Posts Tagged ‘star trek’

25 Days of TNG, Day 1: An Introduction


I was exposed to Star Trek a lot as a child. It was something my father was into, and being a kid, I wanted to like the same cool stuff as my dad. So I got into wrestling, and The A-Team, and Knight Rider, and this old TV show that seemed to be on Channel 6 a lot called Star Trek. In it, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock traveled the galaxy, learning about stuff and getting into fights in their giant spaceship. It was cool, and even if it made me a bit of an outcast at school, so what? I still liked it.

And then, in 1987, my dad came home with the VHS tape of Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home, which we’d seen in theaters the previous fall. Attached to the beginning was a trailer for a new version of the show called Star Trek: the Next Generation.

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How Bad Technobabble Hurt A Good Episode: “Our Man Bashir”


For the past few months, I’ve been doing a re-watch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I missed a lot of episodes (maybe 40 percent) while it was in first-run, and I’ve never seen it in syndication, so I figured… why not? It’s on Netflix; might as well make good use of my $7.99 monthly fee.

Last night, I watched “Our Man Bashir”, and I was reminded just how flimsy the “malfunctioning transporter/holodeck” plot can be.

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My Problem With Graphic Novels (Part 2 of 2)


The following is part two of a two-part piece on graphic novels. It contains spoilers for several graphic novel series… serieses… whatever. The most recent one is Buffy Season 8, but many older ones are included as well. Read at your own risk.

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Death reflects upon the death of Dream. Click to enlarge.

Now, let’s move on from action to emotional turmoil. While I will say that many artists are more than capable of giving us a character’s full emotional range via posture and facial expression, somehow I just don’t get the same emotional impact when I read it in a graphic novel as when I see it on TV or read it in a book. In fact, the only time I was truly moved by something I read in a graphic novel was in The Wake, the tenth and final collection of the original Vertigo run of Sandman. In it*, we hear Dream’s siblings pay tribute to him. Perhaps because I’ve always loved Death**, when she talked about Dream I actually was brought nearly to tears.

Compare that to other graphic novels I’ve read:

  • V for Vendetta — I wasn’t really moved by Valerie’s story. Maybe because I’d already seen it done in the film (which I saw first). But I know I was supposed to be touched by it, and even now when I see certain things on TV or read them in books I’m again touched by them. It just didn’t compute.
  • Watchmen — There’s a lot of sadness and betrayal in these books, and I think I was really supposed to feel for Dr. Manhattan when he retreats to Mars to figure out things between himself and Laurie. Didn’t happen.
  • Star Trek TNG: The Worst of Both Worlds — I’ll admit that I read this when I was young and stupid, but I totally missed out on all the painful subplots between Data and Geordi, and all the stuff that went on with O’Brien.
  • Star Trek: Mirror Universe — Published just after Star Trek III was released, these books are an alternate to the whole thing with the whales. I will say that I enjoyed the action sequences, and definitely felt the moment of triumph as Kirk takes the Excelsior from Styles, but the scene where Kirk reunites with Mirror-David just didn’t resonate.

That whole sequence is leading me up to what I really wanted to talk about, and here’s where the spoilers come in.

The death of Giles. (Click to enlarge.)

In issue 39 of Buffy Season 8, Angel kills Giles.

I remember reading about this — perhaps on IO9; I checked their archives but couldn’t find the original article — and I believe I saw some things about how unceremoniously it was done. Now, I know that Whedon is all about the killing of characters with no warning, but there’s a big difference between “I am a leaf on the wind” and Anya getting chopped in half and left for dead. I’m not saying that I disagree with the writing choice, or with Whedon for killing the character, but I have issue with the way it was done.

I already rewrote one of the scenes from Season 8 in text, and I’m not going to rewrite this one too, but let’s imagine if this had happened on screen. In fact, let’s contrast it with another famous Buffy death: Tara’s. With Tara’s death, we had reaction, we had plot movement (Willow becomes Dark Willow), we had a moment for them to be together, one last time. Very visual and visceral, very much a film thing. In the comic, Angel — possessed by the villain/universe spirit called Twilight — simply kills Giles. Now, right afterward, Buffy does kick him through a wall or something, but I just didn’t get the same emotional impact as I have with other big deaths — Data in Nemesis, Dax in Deep Space Nine, George in Grey’s Anatomy, Bobby in Supernatural***. To me it just didn’t seem real.

Some of that might come from what’s been hammered into my head about canon vs non-canon for so long: for years, stuff in comics and books hasn’t really been considered canon when held up alongside television or film properties. Star Trek specifically comes to mind. But Season 8 is canon, and this particular series of issues was written by Joss Whedon — the equivalent of Shonda Rhimes penning a 300-page Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice novel and releasing it in the summer between seasons. When Giles died, it counted.

But in my head, it wasn’t the same.

Lest you think I’m only about the Vampire Slayers****, I also recently read the first volume of Kick-Ass. Comparing the death scenes of Big Daddy in film and comic form, I have to side with the film yet again.

Now, let me say this: I have been moved by things happening in comics, but only in one medium. That medium is webcomics. Could it be because I only knew the characters in that format? Could I be so thrilled that Ozy’s dad and Millie’s mom finally got together because I’d spent years with these characters? Could I be so devastated by Faye’s death in Something Positive that even rereading the “Just Today” strips still makes me cry because, for years before, I’d gotten to know them as comic characters?

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t really know.

But I do know this: I have a problem with graphic novels. Especially ones that are alongside other forms of media, as tie-ins or sequels, but even if there isn’t a tie-in (when I first read Watchmen, the film wasn’t even in production) a lot of the emotional nuance still misses me completely. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to use my imagination as much (since there’s visual art to compensate for that). Maybe it’s because I expect to see the characters in a different light and it just doesn’t seem real to me when I experience them in graphic novel form. Or, hell, maybe I’m just one of those people who doesn’t get the same satisfaction out of comics that I do out of video, audio, or straight-up textual media.

This doesn't even come CLOSE to what I imagined when I read the novelization of Superman's death.

I’m not saying “don’t read comics”; I think they have a lot to offer. But for someone like me, someone for whom the words are the most important thing, I’d rather skip them and wait until they’re novelized. I got so much more out of The Death and Life of Superman when it was novelized by Roger Stern than I ever would have out of reading it in serialized issue format, or even as a graphic novel. Comics just don’t engage my brain enough, because they give me too much information. They show me the pictures, instead of letting me create them myself.

And, really, that’s what I want.

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* I haven’t read this one in a while, so I’m going on memory. Forgive my lapses.

** She sits on my desk. She’s always the last to be packed up and the first to be set out whenever I get a new job. Here she is.

*** As awesome as Bobby’s final word was — “Idjits!” — do we have to see it in every single “Then” segment before the show starts? Talk about over-trading on your emotional moments…

**** Okay, okay, I’ve been on a Buffy kick lately, I admit it. But it’s like a person who’s never bothered to try pork suddenly discovering the existence of bacon — even six months later, you’re still ecstatic over the awesomeness of its every aspect. Yeah, that’s right, I just compared Buffy the Vampire Slayer to bacon. Deal with it.

My Problem With Graphic Novels (Part 1 of 2)


The following is part one of a two-part piece on graphic novels. It contains spoilers for several graphic novel series… serieses… whatever. The most recent one is Buffy Season 8, but many older ones are included as well. Read at your own risk.

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The cover for the Star Trek: Mirror Universe graphic novel.

I have a problem with graphic novels.

When I was a kid, I read a lot of comics — some superhero stuff, some Archie stuff, whatever looked cool at the comic shop, and of course a bit of Star Trek because, you know, it’s me. Later, as comics started to cost more and more*, I got out of the habit of reading them. I’d pick up an occasional collection, such as the Star Trek Mirror Universe saga, or I’d get a multi-issue run such as “The Worst of Both Worlds”, but for the most part… no more comics for me. I was too busy spending my pocket money on books.

I preferred books. Books were $6 (for a mass-market paperback), and they had hundreds of pages, and if there were no pictures… well… that was fine with me, because I could use my imagination. I could fill in the visual blanks using cover images and my own experiences**. And books took longer to read, too — a 350-page novel would last me a week or two, whereas a 32-page comic book took all of fifteen minutes to read.

Now, a lot of my friends who are comic readers say it’s not just about the story. They tell me the art is important. And yeah, they’re right, the art is important. But not to me.

Let me explain.

I'm specifically referring to the top-right panel. (Click to enlarge.)

When I read a graphic novel, I rarely notice the nuances of the artwork. I’m far more interested in reading the story and finding out what happens next. Often that does happen via artwork, especially in sequences void of dialogue or narration. But for the most part, there’s text. As a short-story/novella writer, what I care about is the storyline. While I totally appreciate great artwork, if it’s just there as a reaction shot, I’m less appreciative.

Let’s take a panel from “Twilight, Part 1”***, issue 32 of Buffy Season 8, written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens, and Michelle Madsen****. Specifically, the panel that references the iconic scene in Superman where Lois says “You’ve got me? But who’s got you?” At this point in the story, Buffy has gained superpowers and she and Xander are trying to figure out just how powerful she is. At the bottom of a cliff in Tibet, Buffy throws Xander into the air as he calls back to that line, then zips to the top of the cliff to catch him. The panel itself depicts the cliff, a temple at the top where Oz lives, and Xander in the sky with “YOOOOOOoooooooooou?!” breaking vertically out of his word bubble.

Yeah. Really.

Maybe that sort of thing works for some people, but for me it was just silly. For me, I might have better appreciated something like this:

Without warning, Xander jumped into Buffy’s arms. He recognized the mischievous look in her eye and, honestly, it worried him a little bit.

More than a little bit.

“What are you doing?” she asked him, smiling.

Xander didn’t really like the smile — he had a sinking feeling she was going to do something Slayer-like. But he’d committed to the part, and he had to say the line now. “You’ve got me?” he quoted. “Then who’s got you–!”

The last word was a howl as Buffy flung him into the air. He watched the cliff go past, then Oz’s temple — was someone waving at him? — then the treetops, and then he was more stories up than he’d care to count.

As his ascent slowed, something from Geometry class popped into the back of Xander’s mind. Something about parabolas.

He stopped rising.

He started falling.

Well, he thought, at this point, screaming will do me absolutely no good.

He screamed anyway.

The ground was looking awfully close.

And so was Buffy. Who caught him easily in her arms, bounced a little, and smiled. “Hat trick,” she said.

Now, to me that’s got far more impact than actually seeing it happen on the page. Maybe if Season 8 had been televised, and they’d done this on screen, I would’ve appreciated the visual impact, but to my mind action sequences really don’t work in comic form. Plus they have all those Adam West-era Batman sound effects. Like my personal favorite, KPOK!, which some Klingon somewhere will someday read and be pretty ticked off about the misuse of his name.

Admittedly, writing action sequences can be tough; I’ve struggled with fight scenes from time to time — I recently wrote one about two martial artists trying to see who’s better, and I inevitably found myself getting sucked into the witty dialogue at the expense of the ass-kicking — but they can be done well. In Laurell K. Hamilton’s latest Anita novel, Hit List (click the link for my review), I mentioned that the action sequences were well-written and well-paced. Sean McMullen pulls it off admirably in the battle sequences in his Moonworlds saga. And of course we’ve heard it on the various Escape Artists casts — anyone remember the squid combat of Ferrett Steinmetz’s “As Below, So Above”? But when you’re writing an action sequence, you only have to concentrate on transcribing what you see in your mind. When you’re writing the action sequence in a graphic novel (or comic), you have to pick specific points in the action to depict.

I don’t want to see specific points. I want to see the whole thing. And, for me, comics just can’t pull it off.

A battle between the Rebels and the Death Star. Even in 1977, it looked better on film.

Plus, action sequences in comics are sometimes… well… boring. Who needs to see two or three pages of your main characters fighting each other? There’s no story there. There’s no real advancement of the plot. Maybe there’s some “scuffling for the superweapon-of-doom” that you might also see on TV when the good guy kicks the bad guy’s gun away but then has to get to it in order to kill the bad guy… but otherwise, to me it’s just meh. If I’m watching a fight scene on TV or in a movie, it’s maybe two minutes of moves before the plot moves along and someone wins. Occasionally it goes longer — especially if it’s a Boss Fight, or we’re seeing a space battle. But jeez… compared to the video version of a space battle, even if you’re only watching it on a four-inch phone screen, a comic just can’t stand up to that kind of action. You can just do so much more.

I realize it’s a limitation of the medium, one that the artists and writers work valiantly to overcome, but really… there’s a lot more to Kirk blasting the Reliant than a bright orange line and the words ZZZZZAP!!! in bold, colorful letters somewhere on the panel.

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In the second part of this article, I will move from action sequences and general discussion about art to the way comics make me feel… or don’t.

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* I picked up some older comics to read on my iPad, and all the covers say $2.99. That’s for a 32-page book. My friend Chrome, who reads a lot more comics than I do, says prices these days are still the same, but that some books go up to $4.99. Too rich for my blood.

** Someone remind me later to write an article about how we perceive fictional characters we’ve never seen before. I’m on a roll right now and can’t stop to make notes.

*** The episode is rather-cleverly subtitled “Buffy Has F#©$ing Superpowers”. It’s one of the best issues in the entire run of the comic.

**** Letterers: Richard Starkings and Albert Deschesne. Never let it be said that I don’t credit everyone.

Book Review: “11/22/63” by Stephen King


I think most people can agree that the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 was a watershed event in human history. It led to Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and possibly a prolonged Cold War*. Had he not been shot in Dallas on that day, perhaps Vietnam might not have happened, or at least been smaller in scope. Perhaps the Civil Rights movement might have unfolded differently. Perhaps the Cold War would’ve escalated into a full-blown nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

There’s really no way to know what would’ve happened, other than via alternate historical fiction. Which is exactly what Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, is all about.

11/22/63 takes place in both 2011 and the late 50s/early 60s. In 2011, high school English teacher (and all-around tall dude) Jake Epping is contacted by his friend, diner owner Al Templeton. Al knows he’s in the end stages of cancer, but he doesn’t want to die before showing Jake the secret of his diner: a rabbit hole in his stockroom that leads to September 9, 1958. Jake takes a quick trip, enjoys a root beer, and then returns to Al’s diner. Only two minutes have passed in the real world — only two minutes ever pass in the real world, no matter how long someone stays down the rabbit hole.

That’s when Al drops the bomb on him: for the past four years, he’s been living in the hole, trying to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. He’s amassed a notebook full of research, one that he can no longer use because he knows he has very little time left. So Al implores Jake to take on the mission.

Jake, meanwhile, has plans of his own for the rabbit hole. On October 31, 1958, the father of one of his adult education students back in 2011 murdered an entire family, and Jake wants to set it right. That’s when he learns that the past is obdurate — it doesn’t want to be changed. It’ll throw up obstacles to try and stop anyone who does. And if it’s this hard to save one family — a minor part of the tapestry of history — how hard is it going to be to save the leader of the free world five years later?

In general, I’ve enjoyed what Stephen King novels I’ve read, with the exception of The Regulators and Desperation, which I think I may have been too young (at the time) to get the full experience out of. King has written the only book I’m too scared to read again — The Sun Dog, about a Polaroid camera that takes photos of a dog about to attack, and nothing else — and, clearly, he knows his craft well enough to keep putting out bestsellers that are later adapted into TV shows and films. I did enjoy 11/22/63, despite its slow start; clearly the novel was exhaustively researched, and although it does have the requisite Maine scenes, there are a lot of other set-pieces across the eastern half of the U.S. as well. In the past, Jake travels to two towns in Maine, along the eastern seaboard, southwest Florida, and finally to Texas where Oswald is going to shoot Kennedy.

But the book isn’t just about that. Even if Jake does have a mission which will end on November 22, 1963, when he — he hopes — stops Oswald from committing murder, he can’t spend the entire intervening time just doing nothing. I mean, I get bored on a Sunday afternoon if there’s no football on TV, and that’s in 2011 when there’s plenty of other things to do. Eventually, after setting right some wrongs, Jake settles in a small town in Texas — the first truly-friendly place he’s found since coming to the past — and takes up his old mantle as an English teacher.

That, I think, is where the story starts to get good. It more-or-less ceases to be about Oswald and starts being about Jake, and how he conducts his life in the past. And what he learns is that, be it 1961 or 2011, life still goes on. People go to school, go to work, and fall in love, just like in his own time.

On Star Trek, time travel is often used to right a wrong or fix a mistake, or even just to do research into the past. The thing about Star Trek is that, at the end of the episode (or movie), everything wraps up in a neat little bow. Lieutenant Christopher is returned to his fighter jet, the whales save earth, Captain Sisko isn’t killed in an engineering accident, and Harry doesn’t miscalculate and kill the entire Voyager crew. 11/22/63 shows us that that’s not exactly the case — which, I suppose, is what happens with a lot of alternate history and time travel fiction. King reminds us often that the past does not want to be changed, and it will fight any way it can.

And it fights Jake pretty hard, even going so far as to exact revenge upon him for what he does.

I found 11/22/63 to be somewhat of a departure from the King fiction I’ve read in the past — there are no monsters, no supernatural forces, no blood-showers at prom**. Just a rabbit hole in the stock-room of a diner that, when you walk through it, takes you to September 9, 1958 and allows you to change history. The rest of the novel is almost pure historical fiction — a man of today experiencing the past first-hand. It speaks to King’s exhaustive research on the subject, as well as his storytelling skill, that someone like me (whose favorite era of American history is 1875-1930) can pick it up and become immersed in it almost immediately — it’s believable, relatable, and damn interesting.

According to Wikipedia, 11/22/63 was released at the beginning of November 2011 and quickly became a bestseller. I can certainly see why. It’s a doorstop all right, but it’s a doorstop you won’t want to put down. I definitely recommend it.

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Note to Parents: This is a Stephen King novel. It contains explicit sex and explicit violence, as well as adult language. I don’t think the sex is anything today’s older teens can’t handle, but as for the violence… just remember that King has been doing this for a long time and, unlike in an R-rated film with a fight sequence, King is fond of taking away all hope a character has of escaping unscathed… and then having someone beat the crap out of him. Keep that in mind. Of course, you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children.

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* I wasn’t a history major, but according to the book, JFK was trying to end the Cold War.

** That’s what happens in Carrie, right? I’ve never read it, or seen the film. Sorry.

“The Gift” of Choice… Unless You’re a Borg


When Star Trek: Voyager first aired in Orlando, where I was living during most of its run, it was on the local UPN affiliate, which also was the flagship television station for the Orlando Magic. As a result, I missed a lot of episodes, especially starting in 1996 (season three). Now, thanks to Netflix, I’m catching up on them, watching one or two a night before I go to bed.

I’ve just gotten to Season Four, which is when Seven of Nine joins the crew. And, at the time of this writing, I’ve just watched “The Gift”, episode two of that season and Jennifer Lien’s final appearance as a series regular. (She played Kes, in case the name is unfamiliar.)

I remember seeing “The Gift” in 1997 and thinking, “wow, that was a pretty decent episode. Janeway stuck to her guns and saved this woman from life as a Borg, who had brainwashed her into thinking she belonged with them. I can totally draw parallels to other fiction I have read/seen/enjoyed.”

Yeah. Fourteen years later, not so much.

To recap, “The Gift” begins shortly after Voyager and the Borg work together to defeat Species 8472, who are so powerful and so alien that even the Borg cannot assimilate them. At the end of the previous episode, the Borg liaison, Seven of Nine, attempted to assimilate the ship and crew, but was stopped thanks to a little foresight on the part of Janeway and company. They disconnected her from the Borg and planned to rehabilitate her as a human.

Seven of Nine, still a Borg.

The problem is this: Seven doesn’t want to be human. She wants to be a Borg. It’s all she’s ever known.

My 1997 self watched Janeway try to break through Seven’s shell and convince her that the Borg had damaged her, taken her away from her humanity and turned her into something she should never have been. I thought it was a noble effort, and at the end, during the “let’s show off the sexy new crewmember” scene, I figured that Janeway had broken through to Seven and convinced her she should be a human now.

And everyone goes home happy.

But my 2011 self doesn’t see it that way.

Throughout the entire episode, Seven made it very clear that she was a Borg, that she wanted to remain a Borg, and that she wanted to be returned to her people — the Borg, not humanity.

Janeway pretty much ignored that at every turn.

In Act One, when Seven is woken up to be told that her human immune systems are going to make her body reject her Borg implants, she tells Janeway she wants a subspace transceiver (probably something they can replicate quickly) and to be left on a habitable planet to await pickup by her people. Janeway, despite Seven’s loud and very clear protestations, says no.

Act Two is mostly about Kes’s growing telepathic abilities*, but is notable for Janeway saying that she believes Seven isn’t capable of making rational decisions for herself, so as ship’s captain Janeway is going to do it. Very alarming, and the expression on Janeway’s face echoes some of the expressions I’ve seen on television talking heads claiming that they want to remove choice to protect a group they don’t think can protect themselves. Case in point: the “opt-in to see adult websites” list coming soon to the U.K.. I was quite disturbed at this whole exchange, and the fact that the Doctor — a technological being himself, albeit one who Janeway continues to fight for the existence of — didn’t say anything. I could tell from his face that he wanted to, and Robert Picardo played the scene wonderfully.

Seven regards her newly-human parts.

In Act Three, Seven wakes up from surgery to find that she’s becoming more human, and that the Doctor has performed medical procedures to make sure this doesn’t kill her. She argues with Janeway, who again disregards Seven’s desire to remain a Borg and to return to her people, and then agrees to help Voyager remove some of the Borg technology she installed because… well… she’s stuck here.

But then she sees a subspace transceiver in a Jefferies Tube and makes an attempt to escape what, to her, is an untenable situation. She doesn’t try to destroy the ship; she doesn’t try to assimilate anyone. All she does is try to signal her people so they can rescue her from captivity — and how many episodes of Voyager did that happen in over the past three years? Kes’s new telepathic abilities assist the crew in stopping Seven, and the Borg is sent to the brig.

Act Four, however, is the worst of it. Seven is now in the brig, and Janeway tells her she’s met other Borg who were de-assimilated, and they all came to accept their new situation. She does make reference to the fact that Seven was assimilated while still a child, so she doesn’t have as many memories of being a human. Seven considers Janeway’s argument and, once again, says she would rather remain a Borg, that she doesn’t wish to become human, and that Janeway herself is removing from Seven the fundamental right of choosing her own destiny.

In Act Five, one really hopes that Janeway gets the idea. Seven — a Borg, a member of a species who isn’t supposed to show emotion, who is programmed not to show emotion — actually breaks down in tears and expresses her distaste at being forced to live as an individual, without the voices of the collective. Now, remember, only a few episodes ago Chakotay worked with some ex-Borg who formed their own collective and used it to serve the greater good — including saving his life. He knows what it feels like to be part of a group like that, and how beneficial it can be. But even he doesn’t stand up to Janeway and make her at least consider that she’s making a mistake. No, all that happens is we set up this series’s Picard/Data dynamic: Janeway tutoring Seven in humanity, the source of many, many heavy-handed episodes to come.

Seven, as human as she gets.Finally, in Act Six, as I said earlier, we end up seeing that Seven has come to terms with being a human. So, in the end, Janeway’s actions — which today I see at the very least as being misguided and at worst reprehensible (I believe all people should have a choice, as long as they harm no one else in making that choice) — turn out to be “right”. I did feel like another scene, where Seven maybe decompresses with the Doctor while getting her new eye put in or something, would’ve been very helpful in bridging the gap from tearful Borg to stoic-and-somewhat-willing human. Oh well. Janeway gets away with it again, and we warp on home.

It’s amazing just how much 14 years can change a person’s impression of a piece of art. What was a noble gesture in 1997 is now something to be viewed with suspicion, and it’s going to color every interaction Janeway has with Seven over the rest of the series. I realize that, over time, Seven comes to accept her humanity, and I realize that the chord being struck was supposed to be “kidnapped child is raised by the ‘evil’ parents, comes to love them, and is returned to her ‘real’ parents but doesn’t want to go because she loves the ‘evil’ ones”. It’s just… Seven wasn’t a child when she was turned back into a human. She was in her twenties. She had the ability to make the choice for herself.

She chose Borg. Janeway took her choice away. Not an action worthy of Star Trek, I should think.

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* I was also not very impressed with the way Kes suddenly jumped in power from “some telepathic stuff” to “uber-telepathic being”. That should’ve been handled more smoothly, and over a somewhat-longer arc. As with the Seven storyline, it felt like there was a big jump in the middle. And Jennifer Lien’s 80s hair did not help matters much — she was much more believable with the short hair than the feathered ‘do.

Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 9 of 10: Deathly Hallows 2


This is the ninth article in a ten-part retrospective of the Harry Potter soundtracks. You may wish to refer to the previous entries in the series for more information.

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Given that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a direct continuation of the seventh film, and given that it was orchestrated by the same composer, Alexandre Desplat, as its predecessor, and given that we jump right into the story after only a few minutes of info-dump, I figure I can skip all the explanations about who the composer is and what I thought of his previous works both in and out of the Potterverse.

So, here we go.

Deathly Hallows 2 is the only Potter film I’ve not seen multiple times, and that’s only because I have no desire to buy another ticket. Therefore, my memory of exactly what occurs when may be slightly off. But I am certain that the opening track, “Lily’s Theme”, as well as the one just after it, “The Tunnel”, both contain the two main musical phrases heard throughout the soundtrack. The former is the sad/reflective music for the film, and the latter is the tense music. In fact, I thought that Desplat really kept the music for this film quite simple in terms of its thematic elements; the same cues are repeated throughout, even more so than in the first soundtrack. In some ways, that could be considered a detriment to the soundtrack, but on the other hand, having constant themes throughout helps tie the film together and doesn’t make a viewer have to think about what the music is supposed to mean*

If I have a problem with Desplat’s use of consistent themes in the soundtrack, it’s that the themes only slightly tied together with those from the previous. If viewers are supposed to consider the two films a single, four-and-a-half-hour piece of cinematic art, why wouldn’t the themes be more unified. Contrast it with Star Trek II and Star Trek III, with both soundtracks composed by James Horner. II’s main cue, heard during the opening credits, contained sections that became the main cue for III. Moving from DH1 to DH2, the only real cue I recognized off the bat was the quick violin bed used under much of the rest of the soundtrack and first heard in DH1’s “Snape to Malfoy Manor”.

Other notable cuts from this soundtrack include:

  • “Dragon Flight” — Desplat mixes “Hedwig’s Theme” with “Lily’s Theme” in a nice way here, fading down toward the end after the Golden Trio jumped off the dragon.
  • “Neville” — This track gives us insight into the importance of Neville throughout the film. Because of the way the books had to be cut down, we really missed out on some of Neville’s moments throughout the film series, but Desplat reuses portions of “Ministry of Magic” and “Polyjuice Potion” from the previous film to great effect, giving Neville his own theme that returns in his three major scenes.
  • “In the Chamber of Secrets” — Again Desplat reworks “Hedwig’s Theme”, and appropriately, since we’re in a place from early on in the series. Once the tempo picks up, I kind of lose interest because it gets too wild and annoying, but the parts before that are good.
  • “Neville the Hero” — You see it happening in your mind’s eye as you listen. No composer can ask for anything more. Plus, for a film that hasn’t had a whole lot of happy moments, Desplat pulls out a good triumphant theme.

This soundtrack is more about cycles than themes, though — I counted at least three of them. I approve of that style of orchestration — giving the major climactic sequence of the film its own series of specific themes and cues (all of them at least somewhat derivative of the other themes already established in the movie). The first is the Battle Cycle, which begins in “Statues”, using that track and “The Grey Lady” to set themes that are heard again in “Battlefield”, “Courtyard Apocalypse” (one of my favorites on the album), and “Showdown” (which brings in the cues established early in the film before hitting the Battle Cycle themes). It ends with, rather appropriately, “Voldemort’s End”, which, musically, you can kind of tell just by listening to that the hero is about to triumph before it actually happens. If anything, I think the actual death scene was kind of weak, and the composer didn’t have a lot of time or a lot of commensurate action on the screen to really give us the kind of death music Vodlemort deserved.

Another highly-anticipated series of scenes has music that I’m calling the Snape Cycle. It begins with “A New Headmaster” — not really a great track per se, but I did like the way he used “Hedwig’s Theme” and some orchestral stylings vaguely reminiscent of the first couple of films to remind us how we felt when we first saw Hogwarts and help to underscore how we feel now, seeing Snape in charge**. We’re reintroduced to it with “Snape’s Demise”, and Snape himself gets “Hedwig’s Theme” as well as “Lily’s Theme” — Desplat tries to foreshadow what’s coming using music, because it certainly wasn’t foreshadowed in any of the earlier films. Then we get “Severus and Lily”, which probably could’ve been called “Snape’s Redemption (for everyone who didn’t figure it out already)”. It’s this film’s “The Deathly Hallows”.

Finally, there’s the Harry Cycle — “Harry’s Sacrifice”, “The Resurrection Stone”, and “Harry Surrenders”. These are a little more juvenile-sounding — it’s the bells — but the underlying bass notes let you know that something really bad is about to happen***. There’s also an annoying chorus. Nothing against choral singers, but again… overused. “Harry Surrenders” is a little more like the Battle Cycle, but it fits.

If the soundtrack failed anywhere for me, it’s with the final track, “A New Beginning”. It was too light, too airy, and not nearly moody enough to really capture the end of an era. I’m extremely disappointed that we didn’t get something like this at the end of the film.

Desplat still uses the “additional instrument playing a fugue or series of accents over the rest of the orchestra” technique that I wasn’t so much a fan of last time around, but I was expecting it this time, and I figured it was worth overlooking because… let’s be honest… this is my second-favorite of the Potter soundtracks after Goblet of Fire. I mean, it’s a big job to be told “your music is going to be associated with the end of what is possibly the biggest film franchise of the past two decades.” The composer pulled out all the stops and gave us an excellent soundtrack which included consistent themes, callbacks to previous soundtracks, and an intriguing use of cycles to move the listener from place to place in the film, making sure that the right mood is kept even if scenes aren’t adjacent.

This soundtrack was most definitely a fitting end to the Harry Potter film series. And it’s absolutely worth listening to again. I’ll definitely be keeping my ears open when I see the film next time.

#

* Which isn’t to say that I didn’t notice the music throughout, because I did. But then, I do that sort of thing.

** Okay, seriously? At this point, how could anyone possibly still think Snape was the bad guy? Show of hands?

*** And, again, why didn’t Rowling just kill Harry? Imagine how much more powerful that would’ve been! Why the whole King’s Cross BS? WHY?

*Ahem.* I’m better now.

Book Review: “Blind Man’s Bluff” by Peter David


Warning: This review contains spoilers for previous New Frontier novels, most notably Treason.

Many a young Star Trek fan has imagined what it would be like to create a new ship and crew and take them on adventures around the galaxy. Many of those young fans make a start, and then give up when they realize that (a) carving out a chunk of a universe with established rules can be kind of difficult and (b) they’ll never sell their idea to CBS/Paramount/Simon & Schuster.

And then there’s novelist and comic-book author Peter David, who brought us Star Trek: New Frontier, carving out a chunk of a universe with established rules and selling the idea to his editors.

For fourteen years, David has been sharing with us the adventures of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the U.S.S. Excalibur — his unorthodox style, his unorthodox crew, his unorthodox worldview. In fact, if New Frontier had a single word to describe it, that word would be… well… unorthodox.

And in his latest New Frontier novel, Blind Man’s Bluff, he continues in the fast-paced adventure vein that his fans have come to enjoy.

To recap: in Treason, David’s previous New Frontier novel, the crew is introduced to a powerful new enemy, the D’myurj (sound it out) and their servants, the even-more-powerful armored soldiers who possess an Achilles heel in the form of a vent in said armor. They kill many people on Captain Mueller’s U.S.S. Trident, and generally wreak havoc on the galaxy, until Selar (first introduced in TNG’s “The Schizoid Man” as Dr. Crusher’s colleague) undergoes a Vulcan mental break known as “treason” and ends up destroying most — but not all — of the D’myurj in hopes of finding a way to save her son from what is essentially progeria. She succeeds, but the cost is her own life.

Blind Man’s Bluff picks up shortly after the events of Treason. It’s focused mostly on Calhoun, although there are notable appearances by the entire Excalibur crew, as well as some others. After paying a little lip service to the existence of Admiral Shelby, Captain Mueller, and those who died on the Trident, we find ourselves on Xenex, Calhoun’s home planet, where he is attempting to marshal his people into a guerilla force to fight off the Brethren. As the book continues, layers of the D’myurj/Brethren plot are peeled back and we find out exactly how Calhoun was marooned on Xenex and why he’s fighting in the first place.

The b-plot of the book is almost better-developed — and definitely easier to understand — than the a-plot. Morgan Primus, mother of Robin Lefler, became joined with the Excalibur’s computer system some books back. She is gaining power at a remarkable rate — rather like Barclay in “The Nth Degree” — and Calhoun realizes she’s becoming a danger not just to his ship but the entirety of Starfleet. Via Soleta, who you may remember now has her own spy ship, he enlists the help of Seven of Nine and The Doctor in a plot to get Morgan off his ship, once and for all.

As I said earlier, Blind Man’s Bluff is a fast-paced adventure story, which makes it a lot of fun to read. It also contracts its view somewhat, focusing only on the Excalibur (in recent novels, we’ve dealt with both the Excalibur and the Trident, as well as Space Station Bravo, and while David is perfectly capable of casting a wide net, it’s nice to get back to a smaller-scale story). He does bring back almost every character from the previous novels — at least, the ones who are alive (including Calhoun’s sons Xyon and Moke as well as Admirals Nechayev and Jellico) — but the story is really all about the main characters from the Excalibur. While Calhoun is off fighting on Xenex, his first officer Burgoyne and the rest of the gang — Calhoun, Tobias, Xyon (Burgy’s son, not Calhoun’s), and Mitchell must deal with Morgan.

While the novel did have its sticky points — the Nechayev plotline particularly confused me, and I really wasn’t expecting its resolution; also, it seemed as though too much time was spent on the crew of the Dauntless — David’s writing managed to keep me well and truly interested in everything that was going on. In addition, he hung a bit of a lampshade on his own writing style. In fact, there’s even a scene where Burgoyne laments the fact that everyone on Excalibur has their verbal responses set permanently on “sarcasm”. He does overplay Calhoun’s previously-stated tactical and combat skills to excess, perhaps to hang another lampshade, perhaps to help new readers understand just how powerful the Brethren actually are. Whichever it was, it really didn’t work for me. I guess it was necessary to make the hero more mortal, but he’s so immortal (thanks to the way he was written in the past) that there really wasn’t any other way.

David said in a recent interview that this might be the last New Frontier novel — his contract with the publisher is coming to a close and he hasn’t heard about any extensions or re-signings yet. It may be that he wanted to close the series with a bang, killing off another major Star Trek character — you may recall he also offed Admiral Janeway in Before Dishonor — but while I found the novel to be a good one, I wasn’t really satisfied by the ending. I feel like there’s a little more story to be told, and that a few loose ends remain to tie up. It’s not like a sequel hook; it’s like there’s a third book in a trilogy that’s waiting to be written. I hope it is.

In the foreword to Peter David’s Q-Squared, he says that some readers find his books quick reads, but this one will take longer because it’s more complicated. I finished it in one Saturday afternoon. Blind Man’s Bluff took about two-and-a-half hours, despite being 352 pages long. I’d say that fans of New Frontier, and even fans of Star Trek tie-ins, would enjoy this book. It’s not a book for new readers — especially given that there’s very few threads back to major characters in any series except Voyager — but despite my issues with it, it’s another stellar piece of Peter David Star Trek fiction, and I look forward to whatever comes next.

Note to Parents: This book contains occasional adult humor and an awful lot of violence. I don’t recall any sexual situations, although there is a scene of partial nudity. If your kids can handle Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, they’ll be able to handle this book, but if Khan’s mangled face gave them nightmares, you might want to skip this book for a while. Of course, you should use your own best judgment where your children are concerned.

Book Review: “Seize the Fire” by Michael A. Martin


One of the things that I love about the Star Trek: Titan novels is that the editors at Pocket/Simon & Schuster allow the authors to really expand upon the scientific points in the stories. Even when the point of the story is to expound upon the Typhon Pact, science still gets done. In Seize the Fire, the second Typhon Pact novel, there’s enough science and technology to keep Titan fans happy, and as the story wears on, the action is enough to keep the editors feeling like the book is moving along at a good clip.

To recap, the Typhon Pact bands together six traditional Federation enemies (Romulans, Gorn, Breen, Tzenkethi, Kinshaya, and Tholians). Seize the Fire covers the Gorn, who we first (and only) met in the original series episode “Arena”. The Gorn suffered a defeat that day, leading to a thriving Federation colony on Cestus III (I believe the current President is from there). In other adventures, Riker was involved in an uprising to overthrow the Gorn government, so he has some backstory with them. But really, this book — like Zero Sum Game did for the Breen — establishes who the Gorn are, their caste system, their technology and terminology, and the way they behave around other races. The beginning of the book outlines that the Gorn warrior caste lost their one major hatchery, and now have to look for a new one. Fast-forward about a year, and a Gorn fleet has found an ancient alien artifact that could be used to terraform (ecosculpt, as they call it) a planet on the outskirts of explored space into an ideal hatchery world.

Except that the planet is already populated.

In comes Titan, who doesn’t want to see the indigenous race be destroyed by the terraforming device. The problem is that the people on the planet — Hranrar — haven’t demonstrated that they have warp-capable spaceships, so the Prime Directive is in play. It’s up to Riker and his crew to stop the Gorn from killing the Hranrarii before Typhon Pact reinforcements arrive… and before Gog’ressh, a renegade Gorn captain affected by radiation poisoning, destroys the ecosculptor in an attempt to remake the warrior caste in his own image.

One of the great strengths of the Titan novels has been characterization, and author Michael A. Martin — one of the co-writers of the first two Titan novels, which defined the crew and ship — includes updates on everyone we want to know about. Other than the main three characters (Riker, Troi, and Vale), he spends quite a bit of time on series regulars Evesh, Modan, Dakal, Torvig, and Dr. Ree. Unfortunately, being constrained by the story and the fact that he has to get from A to B to C kind of limits and two-dimensional-izes some of the main characters. To wit:

  • Commander Vale is annoyingly snarky. We get it, Christine — you’re a female Kirk.
  • Emo-Efrosian chief engineer Ra-Havreii continues to find things to whine about.
  • Other than a passing reference to her holopresence system, Melora Pazlar has very little to do in the way of character development. She’s Lieutenant Commander Exposition this time around.
  • Commander Keru is suspicious of everyone. At least he’s stopped moping around about Sean. That happened eleven years ago. I realize it sucked, but… man, eleven years!
  • We have some supernumaries on the bridge by name of Lavena and Rager. How is Rager still only a Lieutenant, anyway? She was an ensign on TNG, and one would think that the Dominion War would’ve kicked her up at least another grade by now.

The story is really about the Gorn — a couple of tech-caste characters are given main focus in the novel, along with Gog’ressh, and it is they who provide much of the impetus to move the plot forward. The main Star Trek characters are Riker (by virtue of being the captain) and Tuvok (who has some experience with terraforming devices — the term “Genesis” is bandied about quite a bit). Also added to the mix is SecondGen White-Blue, from the previous Titan stand-alone novel; he (it?) is an artificial intelligence who has made friends with Torvig. I think we’re supposed to get some sort of ironic vibe from that (Torvig is a cybernetic being; White-Blue is a machine intelligence who wants to learn more about organic life forms), but I didn’t. And finally, Mr. Gibruch, the second officer, appears to be a cross between Predator and a pipe organ — a cool image, but I didn’t feel invested enough in his character to really care about him.

While the climax of the story had plenty of action and a satisfying ending, I think overall the book had some flaws that should have been addressed. First and foremost, we don’t actually see Tuvok’s role in the climax — it just sort of happens, and then is vaguely discussed in the denouement. Secondly — and also related to Tuvok — there’s a flashback to show us why he hates Genesis-type devices so much, but it isn’t paid off satisfactorily (at least to my mind). And speaking of italicized sections, there’s a bit with the ecosculptor that feels like an artifact of an earlier story, perhaps something that the author edited out in revision and didn’t remove before the final cut. It makes sense, I guess, but again, no payoff.

Overall I found this to be a stronger novel than Zero-Sum Game, although I felt there were areas that could have been improved or expanded upon. Also, there was plenty of filler to cut, and while I know how hard that can be, sometimes your favorite scenes (like the whole bit with Noah Powell) just have to go. As with the Breen in the previous novel, we definitely got insight into the way the Gorn work, and I commend Martin for his excellent work there, but parts of the book were too two-dimensional or slow for me, and as I said previously, there wasn’t enough payoff*. Still, for having to somehow work the far-away spaceship into the main plot, this was done far better than many Voyager stories that somehow were shoehorned into what was happening on the homefront. And even if you don’t read Typhon Pact but you like Titan, you’ll like this book. A solid Star Trek outing all around.

* I think that, at the end, Martin was laying the groundwork for a Big Boss that Titan can take on in future novels, but I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t know more about what was coming. Contrast that to Treason by Peter David, where the new Big Boss for Calhoun and co. is clearly laid out by the end of the novel.

It can’t beam me up. Yet.


About a month ago, a mishap at the gym resulted in my iPhone being broken beyond repair. I was out of contract, so the field was wide open, and after some short deliberations I decided on a HTC Evo. My justifications were this:

  1. Everything I did via jailbreak on my iPhone is done natively on the Evo.
  2. If I buy an iPhone 4 now, I’m going to be kicking myself when the iPhone 5 (or iPhone 4S) is announced in April, or May, or whenever His Steveness decides it’s time to drum up media support again.
  3. My company offered a pretty deep discount on accessories and plans if I chose the Evo over, say, the Droid or iPhone.

I’m pretty happy with my purchase. My phone does… well… almost everything a Star Trek communicator* can do. And more besides.

Voice:

Communicator: Calls the ship, or other people in the landing party, at the touch of a button. Just say what you want. With the appropriate relays (ships, subspace substations, etc), you can call anyone. However, if you really want to talk to someone on Dytallix-B, you have to be on the ship and using a more powerful comm system.
Evo: Calls anyone I want. I can use voice-dial if I really want to, but I don’t. I still type in the phone numbers or pick people off the contact list. But I can call anyone in the world (since we haven’t gotten to the rest of the galaxy yet, I’m going with world here) via direct-dial, as long as I’m willing to pay roaming charges.
Advantage: Evo

Durability/Security:

Communicator: Attached to a Starfleet Officer’s shirt, a commbadge can be easily removed or even knocked away. They’re relatively hard to destroy just by dropping or stomping upon, but you can certainly lose it pretty easily. At least you can just get a new one from ship’s stores without having to worry about your contract, or who your carrier is.
Evo: If I drop the Evo, it’ll probably break (I have a case, but it’s not a hard case; it just protects the glass screen and camera). If I stomp on the Evo, it’ll probably break. But unless I’m really careless, it won’t fall out of my pocket or get lost if a giant alien throws me through the wall. Plus, no one knows I have it unless it rings in my pocket.
Advantage: Tie

Audio:

Communicator: The only sounds it makes are: nothing (when it’s dead), a repeated busy-signal-like bipping when it’s jammed, or the high-pitched squiggly noise of a connection being opened. I’m not sure how to change the ringtones, or how to set it on silent, and if your mom calls while you’re in the middle of delicate treaty negotiations to ask if you can pick up some more Astro-roid Cream, there’s no ignore function.
Evo: Unlimited (except by SD card space) ringtones and messaging tones, an ignore button, easily drops to silent mode, and voicemail. Plus, if an agent of the Tal Shiar is approaching, you can hide it and set it on silent with a couple of touches. Or call for someone to beam you up. Either way.
Advantage: Evo

Non-Verbal Communication:

Communicator: I don’t think they have Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare in the 24th Century, but maybe it’s just because communicators can’t handle text updates. You could use your tricorder, but who wants to carry around multiple devices? And texting? Sometimes Ensign D’Sora doesn’t need to call Worf to tell him that the new torpedo launcher is ready, but if Worf wants to get the message she keyed into the console, he can’t do it on his commbadge, now can he?
Evo: If there’s a form of texting or social communication that this thing can’t do, I haven’t found it yet. And when my wife texts to let me know she’s ten minutes away, so put on my shoes and we’ll go out to eat, I don’t have to log into my computer to get the message.
Advantage: Evo

Personalization:

Communicator: Okay, look, I know it’s part of a uniform and you really don’t get a choice (unless you’re Captain Picard and you like wearing a gray shirt with a red jacket). But if you want an official Starfleet communicator, it has to look like everyone else’s. Sounds kind of iPhone-y, doesn’t it?
Evo: While all Evos also look the same, there’s a myriad of cases you can use to personalize the device. You can also change the wallpaper, install any apps you like, and even reprogram the device to behave in ways the creators certainly didn’t intend. Even if your company says “welcome aboard. Here’s an Evo. It’s your official work phone,” you can still go to Amazon or wherever and buy a cool case, or an extended battery, or one of those little cellphone fob thingies, or a Bluetooth headset.
Advantage: Evo

Privacy:

Communicator: That little thing’s got a pretty powerful speaker on it, and you can’t really adjust the volume (unless there’s a dial I’m not seeing, or a voice command no one’s used). When you’re on it, everyone knows you’re on it. At least it’s not a Zach Morris communicator (which is probably so big you have to strap it to your chest with a harness).
Evo: Incoming calls are heard through the device, or a headset of your choosing. It also has a fairly loud speakerphone, but you don’t have to use it to take calls.
Advantage: Evo

Battery Life:

Communicator: Pretty much infinite, as far as I know. I’ve never seen one die due to lack of battery power.
Evo: Mine runs out by 2pm. I have chargers everywhere, and a few spare batteries. If I want a stronger battery, I have to buy one.
Advantage: Communicator

Apps:

Communicator: None. Well, except for voice commands, but I think you have to tell your shuttlecraft that you want to use voice control beforehand. You can’t take pictures or video, you can’t use it as a GPS, you can’t scan for life-forms or see what other holoplays K’Chargan Son Of Krimazon has been in. You can translate any language in the universal translator’s language banks, which is a pretty big selling point… but most people don’t even leave the ship or the starbase. I mean, sure, Ensign Ricky in Maintenance has a communicator too, but how many away teams does Commander Riker invite him on?
Evo: The Evo does everything a 21st-century cell phone should be able to do, and the apps are limitless — if a programmer can code it, it can be done. Plus, Google has an on-the-fly translator app that handles pictures; it’s only a matter of time until they have one for audio as well.
Advantage: Evo

Face-to-Face Communication:

Communicator: Nope. Where would you point it, anyway? I’m pretty sure a tricorder can do it, in conjunction with a communicator, but that’s like carrying an iPad and a 3G hotspot and a phone all at the same time. That’s an awful lot for Keiko and Molly to carry on their camping trip to Andor just so Miles can see his daughter before bedtime.
Evo: I haven’t really gotten Qik to work well yet — I think it requires 4G-like speeds to be at its best — but I have facetimed with my dad using it. It’s not like when the captain is talking to Admiral Nechayev in the ready room, but we’re getting there.
Advantage: Evo

GPS:

Communicator: When you’re wearing it, the ship knows exactly where you are. But you can’t ask it to give you directions to the nearest Jumja Hut.
Evo: Turn-by-turn directions, multiple mapping applications, and you can be tracked by the internal GPS chip.
Advantage: Evo

So, in ten total categories, the Evo wins in eight, the Communicator in one, and they tied in one. The commbadge isn’t looking so great now, is it?

Look, I know that most of the stuff I’m talking about in this article didn’t exist in the 80s and 90s — cameraphones, social networking, texting, personalized GPS units, and apps. And I’ve written about how fast sci-fi has to change because actual technology is changing faster than ever these days. But I found it pretty amusing that, with only a couple of exceptions, my new cellphone (and, for the record, my old one, which was just an iPhone 3G that I’d had for more than two years) is a far better device than the Star Trek communicators of the TNG era.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell it to call the Enterprise and beam me up, but as Shatner once said, “I’m working on that.

For the record, I really wanted to call this post “I Beep My Communicator Back and Forth”, but it didn’t make any sense. Oh well. Also: no monetary compensation was received by anyone from Sprint or HTC. I just wrote this because I thought it was funny.

* For the sake of argument, I’m going with the TNG/DS9/VOY combadge units, rather than the pocket-comms of the TOS/ENT era. Also, except where noted, I’m sticking to what was shown on TV, because if you believe the novels, the little arrowheads can do almost anything.