I think it needed another pass on the dialogue to make it feel a little less amateurish. It read like it was trying to be Hellboy but with really obvious lines and jokes. I wanted to like it but couldn’t.

There’s been more. I will be doing a writeup for the Tales of the Black Company books I’ve been reading, but I want to do them justice. Maybe later this week.

tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 4)

The fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is the one I remember being my favourite. The characters had settled into their interesting roles. They had their ship. Sisko was captain. Worf joined the crew. Nog goes to Starfleet Academy. The communicators changed shape. After this (in my memory) we start getting bogged down in endless war. While as a teenager I hated the first couple of seasons for being too political and boring, I disliked the latter seasons for being too much about military/mystical battles. Season 4 is the one at the tipping point of awesomeness.

The season’s highlight comes early with The Visitor. The Visitor is my favourite episode of any Star Trek ever, though most of it could be a Twilight Zone episode. Captain Sisko and his son Jake are in the Defiant’s engine room for a freak accident which kills the captain. The story is about how Jake deals with the loss, told from Jake’s perspective as an old man decades later. The key is that Jake’s father isn’t actually dead – he’s trapped in mumbojumboland where time doesn’t pass, and he keeps on reappearing inexplicably for Jake to feel the pain of the loss all over again.

The Star Trekkiness of this episode is basically pure technobabble. There’s an accident that does this weird thing. Jake spends a lifetime trying to figure out how to rescue his father and in the end he does, at the cost of his own life. There are Klingons and Bajorans and starships but the only reason we really need all of those is because they’re the accoutrements of Jake and Ben Sisko’s relationship. We’ve watched three seasons of them being father and son so we know what kind of relationship they have. In the episode itself, Jake says he and his father were close and it doesn’t have to spend scenes depicting that closeness outside the realm of this specific story.

And goddamnit it does a number on the writery part of me. Jake abandons his art and his life to save his father, when the Captain just wanted to see him grow up. It’s sad and hopeful and uses its Star Trekness in exactly the right way.

So yes, The Visitor was great. But this season also has Dax abandoned by another lover she would throw away her traditional life and career for. Worf is on trial for killing a shipload of civilians. Bashir gets to try solving impossible medical puzzles (in both breaking the Jem’Hadar addiction to ketracel white, and saving the people of a planet from a bioweapon plague). That Bashir fails in both of these (though he does get a vaccine up and going for the next generation) shows how the writers are taking things a bit more seriously. Not everything can be wrapped up in a nice little bow in one weekly episode.

But there are the light episodes too. The Ferengi going to Roswell in Little Green Men is fun. The holodeck adventure with Bashir as a Bondian spy is fun (though the reason for it working is ludicrous). Rom forming a union, and Quark standing up to the Ferengi Commerce Association and having everything he owns reposessed are also good episodes.

But the shadows of war episodes are the ones (after The Visitor) I remember most. Homefront and Paradise Lost take us back to Earth and we see the wrongness of security theatre (five years before the TSA turned airports into Orwellian zones). This is the season where Eddington defects to the Maquis and it hurts more than the second season episode where Sisko’s friend defects, because we’d had time to get to know Eddington. Oh, and Dukat becomes a pirate with a Klingon bird of prey. I love that episode.

Watching it all again, I remain convinced that DS9 got better and better to this point. Now we’ll see if my memories of a decline are also accurate.

tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 3)

This is the season Deep Space 9 really came into its own. At the beginning of the season Odo finds his people and discovers they’re the force behind the Dominion which was brought up as a threat at the end of season 2. There’s some Klingon political action and we get a few Ferengi culture episodes. We learn about the intelligence operations that the Cardassians have and the Romulans and then they both get lured into a trap by the Dominion. Kasidy Yates shows up and the romantic interest with Sisko develops through baseball. Bashir and O’Brien are now firmly bros (and Keiko is off on Bajor botanizing). And Sisko goes back in time and becomes a fighter for better conditions in the 21st century. There’s a peace treaty between Bajor and Cardassia which Vedek Bareil dies while helping create.

The episode where that treaty is created showcases one of the things that made DS9 better than other Star Treks. Because they’re in one place they have to deal with their villains over and over again. And man, Kai Winn is way more of an infuriating villain than Gul Dukat ever could be. They’re both smug condescending assholes, but the graspy nature of Winn bothers me way more than Dukat’s opportunism. If I remember correctly, by the final seasons when the war is in full swing, their villainy gets kind of ridiculous, but Season 3 DS9 has them operating beautifully.

Of course, the other big thing that happens in this season is that they get the Defiant, which is a different kind of Federation starship than we’d really seen in Trek before. No niceties, just an overpowered shooting machine. When it first aired this is why I got back into DS9 (and these are episodes I do remember watching as a teenager, whereas I didn’t remember most of the first two seasons). Now they weren’t weak when they wandered away from Bajor. The stakes seemed higher. (Now I just love the tiny bunkrooms compared to Enterprise-D quarters.) Again, this is something that gets overplayed in later seasons, but at this point in the show it works. There are definitely missions they take the Defiant on that could use a more scientific ship, and it’s probably not entirely realistic, but this is the season the galaxy DS9 was in felt much less claustrophobic.

Finally, Sisko gets promoted to Captain at the end of the season, and one of the things that used to bother me so much about this show as a kid happens in the final episode. O’Brien refers to Sisko as being the best captain he’d served with. O’Brien who used to be on the Enterprise with Picard! That used to really bother me, because obviously Picard was the best ever and the writers were making O’Brien lie. Now though, I get where the character is coming from. Picard was so distant and above the rest of his crew, but Sisko is much more a hands-dirty kind of guy in the mud with a character like O’Brien.

Knowing a bit more about how the world of work goes, I no longer get mad at O’Brien for forgetting his past. He wasn’t in those Observation Lounge meetings seeing the high-level stuff Picard did. But Sisko includes O’Brien in decision making and trusts him to be more than just a competent expert in a narrow field. The two talk about parenting, which I don’t get the sense that Picard ever would do with an enlisted member of his crew. Anyway. Sisko growing as a leader is something I see very differently now than I did as a kid. Which is why I’m rewatching this stuff.

I’m amazed at how many episodes there are in each of these seasons. I guess I’m getting used to HBO-type 13 episode strings, but there’s a lot that happens in each one of these. I feel a bit bad for not doing brief episode by episode highlights, but also lazy. Now that I’ve said that, the second episode of Season 4 will be getting its own review, as it’s my favourite episode of any Trek ever.

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tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 2)

I didn’t watch season 2 of DS9 in as concentrated a shot as I did the first season, but this was the season the Dominion slowly became a threat, as well as the beginning of dealing with the Maquis. We’ve learned who our characters are and could get into them better. There are little bits of groundwork being laid for the development of the Kira/Odo relationship even as she’s having her relationship with Vedek Bareil (which I remembered as being much less obvious a dalliance).

One of the episodes that I barely remember seeing at all was Crossover, where Kira and Bashir go to the Mirror Universe. I still regret we never got to see the Enterprise D crew do that crossover (but the novel Dark Mirror handled it, and I loved that book as a kid). It was interesting they could play it as something they just accepted as possible, but it is Star Trek.

But still the thing I’m liking the most about this Trek is the fact that these people have relationships. Jake tells his dad he doesn’t want to go into Starfleet and it’s okay. O’Brien and Keiko (who we don’t see enough of) are married and it’s tough, but they make it work. Friendship is addressed as something that grows and changes. I wish there were more consequences when Dax left to go murder the Albino with her Klingon pals, but the debate in that episode about what she owed to her former self’s oaths was interesting and Star Trekky at its best (and part of why the Trek movies are usually unsatisfying as the ethical debates have to make way for bigger action sequences).

These first two seasons are the ones that turned me off the show for being boring back when it first aired, which is a shame. DS9 definitely hit its stride earlier than TNG did. Once we get into Season 3 we start getting into what I remember as the sweet spot seasons, before the War made it stop feeling like Trek later. We’ll see how it goes in the rewatch.

The 'Pacman Nebula' (NASA, Chandra, Spitzer, 09/28/11) by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasamarshall/6192572182/ - Shared under a CC-BY-NC 2.0 license

tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 1)

Photo Credit: The ‘Pacman Nebula’ (NASA, Chandra, Spitzer, 09/28/11) by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

When I was eight years old my cousin lived in our house for a year while she did her first year of university. One of the many things that happened was she got me hooked on Star Trek (and eating dinner for breakfast). She was supercool and liked Star Trek: The Next Generation, so TNG was always “my” Star Trek too. I know those episodes backwards and forwards. When I think of examples of leadership Picard is my go-to character. I love TNG the way you love the things you grew up with.

I have a much more complicated relationship with Deep Space 9.

DS9 came out when I was in high school and I just didn’t like it. The plots were boring. Too much political stuff. They couldn’t go anywhere without a ship. I wasn’t a fan. Then they got a ship and Worf joined the crew and I rethought my disapproval. And then the Dominion War began and it was just one ongoing war-story which wasn’t at all what I wanted out of Trek either (I was also watching less television in those days). So I always think about this sweet spot in the middle of the show’s run being where anything good would have happened.

I decided I needed to rewatch DS9 to see if my opinions about it, most of which were made when I was a teenager, still meant anything. I just finished watching the first season and there is so much more I really like about it now.

The biggest thing I like about it (that I used to hate) is its sense of place. DS9 is an Old West frontier town. They’re actually building relationships between the Federation and people who don’t really want them there but need them to keep the peace in a hostile galaxy. There’s colonialism going on, but the ethical issues don’t get quite resolved in a single episode. They’re much more complicated than something the Enterprise could zip in, solve and zip out again. I was used to that kind of story in Star Trek and this was different.

Also, I love the father-son dynamic between Ben and Jake Sisko. The way those two interact makes you feel like people in the Federation are more than just props for ethical stances. The relationships in this show just feel more accurate than the assembly of the best and brightest that you’d see on the Enterprise. I love that Jake doesn’t want to be in Starfleet and that he and Nog make weird business deals. UFP economics didn’t make much sense in TNG (though, to be fair, DS9 hasn’t really tried to deal with them too clearly this season).

Now, there are some crappy episodes in this first season. I have no kind words for “Move Along Home” the episode where Gamma Quadrant aliens pull people into a game that Quark is playing. “The Forsaken” (where Odo gets vulnerable in a turbolift with Lwaxana Troi) was less good than I remember it. I didn’t like “The Storyteller” very much, but it was neat to see that O’Brien and Bashir weren’t best buds right from the beginning of the show.

My favourite episodes of the season have Sisko refusing to be pushed around by forces bigger than him. Though the resolution of “If Wishes Were Horses” was a little pat, it was a good science fictional premise and an interesting episode (I can also see how the lack of sinister motives would have bugged young Justin). “Duet” was about a possible Cardassian war criminal being arrested on the station and was just fucking great.

While DS9 isn’t as dark or bleak as (new) Battlestar Galactica it’s different from the Treks that came before it and yeah, this first season is much better than I remember it. If you put it up against first-season TNG there is absolutely no comparison. I wonder if I’ll like the Dominion War better when I get to it this time around, or if this vastly better opinion is mainly a function of only being 13 when Season 1 aired for the first time. I probably had better taste when I was 17, right?

book review: the walking dead (book 2)

The second book of The Walking Dead is the one where the survivors find a prison and set up camp inside. We meet Michonne, who has a couple of pet zombies that she executes when she comes inside the gates. With her sword. ‘Cause she’s kind of awesome. But then she ruins a romantic relationship. Some people have sex. Some kill themselves. Others are eaten by zombies. A few people are shot. There’s an amputation. Rick goes and digs up Shane’s body and shoots it once he finds out that it’s not the zombies that infect people. As long as you die (without being headshot), you’ll come back.

I like reading this book in these larger collections than the trade paperbacks. And keeping a bit ahead of what’s happening in the TV show (since I see recaps and stuff all over the internet these days, not because I’m watching the show).

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tv review: hamlet

On PBS last night they had a broadcast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant as Hamlet and Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius. Hamlet is easily my favourite Shakespeare play and I like the variety of versions out there. This one was a modern version, so they were wearing suits for the most part. There were surveillance cameras and Hamlet had a little 8mm film camera that he used to catch the conscience of the king.

One of my favourite bits was having Patrick Stewart also play Hamlet’s father’s ghost, because of how it worked in the scene where Hamlet’s confronting his mother just after he’s killed Polonius. He’s showing her pictures of this wonderful man that she threw over for this horrible beast, as if the picture should make the tragedy self-evident, even though in this production they look exactly the same (Hamlet’s father had a bushier beard).

The people reacting to Polonius when he talked were great, as was Polonius himself. I love watching people listen to someone blather on. Especially when I don’t have to appear polite, which I didn’t on my side of the tv screen.