reviews

Star Trek DS9 Reviews: If Wishes Were Horses

To be honest, If Wishes Were Horses really didn't capture my imagination. Manufactured crises with deus ex machina endings just don't cut it. Still, there are some redeeming qualities in the episode, one of which is watching Bashir try to explain to Jadzia Dax why his subconscious created a version of Dax that has the single goal of seducing him. Dax passionately kisses Bashir while he checks his tricorder

Wormhole aliens

This is a different twist on a First Contact story. Some wormhole aliens tap into the subconscious minds of the inhabitants of DS9, and take on forms from their imagination. Some hand wavy techno-babble is used, but the main point is to enable a story which uses the power of imagination, something which Odo refers to as a waste of time.

It's an interesting idea, but doesn't really get developed enough. Instead of focusing on the idea of a first contact story, this is really a disaster of the week type of story. If you can't yet tell, I'm not usually a fan of this type of story, unless it can offer something exceptional in the way of character development. Sadly, there is nothing really new or novel in this episode. Bashir's infatuation with Dax is already well established, and nothing really interesting occurs.

Dax, Bashir, and Dax

Aside from the usual banter between Quark and Odo, the most amusing parts of this episode are between Dax and Bashir. Bashir is, as Dax puts it "very young", especially from the perspective of a Trill. By this, she of course means that Bashir is overly amorous, towards basically any female who moves.

When the wormhole aliens take on the forms of the crew's imaginations, one of the primary manifestations is a "dream" Dax, who just seems to want to get close to Bashir. Its amusing, and I can see why this episode may be a favourite for the actors in question. It is a little awkward to kiss your coworker's clone while she watches.

A fake Dax fawns over Bashir, who tries to look busy by listening to the real Dax.

Rumplestiltskin

A dwarf who keeps asks O'Brien what services he needs, with implied threats to his firstborn, young Molly. Quite possibly the weakest part of the episode. Apparently, this was originally written as a leprechaun, but Colm Meany protested the racial aspects of an Irish stereotype. I'm not really sure that this was much of an improvement, as I felt this was the weakest thread in the episode. Last minute changes to scripts tend to water down the script.

The dwarf Rumplestiltskin

Buck Bokai and Baseball

As I mentioned in my review of Emissary, Deep Space 9's sport of choice is baseball. While it's useful as an analogy for linear time, in this episode, baseball is used to talk about simulations. Buck Bokai was a player for an LA Kings team, and Sisko and Jake have recreated his entire career in the holosuites. There are some nice things said about the nature of audiences.

Sisko and Jake meet the baseball legend Buck Bokai from the holosuite program

Quark and Odo

There are some amusing scenes with Quark. As we've seen in previous episodes, he enjoys spending time with beautiful women... unless money is on the line. His wish fulfilment in the episode involves two scantily clad women, who promptly disappear once Quark realizes that everyone in his bar is wishing to win at the dabo table, and that Quark is rapidly going out of business.

Quark is enthralled by two scantily clad women

Soon thereafter, it turns out that Odo does have an imagination, and his deepest desire is to hold Quark in a holding cell.

The problem of the week

In the end, the crisis of the episode was a figment of the crews imagination, something that threatened to tear the station apart. Its solved by realizing that it is a figment, and that there is no anomaly.

The viewscreen shows the space anomaly which will destroy the station

After the crew solves this problem, there is a final discussion between Sisko and the wormhole aliens, before they depart. They hint at returning in the future, but thankfully, this episode is never repeated.

If Wishes Were Horses first aired 16 May 1993. Teleplay by Neil McCue Crawford, William L Crawford and Michael Piller. Story by Neil McCue Crawford and William L. Crawford. Directed by Robert Legato.

Book review: The n-Body Problem by Tony Burgess

I've just finished reading The n-Body Problem by Tony Burgess, published by Chizine Publications. It's a deeply disturbing story, and I hope that Burgess is seeking professional help.

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This book was very unsettling. It dives deep into a sea of depravity. Burgess enumerates, with disquieting precision, a whole host of vile and disgusting acts. This is a book for a rather particular audience, and I found some parts of it to be rather difficult to get through. At several places in the story, I paused to think that this story is exactly the kind of thing that people envision when they talk about censorship as a means of protecting culture. This story would get book censors excited in all the wrong ways.

Burgess paints the reader a post-apocalyptic world where hypochondria becomes reality, where the whole world is dying, one by one, or in vast groups awaiting a new rapture. The narrative is compelling, tightening in on the protagonist, drawing his world tighter as his personal agency is reduced, until he becomes as powerless as the reader.

Let it be made clear The n-Body Problem is not for most people. If you are easily offended, it is most definitely not for you. On the other hand, if you appreciate dark fiction, can handle obscene content, and are looking for something new, give it a try. The ebook is available through ChiZine, as well as through Amazon.ca, Amazon.com or Kobo.

In the end, the zombie apocalypse was nothing more than a waste disposal problem. Burn them in giant ovens? Bad optics. Bury them in landfill sites? The first attempt created acres of twitching, roiling mud. The acceptable answer is to jettison the millions of immortal automatons into orbit. Soon Earth’s near space is a mesh of bodies interfering with the sunlight and having an effect on our minds that we never saw coming. aggressive hypochondria, rampant depressive disorders, irresistible suicidal thought—resulting in teenage suicide cults, who want nothing more than to orbit the Earth as living dead. Life on Earth has slowly become not worth living. and death is no longer an escape.

I received an ebook version of this book from ChiZine's marketing department.

Star Trek DS9 Reviews: The Storyteller

The Storyteller isn't nearly as compelling of an episode as it could be. Of the two main plots, I found that of Jake and Nog to be amusing, while that of Bashir and O'Brien fell a bit short. I can understand and appreciate the message the writers were working on, but it was really poorly executed, and just didn’t work for me.

O'Brien the Uninspiring

O'Brien wearing a funny robe

The main plot brings Doctor Bashir and Chief O'Brien down to Bajor for a medical emergency which threatens a village. It turns out that every year, for five days, the village is attacked by a Dal'roc, a supernatural cloud of energy. The Sirah, a spiritual leader, rallies the town against this common foe. The problem is that the Sirah is dying, and his chosen successor has lost the goodwill of the people.

An energy cloud

So he picks Everyman O'Brien as his successor. Just as it was rather ludicrous to see O'Brien try to instruct children in a schoolroom setting, it's difficult to see him attempt to orate. This is of course why the Sirah chose him, rather than the much more charismatic Bashir, an officer. O'Brien is meant to fail, so the Sirah's apprentice can regain the confidence of the village.

Nog can't talk to girls

Ok, maybe Nog can talk to girls, but he's not very good at it. When a teenaged Bajoran girl is aboard the station to negotiate a land dispute with a competing Bajoran clan, Nog and Jake clearly need to spend time with her.

While Nog is tongue tied, Jake seems confident. While he also wants to impress her, he also wants to help her solve her problems, one of which is how to live up to her parents' legacies. Jake ties this back to his own admiration of his father. It's an effective way of developing not only Jake's character, but that of Benjamin as well, even when his father isn't on screen.

Jake, Nog and Varis Sul

Without the interactions between Jake and Nog, this episode would be completely unbearable.

Themes: Discord and Unity

Both plots speak to a common theme, the dangers that division brings to a community. In a way, this is what we saw in Battle Lines, but unlike their never-ending battle, we see the Bajorans working to find a common ground, a reason to rally together. This sense of division, particularly from the Bajorans, is going to be increasingly clear in upcoming episodes, especially since Kai Opaka was lost on the other side of the wormhole in the last episode.

There are some other good things about this episode. O'Brien's appointment as a spiritual leader mirrors Sisko becoming the Bajoran's Emissary. It really seems strange for two Federation officers to be honored as spiritual figures by the Bajorans. Is it because they're convenient outsiders? In this case, the honor is only temporary, and is intended as a transitional figurehead.

The theme of internal discord among the Bajorans is something that is further developed in later episodes, but we don’t really get more than a feeling of it here.

The problem with rejected plots

When I watched this episode, the main plot really failed to hold my interest. While I can see the kind of narrative the writers were aiming for, I didn't see the urgency. The episode plays too heavily on the humour of O'Brien as a unwilling, skeptical spiritual leader, without qualifications, and less about how things got to that point.

The village is ready to accept an outsider--not only of the village, but to the planet itself--as their spiritual leader, because he was publicly chosen by their former leader. This does mirror Sisko's position as Emissary to the Prophets, which is what they were likely going for, but instead of a leader, we get O'Brien. Let me be clear: O'Brien is one of my favourite characters, but he's not a charismatic leader. While it's fun to see him play different roles in the series, this is really one he just doesn't fit. And that's the point. If he was charismatic, he would have rallied the villagers against the Dal'roc, and the rightful Sirah would have been unable to regain support.

It's just all kinds of awkward to have your plot rely on your main characters failing in order to succeed. The other major problem with the episode is that the whole Dal'roc business seems completely unnecessary given the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. Why would they have needed to create a monster, when the Cardassians were present? It's an interesting premise, but feels very rushed in execution.

O'Brien is the target of an attempted assassination

Furthermore, why is O'Brien even on this mission? If it's a medical emergency, you send a doctor, not an engineer. He certainly isn't needed as a physical escort. Oh, the script calls for it? Alright then. Why does it call for O'Brien? Oh right, because this was a rejected TNG script. That's right. This episode wasn't good enough for the first season of TNG. So let's shoehorn it into DS9. In fact, the episode makes far more sense as a TNG episode. Picard was always the diplomat, it would have made sense for him to negotiate a treaty between two warring tribes. It doesn't fit as well with Sisko. Especially when an episode like Q-Less did so much to show how Sisko was inherently different from Picard, the writers have to go use a script written for Picard.

Overall, this episode was a real letdown, one of the weakest in the season.

The Storyteller first aired 2 May, 1993. Teleplay by Kurt Michael Bensmiller & Ira Steven Behr. Story by Kurt Michael Bensmiller. Directed by David Livingston.

Book Review: The Inner City by Karen Heuler

Karen Heuler's collection of short stories, "The Inner City", published by ChiZine, is a wonderfully bizarre set of stories. Reading the author's biography, I learned that her dog is named Philip K. Dick, and I can see a Dickian obsession with a world out of joint, a phantom reality that hides something sinister in these stories. Inner City Cover

The lead story, "FishWish", is a great opening piece. Originally published in Weird Tales in 2011, it takes the standard three wishes tale in an unexpected direction, plumbing the depths of unfulfilled desires.

Also rather Dickian is "The Inner City", from which the collection derives its name. A hidden power of distrust and chaos lies just beneath the surface of reality, directing the lives of others. Kind of reminiscent of The Adjustment Bureau, only with a much darker spin.

"Down on the Farm" touches on genetic manipulation, with a dark undercurrent. It's a rather uncomfortable story, dipping into several unsavoury topics.

"The Escape Artist" explores the relationship with fear. Does one run from fear, or confront it? And if we face our fear, is it to overcome, or to welcome the cold embrace?

Perhaps less disturbing than some of the other stories, "The Large People" is a story with ecological concerns. Ecology tends to take a longer view on things.

"Creating Cow" has clear parallels with Frankenstein, but in this case, the creature has far fewer redeeming characteristics. I wouldn't recommend reading this one right before lunch.

"The Difficulties of Evolution" is another little gem, which looks to our sense of humanity. The ending was quite appropriate.

There aren't any duds in this collection, although some didn't challenge my sense of reality as much as others. It's a well constructed collection which follows a common theme. If you're familiar with ChiZine, this should match your expectations.

Disclaimer: I received an advance eBook copy for review from ChiZine Publications. 

Book Review: Clementine by Cherie Priest

Clementine isn't the first Clockwork Century novel I've reviewed. I've been a fan of Cherie Priest since Boneshaker in 2009, and Dreadnought from 2010. I was browsing Amazon's recommendations recently, and discovered that the Kindle edition of Clementine was under $3. It's also available for Kobo. The dust jacket for the novel Clementine, written by Cherie Priest. Dust jacket by Jon Foster

Clementine is a novella. It's shorter than your average novel, and has a relatively straightforward plot. There are two main characters, Croggon Hainey, an airship pirate, and Maria "Belle" Boyd, a former Confederate spy turned Pinkerton agent.

Both plots converge rapidly, as they focus on the safety and recovery of a stolen airship, the Free Crow from Boneshaker, renamed Clementine, and its cargo. While Clementine, unlike Boneshaker and Dreadnought, doesn't have any zombies, there are other fantastical elements at play, including a super weapon with the power to destroy a city and end the decades long civil war. While the technology at play is different from the nuclear bombs which devastated Japan to end World War II, the intent is clearly the same.

The novella is fast paced, with large portions of the book occurring in airships. We get a strong sense of style in Clementine. It's a fast paced world, with America in a long Civil War. In term of the Clockwork Century books, Clementine is not as isolated as Boneshaker, nor is it as integrated as Dreadnought. Clementine attempts to navigate in a mostly apolitical sphere. While Belle is a former Confederate spy, she works for the Pinkertons, under contract to the Union. It's a grey area, just as her sympathies remain Confederate grey. We don't really get to see much of the world in this book; we instead see snapshots of cities as the characters pass through. The world building depth is strongly hinted at, but not extensively explored in this novella.

As for Hainey? His motivation in the story is to reclaim the Free Crow, a symbol of his escape from slavery in the South. While his narrative isn't quite as intriguing as is Belle's, it complements her plot quite nicely. The two plots and viewpoint characters are well balanced. It's dynamic, and enhances the fast plot progression. This addresses the problems with Boneshaker's unbalanced viewpoint characters, while adding more complexity than the single protagonist in Dreadnought.

Perhaps the greatest weakness in the story is the shorter length. Clementine is half as long as either Boneshaker or Dreadnought. Cherie Priest's writing is fast paced, leading me to read her books quickly. Sadly, this means that the book is over far too soon. This is balanced by the price of the ebook. Clementine is good value. There are also other novels released in the Clockwork Century series, which means that the story isn't necessarily over yet.

 

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.