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Friday, April 28, 2017

Star Trek: Season 1, Episode 16. "The Galileo Seven"

 Summary:
Enterprise hauling medical supplies to Makus III when they pass Murasaki 312 ("quasar-like formation"). Galactic High Commissioner Ferris oversees transfer of medical supplies and opposes delay. They have two extra days, and are required to investigate. Shuttlecraft Galileo available to explore. As they experience radiation, they try to stop momentum but ionic concentration interferes with communication.

Flash on Ferris who smiles.

A planet in the center of Murasaki 312, Tarus II, seems capable of sustaining human life. Enterprise to enter.

Analysis with spoilers:
For some reason, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack even though shuttlecraft could not alter its momentum. Perhaps they needed Spock, the science officer, who is on board the shuttle, to explain Newton's first law of motion.

There must have been a crash landing, but the worst appears to be a bump on the head and a bloody nose. Their speed was "multiplied geometrically" due to "magnetic potential of the effect," so they are lucky indeed.

The shuttle needs to lose 500 lbs., but they cannot lose equipment, so that's the weight of three men. Who is to go? Classic "Cold Equations" [Tom Godwin] scenario.

Two officers are to scout (not red shirts), and they encounter strange noises in the fog all around them that make want to retreat. One ends up with a spear in his back. Whew! No ethics scenario to face. One down, two to go. Crew gang up on Spock's logical analysis. Men vs. machines.

Columbus shuttle ordered to sweep planet in search, but will miss areas of search.

Shuttle loses all fuel. Gaetano and Boma now become "logical" as they propose  to strike the mystery tribe first. Spock believes he has frightened tribe members without killing them. He abandons Gaetano to stand guard (of? in one location? alone?). Surely, this is not one of Spock's more logical moments.

Scotty decides phasers are to be used as an alternate fuel. Transporters working, but where beam search parties?

Tribe members become poor lobbers of spears as Spock transports Gaetano's body back to shuttle.

Suddenly informed that the ions were part of a storm.

Boma insists on burials of dead crew.

High Commissioner insists on abandoning search, recalling all parties. Twenty-odd minutes to go before they must leave. No sign of missing crew.

Spock ejects and ignites fuel as a flare, ending chances of safe orbit and landing. But Spock as hailed by crew as illogical and human, which seems an illogical conclusion. They get spotted and beamed aboard. Captain Kirk and crew rib Spock over his "human" decision.

Very much an attempt to raise the human flag over the logical.

Quotes:
  1. Scotty: "It's dangerous, but it might work."
  2. McCoy: "A little less analysis and more action."
  3. Spock: "I, for one, do not believe in angels"

    Notes:
    1. While not one of the highlights of the series, it does focus on Spock's "human" vs. logical nature.
    2. Death of expendables not wearing red shirts.

    Wednesday, April 26, 2017

    Star Trek: Season 1, Episode 15. "Shore Leave"

     Summary:
    Entire crew weary, needing of sleep and rest. Kirk and Spock have no plans on resting, however. McCoy and Sulu are on shore leave on an uninhabited planet in the Omicron Delta region, appreciating time off and collecting biological samples. McCoy, alone, spots the White Rabbit and Alice, not long after saying the planet was like "something out of Alice in Wonderland."

    Spock tricks Kirk into commanding himself to go on shore leave.

    Analysis with spoilers:
    Manifested hallucinations abound. Kirk claims to have been grim as a student named was Finnegan, and Finneagan appears. Yeoman Barrrows imagines she'd like to meet Don Juan although he's more than she bargained for. Kirk spots an old flame, Ruth.

    Spock reports underground industrial complex seems to be draining communications power from devices and Enterprise itself. Sulu discovers during an encounter with a samurai that even their phasers have died. Spock beams self down when he sees that all communications and transport will leave crew and captain stranded (although why he didn't beam them out before isn't explained).

    McCoy, certain this is all an illusion, stands in the path of a jousting knight... and dies. More shenanigans until a robed caretaker appears to say that it's all an amusement park. When Kirk asks for more info about the people who build it, he's told they're too much for him to understand. Spock agrees. Why? (Apart from writer not wanting to explain, that is.)

    Episode closes with Spock saying it was "Most illogical" that humans should enjoy themselves on shore leave. Illogical of him to say except if one considers everyone had phoney experiences with faux people.

    Episode interspersed with shots from perspective of antenna "watching" visitors.

    Quotes designed to foreshadow events. Episode written by Theodore Sturgeon. Interesting that Sulu's quote is challenged, even the key. We lay at the feet of humans and animals all our troubles, but troubles can still pop up.

    Quotes:
    1. Kirk: "a planet remarkably like Earth or how we remember Earth to be: park-like..."
    2. Sulu: "Beautiful, beautiful. No animals, no people, no worries."
    3. Kirk: "The more complex the mind, the more need for play."
    4. Caretaker: "My impression is you are not ready to understand us, Captain."

      Notes:
      1. Apparently 433 people on Enterprise.
      2. First discussion of [Starfleet] Academy. 
      3. First episode where Kirk seems to reject female advances (Yeoman Barrow, Ruth, but maybe he rejected Barrow's advances because he knew McCoy was interested).
      4. McCoy's first flirt with a real woman (first flirt was an imaginary human). Interestingly, he throws her over a pair of phony women.
      5. McCoy's first death (not wearing red).
      6. Dead "dummy" knight wiggles nose.
      7. Good guys in the future--or at least the peaceful ones--always wear long flowing robes.
      8. Dry run for the future ST:NG holodeck.

      Free ebook by David Farland


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      Monday, April 24, 2017

      Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

      “Vestibular Man” by Felix C. Gotschalk

      First appeared in Edward L. Ferman's F&SF. Up for Locus Award. Reprinted by Orson Scott Card.
      Summary:
      Derek has been conscripted for military service in 2800 AD. He tries to dominate his drill instructor but quickly learns that the DI is bionic and that it can disable him simply by grabbing Derek's elbow. Derek mostly follows orders but maintains a sharp eye out for weaknesses in the bionic DI. He eventually finds one.
      Discussion:
      To the left you can see this was F&SF's cover story. It illustrates the final moment of the bione's collapse after its cord is cut. It leans heavily on Asimov's laws of robotics without stating them although it implies that the laws are more legal ones than imprinted on circuits.

      The tale yields a rather pyrotechnic display of words, mixing the academic or professional jargon with the vernacular in strong writing. This may make it difficult for some readers. Instead of saying "inner ear," for instance, he writes "vestibular." Makes for a cooler title and a little more pointed.

      Card makes a lengthy introduction how academics require books that require expert interpretation. He makes an interesting case. This story, however, seems somewhat to argue against this premise. It is not an easy pill to swallow. On the other hand, it may not require an academic to interpret it.

      The main challenge is whether the protagonist would actually use such jargon. Probably not. He sounds like a rube out of Old New Orleans, conscripted straight out of the future's equivalent of high school. There is little sense that the young man is particularly intelligent or precocious enough to prefer the high-falutin to the vernacular. Possibly.

      He seems to like fighting, so it is slightly odd that opposes his conscription apart from what seems to be a semi-subconscious dislike of bionics, especially as they become closer and closer to machines.

      Odd, too, that he is not both commended and lectured for his destruction of government property. I kept expecting a meeting of minds to point how closely aligned they were. Instead, they part ways.

      The military during this era was often painted as the typical bad guy. If someone had a crew cut, you knew immediately whom the baddie was. This isn't surprising as the era was finally dealing with the Vietnam War after some delay. But it was still a stereotype that bled until the 90s by which time most realized it was hackneyed without nuance and retired the trope.

      "Vestibular" and "man"--the operative words--indicate a man who has his proper bearings/orientation as opposed to those machines who/which do not. The story surveys the military and pairs them with machines, which even they can be vindictive. Vestibular, however, fails to become relevant to the tale except symbolically.

      On a linguistic level, the tale is fascinating but flawed due to its character being out of sync with his language. On a story level, it works as a critique of the military but not one that stimulates much thought. Gotschalk is a fascinating writer, but his style requires the right character and tale. This is not it. I would recommend it for fans of Gotschalk or those with antipathy toward those in the military.

      For a better story, see Gotschalk's "The Examination."

      Saturday, April 22, 2017

      "The Examination" by Felix C. Gotschalk

      First appeared in Robert Silverberg's New Dimensions IV. Reprinted by Harvey A. Katz, Martin H. Greenberg & Patricia S. Warrick, and Robert Silverberg. It was one of the stories that prompted his nomination for the John W. Campbell award for New Writers.

      Summary:
      A psychologist interviews a seemingly slow-witted eight-year-old African American girl in order to assess her intelligence. As they progress, her command of language keeps surprising him. She not only scores well at her age range, but also higher. And higher.

      The tables get turned.
      Discussion with Spoilers:
      As she scores well even for an intelligent adult, her voice loses its homespun pronunciations. She sounds more and more like a machine until she announces she's an alien and that she is conducting an examination of his and his species' intelligence.

      He attempts to communicate with the secretary outside the office to escape, but she foils the plot. She says she is adaptable, mold-able, and impossible to destroy. She asks questions about him and these tests. When liberators arrive at the door, she warns him not to divulge her identity as she now looks like a girl to them. Nonetheless, he announces she's an alien with all the details, and police officers cart him away.

      The words they select in the examination have some parallel to his thoughts and their discussion, cleverly commenting on the surrounding text. In fact, the whole tale is pleasurable apart from the too-easy ending. It offers a critique of current intelligence assessments although it offers no alternatives.


      Thursday, April 20, 2017

      On Dreams, Song, Alice, and a Lewis Carroll Poem

      "A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky" or "Of Alice in Wonderland"

      A boat beneath a sunny sky,
      Lingering onward dreamily
      In an evening of July —

      Children three that nestle near,
      Eager eye and willing ear,
      Pleased a simple tale to hear —

      Long has paled that sunny sky:
      Echoes fade and memories die:
      Autumn frosts have slain July.

      Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
      Alice moving under skies
      Never seen by waking eyes.

      Children yet, the tale to hear,
      Eager eye and willing ear,
      Lovingly shall nestle near.

      In a Wonderland they lie,
      Dreaming as the days go by,
      Dreaming as the summers die:

      Ever drifting down the stream —
      Lingering in the golden gleam —
      Life, what is it but a dream?

      *

      This was Poetry Magazine's poem of the day last week, and the last line struck me as familiar. Ah, but of course: 

      Row, row, row your boat, 
      Gently down the stream. 
      Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, 
      Life is but a dream.

      Wikipedia lists this song's first printing as 1852 (although it was possibly in existence before that). Which came first? Was he the originator or merely referencing the song? Carroll would have been 20. Possibly the phrase predated both. Carroll references Alice in Wonderland (published 1865 although he'd written earlier versions prior it's first printing. 1862 is listed as the date he first orally told the tale, so he had to have at least written that--likely later than 1862, then. Bartleby suggests the poem's first printing was 1895 under the above alternate title.

      Carroll may have been referencing that song although it is an American song, which hampers that possibility a bit. However, if the poem was composed nearer 1895, then Carroll's likelihood of hearing the phrase from the verse seems probable.

      When you hear "Life is but a dream," what does that mean? In "Row Your Boat", the use of "gently" and "stream" and the repetition of "merrily" four times (not to mention the lilt of the song itself) suggests that the song presumes "Life is unbearably wonderful." Is that wishful or hopeful thinking, or indoctrination of young minds? Who thinks of life being a dream? Beyoncé? At least she had a documentary called that. Songwriters in the fifties released sugar-coated songs with that title. It just seems odd or perhaps someone was born extraordinarily lucky and/or rich.


      Carroll's use of the phrase seems quite different. His interpretation adds a bittersweet flavor, especially if it were composed so many years later. The persona's voice sounds wistful for the time he rowed the young ladies out ("Lingering onward dreamily") as well as for the Alice of the tale ("Still she haunts me"). Throughout, he mentions the end of things: evening, frost, Autumn, not to mention "Echoes fade and memories die").

      In fact, he equates the dream with Alice herself: "Never seen by waking eyes." So a tale is a dream. When Carroll gets to his final line, he references the old song's blind devotion to believing life is unbearably wonderful, but ties to that idea that life is fleeting and story-like, perhaps due to the uncertainty of memory.

      Interestingly, the poem that references a song became another song, which seems to mirror the moods mentioned here. The song (or poem?) is apparently famous enough to get riffed here and here.