Other Stuff Exists

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Posts Tagged ‘scifi’

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 1, Episodes 01-02: “Emissary”

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 24, 2012

Star Trek, as we all know, is about a bunch of people traveling through space, exploring strange new worlds, and so forth. Or is it? Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is set on a space station, and although there are a few field trips in the course of the series, the bulk of the action takes place on board DS9 itself.

I think that there isn’t really a huge difference, practically, between setting the show on a space station and setting it on a space ship. There’s no reason that the two have to be presented any differently. However, the feeling I got watching DS9 is that there’s more focus on the characters–more time spent just seeing characters interact as the plot moves along. It’s been a while since I’ve seen DS9, though, so this may just be nostalgia; we’ll see how well my memory matches reality as I go through each episode. That said, let’s begin at the beginning.

The first episode of DS9 is a two-parter called “Emissary”. Like most shows, we’re introduced to a lot of characters, and given lots of hints about the backstory.

We meet Commander Benjamin Sisko, who is assigned to command DS9, but appears reluctant to do so. Sisko has a son, Jake, who also seems reluctant about living on the space station. Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, was killed during the attack at Wolf 359, and we see that Sisko has not forgiven Captain Picard for his role in it, when Picard gives Sisko his orders: as commander of the station, Sisko is to work to prepare Bajor to join the Federation.

Upon arriving at DS9, Sisko meets Major Kira Nerys, a Bajoran woman who is to act as liaison between the Federation and Bajor, and Odo, the chief of security on DS9, who is a shapeshifter. We also learn that Miles O’Brien, previously a member of the crew of the Enterprise, will join DS9 as chief of operations. Quark, a Ferengi, runs a gambling establishment, and although he had intended to leave the station, Sisko convinces (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘coerces’) him to stay. Later, Julian Bashir, the station’s chief medical officer, and Jadzia Dax, a friend of Sisko, arrive, and the main cast is complete.

In order to fulfill his mission to prepare Bajor to join the Federation, Sisko must attempt to stabilize the government. Kira opines that the only way that will happen is if Kai Opaka, a spiritual leader on Bajor, were to assist. So, Sisko heads to Bajor to meet with her, and she tells him that he will be the Emissary of the Prophets, the Bajoran gods. She shows him a glowing object she calls the Tear of the Prophets, which induces a vision of his past, when he first met his wife.

Though this doesn’t look much like an orb to me…

Nine of these ‘orbs’ have been found in Bajoran history, but eight have been stolen by the Cardassians. Kai Opaka fears that the Cardassians will seek out the Celestial Temple, the home of the Prophets, in order to control their power. She cannot help him to unite Bajor, she tells him, until the prophets have been warned of this danger. She gives him the orb, and he returns with it to DS9, where he sets Jadzia the task of finding the Celestial Temple. She, too, has a vision, of her joining with the Dax symbiont.

Dax discovers a pattern which suggests the Celestial Temple might be located nearby, and when they approach its approximate location, they are pulled through a wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. On returning through the wormhole, though, their runabout slows and seems to land inside the wormhole. Shortly thereafter, Jadzia is sent from the wormhole toward DS9, while Sisko remains trapped inside. Recognizing the value of a stable wormhole, Kira orders DS9 moved closer to it.

Inside the wormhole, Sisko is shown scenes from his memories, but the other people in his memories talk to him. He realizes that these are aliens that live inside the wormhole: Bajor’s Prophets. It becomes clear that the aliens are not corporeal and do not experience time in a linear fashion, and they are concerned that Sisko means to destroy them. Sisko spends a while trying to convince them otherwise and  to explain the meaning of a linear existence, and in the process realizes that his existence isn’t quite as linear as he believed: that he has never really left the time when his wife died.

Ultimately, Sisko succeeds in convincing the aliens to allow passage through the wormhole, and returns to DS9, resolved to command the station, rather than return to Earth, as he had been considering.

Whew! Enough plot summary. Condensing a ninety minute story to a few paragraphs forced me to leave out quite a few things, but c’est la vie. Sisko’s conversation with the Prophets in particular merits some further consideration, and I intend to write more on that subject at a later date. For now, though, this post is shaping up to be quite long enough.

In this first episode, we see relationships between the characters that will continue to develop as the series goes on. At this juncture, Kira does not entirely trust or like the Federation, and her relationship with Sisko is strained; this will be revisited in the next episode.

The story, as is so common with introductions, feels slightly insufficient to fill ninety minutes–much time spent introducing the characters and situations, and not enough left for a really engaging story. However, I do like the time spent looking at the characters, so I don’t count this as too great a fault, and in any case I’m perfectly willing to be forgiving of this fault; there are precious few television shows that avoid this without committing some other, and often greater, sin.

It’s a forgone conclusion that I like these characters and believe that the series has promise–DS9 ended thirteen years ago, and I’ve seen all these before, but it’s still worth noting that in my opinion this episode serves as a good introduction to the series. It’s a pretty good mix of on-station and off-station action, we get to see most of the principal cast, if in little depth, and get a feel for the forces that will shape the first couple of seasons.

Following this episode, we may expect a series of episodes that offer us a chance to get better acquainted with the characters. Things won’t get too serious for a while yet, so for now we can just settle back and enjoy the standalone stories to come.

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Posted by Tracy Poff on August 31, 2011

Brett is working as an English teacher in Vanuatu when the news comes of the plague in America. His Bislama isn’t so good, but the word is that in America, people are eating one another.

Passage” by Lavie Tidhar is a slice of life, with a (distant, unseen) zombie plague. At a little over a thousand words, there’s not much time for plot or development–we just see a series of glimpses into Brett’s life as he deals with his changing situation.

It’s a little unsatisfying, but the message is clear: even with a zombie apocalypse in America, life goes on. After all, what can you do?

Posted in Capsule Review, Short Story | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Stay Out of the Basement

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 20, 2011

Margaret’s father is a botanist, and until recently, he worked at PolyTech in California. Margaret isn’t sure why, but he was fired, and now he spends all his time in the basement, working on his plants. Margaret’s friend Diane says he’s a mad scientist, but those only exist in movies… right?

The second book in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, Stay Out of the Basement has a bit of a science fiction feel to it. When Margaret Brewer and her brother Casey sneak down into the basement, they see plants everywhere, and a machine that looks like phone booth, with wires everywhere, attached to another similar device. As their father later explains, he’s been trying to integrate animal DNA into plants.

Does this device make anyone else think of The Fly? Any good scifi fan would know how dangerous this setup is. It’s a pity Dr. Brewer isn’t so well-informed. Margaret notices her father beginning to exhibit some unusual behavior, and when his baseball cap is knocked off, see that he has leaves growing out of his head. He claims that it’s harmless, merely a side effect of his work, but Margaret isn’t so sure.

In some ways, this is superior to Welcome to Dead House. There’s much more constant suspense in this book, and the scifi elements are fun. It might not occur to kids, but the book raises some interesting ethical questions, too. If we can create plants that are nearly indistinguishable from humans, including how they speak and act (except for some minor quirks, like eating plant food), then can we really just treat them as plants? Dr. Brewer thinks so, and destroys the semi-human plants apparently without any concern. I’m not so sure.

Like Welcome to Dead House, the protagonists in Stay Out of the Basement are a twelve year old girl and her eleven year old brother, although the story is told in the third person rather than the first person this time. It’s limited to Margaret, though, so I’ll call this one another children’s book with a female protagonist. I wonder how common this was in the Goosebumps series. The Girl Who Cried Monster also has a female protagonist, as, I think, do One Day at Horrorland and The Ghost Next Door. I’ll tally them up at the end of my review series.

Stay Out of the Basement spends quite a bit of time focusing on the characters’ emotions, which I think is fantastic. We see how Margaret’s mother is saddened by her husband’s recent inattention, how Casey is concerned about why their father would lose his job, and, more importantly, how Margaret comes to be frightened of her father, as the book progresses. At last, when her father is advancing on her with an axe, and she is desperately clinging to the hope that he’s not a monster, all this really pays off.

The resolution of that scene is a little facile, but it might have been seen as too much for kids, to leave them wondering if Margaret has killed her father. The final scene, with a small, yellow flower claiming that it is Margaret’s real father, and begging her to help it, is odd. I guess that maybe it’s supposed to be funny, but for me, it just raises the same ethical questions I mentioned before. If that flower really believes that it is Margaret’s father, then what a horrible fate it’s been condemned to. I think it’s safe to assume that the flower isn’t really her father, but as far as the poor flower is concerned, it’s (he’s) narrowly escaped being killed and having his corpse burned while his daughter watches. Much more horrifying than what was intended, I guess.

I think that, overall, Welcome to Dead House was the better book, but Stay Out of the Basement is a solid entry in the Goosebumps series. It’s also available on the Kindle, as Classic Goosebumps #22, so if you’re looking for a fun, quick read for kids, you might consider picking up a copy.

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Posted by Tracy Poff on July 15, 2011

Zardoz is a very odd film. Amazon’s description claims it’s ‘complex’ and ‘cerebral’, but I think the main points of the movie that will stick with anyone are:

  1. Sean Connery in a wedding dress.
  2. Lots of pointless nudity.
  3. Sean Connery in a wedding dress?
  4. “The gun is good. The penis is evil.”

Okay, I may have been a little overly dramatic about that last one. You’ll also remember Sean Connery in a red leather thong.

Well, I’m making it seem like a bad movie (spoiler: it is a bad movie!), but that’s only because it is a bad movie (the spoiler is safe to read now).

To be fair, not everything about it is terrible. The idea that in a society of immortals, boredom would be a major threat is, if not precisely novel, at least reasonable. The role Zed is to play in things is a pretty nice twist. Actually, all of the ideas and plot of the movie are at least serviceable, and in another movie could be pretty good. It’s the execution that ruins it.

The movie suffers from poor acting, underdeveloped plot lines, and, in my opinion, a rather disjointed feel. It’s all very odd. The part that holds the most promise (again, in my opinion) is the examination of the ‘utopian’ society, but it’s just not shown in enough depth to make this a particularly thought-provoking movie. We’re shown little pieces of it, and we’re told a bit more, but ultimately the film doesn’t investigate the really interesting questions–it’s like Boorman (who both directed the film and wrote the screenplay) had a bunch of ideas for scifi films, and decided to stuff them together, with shallow treatments all around.

Why are they all waving their arms? They have magic psychic powers. Don't expect much examination of this.

Besides the sometimes-inscrutable plot lines, the film is full of cheesy scenes, like the aforementioned one containing Sean Connery in a wedding dress. Some of them are certainly intended to serve the plot, but fail–the scene where everyone is voting on Zed’s fate is clearly meant to show that over the years they’ve come to be able to communicate without words, but it just comes across as a bunch of people wiggling and grimacing. It’s weird.

The movie ends with two skeletons holding hands. Spectacular.

Zardoz is probably worth seeing once, if only to see how bizarre it is. If it doesn’t scar you for life, you may just get something out of it, too.

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