Nitpicking the Future

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  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 

I’ve got a nit to pick with Star Trek Enterprise

So, I’ve been rematching Star Trek Enterprise in these lazy two weeks before I have to start school related stuff again, and I noticed something.  In one of the episodes, there is an unexplained plot hole that (while not major), if one picks at it, it actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and undermines the story–and yet, this episode appeared on network TV, the collaborators (those who wrote the “story” and those who wrote the “teleplay”) were all presumably compensated for their work, and the episode continues to an important exploration into Captain Archer’s character (& Ensign Mayweather’s as well) despite the flaw.  In essence, no one “nitpicked” this episode to death and rejected it even though it does inspire disbelief.

We’ve Been “Detained”

(Spoilers Ahead–if you don’t want to know the outcome of the episode, please skip down to the next section).  The episode in question is “Detained” and it Captain Archer and Ensign Mayweather are captured and held in a detention center that also houses eighty-nine Suliban (a group of aliens who are predominately shown as antagonists for the series).  These Suliban are normal people who have been rounded up because a group of extremists within their race have attack other races.  Their only crime was being part of the same race as those in the “Cabal” (the terrorist organization).  Modern day parallels notwithstanding, it is made mention that the Sultan man (Danik) and his daughter have a wife in another internment camp (who was denied the right to join her family in the episode, so that we could see how unfair all this is to these peaceful Suliban).  It is made mention that there are thousands of these peaceful Suliban in internment camps all over the planet.  Archer and Mayweather along with the crew of the Enterprise manage to free these eighty-nine Suliban, but what about all the other Suliban in the internment camps?

So, you’re going to tell me that Danik is going to just abandon his wife?  You’re going to tell me that those other Suliban aren’t going to face reprisals for the escape of the eighty-nine, you’re going to tell me that the Enterprise just flies off and doesn’t try to help the other Suliban in the other internment camps (which is what is strongly implied), you’re going to tell me that none of these eighty-nine individuals are going to become bitter and not, at least consider, joining the Cabal for retribution on their captors/freeing the others in other internment camps (which is also strongly hinted at by Archer’s final line of dialogue)?

Picking nits

I could go on.  The point I’m trying to make is that every story, no matter how well written, will have some sort of flaw to it, if you look at it hard enough.  The point the writers were trying to make is that internment camps are bad.  They bring out the worst in humanity and that we need to oppose them wherever and whenever they rear their ugly heads and that we need to look at our prejudices and preconceived notions that allow internment camps to exist in the first place–why condemn a group for the actions of a few, the episode ultimately asks?  This is an important question–and lesson–that could have been lost if the producer (or in my case, editor) just sat around nitpicking the stories that were generated, looking for reason not to publish them, rather than seeing the best qualities of the story and looking for reasons why it should be published. Now some editors might say, “nice in theory, but I’ve got a magazine/journal/fiction website to run,” my reply would be simple: “if it worked for Star Trek . . . .

Have a great weekend!

Sidney




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What’s All the Hoopla About?

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So, I’m a little late today as I got up a bit later than normal.  I would normally do the blog either during breakfast or shortly afterwards, but today (in addition to picking up my car–yay!) I needed to reset my password to Hoopla, a service that my home public library, Chattanooga Public Library subscribes to and that I have access to by being a member.

What is Hoopla?

Hoopla is a streaming service that is more than just a traditional streaming service.  It allows you to borrow (for my institution) 10 items per month.  Notice that I said, items, not movies or TV shows.  It does have movies and television, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.  However, it also has comics/graphic novelsebooksaudiobooks, and music (!).  I’ve used it before and really liked it.  What it lacks in terms of terms of hit releases (very few major releases), it makes up with breadth–there are a lot of good genre materials embedded within each of the categories.

Summer Hoopla

So, while I’ve got a ton of work to do over the summer, in terms of getting ready for my summer classes this summer, I’m going to try to catch up on reading some of the comics/graphic novels (& books) that I’ve put off over the school year.  They have quite a few Marvel graphic novels, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other properties (again, books and graphic novels, mostly, not so much with movies/television).  Still, now that I trying to integrate Popular Culture into my scholarship as a Pop. Culture scholar, I actually need some pop. culture to go with my scholarship.

I would encourage you to check out Hoopla if your library has a subscription.  If not, then you might want to see if your library has something similar.  It is a really useful service that I plan to investigate more over this summer.

Sidney




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Star Trek Backwards–Finished Star Trek: The Next Generation

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So, over Winter Break I finished quite a few Sci-Fi shows (series).  One of them was Star Trek: The Next Generation.  This one was my first Star Trek series that I watched and finished during its syndicated run.  I had seen episodes of the original Star Trek series (and really liked one in particular which I’ll talk more about when I watch the original series), but STNG was the first series that I was able to sit down and watch on a weekly basis.

Old School and New School
The show starts off quite a bit rougher than I remember.  I knew that Worf’s character underwent alterations as the show went on, but I hadn’t remembered how extensive those were in terms of both characterization as well as costuming.  It was almost jarring to watch the first season (and most of the 2nd) until the third and fourth seasons, where the show began to resemble what my (nostalgic) mind remembered.  I have to be honest, I really liked the “New School” (later seasons) quite a bit better than I did the “Old School” episodes (the earlier ones).  I found the stories to be more nuanced and sophisticated.  Many of my most favorite episodes, appeared in the later half of the shows run.  My favorite episode would probably be “Cause and Effect” (in Season 5) which is a “Looping” sci-fi story done right.  This would be followed closely behind by “Remember Me” in Season 4 which is a mystery in which Dr. Crusher must find out what happened to an old friend.

Science Fiction vs Social Stories
To me, STNG is at its best (I feel) when it deals with Science Fiction first and deals with Social Issues second.  While I have enjoyed some of the social issues that the show presents, such as the episode where women are dominant in the culture and men are striving for a more tolerant society, I feel that the stories that deal explicitly with some science concept–even if it is based on “technobabble”–are the much stronger stories because they are what George Scithers from the book On Writing Science Fiction says is the purpose of science fiction: real people dealing with real problems involving science.  This is what truly sticks out in my head and something that I try to remember when writing my stories.  It is, in fact, one of the reasons I couldn’t get into the new Battlestar Galactica (I’ll talk about this in another blog post) fully and dropped out midway through the first season.  When BSG focuses on its science fictional plots, it was one of the best series out there, but too often, the stories (I feel) were weighed down with lengthly polemics on religion, politics, and the soul.  These are questions better left to the “subplot” of science fiction stories, but BSG often made them the primary plot which took so much of the fun out of it for me.  Luckily, STNG was before the current “GrimDark” nonsense that currently pervades media (such as Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and others of similar ilk).  It kept the social commentary (mostly) to the subplots and allowed the main plots to focus more on how the crew of the Enterprise solved the problems that they were thrown into which revealed their characters’ drives and made the show such a well received entry in the Star Trek universe.

Overall Rating: A (I really should say A- due to the uneven nature of the plotting/characterization of the early seasons, but the nostalgia factor is high on this one, so I give it a slight bump up to the low A’s for being a Sci-Fi show that understood science and character first, social commentary second.

Sidney
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All the World’s a Stage

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A Crowded Apple Store, Image Source: 9to5 Mac

I wasn’t sure of what I was going to write about today, but I thought I’d turn my attention to my experience yesterday of going to the Apple Store and finally getting my phone fixed.  Although, more accurate, I guess would be the fact that they replaced the defective unit with a replacement phone, but irregardless, I now have working phone.  While that is great, what I really want to note was the amazing level of diversity in the store as well as the fact that there were plenty of examples of characters that were in the store during my brief visit.

Characters, Characters, Everywhere
So, unlike most of the customers, I wasn’t in the store to shop, but to get technical assistance.  In doing so, I (and the few who were like me) had to do a lot of waiting on the outskirts and so I got to do something that I rarely do and that’s to actually observe people as they interact with others.  Remember, I don’t necessarily enjoy “people watching,” and perhaps that’s why I don’t write characters as well as I do plots.  Well, yesterday I got to observe, really observe, people and I saw a huge range of emotions, personalities, and personal interactions that I have stored away for future references.  Normally, I consider people watching a useless endeavor, but for some reason, yesterday, I found myself mostly “bemused” as I waited for the technician to diagnose my phone and I actually watched the people.  In particular, I saw (in no order): two typical high school students (boys joshing around with each other), a mother with a stroller, a young boy watching the Apple TV in the store and playing games on it, a husband and wife deciding on a laptop, another husband and wife deciding on phone, an older gentleman with a phone problem much like mine, an early career woman looking for a new phone, and a business man dressed in button shirt, slacks, and a tie, among others.

Character Sketches
So, I remember from watching episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Sisko’s son, Jake, while wanting to be a writer, sat on the ship’s promenade and noted the people who were entering the station and he wrote one or two sentences down as character sketches.  While I was only in the store for a fairly short period of time (50 minutes approximately), I still feel like I got a year’s worth of potential characters just from visit.  For instance, the business man was dressed just as one might expect and he was even checking his watch in manner, that while not completely displaying impatience, did seem to indicate that time was important to him–perhaps he had an important appointment, or perhaps he needed to pick up a child from school.  Whatever the reason, time was important to him and that’s something I could use in a future story somehow.

So, even though losing the phone was an ordinary frustration of life, I now have a more concrete understanding of characterization because of it.  I doubt that I’ll ever come to love the phenomenon of “people watching,” but maybe if I can at least learn to tolerate it over short periods of time, I might yet be the writer I’ve always hoped that I’d become.

Potpourri–A Bunch of Little (& Stranger) Things

This blog post is just a random collection of little things that I’ve been working on over the past week that really don’t deserve a full blog post.

Stranger Things
So I started watching Stranger Things Season 2 over the past weekend.  Right now, I’m really enjoying it.  The first episode is reestablishing the characters and introducing new characters.  I like the vibe of the show, so far, even after only one episode.  It is like getting reacquainted with old familiar friends after a long hiatus.  There’s a lot of 80s nostalgia that is really forefront in this episode and also several new characters seem like a good mix for the show.  I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

iPhone 7
So my iPhone appears to be utterly and truly dead.  After talking with Apple, I’m going to have to take it to a local authorized Apple Dealer and see if they have a phone in stock that I can exchange with it, or if I’m going to have to wait for Apple to send me a replacement.  Ugh, very frustrating.  I’m just grateful that it was in the 1 year warranty period for the phone.  I’ll keep you up-to-date on the phone situation.  I did, by the way, have a great Technical Support experience and the Apple Advisor was very patient with me as we went through the process.  I greatly appreciated that!

Star Trek Next Generation – First Season
I’ve started STNG and the first season is much “rougher” than I remember.   I knew Worf’s prosthetics & makeup underwent a redesign, but it looks worse during the first season than I remember.  Also, many of the trademark elements that made STNG what it was were either still being formed or hadn’t yet been implemented, so the show feels like an “empty shell” rather than the rich, inventive show that I remember.

Well, that’s all for now–this post will have to be short and sweet.  Till next time!

Finished Star Trek Deep Space Nine

So, last week I wrapped up the seven seasons of Star Trek Deep Space Nine in my continuing goal to watch all of the Star Trek series.  I suspect that much like Disney movies, Paramount (the owners of the Star Trek brand) will probably want to move their shows over to their fledgling streaming service CBS AllAccess when their deal with Netflix is up (no concrete info on that, but it does seem reasonable given their desire to withhold their newest show Star Trek Discovery “hostage” in order to get CBS AllAccess into more homes–and to dig deeper into their audience’s wallets.)

Sorry, I digress.  Corporate shenanigans really make me a little irritable.  Back to the issue at hand: Deep Space Nine.  As a Star Trek show goes, I really liked it.  I thought that it was pretty intriguing.  One might think that being stuck on a space station would limit the writers’ toolkit for creating meaningful stories, but that wasn’t the case.  Mainly, the writers are able to create tension by using a “war” motif for most of the run of the series.  Either we are recovering from a disastrous occupation by the Cardassians in the early seasons or we are engaged in a war with the Dominion in the later seasons.  Either way, war and its after affects plays prominently as a key component of the show.

The characters are engaging.  I actually enjoyed, on the whole, most of the cast.  I thought they were an interesting and varied bunch.  I wasn’t a fan of the Doctor’s portrayal in the last season–as I feel his relationship was rushed and forced in order to give his character a happy outcome at the end of the series, but before that, his character worked just fine for me.  I also felt that Cisco’s character was pretty intriguing.  Now Cisco gets a lot of heat because Avery Brooks changed Cisco’s demeanor mid-way through the series to better reflect another character Avery Brooks played, Hawk from Spencer for Hire.  I actually didn’t mind as I had watched and enjoyed this series with my uncle (and the spinoff series, A Man Called Hawk), but as it is a strong portrayal of an African American man who moves from more of a mild and understated command to a more forceful and brash command style, I know that Avery’s change in performance likely rubbed some fans the wrong way–especially after the “diplomatic” portrayal of Jean Luc Picard by Patrick Stewart.  I found it refreshing, actually (and familiar–remember I watched Avery Brooks in the Hawk role growing up).  There are also some pretty insightful nods to race, race relations, and racism in the stories told here, both interspecies racism and racism based on skin color (via Time Travel and Time Travel-like stories) in this series.

The plots were mostly good.  Like other Star Trek series there are some really good episodes along with some really bad ones.  On the whole, the stories were mostly good and I found I fast-forwarded through about the same amount as had for Star Trek Voyager.  I did notice that this show seemed a lot more grim than other Star Trek shows.  Death is very common among many of the minor characters and not just “red shirts” even.  These are characters who might have a few episodes or even a full season’s worth of character development, but they still are killed in fairly grim ways.  If you’re expecting Gene Roddenberry’s original, more hopeful view of the Star Trek universe, you might not want to stop here first.  However, even with the grimness, Deep Space Nine is a destination one should visit at least once–and who knows, you might even find a nice home somewhere on the Station’s promenade.

Series Grade: B (Above Average)

Character Sketches

 

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Character Sketch slide, Image Source: Slideshare.net

This will be a shorter blog post–limited time before class.  However, watching Star Trek:Deeps Space Nine has helped clue me into the fact that there is a piece missing from my writing: Character Sketches.

I can see clearly the importance that character sketches can add to the story.  In fact, this idea was one that I discovered sometime last year, but haven’t really put into practice when I saw a young lady on a motorcycle last autumn in Chattanooga.  She wasn’t riding a scooter, but a full on Kawasaki motorcycle with black leathers.  The only concession to her gender was a pink motorcycle helmet with the black sunshade pulled down.  I remember her vividly because I have a project that calls for a someone riding a motorcycle over the dunes of Mars and she fit the bill perfectly, but I never “wrote” her down in my notebook or anything.

Of course, I promptly forgot about this image and have limped along barely completing projects and wondering why the projects I’ve finished so far aren’t being accepted–and that’s the reason.  The young lady on the bike was compelling because of distinctness–she was a unique individual with a character all her own.  I create characters that are just ciphers for the actions that I want to happen in the story.  I need to create character sketches that match the complexity and uniqueness of the individuals that I see in daily life.

You can be sure that after class today, I will take a moment to put her sketch (& any other unique people I run across today) down in my notebook in order to remember that Sci-Fi is about people affected by science.  It doesn’t work without both parts.

Sidney