Nitpicking the Future

nitpicking
Nitpicking = give too much attention to unimportant details, Image Source: someecards.com (Click for more info)
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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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Remembering Stephen Hawking

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Still frame from a NASA movie (Image Source: Phys.org, click on image for more info.)

This blog post won’t be a long one–it is just a short remembrance of Stephen Hawking who passed away earlier this week.  My interest in Hawking’s work came because I’m interested–no, fascinated–by Black Holes.  Even before I saw the Disney movie Black Hole, I had encountered them in children’s astronomy books that I’d checked out from the library–and a popular science paperback that I bought from the library’s book-sale.

Every so often, I would see the name Stephen Hawking appear/pop-up in relation to something Black Hole related.  So, in the pre-Internet days of my childhood (Internet existed, but not something that consumers could access), I didn’t really know who he was.  However, in the mid-80s, his popularity grew from Academics into Popular Culture and I started seeing him on PBS shows related to science like Nova (this is where I saw him the most), Sixty Minutes, and even on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, so I got to see him and understand his importance to science.

hawking_StarTrekNextGen_DigitalSpy
Stephen Hawking with actors playing Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton on the set of Star Trek: Next Generation (Image Source: Digital Spy, click on image for more info.)

I have his book, A Brief History of Time, but while I’ve gotten to Chapter 2 or 3, I have to admit, it starts off with a discussion of Newtonian Physics and the history of cosmology (as I recall), but what I was after was the information on, you guessed it, Black Holes, so I stopped reading.  I will pick it back up–I’m going to try to make finishing it this year a goal.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, that I while I did not ever get a chance to see, meet, or hear Stephen Hawking in person, he did touch my life tangentially through our shared fascination with Black Holes and their inherent properties, and thanks to the power of television, both PBS shows like Nova and more popular fare like Star Trek the Next Generation, I really got to feel like I knew Mr. Hawking quite well.

You will be missed!

Sidney



Star Trek Backwards–Finished Star Trek: The Next Generation

tngcrew

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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Potpourri–A Bunch of Little (& Stranger) Things

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Bowl of Potpourri Flowers, Image Source: WikiHow

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

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Cast of Deep Space Nine and image of the Deep Space Nine space station, Image Source: Den of Geek

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)

Star Trek Backwards

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Star Trek Original Series Crew, Image Source: Apopka Voice

I have found that I’ve become enamored with Star Trek series again–it is probably because I can binge watch it now, rather than having to wait a week for episodes to come out.

I’ve finished watching Star Trek Enterprise, Star Trek Discovery, and I just started on Star Trek Deep Space Nine (more on that one on another post).  My plan is to finish DS9, watch Star Trek The Next Generation, and then finally the original Star Trek series.

I’m not sure what I’ll do after that (probably) buy and finish the rest of Babylon 5 as I seem to be in a sci-fi mode right now.  Anyway, I hadn’t posted in a while so I thought I should at least update everyone on what I’m watching.  Hopefully, posts should go back to a (mostly) regular schedule.  Fingers crossed!

Till next time!

Star Trek Voyager: Series Review

voyager_talesofthemarvelous
The Crew of the Starship Voyager from Star Trek Voyager, Image Source: Tales of the Marvelous

So I finished watching Star Trek Voyager over the weekend.  I enjoyed it, but it seemed a little more uneven than Star Trek Enterprise.  There were some episodes that I really loved and there were some episodes that I had to fast-forward through in order to watch.  I think the problem is that the series had a tendency to focus on certain characters too much and didn’t always work to mix the characters together as well as they could have.  I think too, that the way STV used the “subplot” didn’t really ring as true as it did with other Star Trek series.  Sometimes the subplot was used to great effect and really enhanced the story and at other times, the subplot was barely developed or didn’t have as much effect as one would have hoped it would, which made the main plot seem lifeless.

I think the problems that I’m having with the series as a whole are more on the writers/showrunners side than on the actors side.  I really liked all of the characters on the show–both new and old.  Having watched the entire season in a short span of time, I feel that there are two parts to Voyager: Kess/Pre Seven of Nine and Post-Kess/Seven of Nine.  The Kess/Pre Seven of Nine stories focus more on Capt. Janeway’s desire to get her crew home, while the Post Kess/Seven of Nine stories focus more on recovering Seven’s humanity and socializing Seven into Voyager’s crew.  The quest home, while still very much a plot structure, gets subordinated to the ideas of what it means to be human.  And Seven isn’t the only character who goes through this storyline–The Emergency Medical Holographic Doctor is also a central figure when it comes to this plot line as well.

I want to be clear–I liked this series!  It is a more complete “conceptualization” of what Star Trek is as a series than Enterprise was, I think.   The fact that it ran for seven full years, however, hurts it when comparing it to Enterprise which ended in its fifth season because you can see the “choppiness” and “uneven” nature of the stories even more readily the longer the series goes on.  I “fast-forwarded” through many more episodes of Voyager than I did with Enterprise because the episodes lacked the necessary tension to drive the stories (and the series) forward.

OVERALL SERIES GRADE: B- (mainly due to inconsistent writing/episodes), B+ for characters and overall characterization (only for that aspect)

Sidney




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Let’s (not) talk about CBS All Access

cbs-and-star-trek_exstreamist

So one of the new TV shows that I was all set to talk about was the new Star Trek show that will be debuting in the Fall.  New Star Trek show, you say?  Wait, why haven’t I heard of this new show?  Because, instead of being rational and putting this show on CBS or a traditional streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu, CBS is going to leverage this show and only put it out in the US and Canada on its new fledgling streaming service, CBS All Access for $5.99 a month. 😦

That’s right, instead of going the traditional route and having commercials pay for the program, or a distributor (such as Hulu or Netflix) pick up the show and pay for it, they are going use it as the backbone leverage consumers to pay for yet another online streaming service in order to get access to their programs.  Not only do they want advertisers to pay them (for the programs on CBS), but they also want consumers to pay them as well.  Just like HBO Go, CBS executives see consumers as a pot of gold that they want “access” to, but unlike HBO Go, CBS isn’t a premium service.  The only way you can get HBO is to be a cable subscriber–HBO Go was designed for “cord cutters” like me who wanted just the content they want and nothing extra, which is something cable companies still in 2017 won’t let you do.  CBS has no legitimate reason to withhold content except profit, or in this case greed as they have a channel on “free” TV as one of the big 3 networks–ABC, NBC, CBS.

Why is it greedy, you might ask?  They’re a company and they are in business to make a profit, right?  Then I ask you, why, oh why, are they allowing Netflix to show the new Star Trek show a day after it premieres on CBS All Access all over the world EXCEPT in the US and Canada?  Two words, “online piracy.”  CBS knows full well that pirates all over the world are not going to stand for “locking down of content” in this way.  So this it their bet, give everyone else an opportunity to get it legitimately, but force consumers in the US and Canada not to have an option to get it anywhere but though our All Access service.  There is no reason why CBS could not have included the US and Canada in their negotiations with Netflix other than the desire to use the show to launch their own streaming service.  Netflix would love to be the premiere player in the streaming world as is in a two-way dogfight with Hulu and Amazon.com Prime streaming.  You know that a new Star Trek show on their network would be a feather in their cap (esp. since Amazon won the rights to the Grand Tour with the former hosts of Top Gear).

Much like the AMC foolishness with Spider-Man Homecoming, companies continue to shoot themselves in the foot through outlandish schemes to increase their revenue streams.  Here’s an idea (one that I’m ardently trying to follow myself as a writer): put out a high quality product that is so good that it gets people excited and talking about it and makes them want more in that universe and makes them look forward to the next project that you’re working on and the next after that and so on and so on and so on . . .

That (in my opinion) is a truly sustainable business model.

(Belated) Comic-Con Post: Blade Runner 2049

bladerunner2049_YouTube

This was the post I was planning to write on Saturday before the world went all topsy-turvy on me.  It will finish out the Comic-Con announcements that I was most interested in.  I will return to a couple of Comic-Con based news items that I want to touch on briefly, but I will save those for later posts.

Blade Runner 2049Blade Runner 2049 Trailer–features a new “detective” and a return by Harrison Ford as the old “detective” in a world of Replicants (human-like androids).  Featuring a new villain, this is a sequel that will probably also serve to bring the “Blade Runner” story to a new generation.

I saw the original Blade Runner on cable as a child.  I liked it, but it wasn’t a favorite.  Although it achieved cult status as one of the first visions of what a “cyberpunk” society might look like on the big screen, it was never more than just a simple Sci-Fi movie to me (just as LadyHawk was a typical Fantasy movie of the time).  I was much more into the more mainstream franchises of Star Wars and Star Trek and the Alien/Aliens duology out at the time.

It will be interesting to see the reception to the film.  Outside of quirky films like The Fifth Element, cyberpunk as a genre doesn’t seem to really do all that well in the film media (as evidenced by the lack of success of the movie version of Ghost in the Shell earlier this summer).  However, where cyberpunk really shines is in the realm of anime. Many of today’s generation grew up on anime shows, while I, unfortunately, was about 5 years before the boom of anime–I saw some early anime, but the real revolution happened while I was in college and during the first years of my first job, so I missed out on a lot of shows that contained a heavy amount of cyberpunk influenced narrative.  It will be interesting to see if movie-goers embrace this new attempt or if it, like it’s predecessor, will also only be cult hit.

 

 

Star Trek Enterprise Redux

EnterpriseCrewSeason1
Image Source: Memory Alpha

On Friday, I finished the entire 4 season run on Netflix of Star Trek Enterprise.  I have to say that once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.  My overall impression is that it is a good Sci-Fi show that probably ended too soon, Here are some general impressions of the show (with as few spoilers as possible as I will not be discussing specific plot developments, but rather general impressions).

Seasons 1 and Season 2: “Exploration” was the theme of the first two seasons and I seem to be in the minority as I actually liked season 1 and season 2.  Most of the critical reception notes season 1 and 2 as “uneven.”  Yes, there were several episodes that I didn’t like (they tended to be the ones that focused on social issues) in the first two seasons, but they considered themselves as “explorers” and there was an enthusiasm for the “wonder” of it all.  Time travel and time manipulation was a key ingredient in these two seasons.

Season 3: “Conflict” was the theme of season 3.  Apparently ratings, which had started strong from the pilot episode, dropped steadily as the episodes of the first two seasons ran their course.  The writers.producers tried to course-correct and this leads to a season long conflict.  To go into anymore detail is to approach spoiler territory, but season 3 is much more action focused.  While I generally liked the action episodes more in seasons 1 and 2, here I found it made the crew (the captain, in particular) as one note.  They are all driven by the ideals of war and conflict and that leaves little time for wonder.  I liked this  season about the same as season 1 and 2.  There was more action, so it was always tense, but the loss of the shows wonder balanced out the increased tension.

Season 4: “Alternate History” was the theme for season 4.  While not the primary focus of the whole season, 4 of the episodes were given over to alternate history tales with both of the plots being two-part episodes.  I did notice some new names as writers in this season, but after that season long “epic” of the Enterprise’s crew searching the Expanse in Season 3, I don’t think that devoting such a large number of Alternate History stories back into the series was a wise move and towards the end, we also see real-world parallels with the rise of an “Earth-First” movement.  It seemed a little to convenient a set-up to try to get to the idea of the “Federation.”  The Season Finale (which turned out to also be the Series Finale) was also not great.  I like the idea of it (in theory), but for this episode to have worked, the show would have had to have continued.  To end the way it did, seemed forced and anti-climatic.  I know the producers knew that the show had been cancelled and wanted to give resolution, but it was done in such a way that it seemed to demphasize the hard work of the crew of the Enterprise.  I liked this season least of all.

Final Grade for the Series: B- (Good acting, special effects, and characterization let down by questionable story and plot choices, especially in the last season).  While Enterprise may not have had a seven year run like the other major ST series did except the first (to my knowledge), had ratings not declined and/or had the network had more faith, I think we could have gotten to see the Federation “born” more concretely in this series and ST fans would have been the better for it.

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