Star Trek DS9 Reviews: Dax

Courtroom drama isn't exactly what comes to mind when you think of Star Trek, although the judicial system of the future has played a prominent role in some episodes. We don't have a full-on court case in Dax, but rather an extradition hearing for Jadzia Dax, in place of the Dax symbiont's former host, Curzon Dax. Jadzia Dax

The episode is named "Dax" as it's the first episode that really explores Jadzia Dax's past lives, and the symbiotic relationships that Trills have with their hosts. While we learn a great deal about Trills in this episode, particularly about Dax, many further questions are raised, as the A.V. Club review has noted. This isn't a bad thing though. These are valuable story hooks, allowing for further character development and plot hooks for later episodes. Always leave your audience looking for more.

This a great episode on a number of points. It explores a philosophical question about a "perfect" crime, as well as examining issues of identity, loyalty and friendship. Who is Jadzia Dax, and in what ways is she different from Sisko's old friend, Curzon? Even as Sisko is working to connect his friendship with Curzon to that of Jadzia, this episode works both to complicate and simplify matters.

The major plot is that Curzon Dax was one of a very few people who could have sent a transmission to an enemy of the Klaestronians, committing treason and betraying his close friend, a general who was killed and posthumously made a national hero. Some thirty years later, his son is persecuting Jadzia Dax for the supposed crimes of her former host.

The General's Son

Dax is of course innocent. The general himself colluded with the enemy, who betrayed and killed him. Dax has an alibi as well: the General's wife. Rather than risk her reputation, and the heroic status awarded posthumously to the general, Dax holds her peace, ready to accept responsibility for the betrayal: extradition to a planet which has the death penalty.

Death normally isn't final for a Trill, as when the symbiont is transferred to a new host, it brings all memories along with it. In this case, however, it is the Dax symbiont in particular that is being prosecuted, and would then suffer a final death.

It's interesting to see that to remain true to her vow of silence regarding her relationship with the general's wife, Dax essentially denies her friendship with Sisko, stating the Sisko was Curzon's friend. Sisko, in turn, defends Jadzia Dax as a separate entity from Curzon.

Sisko and Dax

When Bashir testifies about how Jadzia's brainwaves are different from that of Curzon, thus showing that they are separate people. In the cross-examination, Bashir reluctantly admits that there is no evidence that the symbiont's individual brainwaves altered appreciably from Curzon to Jadzia. Curiously, no mention was made to whether Jadzia's brainwaves were altered during the joining. The audience learns of her many accomplishments of her own accord, prior to being joined with the symbiont, but we don't get a feel for how she was changed by this irreversible change. How much of her personality is due to the symbiont? Jadzia is very self-assured, extremely confident, and willing to sacrifice her own life for her principles.

Sisko, however, approaches the case with a particular result in mind, and directs his team to find the "correct" answer, although he admits to wanting to know of any incorrect answers as well. An interesting nuance.

Odo and Quark

Speaking of personal principles, there are some good personal performances by Quark and Odo. The extradition hearing needs a location, and with a little prompting from Odo, Quark "offers" his bar for the location. It's a small scene, but this relationship is built upon small scenes. Quark, as always, wants any concessions he makes a goodwill gesture, in spite of any coercion.

Quark

Dax is a very philosophical episode. While much of the case focuses on technicalities, such as whether Jadzia Dax is or isn't the "person" who committed treason, it is in the end a moot point, as Dax has an alibi. We entirely sidestep any question of whether the Federation should allow extradition to a government that has a death penalty, a reminder that Star Trek exists in a world formed by ideologies in the USA.

Dax first aired on February 14, 1993. Teleplay by D.C. Fontana & Peter Allan Fields. Story by Peter Allan Fields. Directed by David Carson.

Doctor Who: A Postscript from Rory

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who Series 7 episode The Angels Take Manhattan. River Song always has spoilers

The last several episodes of Doctor Who have really played up the departure of Amy Pond and Rory Williams from Doctor Who. We've all known their departure was imminent, which is one of the reasons why their arguments in the episode Asylum of the Daleks (a worthwhile review by Adam Shaftoe) seemed needlessly angsty. Since that particular low point in their relationship, we've been introduced to Rory's dad, Brian.

Parents of the Doctor's companions has become a staple in the series since it's reincarnation by Russel T Davies. Brian's very much like Wilfrid Mott, Donna's grandfather, in a number of ways. They're kind souls, who understand the sense of adventure the Doctor brings.

When the Angels Take Manhattan ended, Amy and Rory were sent back to the past, where they lived out their lives in New York. It's a bittersweet ending for them, and entirely appropriate for the way their relationship has been running over the past several episodes. The Power of Three really emphasized their dual life.

The ending of the episode included a letter from Amy to the Doctor, giving her final goodbyes, as through some sort of timey wimey mumbo jumbo, the Doctor is unable to travel back to save them in New York.

Afterword, by Amelia Williams. Hello, old friend, and here we are. You and me, on the last page. By the time you read these words, Rory and I will be long gone, so know that we lived well, and were very happy. And, above all else, know that we will love you, always. Sometimes, I do worry about you though; I think, once we're gone, you won't be coming back here for a long while, and you might be alone, which you should never be. Don't be alone, Doctor.

And do one more thing for me: there's a little girl, waiting in a garden; she's going to wait a long while, so she is going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that, if she's patient, the days are coming that she'll never forget. Tell her she'll go to sea and fight pirates, she'll fall in love with a man who'll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she'll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived, and save a whale in outer space.

Tell her: This is the story of Amelia Pond - and this, is how it ends.

While this is quite touching, and brings Amy's journey with the Doctor full-circle, we are now left with Rory's relationship with his father, Brian, a man recently introduced to viewers within the past several episodes. The official episode leaves him out in the cold, presumably watering the plants forever, waiting for Rory and Amy to come home to him.

Well, it turns out that the writers hadn't forgotten about Brian, as the BBC has recently released a scene where Rory's fate is revealed to his father. It was never shot, so is filled out by storyboard renders.

[youtube http://youtu.be/XWU6XL9xI4k]

Does this give closure for Rory's dad? I can understand the narrative desire to focus on Amy's story with the Doctor, but it seems rather callous to introduce a character, and then leave him in the dark about his family's ultimate fate.

The Angels Take Manhattan first aired September 29th, 2012. It was written by Steven Moffat, and directed by Nick Hurran. The episode was produced by Marcus Wilson. Rory's postscript was written by Chris Chibnall, who also wrote the other recent episodes with Brian Williams, including Power of Three and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Q-Less

It seems too much to ask for two stellar episodes back to back this early in the season. While Q-Less is nowhere near the disaster of Babel, its also nowhere as great as Captive Pursuit. Q-Less is kind of middling. I think it's partly because the series had yet to find its legs, and the writers tried to use Q to differentiate the show from TNG, rather than truly explore how it's different. Q

The episode begins with Bashir framing his Starfleet medical exams in terms of a great battle, while attempting to woo a Bajoran woman. Bashir mentions at this point that he was the salutatorian, and not the valedictorian of his class, having made a mistake awash in techno-babble of post-something, pre-something that sounds the same. As "brilliant" as Bashir assures us he is, and as full of self-assured bravado, this seems an unlikely mistake for him to have made. It's a little seed of a story to be examined further in later episodes.

Sisko's encounter with Q in Quark's is entirely framed within the relationship Q had with Picard; Q acts as the aggressor, presenting Sisko with the opportunity to show the baser instincts of humanity. Where Picard - ever the statesman - would refuse to react, Sisko doesn't hold back, and hits Q back. While this may be effective in characterizing Sisko, it is once again compared to Picard. It really comes across as a cheap tactic, and not nearly as effective as doing something different.

Sisko hits Q

More to the point, aside from this brief encounter with Sisko, Q seems rather disinterested in anyone other than Vash, whom Q had convinced to run away to explore the galaxy in the TNG episode "Qpid". Q is quick to play the martyr, unjustly accused for threatening to tear the station apart, but fails to offer any suggestions or aid in solving the problem. This could be seen as part of his test for humanity. If they can't solve a little problem like this, why should humanity be allowed to spread like a disease across the galaxy?

Yet the crew is eager to blame Q, rather than ask him in humility if he was responsible. I do have the feeling that if he was asked, Q would answer honestly (the nickname "God of Lies" does tend to be misinterpreted).

Q's motivations in this episode are completely out of character. It's difficult to believe that Q would be so enamoured of his companion that he would spend so much effort keeping her around. From what we've seen in TNG, he is far more… inconstant. Q is like a child with new toys. He's always interested in new ones, but quickly loses interest. Aside from his promise to Picard in Qpid to keep Vash safe, there is little to suggest that Q wouldn't just abandon Vash somewhere when he encounters something shiny.

Q and Vash

There are some other comparisons to be made with "Encounter at Farpoint", as the source of this anomaly turns out to be a embryonic life form which turns into a space-borne alien. Aside from being the source of the danger threatening the station, it's essentially a MacGuffin.

The creature in Q-Less

Vash's subplot involves selling artifacts from the Gamma quadrant through Quark. While there are some amusing interactions here, the Ferengi susceptibility to people massaging their ear lobes seems a rather obvious evolutionary flaw. This practice was first introduced in the TNG episodee "Ménage à Troi". Despite Quark's inability to resist Vash, he shows the Ferengi business sense when running the auction, cutting short the lectures on the items for sale, distilling them to "Friends, it's rare, it's beautiful, and it's a gamma quadrant original, and it can be yours for the right price." While he's not a brilliant orator, he knows his customer base well.

Although Q's motives don't match my expectations, it's easy to forget this, and just watch John de Lancie. He's a brilliant actor, and he's quite good at portraying Q. It's just sad to see his character and his acting wasted on an episode that could have been so much better, had they focused on Q's normal behaviour. I would have loved to see Q's character developed further, or at least seen some real tests of the DS9 crew. But as John de Lancie notes in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, "Q is best used when he deals with large philosophical issues. And skirt-chasing just isn't one of them".

Q-Less first aired February 7, 1993. Teleplay by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Story by Hannah Louise Shearer. Directed by Paul Lynch.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Captive Pursuit

As boring as I found Babel, it was quickly followed by one of the best early episodes of the series, Captive Pursuit. While in the last several episodes, DS9 has seen increased traffic due to the wormhole, this is the first episode in which we encounter life from the other side. First contact, the essence of diplomatic relations. So what do we learn about life on the other side of the wormhole? The first creature from the other side is an alien who calls himself Tosk. He has some pretty advanced survival techniques, such as the ability to camouflage himself by turning invisible, only requiring 17 minutes of rest per cycle, and has nutrient sacs embedded around his body for sustenance. Tosk is extremely skittish, reacting quickly to unknown noises. He really seems like a fugitive from justice, a cornered rat, with a built-in flight or fight reflex.

Tosk on his ship

We thus get our first hint that things on the other side of the wormhole are perhaps worthy of caution. A region which has developed a race like Tosk, either through natural selection, or, as it turns out, through genetic manipulation, is a dangerous place.

As if to make up for the lack of screen time in Babel, O'Brien is the primary contact for Tosk. It's a combination of his technical aptitude, and generally non-confrontational nature that makes him a good fit. Through O'Brien, we learn that technology from the other side of the wormhole is roughly comparable to that of the Federation, if slightly unfamiliar.

Closeup of Tosk from DS9 Captive Pursuit

This brings us to the next race that comes through the wormhole, Hunters in search of their prey: sentient life. Their entry onto the station isn't very diplomatic either. They beam directly aboard, and blast their way to where Tosk is being held, then they demand his release.

Captive Pursuit  Hunters

This raises an interesting ethical and diplomatic issue. The callous treatment of Tosk flies in the face of Federation values. If they refuse to hand him over, they risk future relations with an alien race, but if they hand him over, they're condemning Tosk to degradation and imprisonment. The Hunters seem disgusted that they have found Tosk alive. It's not sporting, it would seem.

Captive Pursuit  Hunted Unhelmed

While Sisko reluctantly agrees to release Tosk, O'Brien decides to take matters into his own hands. He plays upon Odo's insecurity, telling him that the prisoner transfer is a Starfleet matter, as orders from Sisko. He then leaves his com badge behind, and then ambushes the Hunters, allowing Tosk to escape.

Captive Pursuit  Hunter shot

So much for a peaceful first contact. First the Hunters blast open the brig, and then a Starfleet officer goes rogue and incapacitates the aliens? Of course, as O'Brien points out, when he discusses his actions with Sisko, it would have been an easy thing for Sisko to stop him, by activating force fields in the station to block him off. Although O'Brien disobeyed orders, he did so in a way that preserved the ideals of the Federation, and in a way, enabled the glory of the Hunt to continue. There doesn't seem to be any long-term consequences for O'Brien, as after Tosk escapes, the Hunters seem pleased that the hunt has started once more, apparently smoothing over relations, even after a firefight.

All in all, Captive Pursuit is an excellent episode, giving some added characterization to O'Brien and Sisko, while introducing aliens from the Gamma quadrant.

Captive Pursuit first aired January 31, 1993. Teleplay by Jill Sherman Donner & Michael Piller. Story by Jill Sherman Donner. Directed by Corey Allen

Trudeau and the need for leadership

With news of Justin Trudeau's candidacy for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, some polls are suggesting that Trudeaumania is about to descend on the country, enabling the Liberals to regain control of the government, draining support from the NDP. Justin Trudeau in 2010

How likely is a Liberal government now? Do they really stand a chance of winning back the support of voters who chose orange instead of red? The NDP had a strong showing in the last election, in no small part due to the efforts of the late Jack Layton. While Layton was clearly the catalyst for the so-called Orange Crush, I suspect the move towards the NDP was also due to a long-term frustration with the lack of credible Liberal policies. I'm not convinced that Trudeau can swing support back from orange to red.

The Liberals have faced a number of problems over the last few elections. Neither Ignatieff nor Dion had much in the way of charisma. In RPG terms, charisma was their dump stat. Their popularity was mainly as an alternative to Stephen Harper. Before Iggy and Dion, Paul Martin was beset by scandal, and the fallout from an internal power struggle in the party. The only Liberal leader in recent memory who had charisma was Chretien, and I'm still not entirely sure how he pulled that off.

Jack Layton, however, represented the spirit of change. He was a clear choice to the direction that Harper's Conservatives have taken, and he was a true parliamentarian. While many Canadians--particularly those who voted Conservative--may have disagreed with his policies, he was a popular figure. He was authentic, in a way that many politicians don't seem to manage.

Thomas Mulcair may not have the charisma of Trudeau or Layton, but he's certainly not the wet blanket that Dion or Ignatieff were. The NDP platform still resonates, in a way that the Liberal platform has failed to capture the attention of Canadians over the past several years.

Can Trudeau's charisma bring the Liberals back to prominence? I don't know. Trudeau as leader will revitalize the party, and attract new people. But why should Canadians put their trust back in the Liberal party now? Aside from Trudeau as a leader, what policies do the Liberals stand for, that differentiate themselves from the NDP? What policies does Trudeau himself hold?

This highlights the largest problem facing the Liberals. For Trudeau to win the leadership, and lead the Liberals back to form the government, he needs to start leading on policy, across the board. He has spoken a great deal about issues of social justice, but very rarely on matters of economic policy. In the current economic crisis, any leadership candidate needs to make their stance on economic policy clear. As journalist Andrew Coyne argues, Trudeau doesn't really have a public stand on many issues.

Will Trudeau's leadership of the Liberal Party bring them back to power? I rather doubt it. Until the Liberal Party can present a valid case, not just as an alternative to Stephen Harper's Conservatives, but also to the NDP, I think the Liberals will remain a secondary opposition party.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Babel

Right after a powerful, thematic episode like A Man Alone, Babel is the first episode that really feels like a one-off episode. While it's not completely without its redeeming factors, it doesn't really have any big themes, nor does it really focus on any one character. The episode begins with an overworked O'Brien working desperately to maintain DS9's computer systems. Everything is breaking down, and everything is a priority. It's a workload that isn't shared with the rest of the command crew. After all, they have time to complain about how the replicators aren't working, and are creating a horrible cup of coffee. The slackers.

O'Brien fixing the replicators

Really, in this episode, O'Brien doesn't get any respect. In fact, once he repairs the replicator, triggering the release of an aphasia virus, he is soon written out of the episode, being unable to communicate. This is actually the first of the "poor O'Brien" episodes, although his role in this episode is short.

Computer automation

This is the first time in the series we see Quark with access to computer systems he shouldn't have. He uses a physical control rod system to change his access level, something that none of the earlier Star Trek series have used. It's another good way in which the series sets itself apart.

Quark gaining access to the computer systems

There are several other problems with computer automation. When Bashir is attempting to find a cure for the virus, he needs to tell the computer when to run the next batch of tests. Wouldn't it be easier to have the computer to run through them all automatically?

A similar situation occurs when Kira attempts to locate a Bajoran scientist on the surface. She has a database query to help, but she has to tell the computer to run the command against different databases on the planet, individually. Again, wouldn't it be easier to run it against all of them in one go? I think the writers were attempting to show how disorganized the Bajorans are, but it leads me to believe that their software engineers are seriously lacking in skill.

The virus

Let's consider this virus for a moment. It's initially replicated at the molecular level, infecting anyone who consumes food from the repaired replicator. When enough people on the station are infected, it suddenly becomes aerosol. This explanation of a critical mass causing the type of transmission to change is a little suspect, unless the virus was engineered to reproduce in this way.

When O'Brien is symptomatic, and run through some medical tests, Bashir determines that O'Brien's mind is fully functional, but that auditory and visual stimuli are being mistranslated. Since nobody can understand anyone else, the infected are shipped off to an emergency medical ward for observation.

While watching the episode, I began to wonder exactly how unstable the aphasia is. The initial attempts at communication from anyone newly infected with the virus seem to repeat several nonsense phrases. There appears to be no attempt to determine how stable this mapping is, and whether a simple translation service could make sense of what people were saying.

The words on the PADD computer are the same nonesense O'Brien is saying

The progression of the virus also seems strange. It was at Sisko's request that the replicator was initially fixed, triggering the release of the virus. While O'Brien was the first to try the replicator, thus infecting himself, Sisko is one of the last to succumb. While everyone else becomes aphasiac, but is perfectly capable of walking around, and waiting in quarantine for some time, Sisko immediately collapses in Ops. This wasn't adequately explained, and was rather distracting.

To cure the virus, Kira kidnaps Sermak Ren, who had been an associate of the virus' creator. While he initially threatens her with legal consequences, these threats are ignored after he starts working on a cure, having been infected himself. For a series that opens with the promise of long term consequences for your actions, this episode really fails to follow the trend. The only action that appears to have long term consequences in this episode is the installation of the virus itself, some eighteen years prior to the episode.

Overall, I was rather disappointed with Babel. This was a one-off episode, with limited ability to further any ongoing story arcs, or any advanced characterization. The writers didn't even manage to use the wormhole for anything.

Babel originally aired January 24, 1993. Teleplay by Michael McGreevey and Naren Shankar. Story by Sally Caves and Ira Steven Behr. Directed by Paul Lynch.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: A Man Alone

While Past Prologue had one main theme, loyalty, There are two primary themes in A Man Alone: relationships, and racism. The writers manage to weave together these threads while fleshing out more of the more reclusive member of the DS9 crew, Constable Odo. A Man Alone  Bashir

Bashir and Dax

The episode opens with Doctor Bashir shamelessly flirting with Jadzia Dax, a scene which essentially repeats itself through the episode. Her response is friendly, but evasive. She explains that relationships for Trills are a little difficult, and that joined Trills attempt to "rise up" above their desires. Instead of being discouraged, Bashir, ever the optimist, decides that this means that he still has hope.

Sisko and Dax, redux

Fast on the heels of Bashir attempting to woo Dax, is a scene where Sisko and Dax share a meal, and re-establish the close friendship he had with Curzon Dax, the previous host for the Trill Dax. It's a good scene, and shows more depth to their relationship, and explores why Trills don't always reconnect with the friends of past hosts.

Odo and Quark

Odo and Quark make great foils for each other. The law man and the con man. It's all about testing boundaries. While they seem to be each other's worst enemies, there's a certain level of respect shared between the two of them. It's a constant game of cat and mouse, with Odo keeping Quark to a low level of dishonesty.

Odo and Quark

O'Brien and Keiko

As O'Brien was an established character from Star Trek: The Next Generation, he has a fairly developed back story, including his wife Keiko, a botanist, and their daughter Molly. This episode begins to explore the family tensions in place in changing careers.

This invites comparison to the other family unit on DS9, Commander Sisko and his son, Jake. With Sisko being an only parent, his decision to live on a distant space station requires less compromise than that of the O'Briens. In order for O'Brien to take his promotion, the direct downside is that Keiko's career is put on hold.

O'Brien and his wife have several arguments in public, about Keiko's role on the station, or rather, lack thereof. There's precious little need for a botanist in the iron clad corridors of Deep Space Nine, nor does it seem a proper place to raise a young child.

With a bit of handwaving, the show's writers suggest that instead of being a botanist, Keiko should become a teacher for the children of Deep Space Nine, providing structured learning in a classroom environment.

While her arguments towards an integrated classroom environment, with children from various cultures learn together is a good one, she seems completely unprepared to develop a worthwhile curriculum, which takes culturally sensitive issues in mind. This is really the weakest part of the episode, and really just comes across as a way to give Keiko something to do on the show.

This role change appears to address two holes in the plot: it gives Keiko a meaningful role on the station, and allows for an educational setting in which Jake Sisko and Nog can interact, but it really feels contrived, and not in a good way.

As socially progressive as Star Trek often attempts to be, this provides an example of how O'Brien's career has essentially relegated his wife to a traditional gender role of mother and educator. The future feels so very enlightened.

Odo and the Rule of Law

When Odo realizes that Ibudan, a former Bajoran smuggler and profiteer was on the station, he does his best to kick him off the station. His report to Sisko on the matter brings up a great piece of dialogue.

"If he hasn't done anything wrong, you can't force him to leave."

"Watch me."

"Mr. Odo, you're not going to take the law into your own hands."

"The law? Commander, the laws change depending on whose making them.  Cardassians one day, the Federation the next.  But justice is justice."

What we learn about Odo here is that he has remained the chief of security on the station since sometime during the Cardassian occupation. This is one of the charges the Bajorans on the station bring against Sisko later in the episode, suggesting that somehow, Odo was a Cardassian collaborator. Here, Odo explains that his views on justice haven't been influenced by any legal requirements. His is impartial, a "disinterested" observer of the human condition. He is the man alone.

Racism on DS9

Now that we've gotten all the fun relationship issues out of the way, let's move on to the second, less savoury theme. This is far from the first time that Star Trek has dealt with issues of race, and it's far from the last time this theme will be explored in DS9, though not always for the best. As J. Emmet Winn notes in his article "Racial Issues and Star Trek's Deep Space Nine" (Kinema: A Journal for Film and Audiovisual Media, Spring 2003), the actual depiction of race, especially the Ferengi, isn't always a progressive view. Certainly, we can see evidence of xenophobia in this episode, even in Commander Sisko, who wants his son Jake to have nothing to do with "that Ferengi boy", as he sees Nog as a troublemaker.

The founding of the school, and Keiko's attempts at creating a multiracial classroom allows us to foreground issues of desegregation, as different cultures come closer together.

The most explicit racism in this episode however, is seen in the Bajoran persecution of Odo, who is framed for the murder of Ibudan. The parallels to racism in contemporary society is fairly clear: ethnic slurs are scrawled across the walls of his trashed workplace. In Odo's case, the word "SHIFTER" appears. He is hounded by an angry mob, unwilling to wait for the justice system to deliberate over the evidence. Thrown objects break storefront windows. The mob leader even asks how you put a noose around the neck of a shapeshifter.

Odo enters his office to see SHIFTER written on the wall

Racial integration in the United States has been… problematic, and it's clear that the problem is ongoing. Where one person sees a kid with a hoodie and a pack of skittles, another sees a threat to their neighbourhood. How the situation is handled is what matters. A measured response allows all the evidence to come out, while a hasty decision is irreversible.

In A Man Alone, the situation is defused, although as the Captain's Log states at the end, to the best of his knowledge, Odo has not received any apologies for the actions of others during the protest. Sadly, that's often how issues of racism are dealt with in our world too.

A Man Alone first aired January 17, 1993. Teleplay by Michael Piller. Story by Gerald Sanford and Michael Piller. Directed by Paul Lynch.

 

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Past Prologue

Where Emissary focused on developing the character of Benjamin Sisko, the second episode spreads things out a bit. In Past Prologue, we get to see a great deal more of Major Kira in this episode, as well as have Dr. Bashir meet the sole remaining Cardassian on the station, Garak, a clothier by trade, as well as a potential spy. The theme of the episode is that of divided loyalties. Who do you place your faith in, who do you really trust?

Garak and Bashir

Garak and Bashir

When I first announced that I was going to be watching and reviewing Deep Space Nine, the reaction was pretty immediate: Garak is a real fan favourite. As I started to watch this episode, I was quick to remember why.

The opening dialogue between Bashir and Garak is a great piece of characterization. Once again, Bashir comes across as rather lacking in social graces, although we can see how he's trying desperately to come up with small talk. For his part, Garak acts the part of a skilled diplomat, smoothing over Bashir's confusion. Garak's dialogue is exceptionally crafted, playing upon multiple layers of ambiguity. Nothing is as it seems, which is exactly the point. When he calls himself "plain, simple Garak," the viewer knows that he is anything but a plain, simple character. When Garak "makes contact" with Bashir, we start one of the great friendships in the series.

Of particular note is that when Bashir heads to Ops to gleefully report this "contact" to others, including Miles O'Brien, he is essentially ignored by O'Brien, aside from rolled eyes. The O'Brien/Bashir friendship is one of the greatest in the series, and it pretty much falls flat at the beginning. Just as Garak and Bashir make unlikely friends, so too do O'Brien and Bashir.

As tactless and naïve as Bashir is in this episode, his enthusiasm is infectious. I still didn't get much of a feel of depth to his character in this episode, yet. 

Kira's Loyalty

The major part of the episode explores Major Kira's loyalties to Bajor, and the checkered past of the Bajoran resistance to Cardassian rule. As the liaison officer to the Bajoran Provisional Government, Kira's loyalty is not to Starfleet, as she has made abundantly clear. In this episode, her past loyalty to Bajoran freedom fighters such as Tahna Los is tested against her new position. This quickly becomes a moral dilemma for Kira, as she discovers that her old friend is planning further terrorist attacks against the station and the wormhole.

Kira turns to Odo for advice, revealing a deep, existing friendship between the two. She really opens up at this point, admitting her uncertainty about where her loyalties lie. Odo's enigmatic reply is that "the only important thing is not to betray yourself." Eventually, Kira turns to Sisko, revealing what she knows about Tahna's plans. In rejecting her friend, Kira chooses a society where Bajor can take participate on an equal footing with other galactic powers. Kira wants Bajor to be progressive, she wants to reconcile splinter groups, and help her people heal. Most importantly, Kira recognizes that their best chance to do so involves continued cooperation with the Federation.

One of the big takeaways from this episode is that Kira will really go to bat for a cause that aligns with her plan for Bajor. She will navigate any bureaucracy needed, and will quite forcefully argue for a cause she believes in.

Bajor for Bajorans

This is our first look at how different sections of Bajoran society have responded to the Cardassian occupation and withdrawal of Bajor. The wormhole's existence raises Bajor's importance in the quadrant, making an isolationist position more difficult to accept. Tahna Los represents the first of those who is fighting for independence from all outside influence.

Kira speaks passionately about Bajor becoming a power in their own right, although she admits that it won't happen overnight.

DS9 Ops

It was nice to see the writers and director using the raised command platform in DS9 Ops so effectively in this episode, when Kira thanks Sisko for his help in arranging amnesty for Tahna Los and other members of the Kohn-Ma. Curtly, he reminds her to remember that the next time she is insubordinate and goes over his head to Starfleet. With the camera angle, the viewer is looking up past Kira to Sisko in a position of power. It's a simple camera trick to emphasize power differences, but it's quite effective nonetheless. This power dynamic feeds into our understanding of Cardassian architecture, as noted in the previous episode.

Klingon Involvement

This is the first of many episodes which bring the Klingons into play. While the presence of the Duras sisters Lursa and B'Etor in this episode give some insight into the current state of the Klingon Empire, their role in the episode is relatively minor. This is a follow-up to the events from the TNG episodes Redemption and Redemption II, which saw civil war in the Klingon Empire, led by the House of Duras.

Their appearance in DS9 is another contextual link to TNG, without requiring a member of the main cast. It also widens the scope of the show, from dealing with the Cardassians and Bajorans, to a larger stage.

Past Prologue first aired January 10th, 1993. Written by Katharyn Powers. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

 

ST:DS9 Reviews: Emissary

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The first episode of any television series is important. For completely new shows, it can determine whether a studio will buy an initial season. While the risks are less for a spinoff of a popular show with a built-in audience, especially a flagship show like Star Trek, there are still important tasks to accomplish. The pilot needs to give clear links to the earlier show, usually including cameo guest appearances from an actor on the earlier series. A pilot episode needs to set the scene and establish setting, and it has to introduce and characterize the major characters.

The Enterprise-D docked at DS9

As the pilot episode for DS9, Emissary establishes a number of major themes and story arcs. We also see the important links to TNG, most importantly The Best of Both Worlds, and Encounter at Farpoint. Perhaps most importantly, Emissary introduces the major characters, allowing the audience to identify with them. While it must introduce the main cast, there is a clear focus on the lead role, in this case, Commander Benjamin Sisko.

Characterization

While Sisko is fully developed as a character in this episode, the rest of the cast is filled in with brief introductions, giving us a taste for their personalities. Before we get to Sisko, here are some of the first impressions from how the characters are portrayed in this episode.

Chief Miles O'Brien is a character already familiar to viewers of TNG. Colm Meany is a great actor, and we finally get to see a lot more of his character in this series. A non-commissioned officer, O'Brien is the Everyman. He's instantly relatable, and acts as a bridge back to TNG. He really doesn't need that much introduction in the episode, and instead we see how he adapts to the changes in position. He takes on the "engineer" role, like Scotty from TOS and Geordi from TNG.

Kira Nerys is the Bajoran representative on the station. She comes across as fierce, proud, stubborn and angry. After fighting to free Bajor from the Cardassians, she is frustrated that they have immediately given control of the station to the Federation. We immediately get the sense that there is going to be intense friction between her and the Federation rules. She has vastly different motivations than Sisko, with different loyalties. A beautiful moment for her character is when she orders O'Brien to fire all six of the station's photon torpedoes across the bow of a Cardassian warship, hoping that she can bluff her way beyond any real confrontation.

Jadzia Dax is a joined Trill, a human-alien symbiotic entity, whose previous host had worked closely with Sisko in the past. Immediate impressions are of wisdom, age, and bemused detachment. In this episode, the writers use a religious artifact, an Orb, to present us with a flashback to the transfer of the symbiont from the previous host. There's definitely a sense of mystery with Dax.

Doctor Bashir is a young, brash, brilliant doctor, with little experience in the field. He's completely without any sense of tact. He definitely lacks McCoy's wry sense of knowing sarcasm.

Odo is the station's chief of security. As a shapeshifter, he's an outsider, very much fulfilling the same role as Spock and Data, with hints of an unknown origin story.

Then there's Quark, the Ferengi bartender, who is quite possibly one of the most amusing characters in Star Trek. Since the Ferengi were introduced in the TNG episode The Last Outpost, they were always conniving little creatures. While profit is certainly still an issue, we see already signs of the importance of the family unit.

Sisko

Finally, we get to Sisko. He's a complicated character, especially in this first episode. He's the lead character of the series as a whole, as well as this episode in particular. In this beginning episode, we see a broken man begin a path to healing.

The great tragedy in TNG was The Best of Both Worlds, when Captain Picard is surgically altered as Locutus of Borg. Here, the Borg represent a loss of humanity, a loss of individuality. In the opening scene of DS9, we see these same events through the eyes of Benjamin Sisko, where his wife Jennifer is killed in the massacre at Wolf 359. This very personal loss leaves Sisko to raise their son Jake alone.

This is a moment which defines Sisko. When he meets with Picard, we get a sense of resentment and anger towards the senior officer. To Sisko, Picard personifies the Borg, and is a reminder of what he has lost.

Sisko's loss not only defines him as a character, but also defines DS9 as a Star Trek series. TNG showed the Borg wreaking havoc at Wolf 359. DS9 shows the human impact. In the earlier series, events nearly always reset by the end of the episode. Even in the episode Cause and Effect, where the Enterprise is stuck in a temporal loop, leading to the destruction of the ship and loss of all hands multiple times, by the end of the episode, the disaster is averted, and everything has returned to normal. The only enduring loss in TNG is the death of Natasha Yar in the episode Skin of Evil. The most dramatic change in TNG is the assimilation of Picard into Locutus, which is ultimately reversed.

In Emissary, we Sisko finally come to terms with his loss, and start the healing process. We see this change framed by two conversations with Picard. In the first meeting, the audience can see a sullen resentment, as Sisko voices a desire to retire his commission, and live life as a civilian. During the second meeting, Sisko rescinds this wish, and voices a very strong desire to make a go of his new command. So what exactly happens in the meantime that we see such a drastic reversal in Sisko's outlook?

Some of the most awkward dialogue in DS9. Not that it's really terrible, but just awkward. This is a first contact event with an alien species that differs considerably from those that normally appear on Star Trek. While Star Trek has been criticized in the past for having aliens that are human, except for pointy ears, or a brow ridge, in this episode, the Prophets are extra-temporal beings: they don't exist in linear time, but seem to experience all moments at once. In a way, the relative similarities between the alien races in Star Trek has always been minor, emphasizing a common humanity. In DS9, we start to explore a consciousness without our common frames of reference, something truly alien.

Sisko tries to teach the Prophets about cause and effect, and linear time. The whole conversation is an analogy for the way DS9 itself will handle plot lines, with the long term effects of actions carrying on into further episodes. There are some useful analogies made here to the value humanity places on unpredictability, such as the enjoyment one receives from a baseball game. Every pitch is unpredictable, and it is the random nature of the game that gives it meaning.

While Sisko works to show them the value of a linear progression of time, he also comes to realize that he too is stuck in the past, at the moment of Jennifer's death. This is not only the moment where the healing begins, but also the point that the Prophets find common ground with Sisko, and by extension, humanity.

Story Arcs

The Prophets and their wormhole play an important role in the series. The wormhole obviously brings the Bajor system into play as an area of strategic importance, while the presence of the Prophets plays a religious role in Bajoran society, which is also an ongoing theme throughout the show. Sisko has been named the Emissary, a role that will deepen as the series progresses.

The role of the Federation, as part of the command on the outpost is also brought into question. How can Bajor gain independence while inviting the Federation to set up on their doorstep?

Despite the current peace, ongoing tensions with the Cardassians remain high. The presence of the wormhole puts Bajorans back into play, causing the Cardassians to regret relinquishing control. 

The Bajorans themselves see themselves as a recently emancipated group. The similarities to slavery in the United States are easy to see, especially with the racial tensions on DS9.

Many other themes have been suggested through the character introductions, and will be developed further in the next few episodes as the characters are fleshed out.

Emissary originally aired on January 3, 1993. Teleplay by Michael Piller, with story by Michael Piller and Rick Berman. Directed by David Carson.

The Perils of Selling Stuff Online

There's a strange mentality at play when trying to sell items online. Several sites on the Internet have become a virtual garage sale. While eBay is the most successful, it's often easier to use sites which focus on local sales, such as Craigslist or Kijiji. Shipping items is a hassle, and it's often easier to receive payment when meeting around town. There may be fewer people interested in your product though, and there are also very obviously those who will try to lowball your asking price.

I recently sold a Nikon SB-400 flash online. Ken Rockwell may love this flash, but it's not flexible enough for my use. I listed it for just over a hundred dollars, which is what a rough look at successfully completed eBay auctions closed for. Within a day, I had two offers for my asking price, as well as this gem:

Hi si i offer 50 dolar cash, if you think let me come and get it

Brilliant! I'll sell it to you immediately... Wait, no I won't. Your offer is ridiculous. If you're trying to get a deal, here's a few tips:

  1. Look for items more than a few days old.
  2. Use relatively correct language. Try using a spellchecker.
  3. Try to explain why you should get a deal.

Try actually being persuasive. If you're lucky, it will work. If not, at least you're not like to be fodder for blog posts.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Reviews

Almost twenty years ago, the first episode of Deep Space Nine aired. For the first time, not one, but two Start Trek series were in first run syndication.  After The Next Generation ended, Voyageur started, and again, two series of Star Trek were in first run syndication at the same time. Star Trek Deep Space Nine header image

Deep Space Nine was a different show than the others. Most obviously, it took place on a space station, and not a starship. Unlike the other shows, where the location could shift drastically from episode to episode, in Deep Space Nine, the location remained the same, with a rotating cast of visiting characters.

When DS9 first aired, I was a big fan of TNG. While I made an effort to watch the new show, the first season was a little too slow for my liking. By the time things started happening, the serial nature of the show had developed in completely unexpected directions, I had no idea on what was going on.

In essence, I failed to watch DS9 because it was different. I had become accustomed to one-off stories with an alien of the week. I quite reasonably assumed that two or three seasons in, I should be able to pick up any random episode, and pick up exactly where I left off. I can't even claim that I wasn't warned. During the first episode, the merits of a linear timeline with real consequences for actions is highlighted as one of humanity's greatest strengths.

Deep Space Nine space station

One of DS9's greatest strengths is paradoxically also its greatest weakness: a complex serial storyline. This kept me from watching it faithfully in the first run, but also fascinated me on DVD.

How does the series hold up today? I've started to watch the series again, and plan on writing my response to the show. In particular, I'm going to look at the craft of storytelling. How did the writers develop the story arcs, how effective is their characterization, and how do they deal with relevant social issues? How effectively do they integrate previous Star Trek canon? What works, and what doesn't, from a writing perspective. While I may, from time to time, comment on some of the acting, especially when it comes to characterization, I'm not really going to comment on special effects, other than when required for story purposes. For instance, there's this big wormhole which appears in space near Bajor. This wormhole is important for the story, but very little about the special effects associated with it matter to the story.

This also isn't going to be a plot review, although I'm not going to hold back on any plot reveals. The show is nearly twenty years old. The statute of limitations on spoilers is long since over. Consider yourself warned. If you're really looking for a plot recap, check out Memory Alpha.

This blog series will quite obviously take a long time to complete. Some posts will be longer than others. The first post will review the pilot episode, Emissary. It will likely be one of the longer reviews, as there is much to cover in the introduction.

Nonfiction Book Review: Getting Started with D3 by Mike Dewar; O'Reilly Media

For the past several weeks, I've been working with some visualization libraries in JavaScript. There are a number of different options available, from using the bitmap graphics in the HTML 5 canvas, to writing vector graphics with SVG output. One of the more popular libraries at the moment is D3, which provides a flexible framework for visualizing large datasets in SVG. While the examples and API documentation available on the D3 website are helpful,  I have also found Mike Dewar's book, "Getting Started with D3" to be a helpful resource.

Cover for "Getting Started with D3"

Dewar uses a publicly available resource, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority Data Set, to demonstrate how the library can be used to present data in a number of ways. The book covers all the basics with D3, from the selection model, to interactive graphs, and specialized layouts, such as force-directed graphs. While it covers some of these concepts, it never goes into great detail about anything in particular. While this is a "getting started" book, it's very much an introductory title.

Still, this is a relatively short book. It's a good introduction to D3, but leaves a great deal about the library to be explored. In chapter 3, the author notes that the standard D3 visualizations are rendered in SVG, which limits the usage to modern browsers. While it is noted that Internet Explorer 9 (March 2011) provides SVG support, the book fails to explain exactly what that means today. As I've mentioned before, IE 8 is the most recent version of Internet Explorer that can run on Windows XP, which still has a sizeable market share. While there are workarounds, such as using d34raphael to render VML output in earlier versions of IE, or using svgweb to render the SVG output in Flash, these problems are glossed over with a simple aside.

In the end, D3 is a very useful tool, and Mike Dewar's book does a decent job of explaining how to go about using it. It's unfortunate that the book doesn't go into greater detail, especially since the book is so short to begin with.

This book was reviewed as part of O'Reilly's Blogger Review program. The book itself can be found on the O'Reilly website here

Why is Windows XP stuck with IE 8?

For all web developers and designers, Internet Explorer 8 support is likely the least enjoyable part of your work, and it's unlikely to go away any time soon. As much as Microsoft would like for everyone to upgrade to Windows 8 this fall, the simple truth is that many home and school PCs are still running Windows XP. These systems are for the most part under powered to run Windows 7, and may have software that is incompatible with the newer versions of Windows. After all, from XP there is Vista, 7, and very soon, Windows 8. Just think about all the driver incompatibilities introduced by each successive operating system upgrade.

Browser Wars image: Firefox and Chrome fight while IE eats glue

For large organizations, such as academic institutions, an en masse upgrade from XP is unlikely, not only for the hardware and licensing costs, but also through the IT management work required to vet any software upgrades. The upgrades happen, albeit slowly. There just isn't a compelling enough reason to upgrade.

Why doesn't Microsoft just upgrade the version of Internet Explorer running on XP? Why can't they put IE 9, and soon IE 10, on their older operating system? The latest versions of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple's Safari are all available for Windows XP.

But all those browsers are cross-platform, one might argue. They don't have the deep integration with the operating system, like IE has. So what? Why should that matter? Safari is a web browser installed by default with Mac OS X, which presumably has as much opportunity for deep OS integration as IE. Apple took a different route. Rather than seeking deep integration with the OS, Apple open sourced the WebKit rendering engine, which is now not only used by Google Chrome, but also in most smartphone browsers as well, including those of BlackBerry, Android, and iOS.

One could argue that this kind of entrenchment, where Microsoft is unwilling or unable to upgrade the browser in earlier versions of Windows, is exactly the kind of problems the Department of Justice antitrust case should have solved. Certainly, the arguments raised by Microsoft suggested that the operating system was strongly coupled with the web browser, such that they could not be separated. But the antitrust trial focused on competitor access to Microsoft APIs. If the sanctions against Microsoft had been stronger, we might have seen IE9 on Windows XP today.

Microsoft is clearly capable of writing a rendering engine separate from the OS. From 1998 to 2003, Microsoft released versions of Internet Explorer for the Mac, dropping support in December of 2005. These versions were supported on Mac OS 7, the "Classic" OS, through to OS X Tiger, and supported two different system architectures, the old Motorola 68k systems, as well as the PPC systems. They have experience in writing cross-platform rendering engines, but clearly feel hat one closely tied to a particular operating system version is somehow beneficial.

How exactly does a tightly coupled system help them? It could be an added enticement to upgrade to a newer version of Windows, but if so, it's not really very effective. Perhaps it makes development easier? I fail to see how that might be the case. Other browsers seem to have no problems with a more portable architecture, so unless Microsoft is making extensive use of internal APIs again (once again, reference the antitrust suit),I fail to see how this makes sense.

One of the most convincing arguments is that it could cut the number of possible OS/browser configurations for testing, either internally, or by organizations with more extensive upgrade trials. Supporting IE9 on Windows XP would need extensive testing not inly of the browser itself, but all the different extensions and integrations, all on an operating system that is several generations old. After all, XP is in extended support mode, with that final stage set to expire in April 2014. Spending large amounts of money on testing IE9 support on Windows XP clearly isn't in Microsoft's best interests.

So where does that leave web developers today? Are we doomed to support IE until 2014? Sadly, I suspect it will live on longer, the browser zombie of the net. Aside from promoting the use of Firefox or Chrome on Windows XP, there is little we can do. Like classic Romero zombies, it's not going anywhere very fast.

 

The High Tech Job Sector in Waterloo Region

As dire as news coming from Research in Motion is these days, Waterloo Region has a large number of technology companies actively hiring. We're really fortunate to have such a variety of local companies here in the Region, and the support of Communitech.

Tech Leadership Conference 2012

Communitech also has a tech jobs website, http://www.waterlootechjobs.com. This past month, I attended the Waterloo TechVibe Recruitment Event, where a number of local companies were recruiting. How did that work out? After the event, I was in different stages of the interview process with six companies, before accepting a position at Desire2Learn.

I was really impressed by the variety and quality of companies we have in Waterloo Region. We are far more than just the headquarters of RIM. From radiology workflow solutions at Medicalis, to financial account management at Arius Software, to cross-platform mobile voice solutions such as Fongo, the market is definitely hopping.

While it's true that when people think of Waterloo Region technology companies, RIM is often the first company that comes to mind, there are also local Google offices, as well as OpenText.

While many companies in the region are in the mobile space, such as Kik and enflick, we also have good representation in the medical and financial services fields.

So while the wind may be out of the sails at RIM, the economic outlook for Waterloo Region is still very good, as noted in a recent article in the Waterloo Region Record on a report by the Conference Board of Canada. Will job cuts at RIM hurt? Without a doubt. But the benefit is a more diverse region, where smaller companies are not struggling to find the talent that in the past several years has been going to RIM.

Waterloo Region also has great support for technology startups. Communitech has their Hyperdrive program, Waterloo has the Accelerator Centre, and the University of Waterloo has a Velocity incubator. All of these programs offer entrepreneurs with space and access to established mentors, to help build their businesses. While these don't provide large employment numbers now, they do provide opportunities for those in the region.

 

Book Review: Torn Realities

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I was first introduced to this anthology at Ad Astra, when Matt Moore read his story Delta Pi. After talking with a few other people online (Facebook? Twitter? Google Plus? I don't really remember anymore...) about the book, I picked up a Kindle Edition.

Torn Realities is a Lovecraft inspired anthology, with a focus on how reality twists and tears, revealing something unknowable, something malevolent, which shifts all our frames of reference. In addition to Matt's story, this anthology also includes Rawhead Rex, a story by Clive Barker. My other favourite stories in the anthology include Amsterdamned, and Hallowed Ground.

Torn Realities Cover Image

Delta Pi by Matt Moore Delta Pi was the first story I turned to, as I was already familiar with the story. As I read it, my mind echoed the punctuated rhythms of Moore's reading. Its energetic and passionate. If you ever get a chance to attend one of his readings, you should. The story itself draws upon the fears some have expressed in recent years, that a high energy particle accelerator experiment could tear the Earth apart in some recreation of the Big Bang. Moore doesn't focus on the science, but on the psychology of a researcher on the outside. Someone who accepts, nay, embraces the conclusions of a paper which other scientists have ignored as the ramblings of a madman.

Opt-in by JW Schnarr

I can see why the editors wanted to lead with this story. Today, personal, highly targeted marketing appears to be the norm. What would happen, however, if the personality targeting you was that of a loved one, since passed away? An advertisement that cannot be ignored, as you seek to keep up a link to the past. The story follows this theme down the rabbit hole, as what if two-way communication occurs, but it's not the loved one on the other side? Reading this story reminded me of the works of Philip K Dick, especially the novel Ubik, on multiple levels.

What Waits Out There by Jamie Lackey Reading this story, I was very much reminded of Nietzsche.

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you. "Beyond Good and Evil", Aphorism 146 (1886)

The terror of being alone, but sensing that something is watching.

Angkor Sabat by C. Deskin Rink

The language used in this story is excessively ornate, telling the tale of a mighty prince turned pauper as he spends his wealth and sanity in an all-consuming search of a lost lover. While most of the story seemed excessive, I found the conclusion a satisfying warning to the dangers of being blinded by obsession.

By The Side Of The Highway by Philip Roberts

Being stuck in a strange temporal loop, able to communicate in a limited way with those who pass through a small section of deserted highway would be enough to drive anyone mad.

The Art of Lucid Dreaming by C.M. Saunders

In psychological horror, what is more terrifying than the desolation of being trapped in your own dreams for eternity? Perhaps being stalked by some malevolent awareness, from beyond the darkness. I quite enjoyed this story.

Rawhead Rex by Clive Barker

A malignant creature, released from a subterranean prison after hundreds of years stalks the British countryside, seeking flesh to devour, bringing death and defiling the landscape. As the landmark reprint in the anthology, I can see why the editors wanted this story. Aside from being written by an acclaimed master of horror, it fits with the theme perfectly.

The Midnight Librarians by Brad Carter As children, we are more likely to accept the existence of monstrosities concealed in darkness. While many of the stories in the anthology have adult protagonists, Carter draws upon the forbidden secrets exposed by rebellious youth. Some tales told to frighten children may just have a basis in another reality.

The Troll That Jack Built by Kathryn Board

Internet Trolls are foul beasts, especially those who prey on others insecurities. There's a reason legislation is being drafted in many areas against cyber bullying. An evil awareness that feeds off negative Internet posts, and the pain they cause, must be a glutton in today's society.

The Calm by James S. Dorr

History repeats itself, and that is certainly true in horror stories, many of which feature the cyclical return of some creature woken from a generations long sleep. This story however, involves a village outside time, and those who come across it in the wilderness, encountering the dangerous creature that haunts the region. This story has a quite interesting monster, one of my favorites in the anthology.

Casa De Los Cadaveres by Gerard Houarner

This story was rather confusing to me. I think it was about a young man wanting to get in on the family business to make some fast money. It appears that the business is something like arcane artifact dealers, or something, and he experiences something really strange. It was hard for me to follow.

In The Shadow of the Equine by Kenneth W. Cain

Camping on an island reached by ferry sounds fun, unless you're stuck with a cult of red-eyed monsters who smell of fish.

Visions of Parin by Joseph Williams

Another great space story. Long space voyages tend to completely unhinge the mind.

Amsterdamned by Mitch Richmond

This is one of my favorite stories in the anthology. It's more subtle than some of the others, the entrapment is at a greater distance. It explores supernatural protection given to someone without their knowing, which when triggered, reveals the secret world, much like in John Carpenter's film They Live.

The Residents of Mossy Rock by Lee Davis

Mental institutions are great hooks for horror stories, as they house all sorts of crazy. But what if particular delusions are real?

A Ride in the Dream Machine by Jessica McHugh

Dreams are extensions of the subconscious mind. The best of dreams come unbidden. Trying to force the matter could be seen as an attack on the mind, with unexpected results.

The Offering by Bob Mustin

A mixture of new age mysticism and Olmec legends result in a plan to wake a slumbering god.

Hallowed Ground by Jeff Suess

A rather well executed civil war story. The author executes a some really great reversals in the story. Those who tend to the dead are not always scavengers of unpure purpose.

The Seventh Plague by Allie Marini Batts

A beautiful piece of prose-poetry regarding the burning of Florida finishes up the anthology.

 

Book Review: Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

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I was recently browsing the shelves at my local library branch, when I noticed that the only book by Tim Powers on the shelf was On Stranger Tides. This was likely on the shelf due to one of my earlier recommendations: I had told the staff that the Pirates of the Caribbean film was loosely based on Powers' novel. As I was checking out, I saw his most recent novel, Hide Me Among The Graves. This novel is a sequel to The Stress of Her Regard, although it doesn't need any previous knowledge of the earlier book. Hide Me Among the Graves book cover

This latest novel takes place a generation after the events in The Stress of Her Regard: the poets Shelley, Byron and Keats are long dead, and the Nephilim, the pre-Adamite stone creatures with vampiric tendencies have been banished, along with their poetic gifts, when a new wave of poets unknowingly invite them back.

I'm not as familiar with the works of the Rossettis as I am with those of Byron, but once again, Powers works his magic, weaving a fictional secret tale with historical records, which in some ways seems to make more sense than the original records.

 

The tone of this novel was also slightly different from The Stress of Her Regard. Where the earlier novel focused a great deal on blood and bloodlines, this novel focused more on kinship and family. This is seen as well by the choice of protagonist, and his relationship to characters from the original novel. The way in which this Powers writes in the previous history is actually quite clever, as it again enhances this novel for those who have read the first, but does not rely on any knowledge from the earlier book. Hide Me Among the Graves stands perfectly well on its own merits, although I highly recommend reading the earlier book as well.

Structurally, Hide Me Among the Graves is divided into several sections, each separated by a number of years. These breaks work in several ways. The breaks offer dramatic irony: the characters in the story believe the threat is over, while the reader is well aware that it has returned, and the threat is ever more dire than before. The intervening period also allows the characters to drift apart, and form new relationships, making the inevitable reunion a tense negotiation of personal alliances.

I didn't find Hide Me Among the Graves as intense a story as I found The Stress of Her Regard. The earlier novel felt more primal, more mysterious, than the more recent novel. Perhaps this is due in some part to the nature of the protagonist. In the earlier novel, the protagonist is a complete newcomer to the hidden world of the Nephilim. He has no prior experiences to prepare him for these supernatural events. In Hide Me Among the Graves, the protagonist has stories from his parents which prepare him in part for the supernatural events.

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Book review: Triggers by Robert J Sawyer

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I recently finished reading Triggers, the latest novel by Canadian science fiction writer Robert J Sawyer. After the television adaptation of his novel Flashforward, there was an obvious desire to tap into a larger market of potential fans. Many of Sawyer's earlier novels had elements of suspense, but none could ever truly be called a thriller. They have all been heavy on the philosophical issues, exploring ideas and thoughts on the meaning of humanity. Book cover for Triggers

Triggers is the combination of this philosophy on the human condition, mixed with high stakes action. Sawyer manages this quite well. While Sawyer's message is as positive as always, the comparison to Michael Crichton's techno-thrillers is more relevant than ever.

Although Sawyer is writing a faster paced story, the primary plot elements are still based on scientific extrapolations, with a focus on what it means to be human. In Triggers, the focus is on human memory. Unlike the common perception of memory as being stored whole and complete, Sawyer draws on recent scientific studies which show that memories are encoded as a series of cues, which are then decoded and interpreted in a framework of our experiences. It is these cues, which contain noteworthy elements, which are then physically stored in the brain. It's a really compelling theory, and explains a great deal about how the legal system now views memory.

Author Robert J Sawyer

In Triggers, Sawyer creates a situation where a medical experiment causes a link to be formed between two people, where the memories of the first could be accessed and decoded by the second. It is a science fiction version of telepathy, with the limitation that only these memory cues are accessed, from formed memories. It's a fascinating premise, and Sawyer gets some good use out of it, with some interesting examples of how it might affect our sense of morality.

At the same time, it challenges our sense of individuality. Certain sensations or events can trigger memories, but how do you decide whose memory is being relived? How could people use this ability to their advantage, with someone else able to recall any of your memories? Omnipresent surveillance is a common theme in Sawyer's novels, playing an important role in Flashforward, the Neanderthal Parallax novels, the Wake, Watch, Wonder trilogy, and now Triggers. In each novel, the circumstances and implications are different, but in all the cases, they affect our understanding of moral choices.

Triggers is not a perfect story. While the ending could be seen as a logical progression from the original premise, it felt too much like a deus ex machina. As intriguing as I found the earlier science about the physical encoding of memory, I found the further progression rather unsatisfying, and the eventual implications of the story rather unsettling. To make a Star Trek analogy, I greatly prefer the Federation to the Borg Collective.

Despite my dissatisfaction with the ending, Sawyer still writes a compelling story which tackles some interesting issues.

Book review: Enter, Night by Michael Rowe

I'm not really into the whole vampire craze. Zombies are more my style. I think I read some Anne Rice novels after Interview with a Vampire came out. The most interesting vampire literature which I've read would have to be The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers. However, while at Ad Astra this year, I picked up a copy of Enter, Night by Michael Rowe.

Enter, Night Enter, Night is a much darker novel. It is grittier, more immediate. It evokes a primal response. Disquiet and fear. It makes me wish that tonight wasn't garbage night, and that I didn't have to step out into the forbidding darkness.

Chizine Publications Pin

I think what makes Enter, Night so effective is the careful blend of the familiar with the unknown. Instead of a straight up vampire novel, it blends the vampire mythos with native legends of the wendigo. The setting of a small, remote northern Ontario town gives a sense of isolation, allowing the major characters to interact with stereotypical small town conservatism. While familiar, they aren't the experiences of the reader, who is of course, intended to follow the returning urbanites. We are supposed to share their distaste at the ignorance, prejudice and hypocrisy in Parr's Landing.

The theme of prejudice against the other, the fear of being different, is woven throughout the novel. Whether it is through issues of premarital sex and pregnancy, sexual orientation, or racial status, Rowe shows the pain of being different. Ironically, the true Other in the novel is a vampire, who unifies his victims. A sense of personal identity is important in the novel, and the loss of that personal individuality is crushing. This adds a much richer fabric for the story, and issues to talk about. Speculative fiction is a literature of ideas, and Rowe's novel speaks on issues of importance.

It's refreshing to read a vampire novel where all the traditional means of defense exist: stakes, sunlight, crosses and holy water. Churches as places of refuge, and the need for permission to enter a residence. This is another sign of the familiar, balanced by the addition of the wendigo myths. Further anchorage is provided through comics, such as the very real Tomb of Dracula series published in 1972 by Detective Comics. It roots the story in the familiar, framing our expectations.

The story has good characterization. The major characters are well fleshed out, and even minor characters have well defined motivations, often based on strong inner conflict.

After the main story, the book also contains an additional story, a historical narrative, explaining the origins of vampires in the area which became Parr's Landing. It's a document referenced in the main text, and provides an interesting view of history, especially regarding Canada's colonization of the native tribes. It traces not just the history of the vampires, but also of the guilt that we should feel for the way we have treated others.

Enter, Night is clearly worthy of the Aurora nomination this year. Read it with a mind open to these ideas, but you might want to keep the lights on.

Ad Astra 2012

I've attended Ad Astra, a Toronto science fiction convention, for several years now. As the Don Valley Parkway was closed for maintenance this weekend, the change of venue from the hotel used over the last few years was welcome.The convention floor was much more accessible, without the insane number of stairs everywhere, like at the previous convention centre. However, the venue space for vendors was insufficient. The main vendors room had four or five booksellers, including Bakka Phoenix and Chizine Publications. Other vendors had tables lining the hallways. When customers stood outside their tables, walking down the halls became difficult.

Steampunk cosplayers at Ad Astra

In addition to the Steampunk cosplayers, this year a number of vendors were selling Steampunk accessories.

The convention seemed a little emptier this year. Toronto Comicon was this weekend as well, which certainly didn't help. The programming on Saturday appeared to be hit or miss. At some times, three panels of interest were scheduled at the same time, while at others, nothing of interest was going on. Those were the times where I like to circle the vendors room, but it didn't take nearly as long this year.

Perhaps the most engaging panel was one on criticism, moderated by Adam Shaftoe. It was nice to meet him in person for the first time. It's always interesting to see who has twitter notifications enabled in a panel. After I mentioned him in a tweet, I could see him scanning the room to find me. The panelists had a good discussion, about the advantages and disadvantages of ARCs and blog monetization. The best advice was from Ryan Oakley. No, not this, but rather that reviewers shouldn't worry about the feelings of the author. Consider the work alone. Assume a certain level of professionalism on the part of all parties, and follow Wheaton's Rule: Don't be a dick.

I really enjoyed attending a few readings. Suzanne Church read from her Aurora nominated story The Needle's Eye, which was really moving. Marcy Italiano read her short story Dance at my Funeral, a great story about a final farewell. Where S

Later I attended a reading by Matt Moore, Derek Kunsken, and Marie Bilodeau, who read to an engaged audience. Matt had the other authors help read parts of his story Ascension, a story about telepathic zombies. Marie read her Aurora nominated short story The Legend of Gluck, in which a rotten skull is dragged around. Not to be outdone, Derek read from his Aurora nominated story To Live and Die in Gibbontown, which was published in Asimov's. Matt then finished off with a Lovecraft inspired story Delta Pi. The East Block Irregulars writing group is well represented by these authors.

I'm not sure which story I enjoyed best. The reading of Ascension was spectacular, and any story where the characters are monkeys will have my attention. Despite his disclaimer that this was his first public reading, Derek was funny and engaging. Finally, of you've not attended a reading by Marie, you're really missing out. A French accent and rotting sorcerer brains? A winning combination!

To wrap up the night, I attended the start of the Chizine party, where Michael Rowe graciously signed the copy of Enter, Night I picked up in the dealer's room. Chizine made out like the piratical bandits they are in the Aurora nominations, and this modern vampire novel, set in northern Ontario in the 1970s, was one of them. All too soon, I had to depart. It was a good day, and it was nice to see everyone again.

Zombies on the iPhone

I'll admit, I'm addicted to Zombie games. They're not all of the same calibre, however. iOS screenshot of zombie apps

As you can see, I do actually have a few zombie games. One of the more traditional arcade style games is Zombieville USA 2. With an analog control pad area for navigation, and three equipped weapons, this game is a fast shooter, where the objective is to survive to the helicopter evacuation zone, by fighting your way through a horde of the walking dead. Action is fast paced, and the graphics are cartoonish and fun. With all the upgrades, the shotgun transforms your character into a zombie slaying machine. It has a lot of replay value.

Zombieville 2 screenshot

Z-Day Survival is a choose your own adventure style post apocalyptic survival simulator. While its entertaining, there is a limited decision tree, which greatly limits replay value.

Z-Day survival screenshot

Zombie Highway is a rather mindless test of endurance. How far can you drive your car down the highway without being overturned? It integrates with Game Center, so you can see the distance your friends have made it.

Zombie Highway screenshot

Zombie Farm is what I assume FarmVille must be like, but with zombies. You harvest zombies, potentially mutating them with plants, and then send an undead army against a series of computer opponents. I honestly don't know why I haven't removed this from my device.

Zombie Farm

Zombie Lane, however, is far more entertaining. This game was originally a FaceBook game, and was also available in Google+. It has been ported from Flash to run on iOS. I believe it's also available for Android as well. It's a well balanced game, action points recover reasonably fast. There are always a stream of tasks and quests to accomplish. The multiplayer connection can integrate with Facebook, but doesn't really show you who has the game. It also uses friend codes. My Friend code is: 172650524. I would caution anyone planning on playing this on an original iPad that the game appears to hit the system memory limits frequently, causing it to crash. It runs fine on my iPhone 4S.

Zombie Lane screenshot

Zombie Gunship claims to be about zombies. You're high up in a helicopter gunship looking through a heads up display at tiny targets on the ground. The task is to take out the zeds, which are dark, while allowing the white "civilians" to escape to safety. While I believe that the developers were intending the colors to represent heat signatures, it leads to a racial aspect in the game that makes me uncomfortable.

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Infected is a zombie tower defense game. Your mission is to protect some civilians by buying and placing different types of units nearby, hopefully to take out the waves of incoming zombies. Different zombies have different weaknesses, and it's a job of min maxing in order to survive. It tends to get a little tedious after awhile.

infected screenshot

The final two games are both running games, which interact with your GPS location. Zombies, Run! was a successful kickstarter campaign, and is a well executed app. While running, it adds prerecorded mission commentary in spaces in your running soundtrack. As you run, you pick up items with which you can provision and upgrade your base. The visual interface is decent, but when you are using it, your focus is on running, not the app. This game makes running fun, and is probably the most relevant training for the zombie apocalypse. It builds a compelling narrative, and the voice acting is fairly decent.

Zombies, Run!

The last game, Zombie Run, is clearly an attempt at beating Zombies, Run! to market. The concept is crudely executed, overlaying a few sprites over google map imagery. This really feels like it was slapped together on order to get the product out the door. Aside from the idea that zombies provide motivation for running, Zombie Run provides very little of note. I'm not going to provide a screenshot. Just avoid this one folks.

Of the games reviewed here, three get a wholehearted recommendation. Zombieville USA 2, Zombie Lane, and Zombies, Run!