Sunday, 18 October 2015

Pangaea

PangaeaPangaea by Michael Burstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pangaea was a project I backed via Kickstarter for many reasons, a number of the authors included in this anthology were very familiar to me having read many of their other works both original and licensed properties and I find the idea of a central theme being shared amongst authors very appealing. In this collection the core idea is that the Earth has a single supercontinent and many of the environmental conditions which created our global society as it is never happened so how would mankind develop with say no huge tracts of water separating the evolution of species and development of technologies?
In this anthology we have a main story arc that is central to some of the stories and in others only mentioned in a single sentence but this method really binds the whole concept together. I'm not going to go into detail in regards to specific stories because they all offer their own unique appeal but I will say there were some fantastic tales being told and again not to repeat myself the fact that they are linked adds a level of enjoyment that pure stand alone anthologies can not offer.

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Saturday, 17 October 2015

My Random Journey Through Trek #55

A Piece of the Action
Star Trek

The Enterprise approaches Sigma Iotia II a planet that was visited by a human crewed starship a century previously, fearing cultural contamination Kirk has been sent to investigate. They receive a signal from the planet from a man calling himself Bela Oxmyx with an invitation to visit, Kirk accepts and calls for Bones and Spock to join him.
They beam down onto a street which looks like a typical American locale with vehicles and outfits which match the late 1920's era, nearly everyone seems to be armed and soon two men approach and take the landing party captive. As they lead them away a car roars by and a machine gun opens fire, one man dies and the rest make their escape and proceed to Bela Oxmyx the "boss". He's overjoyed to see the "Feds" who are from the same organisation as those of the Horizon but he is not dealing in good faith, he demands a supply of "heaters" so he can remove the competition. Spock sees a large book on a pedestal entitled "Chicago Mobs of the Twenties" and indeed this book along with some basic text books have been used to shape this culture into what it is today, devoid of civil government but a number of organised crime families who run everything.

Taxpayers demanding their rights
When Kirk refuses Bela he tells his goons to put them away somewhere safe, they are taken to a warehouse under guard and Kirk ingratiates himself into the goons card game by mildly insulting them, he then goes onto to invent the mind boggling "Fizzbin" card game and once distracted the landing party subdue the goons, Spock and McCoy return to the ship and Kirk grabs a gun and heads back to Bela's office. He doesn't get far before being waylaid by a goon working for the rival boss "Krako" who then pretty much demands the same concessions from Kirk, he refuses again and is locked up but escapes. Spock and McCoy beam back down to negotiate with Bela who takes them prisoner again but Kirk turns up, disarms everyone and steals their suits. He and Spock then raid the officers of Krako, get taken prisoner again but Kirk is able to get Krako beamed onto the ship and during the confusion they escape and make their way back to Bela. Kirk then plays the part of a "boss" himself working for the Feds, he informs Bela and Krako that the Feds are taking over and if they play ball they could get a piece of the action. Bela calls each of the bosses in turn and Scotty tracks the signal and beams them into the room where Kirk lays down the law but when some goons turn up and questions begin to be asked he has Scotty use the ships phasers on low power to stun everyone around the block and demonstrating the power of the Feds. Bela is made boss with Krako second in command and Kirk promises the Feds will be back in a year to pick up their 40% of the planets profits.
Fizzbin is Addictive

Fuzzy hats but sharp suits
A Piece of the Action begins with the surprising news that the Federation has only just learnt about the cultural contamination by the Horizon a century after the ship was destroyed, standard radio signals had only just been picked up but you still have a small question over the reckless nature of the space fleet back then, we assume the fledgling Starfleet was still playing with a prime directive. More surprising is that the planet contacts the Enterprise, not quite sure how they managed that but not to worry this Bela guys sounds reasonable so much so Kirk doesn't take any security with him.
Always enjoyed the Paramount backlot this time in classic gangster era guise and my oh my the young woman certainly wiggled when she walked, I'm sure Kirk and McCoy were feeling right at home until of course the tommy gun wielding goons appeared. We then get a classic drive by which was done very well, a rather high energy dramatic sequence for the show and just to add the cherry on top two I assume ladies of negotiable affection accost the surviving goon demanding that the "percentage" they pay should be funding better street conditions etc. I've to admit that this "tax" in everything but name would work in theory, a good boss would make sure those who paid for his protection/favour got a return making the cost a worthwhile investment and allowing the local society to flourish. We then meet Bela who makes it a point to show off his "dame" and his well total lack of skill on the pool table but the clash of expectations makes for good drama and of course we see the "book" which has caused this culture to embrace this aspect of US culture. "Chicago Mobs of the Twenties" was left behind by the Horizon and it seems to have become the bible for this culture dictating how they should live and interact with each other, it hamstrings them in many ways but has certainly empowered the growth of this worlds technology. One thing you do quickly realise is that Shatner and by extension Kirk is having a lot of fun hamming it up, even introducing "Fizzbin" was a scene worthy of any comedy/drama of the time, it was inspired and shooting Kirk and the goon up close just added to the impact of the scene.
Spock and McCoy go to the radio station and yes as McCoy says Spock has got the nerve pinch down to a fine art although truth be told the actress was making the most of her time on screen but the humour of the scene continues with Spock being taken down a peg or two by his failure to get the Enterprise on the first retune of the AM station. Kudos to Kirk for doing a MacGyver long before that show every hit the screen and clever of the goons to realise that until the transporter beam stopped sparking they were safe. I'm not sure if we had two sets of suits one for the goons and the other for Kirk and Spock but they certainly seemed to fit well on the two Starfleet officers and they looked cool with hats and tommy guns:)
Brace yourself now, Krrk is going to drive a manual motor vehicle. The grinding of gears puts a smile on your face, the reverse and crunch has you laughing and then the stop/start progression through the streets is just ridiculously funny but we're not done there. Kirk is approached by a youngster who realises they are going to hit Krako and offers his services as a distraction for a piece of the action, nice touch that. The writers must have been on a roll, the guys return to the car and it's Spock deadpan saying when Kirk sees his is a little concerned that it's Kirk driving that is alarming.

The story begins to wrap itself up when Kirk is in full on gangster mode, he forces his personality onto the situation and the bosses and goons respond and only question the path they are being led down when the shooting starts outside. Lucky I guess the ship's phasers can be set for stun since it offers a very clear demonstration of the consequences of not playing ball with the Feds and so the deal is done by raising a glass.

A Piece of the Action is a fun episode, over the top yes in pretty much every aspect but played to perfection by everyone involved. I'm not sure if it just me either but Kirk's solution makes a lot of sense given the situation and by stating the 40% cut would be funneled back into the planetary finance market to fund development which would help correct the flaws in the society he pretty much covered his backside. Of course there would still have to be some sort of presence on the planet, the threat of Fed intervention may always be there but given the opportunity there will always be those skimming off the top when there is no one watching, it's the nature of the beast:)
Oh and McCoy left his communicator on the planet, clever piece of writing and who knows where the franchise would be if that loose thread had been pulled years later.

Rating 9


Monday, 12 October 2015

Strong Arm Tactics

Strong Arm Tactics (Wolfe Pack Book 1)Strong Arm Tactics by Jody Lynn Nye
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lt. David Wolfe the black sheep of a family that has incredible power and influence on a galactic scale has a problem, joining the military may have been to forge his own path but his superiors are justifiably worried if anything should happen to him so they rely on a tried and trusted solution. Lt Wolfe is given command of X-Ray platoon aka The Cockroaches a dumping ground for Galactic Defense Force misfits who have yet to be court martialed or just to be kept out of the way. Lt Wolfe is an idealist and no matter the reputation of his new command he is determined to bring it into shape and rival any regular platoon, well that's the idea anyway but it doesn't quite go according to plan:)
Strong Arm Tactics was a fun read, granted the bad guys of the story are certainly not very pleasant and our "heroes" are probably nicer than they should have been but the tropes of this type of story are well covered with the twist of being a space faring military force and the author's own humorous spin. Specifics are best left for the reader to enjoy but war games on a starship in and around the organic waste processing facilities has it's own inherent issues not to mention a simple mission to the galaxies most renowned theme park for a simple three day mission, what could possibly go wrong?
A highly recommend read for some good action, characters and humour.

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Recovering Apollo 8

Recovering Apollo 8Recovering Apollo 8 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Richard Johansenn as a boy watched along with the world as Apollo 8 missed it's trajectory which would have brought it around the moon and back to Earth, years passed and he built an empire which made him a billionaire and when the opportunity presented itself he reached for the stars to discover the fate of the three astronauts who have ventured into the darkness and never returned home.
Recovering Apollo 8 was included in a collection of science fiction offered by Storybundle, as is often the case I found novels and authors who I never would have come across otherwise and this quiet tale of obsession and courage struck a cord. The story has a lot of heart and you can feel the passion and drive which propelled the older Richard to risk his business, reputation even the wrath of his own government. It may be said that the story didn't quite finish as strong as it started which knocks a star off my rating but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Sunday, 11 October 2015

My Random Journey Through Trek #54

Random Thoughts
Voyager

Voyager has been in orbit around the Mari homeworld for the past three days resupplying and taking some R&R. In a local market Janeway and B'Elanna are negotiating with Frane (trader) for a part and making it a little more complex is that the people of this world are telepathic. Neelix is getting seriously interested in a native woman (who sells produce) and Tuvok is spending time with one of the few local law enforcement officials, violent crime has all been eradicated from this world mirroring Vulcan. As it happens a brutal beating takes place in the local market moments after B'Elanna has been bumped into and spoken her mind to the same man who took part in the beating. The investigation begins and includes telepathic probing of the memories of the Voyager crew as well as a technology based scanning of the brain to record memories and thoughts. B'Elanna is arrested not for actually beating the man but for having the initial thought which was then picked up and acted upon, in this world violent thought itself is a crime punishable by memory erasure.
Neelix does have a type...
There doesn't seem to be anyway around the law of the land but Tuvok is allowed to conduct his own investigation and learns that the man who did the beating has a record for having violent thoughts but records indicate he had been treated and cured. The next day an old woman approaches Talli ( Rebecca McFarland ) the young woman Neelix is interested in and stabs her to death, the same violent thought is at the centre of the act yet the two people originally involved were no where near. Tuvok has a thought and tracks down Frane and discovers that there is underground black market for the supply and trade of strong and violent emotions, he offers his own dark emotions/memories in trade for the truth behind the market attack and then reveals to the authorities the true depth of the problem that lies beneath the peaceful exterior of Mari.
Random Thoughts begins with Voyager in orbit and as always the CGI is very good for it's time, we learn the crew have been going down to the planet for the last three days and Neelix is sweet on a local girl, a nice moment with him and Tom in the transporter room. I'm quite surprised any non-telepath would be comfortable amongst a race who freely read eachothers minds, there does not seem to be any privacy taboos or strictures like on say Vulcan. An interesting concept as well in outlawing violent thoughts, I would imagine the social upheaval three generations past must have been a very troubling time and while Nimira the city's Chief Examiner (copper) seems to consider prison cells and associated methods to be barbaric when we hear the flip side of their culture it certainly proves their methods can be just as draconian. Wiping memories of people who have violent thoughts even if they don't act of them is extreme to say the least and we learn later some people are being conditioned this way time and time again, it may be cleaner on the surface but this culture is just as broken. Infact unlike Vulcan whose people have learnt to master their darker impulses having a population with no experience of them it comes as no surprise when exposed to negative emotions they go off the deep end. The biggest issue of course is that Tuvok in three days should have learnt all of this from Nimira and had Voyager drastically limit the interaction of the crew who have no control over their own thoughts. Later after Janeway has recalled the crew we still see Neelix and Seven on the planet which may have been a continuity error but the second murder finally gives Tuvok a glimpse at another avenue to explore. The trade in negative/dark emotions and thoughts obviously fills a gap in this culture, easy to "steal" anothers thoughts and pass them on again, no practical mental shielding for this race and it makes you wonder how long telepathy has been in their DNA. There was some intense scenes as Tuvok investigated Frane and went off the grid but it was a bit of a joke how easily he was subdued or maybe that was part of his plan to ultimately be in a position to overload Frane with real world negativity. In many ways it was a simple overdose for an addict who gets hold of some pure drug after being used to heavily cut product, the only real issue is they could have played up the effects it may have had on Tuvok, extra meditation sort of thing but they chose to have a mildly humourous Seven confronting the Captain ending.

Random Thoughts wasn't an episode I was looking forward to watching but it wasn't as bad as I seemed to remember, I won't be going out of way to watch it again just to kill an hour or so if only so that my mind is never scarred again by Neelix having his whiskers tugged.
Rating 5



Stargate Laserdisc

Perhaps this isn't what MGM and Pioneer originally considered the discs fate but I think it looks pretty smart. Way back in the day when I actually owned a Pioneer Laserdisc player and paid in hindsight what was an enormous amount of cash for the privilege of AC3 audio and Letterbox presentation of movies I did actually own Stargate, it was sold along with the player when I transitioned to DVD. To this day it's still the only movie that ever came close to blowing up one of my speakers:)


Saturday, 10 October 2015

My Random Journey Through Trek #53

Who Mourns for Adonais?
Star Trek

The Enterprise is doing a little routine planet mapping and is on approach to Pollux IV an unremarkable world with no records of being populated but they detect an object approaching them in the shape of a giant human hand. Spock says it's pure energy but it tracks the ship's efforts to evade and grabs hold of them in the manner of a very powerful tractor beam. The optical scanners pick up an image of a human face, audio is also being broadcast towards the ship and the entity welcomes and praises them for the journey they have undertaken and being so far from their homeworld. Kirk is a little put out but nothing seems to phase this being and he invites the Captain and his officers (not Spock though) down to the planet.

Upon arrival they are greeted by a scaled down version of classic Greek architecture and the being now in standard human form lounging on a what amounts to a throne. He greets them and introduces himself as Apollo the very same from classic mythology, again he is pleased by the development of his "children" and especially the beauty that is Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas but soon he shows his impatient side as the crew refuse to automatically bow down and worship as their ancestors did 5000 years ago. Scotty feels the brunt of his anger when he takes exception to Apollo's interest in Carolyn but she agrees to go with Apollo and learn some of his secrets. Back on the ship Spock is driving the crew hard to break through the communications interference and the energy field that is holding them, slow progress is being made but they eventually succeed. Kirk and the landing party have deduced that Apollo is drawing his energy from the environment and more importantly via the temple, he has the ship phasers targeted on the building ready for the right moment. Kirk orders Lt Palamas to spurn the advances of Apollo to anger him and when he is drawing upon his power to punish her they destroy the temple and with it the hold this "god" like being has on them. Apollo is devastated and calls upon his fellow travellers to embrace him as he fades from this reality.


The episode kicks off with a standard bridge scene along with the character of the week one Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas ( Leslie Parrish ) but soon goes off the rails as the behaviour of well the human males is not exactly up to modern day standards nor I expect of the military at the time at least when on duty. Scotty calls Lt Palamas by her first name and asks her for coffee even though she is currently in the middle of doing her job which probably doesn't take her to the bridge too often. McCoy and Kirk both talk about her openly on the bridge and even mention the cringe worthy aspect of her eventually settling down to married life and leaving Starfleet to be a wife and mother. Anyhow as they near the plant the energy field is detected and everyone stands and stares at it, it takes way too long for Kirk to order evasive action and then it's too late. I did like the idea the energy field was adaptive enough to mimic a hand and apply direct pressure but I wasn't quite sure why when pressure on the hull was increased it made any practical difference to the well being of the crew, the air processing in a starship should be pretty bullet proof or so I would have thought. So they are invited to the planet, no Spock though who is probably grateful he won't have to put up with the sounds of the pipes:) I found it hilarious when Palamas asked why she was in the landing party, she does realise what she actually does for a living or was it more to remind the viewers why she was there, either way attractive women studying ancient societies etc are almost as at risk as a red shirt! So we meet Apollo, pretty good looking dude although it looks like his nipple has been powered/foundationed over to avoid inflaming the ladies but when he does his impressive growth spurt the simple trick of having the actors maintain eye contact with the camera as it rises worked very well, nothing fancy just let the actors sell the surprise and awe. We also see a very disturbing look on Kirk's face as he realises he may have just bitten off more than he can chew but then crash bang as Apollo says Palamas is "wise for a woman". Oh yeah no question she is a woman when he with a wave of his hand changes her outfit, nice touch to do in front of the statue with a similar outfit and kudos to the costume department for creative use of sticky tape/glue to keep Leslie's bits hidden from view:)
We also get the notion that the Greek gods were indeed a space faring species that came across the Earth and "fed" off the worship of the primitive peoples in and around Greece at the time, say what you like the modern world owes an awful lot to the ideas and concepts that came out of that region regardless of who the people at the time considered deities. Of course one of the myths is how a few of the gods dabbled in the pleasures of human female flesh and Apollo has taken a serious shine to Carolyn and well not to make too fine a point she seems interested and I think we are supposed to believe that something happened between them, After the fact it came to light that one missing story element was that she ended the episode pregnant, a bit advance for US network tv back in the day it seems. I loved Spock and Sulu as they discussed scanning the planet for the energy source, scan where it isn't, there was some good chemistry between the two actors, pity it was never really developed. Kirk finally hatched his plan and and while the first attempt failed (thanks to Palamas) when he finally convinced her to turn her back on Apollo she did a real number on him and to be fair Palamas did a good job exploiting the attraction Apollo had for her, a lot of exposition was given as she talked to him. Uhura also got to flex her muscles with actually working on her communications board, we know she is more than just a switchboard operator but often the show doesn't do her justice so despite some dodgy dialogue in terms of what women were considered to be back then we also got two female characters performing well.
Finally Kirk and Spock are communicating, the ship's phasers are targeted on the temple yet the guys are casually standing in the structure, that's pretty stupid and I really think it was set up that way for Kirk to do a run, jump and roll as he commanded Spock to fire. Oh and credit to everyone involved in creating the storm that Apollo launched towards Carolyn, all on stage of course but it looked pretty good.

Who Mourns for Adonais? is one of original series stories that gets a lot of respect upto the point of being the kicking off point for the Star Trek continues movie “Pilgrim Of Eternity” and not forgetting the episode itself draws upon an established mythology that permeates western society. It's an interesting concept that the Greek gods were space faring beings who used their knowledge and technology to set themselves up as divine beings who like humans eventually could not put aside the base elements of some of their natures. In this episode Apollo seems impressed by the strength of character of his "children" but doesn't seem to realise how much they have changed perhaps because he hasn't in the 5000 years since being on Earth. For all the negative aspects he sees in Kirk and company he too expresses them with arrogance, indifference and anger combined with a fragile ego.
Overall this could have been rather cheesy but good acting and some good effects worked in the episodes favour.
Rating 8



Sunday, 4 October 2015

My Random Journey Through Trek #52

Heart of Stone
Deep Space Nine

Kira and Odo are returning to DS9 after a mission to a remote Bajoran colony on the border of the Cardassian neutral zone, they detect a ship being attacked by the Maquis and give chase. The fleeing ship crashes into a moon of a gas giant and they land and investigate a cave complex, time is short so Odo and Kira split up. Odo then hears Kira calling and he finds her trapped in a crystalline structure which resists damage and phaser fire infact the crystal grows as it absorbs the energy, transporters and comms fail while Odo attempts to figure out a solution to freeing his friend.

Meanwhile back on DS9 Nog has approached Sisko with a request to be his apprentice (Ferengi tradition when a boy becomes a man), he offers a bag of latinum and makes it clear he wishes to join Starfleet. Sisko is a little confused but agrees to think about and then asks Dax to assign him to an inventory of a cargo bay full of valuable cargo as a test. Nog completes the inventory with no problems at all but Sisko while accepting his talents needs to understand why Nog wants to join Starfleet and when he refuses to write the recommendation letter Nog finally opens up. It turns out he knows that business is not for him (same for his father) but he has inherited the engineering skills of his father and the never say die attitude of his uncle and Sisko agrees that Starfleet could indeed use such a person in it's ranks.
Kira is close to death as the crystal has nearly covered her body and Odo is no closer to freeing her but they continue to talk and bit by bit Odo is opening up until he finally confesses that he won't leave her to die as he loves her and she admits that she loves him. Still the obsessive side of Odo seeks a solution until he realises nothing really makes sense and what he knows simply doesn't add up and at that point he realises that this being is not Kira and behold the Founder appears before him and admits this was a rouse to break the link between Odo and the solids.
Starfleet will never be the same
Heart of Stone kicks off with Odo and Kira on a runabout, not quite sure why the Bajorans are so keen to colonise worlds close to the Cardassian neutral zone but ok we'll go with it but when they came across the Maquis why didn't they immediately call for assistance or at the very least notify DS9 of the intentions after all they were going towards the badlands. It was also fortunate that the moon had a suitable atmosphere and a cave structure which protected them from what was supposed to be a pretty harsh environment which blocked comms and transporters. I wasn't quite sure why the beacon Odo launched would take two days to get a signal to DS9, maybe it had to be well clear of the gas giant but as a mayday device that sort of delay could be critical. I had no problem with Kira getting stuck as I think the cave system was a lot darker than it looked on out screens and the interaction between the two of them was interesting. I do not know if it was deliberate but the close ups on Odo's face showed some flaws in his mouth/lips which made me wonder how close to his regeneration cycle he was, it was never mentioned but it would seem to be relevant. The confession of his love for Kira was of course no surprise to Odo but on second or third viewing has lost a lot of it's impact but again the fact that this is a setup and Odo finally figures it all out makes it worthwhile.
Nog of course has his own reasons for wanting to join Starfleet and I liked the test that Sisko gave him although I expected Dax to be more supportive of Nog but he passed the test and finally Sisko got to the truth and that was very satisfying, nicely done by Aron Eisenberg.

Heart of Stone has two very definite plots but both are pretty much covering the same situation, the main characters are being forced to admit to themselves and others the core emotions that are driving them and you know they both work especially the Nog story. Highpoints were the whole performance by Aron Eisenberg, the explanation of why Odo was called Odo and daft as it sounds the best line was from Quark in his very brief appearance, "You're both insane".
Rating 7