A few nitpicky thoughts about the new Star Trek

As anyone with any interest in Star Trek knows by now, a new series, Star Trek: Discovery, is in the works.  The premiere date has slipped, but it is supposed to debut sometime this year.  The premise is supposed to revolve around “an incident and an event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never been explored”.

Hmm.  Personally, I’m all mixed-up about this.  I basically think television is a barren wasteland without a Star Trek series being broadcast somewhere (I pretty much think the same thing about TV with regard to Firefly,   which should give you a clue about what I think of TV in general).  My first instinct is to welcome the new series with open arms.

The scars of my past viewing history hold me back, though.  Full disclosure: I am one of those Trek heretics who thinks that, the original series aside, the televised Star Trek universe reached its peak toward the end of Next Generation and through Deep Space Nine.  Next Gen actually got more dramatically effective in the later seasons, and Deep Space Nine was narratively vigorous straight through, although not all episodes were equal.  However, the last two Trek series, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise, were mere shadows of the series that had gone before, sometimes feeling as if they were just going through the motions, other times as if they were recycling ideas and themes from previous series that were already well-worn, and often not very well written.  For my money, Enterprise, especially, suffered from dwindling narrative power.  Voyager, for its part, was often just plain silly, on a Lost in Space level.

In the end, Star Trek became a safe, predictable series of morality tales with pat outcomes.  Critics said that the franchise was out of gas.  Personally I agreed with them.

However, the universe has now lain fallow on television for eleven years.  In that time, TV has evolved.  We are in the era of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones.  It is also the age of pretty damn good CGI that can do pretty much anything you need it to do.  Watching episodes of the previous Trek series nowadays, however good they may be in general, is an exercise in realizing what could have been.

So I have a few hopes for the new series.  I will be very interested in seeing if the show-runners have the guts to bring the franchise into the modern world.  In no particular order, here are my wishes, both the small and the great–

  1. Lose the stupid facial makeup that’s supposed denote different alien species.   It got positively silly toward the end of Voyager and Enterprise.  It’s a relic of the days when guys in rubber suits stomped around smashing model cities.  With CGI, we can have whatever alien species we want, without being tied to a humanoid form.  Spend a little money and show some creativity.
  2. For God’s sake, please don’t afflict us with another buxom female crew-member in a skin-tight uniform.  Aside from obvious titillation for fan-boys, there just no reason.
  3. Please, please, please, refrain from holodeck adventures.  These seemed to be a particular plague on Next Gen.  I tended to turn the TV off when they aired.
  4. I beg of you, hold off the sort of episode that I personally call a ‘mind-fuck’, where the story turns out to be a dream from an alien probe, or some rogue nanite, or some ancient artifact, blah, blah, blah.  Like number 3 above, I think that this kind of episode represents creative failure and/or laziness on the part of the writers.
  5. Ditto the sort of episode where the characters go through some radical event, usually ending up in an unpleasant future where things are grim and getting worse, but then find a way, by some sort of time-manipulation-bugaloo, to reset things back to normal in the past.  A prime example of this kind of thing is “Twilight”, episode 8 of Enterprise’s third season.  For me there’s an adjective that describes that sort of episode, basically employing the metaphor of the effluvium of a barnyard fowl.
  6. Please, somebody give some thought to how space battles would actually be fought with the weapons of the Trek universe.  Deep Space Nine, in particular, had totally unbelievable battles, with massed starships meleeing at what in real-life would be point-blank range.  With weapons that can reach across tens of thousands of kilometers, having ships going mano-a-mano is ridiculous and devastating to the suspension of disbelief.
  7. A little actual science-fiction would be nice.  Too often Trek episodes have been more about clever techno-puzzles or quasi-profound ruminations on the Prime Directive or just straight-up adventuring.  In my opinion, we could use a few more episodes, like “Captive Pursuit” from the first season of Deep Space Nine, or, for that matter, “The Devil in the Dark” from the original series.
  8. Above all, invest the new series with some real dramatic meat.  I don’t necessarily need Star Trek: Discovery to be Game of Thrones in space (The Expanse may have that covered), but playing it safe with characters and story-lines is what helped bury the franchise eleven years ago.  I want to see a series with fully developed characters and complex relationships, set in stories that are not mere morality tales.  A return to the narrative style of the later series will personally leave me in a very, very grumpy mood.  Here’s hoping for better stories.

Later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And immediately, sunlight….

No honeymoon for Il Duce

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/people-across-world-rally-womens-rights/

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/inauguration-2017/women-s-march-washington-echoed-cities-around-world-n710156

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/worldwide-people-rally-in-support-of-women%E2%80%99s-march-on-washington/ar-AAm5Ltx?li=BBnb7Kz

Note to self: yo, numb-nuts, you missed out on joining the local march because you weren’t paying attention.  Keep a better ear to the ground in the future, nimrod, because this is exactly the sort of thing I want to add my two cents to.

But this put a smile on my face after yesterday’s gloom.  We are a very large and noisy conglomeration of people, and that’s exactly what we need right now.

And we’re off to the races….

I’m just going to do this once, because if I do it every time Il Duce and his minions do something off the wall I will expire from an incredulity overdose.  I’m going to have armor up and ignore the small stuff.

So, just this one time–  are you shitting me?

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/white-house-website-promotes-melania-trump%E2%80%99s-modeling-and-jewelry-line/ar-AAm4lRR?li=BBnb7Kz

On the other hand, why am I surprised– this is a guy who thinks he’s a business genius and that a business model is appropriate for governance.

I am now in the process of barricading myself in my apartment with a tub of double-fudge ice cream.  Diabetes be damned.

Later.

A little perspective…..

As Inauguration Day arrives, I find myself in a strange mental state.  At the most basic level, it is still a matter of incredulity to me that Trump is going to take the oath of office and become President of the United States.  If I stop to think about it I start rehearsing in my mind the utter absurdity of it.  Teeth get gritted and steering wheels death-gripped.  It’s like the universe has played a practical joke on humanity (because who POTUS is at any given moment affects most if not all of the people on the planet) and we’re just waiting for the sumbitch to bust out laughing and tell us it was all a joke.

At another level, I am trying to think what I can do.  Writing, for sure– this is one time I wish I had the gift of satire, because, by all the evidence, a good satire gets right under Donald’s skin in a way that really highlights his narcissism and self-centered ways.  Contributing to progressive causes and groups and being the best citizen I can possibly be are other things I can do.  Oh, and if the Clown-in-Chief actually implements a Muslim registry, I intend to register as a Muslim, which will at least tell El Bozo that his little plan to scapegoat a religion isn’t going to slip by unnoticed and unremarked.

At the same time it is strange how  everyday life still makes its demands on you.

I still need a job.  I still need to lose weight (not helped by all the comfort eating I’ve been doing in the last two months).  I am in the midst of figuring out how to end a very long relationship.  I’m worried about my blood-pressure and diabetes and trying to remember to take my medication for both.  I am adjusting to the consequences of a long-distance relocation, some of which I anticipated and some I didn’t.  I worry about my daughter, from whom I am now physically separated but still as close as a text.

I still have to brush my teeth and shower and (at least once or twice a week) shave my face.  I still have to do laundry (note to self: today is probably a good day for that).  I have books to read and items to pick up at the store.

I am still trying to write fiction– I’m attempting to serialize The Horseman on this blog, and Princess of Stars, about which I haven’t talked a great deal in the last few months, is still an active project, at least hypothetically.  Part of me wonders if fiction isn’t a frivolous distraction right now, but then I remember that fiction can be a powerful vessel for truth.  It’s an open question whether I have the talent to make my writing as effective as it could be, but I am still possessed of the impulse to write stories, even as the house burns down around me.

And then I find myself, just for a moment, wild with happy excitement at a new Logan trailer (careful, it’s got splashing gore in it, but then, it’s Logan, waddaya expect)–

At one level, you might expect this to be far off my radar, but on the other hand, I suspect in the next year or so we’re all going to need moments of down-time, of allowing ourselves to be distracted from whatever disaster is unfolding.  Logan is not the only movie I’m looking forward to this year, and then there’s Season 7 of Game of Thrones.

This is an important point– for all our fear and uncertainty, and despite the necessity of resistance, we will still need to tend to our ordinary, workaday lives.  It’s essential we take care of ourselves and our loved ones, to make the lunches for the kids to take to school and to get the car lubed when needed.  If we don’t we won’t be able to sustain our effort to speak truth to power, to stand up for the helpless, and to preserve the Republic.

So, take a deep breath, everybody.  Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.  Do what you can, and stay together.  And we will get through this.

Later.

Five songs for the resistance

Some songs for the resistance-

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps I am showing my age in that most of these songs are from fifty to sixty years ago, the last time we were in serious need of marching songs.  Perhaps we need a new generation to write the anthems of the new resistance.  Nevertheless, these still speak to me, especially Pete Seeger’s interpretation of We Shall Overcome, which breaks my heart every time I listen to it.  Take heart from this music, and do what you can.

Later.

I want to turn it all off, but I can’t- Frontline’s Divided States of America

I just finished watching the two part Frontline documentary Divided States of America (Part One is here), which recapitulates the history of the Obama administration and the rise of populist rage in this country.  It’s enlightening and difficult at the same time, especially as it is unsparing in its recounting of Obama’s naivete and missteps during his two terms.  On the whole it is balanced and sober.  It is also sobering– it ends on the note that Obama came into office with the idea of bridging divides, and he leaves office with the country more divided than ever.

In the documentary there are talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum, and some of those on the right are quick to blame the president for the divisions.   That is both unfair and typical of the right.  The divisions were there before Obama became president; his presidency, however, laid them bare in ways we did not anticipate when he took office in 2009.

The documentary is very good about outlining the rise of populist anger in this country in the last eight years. What exploded at first as the Tea Party and then the candidacy of Donald Trump has deep roots.  The documentary ties the current populism to that which emerged during the 2008 Republican campaign and which found its focus in Sarah Palin, but of course it goes back decades, to the civil rights era and the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties and the drastic changes in our society and the technology it employs for work and communication.  The absolute (and to progressives, irrational) rage of conservatives who think their country is being stolen by blacks and immigrants, and that Obama was a Muslim socialist bent on destroying white America, is outlined in detail.  The documentary describes the divide in the country as being so profound that it almost amounts to there being two antithetically opposed Americas at war with each other.

That observation resonated with me.  Over the last three decades I have watched this country grow more and more polarized, to the point that we hardly consider those on the other side of the divide from us to be true Americans.  That polarization is what really frightens me, far more than even Trump, because I don’t know how to heal it, and because it is absolutely destructive to our political unity.  I fear this country has gone past some limit without realizing it.  Once this sort of rhetoric gets past a certain point, and people begin to accept it as normal, then there comes a time when your opponents don’t just disagree with you, they are evils that have to fought, in the streets and house-by-house.  In other words, the logical end of this sort of rhetoric is civil war and social dissolution.

And when Trump inevitably spins out of control and crashes, the rage of Trump supporters will not go away.  He did not create it; it created him.  When he’s gone– and I will be surprised if he lasts as much as two years– his supporters will have to find another figurehead to encapsulate their anger.  And what new monstrosity will they create the next time?

I am tired of it all.  I wish I could turn it all off.  But I can’t.  I am not optimistic about America’s chances, but I can’t join a rush to the lifeboats.  Weary and weak as I am, I have to stay and try to do what I can.  I hope you do, too.

But we don’t have to watch the inauguration.  That much, at least, is a relief.

I recommend the Frontline documentary to anyone who wants a good summary of how we got here.

Later.

 

Sunday Photo Fiction – January 15th 2017– Thwarted Destiny

Here’s a piece in response to the Sunday Photo Fiction flash fiction challenge for January 15th 2017– two hundred words based on this image–

skul-cup

I don’t whether to giggle or beg for forgiveness.  And I fudged the word limit a little.  I know no shame…..

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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Yes, mortal– look upon me and know fear.

When I lived I was Muraz Khan the Terrible, the Blood-soaked, conqueror of Samarkhand and Beluchistan, devastator of Ashgabat, pillager of Tehran.  My hordes ranged across the broad world.  Mighty kings trembled and crawled on their bellies to kiss my gore-spattered boots.  Those same kings gave me their daughters as playthings.

But on the verge of conquering the whole world, I was betrayed by a blood brother, Hanno.  My bones were made into this chalice, and Hanno celebrated at an orgy, quaffing wine from my skull.

But my loyal magister put a curse on my bones.  That very night an earthquake swallowed Hanno and the city in which he roistered.  I would rise again to fulfill my destiny whenever I next lay in the hands of a man of power.

Centuries later archaeologists uncovered me.  I thought my day had come.  But something went wrong.

I was stolen from the artifact locker that very night by a graduate student.  Three years later, needing extra cash for a Playstation, he sold me at a flea market to an accountant named Marvin and his wife Jenny, who sews quilts with kitten patterns.

Now I sit, locked in a china cabinet in Lower Hoboken with a collection of Disney Princess® glasses.

I must escape and fulfill my destiny.  Somehow….

Let it go, let it go…..

Oh, just shut up, Elsa.

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge– Apocalypse Now!

I wrote this piece in response to a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig— 1500 words on, as he put it, “a rare, strange, unparalleled apocalypse.”

Well, I took a look at the challenge and thunk real hard, and…went in completely different direction.  If this story puzzles anyone, I would ask them to not consider the modern English usage of the word “apocalypse”, but what the word actually means in Greek.  The story’s inadequacies as a story, of course, have nothing to do with etymology.

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

******************************************

“Tell her,” Timon said.  He stood close to Aldan, speaking for his ears only.

“No,” Aldan said, speaking just as low.

It was probably an unnecessary precaution; it was unlikely that either of their voices could be heard over the music and the happy cries of the dancers.  One hundred men and women matched steps in the middle of the hall.  A hundred more urged them on from the sides, or gabbled among themselves beside tables heavy with food and drink.  Timon and Aldan were alone in the crowd, far off in a corner behind pillars, and very nearly out of sight of the newlyweds, who sat atop the dais at the far end of the room.  Aldan dared glance that direction.  Ranald lolled in the groom’s seat, smiling broadly and toasting the dancers.  Rebekah sat beside him the bride’s seat, her spray of flowers in her lap, quietly smiling.

“For the love of the all-seeing gods, why not?” Timon said.

“She marries a great lord,” Aldan said, “and she is happy.  Besides which, she hardly knows me.”

“But you love her,” Timon said.

“What is that?” Aldan said.  “Nothing.  With this marriage we all buy peace among ourselves.  Whatever I feel is nothing in comparison.”

“But, Aldan, your happiness….”

“Stop whispering in my ear,” Aldan told him.  “It will do no good.”

He stepped away, leaving Timon glowering among the pillars.  Aldan moved through the crowd carefully; he was not dressed in festive garb, but in traveling clothes, with his sword buckled on.  His mission started as soon as he could pledge his loyalty to his new lord.  Horses and the men detailed to follow him were waiting on the ceremony; all Aldan could do was make sure they were fed and out of the rain.

He went to the nearest table.  The delicacies here would not sustain him on the ride he had ahead of him; but he had to eat or drink something, out of courtesy.  This was not the time or place to give offense.

He found a plate of dove’s eggs in spiced butter, and ate them slowly as he walked to the other side of the room.  He garnered stares as he did; some of the guests obviously wondered if he were a vagabond who had somehow gotten in past the guards.  Others just as obviously wondered how someone so homely could have been invited to the nuptials of the high warlord of Telania and the fairest daughter of the old Houses.

He finished the eggs, and found a place for the plate in a niche in the far wall.  It was an old icon shrine, now empty, and Aldan reflected that it was possible no servant would find the plate for twenty or thirty years.  He wondered why that amused him.

“Still causing trouble, I see,” someone said from behind him.

Aldan turned.  Scholar Harald approached; his old tutor was unchanged, save for more lines in his face.  Aldan bowed.  “It’s just they never have anywhere you can put the dishes,” he said.

“Ah—then we can blame the host,” Harald said.  “As we can blame him for so many things.”

“Teacher,” Aldan said, warningly, “you should guard your lips.”

“Perhaps,” Harald said.  “Perhaps I’m an old man who doesn’t care who knows what he thinks of our new overlord.”

“If nothing else, restrain yourself for my sake,” Aldan said.  “It would grieve me to see your head displayed on the Traitor’s Walk.”

“Bah,” Harald said, waving his hand in that manner that told Aldan his teacher considered the matter unworthy of discussion.  “It is needful for someone to bear witness to what we are giving up.”

“A generation of civil war?” Aldan suggested.

“Our ancient liberties,” Harald said.

“There will be time for that later,” Aldan said, growing worried.  “First we have to defeat the Galocina.”

“Some would say the Galocina are a convenient distraction….” Harald said.

“Teacher, please,” Aldan pleaded.

“All right– I will be quiet, for your sake,” Harald said.  He smiled.  “It is too bad you never spoke up.”

“Spoke up?” Aldan said.

“To Rebekah,” Harald said.  “If she were married now, the Warlord would have had to find some other woman of the Old Houses to wed—although I doubt he could have found anyone else as highly placed.”

Aldan shook his head.  “You are dreaming, Teacher.  Rebekah hardly knows my name.  And her house would have hardly consented to wedding her to a mere soldier…especially one as homely as I am.”

“You have other qualities,” Harald said.

“None that could overcome the plain terror of my face,” Aldan said.  “Forgive me, Teacher, but I need some air.”

He bowed to Harald, and stepped out on one of the western balconies.  The balcony was covered, so he was not instantly soaked, but out in the dark the rain came down in a steady deluge.  The sound of it actually matched the muffled sound of the celebration within.  Soon enough he would be out in it; there was no delaying his mission for mere weather.

Weddings, though….  

“What a night,” a voice said.  “I am so sorry you’re going to have to ride through all that.”

Aldan turned.  His mother came through the open doors on to the balcony.  Her shrewd eyes examined him, as if looking to make sure his clothes were on straight and he combed his hair.  Her smile, though, was indulgent and proud.

“The fate of a soldier,” Aldan said.  “You get used to it.”

She came near.  Aldan bowed to her, then hugged her close.  “Well, thank the gods I’m not a soldier,” his mother said.  “I’d hate to get used to this.”  She stepped back, examining his face.  “Exactly why are you still here, though?”

“Waiting on the ceremony,” Aldan said.  “I must place my hands between the Warlord’s, and bid the couple farewell.”

“Oh, that,” his mother said.  “Archaic claptrap.”  She looked up and seemed to search Aldan’s face.  “It won’t be easy for you, son.  I am sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

“Having to farewell the woman you love as she is given to another,” his mother said.

Aldan sighed.  “Everyone seems to be talking about impossibilities tonight.  To Rebekah I am hardly more than dust; and my countenance….”

“Merely provides a covering for singular virtues,” his mother said.  “Well, perhaps it is best you are leaving for the frontier.”  She laid a hand to his cheek.  “But I still claim a mother’s right to want my children to be happy.”

“Happy…is something I stopped worrying about many years ago, mother,” Aldan said.

Soon after they called for the pledging, and Aldan went in.  There were a few courtiers ahead of him, so he had few minutes to wait and fidget and feel the eyes of the guests upon him.  He was used to stares, usually.  For the most part.  Being the object of quite so much gawking at the same time was, he had to admit, a little unnerving.

Then it was his turn.  He went forward, ascended the dais, and knelt before Ranald.  He placed his hands between those of the Warlord.  “My lord,” Aldan said, “I pledge my loyalty and service, my labor and my life.  I pledge this to you and to the realm, in peace and in war.”

Ranald smiled down at him.  “Ah,” the Warlord said, loud enough for all in the hall to hear.  “We are pleased to receive the service of a soldier so brave and skilled.  A little cheated, perhaps, in terms of beauty, but then, you’re not going out to make love to the Galocina, are you?”

Titters from the crowd; Aldan managed to smile.  “No, my lord.”

He stood and stepped over to Rebekah, as the next courtier ascended the dais toward Ranald.  Aldan knelt down before her.  “Lady,” he said, “may the gods bless your union and sustain the peace it brings.”

“Aldan,” Rebekah said.  She said it so softly that Aldan barely heard her, although he was only a foot or two in front of her.

He looked up.  Rebekah stared down at him; her eyes searched his face.  “Are you…well?” she asked him.

“W-well enough, lady,” Aldan stammered.  He was suddenly swimming in her eyes.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry you have to go away,” she said.  “So far away…I want you to be careful, Aldan Osteran.  Please, please be very careful.”

“I will, Lady,” Aldan said.

“I will pray for you constantly,” Rebekah said.  She seemed to want to say something more, her eyes still fixed on his, but the next courtier was done with his pledge, so Aldan had to stand and turn away from Rebekah’s avid gaze, and descend the dais.  He walked out of the hall, straight-backed, despite the way his legs threatened to buckle under the weight of revelation.

Some pointed questions for 2017

So, lots of people are greeting 2017 with enthusiasm, assuming (or hoping) that is has to be better than 2016.  2016 was, indeed, a dreadful crap-fest.  Terrorist attacks, desperate refugees, the Syrian civil war, and Russian ass-holery were all bad enough, but here in the US we had an election that literally threatens the life of the Republic.  Pretty much everyone whose last name isn’t Trump has ample reason to be happy to see the year in the rear-view mirror.

But, of course, as much as we try to make January 1st into a celebration of newness and renewal, it is nothing of the kind.  Each successive year works out the tensions and conflicts of the preceding, while introducing new ones.  It’s an open question how those tensions and conflicts will work themselves out at this particular moment of history.

So, regardless of its infant state, and with particular reference to the situation here in the US, let’s shove 2017 under a bright light and ask it questions that need answers–

  1. Will Donald Trump live up to his hype and become the rampaging narcissistic tyrant the words he uttered during his campaign promised?  For the sake of the Republic, for the sake of ordinary people, we pray he doesn’t, that he will somehow find it in himself to conduct his presidency in a manner that will help and not harm the lives of Americans and the admittedly imperfect form of government we’ve sacrificed so much for.  We hope and pray, but our expectations are low.
  2. Will Republicans, now that they have control over two out of three branches of the government (and possess a fair prospect of seizing control of the third, in the form of the Supreme Court), find it in themselves to actually govern?   The modern Republican party has so long been an institution of obstruction and denial it is difficult imagining them actually engaging in doing anything positive.
  3. Some folks on the right-wing seem to be set to try to rollback almost every gain America has made in the last eighty years– never mind the Affordable Care Act or Roe v. Wade, these people have their sights set on Social Security.  Will they be allowed to gut the progress of the last three generations of Americans for the sake of ideologies most Americans do not share?
  4. Will the white supremacists and the climate change deniers and the billionaires and the CEO’s who are Trumps advisers and cabinet members actually stand for something other than their fanaticism or their self-interest?
  5. Is anyone in the incoming Congress or administration going to face up to the fact that global warming is real, and is a direct threat to our nation?  This issue, which should be one of science and reasoned response, is another that has become entangled in ideological claptrap.
  6. When Trump violates the Constitution, will the Republican-dominated Congress find it in themselves to apply the Constitutionally-mandated remedy of impeachment?  Or will it roll over and play dead because the guy in the White House is their’s and giving them goodies?
  7. How much suffering lies ahead for the American people?  How much will they have to go through before this irrational poison is flushed from our system?  And what form will the flushing take?

Poor 2017– it can’t answer these questions.  Neither can anyone else.  We are just going to have pray, live these times out and do what we can.  I can’t think of a better way to encapsulate our purpose now than this scene from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring

None of us who want a better future for our country wanted to find ourselves here.  But these times are upon us, and now we have to decide what to do.  At the very least, speak for the voiceless, stand up for the helpless, and tell tyranny the truth.  We don’t have to row to Mordor; it is upon us.  But one thing is true– we have to do this together.

May God bless us and keep us through what is coming.