2018 PK Dick Reviews

Once again, I’ve read through all of the nominated works for this year’s Philip K. Dick Awards. Made it with two weeks to spare this time. Here are my thoughts on each of the nominated books, in order from my least favorite to my personal favorite and pick for the award. A strong slate this year, there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy at least a little bit.

Once again, I’ve read through all of the nominated works for this year’s Philip K. Dick Awards. Made it with two weeks to spare this time.

Here are my thoughts on each of the nominated books, in order from my least favorite to my personal favorite and pick for the award (if I got a vote, which I don’t, and I’ve yet to pick a winner, so perhaps it’s best not to put too much stock in my opinion…). A strong slate this year, there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy at least a little bit.

The Book of Etta, by Meg Elison: Much as with the first book in this series, it’s well written and realized, but simply isn’t my thing. Post-apocalyptic fiction tends towards the dark, dismal, and dreary, and these are no exception. I can recognize that they’re well written, and can see why they resonate for many people…just not for me. Because of that, I can’t really give a more thorough review.

Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds: Space pirates, hidden treasure, scheming and swashbuckling — and while I didn’t dislike reading it, it never entirely grabbed me, either. I think for me, it’s just that while I recognize the conceit of “adventure on the high seas IN SPACE” as an attractive one for many, it’s simply never particularly caught my interest. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not much into “adventure on the high seas IN WATER” tales and the switch to “…IN SPACE” isn’t enough to make it work for me, or if I just find the conceit itself a little…well, silly. Not that solar sails and the like aren’t scientifically sound, but the overly-literal application of the idea always feels a bit far-fetched. Anyway — the book isn’t bad, it just isn’t for me.

The Wrong Stars, by Tim Pratt: Enjoyable space adventure, with lots of amusingly clever writing and fun ideas for alien cultures, particularly the primary alien life and how they interface with humanity. Liked reading it, and appreciated the diversity of characters both human and alien. Doesn’t nudge its way to the top of this year’s PKD nominee stack, but that’s not at all a knock against this book, this is just proving to be a strong selection this year.

After the Flare, by Deji Bryce Olukotun: The first book, Nigerians in Space, was interesting, but was almost more of a spy thriller, barely touching on SF. This is not only more of an SF story, but is also a stronger book. A few of the characters carry over from the first book, but the plots aren’t directly connected, and reading the first isn’t at all necessary to enjoy this one. With both books, I greatly enjoyed the African setting and the blending of SF tropes with African history and culture. A strong start to my PK Dick Award reading this year.

Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn: I’ve mentioned in past years that I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories; as such, they generally don’t rate very high for me, even when I know that they’re good, well-written stories. This is a rare exception – apparently, the trick is to place the time period a good few decades after civilization falls over, so that the story isn’t overshadowed by the depressing turbulence and chaos of most post-apocalyptic tales. Here, there are distant remnants of the world as it was, but the world has survived, society has rebuilt (to a point, at least), and our characters can have their adventures and solve their mysteries in the world they know. The look at the society that emerges, and how it builds on what fell in the past, attempting to use the lessons of the collapse of the past to keep a stable present, worked very well for me.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells: A quick and very enjoyable read about a cranky, antisocial security android who just wants to watch their shows, but has all these annoying humans to take care of. Quick moving and darkly humorous, it felt like a SFictional take on the autism spectrum (said as a neurotypical who is entirely guessing, and could be far off base with that).

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty: Something of an SF take on a locked room mystery – the cloned crew of a generation ship wakes up to find the corpses of their previous bodies – with fascinating questions of the ethics of workable cloning and the concepts of selfhood and the soul in such a world. Very much enjoyed this one.

Linkdump for February 26th from 08:00 to 08:06

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between 08:00 and 08:06 on February 26th.

Sometime between 08:00 and 08:06 on February 26th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery: "The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says 'State' instead of 'Country' (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote.  Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too."
  • Gun Rights, ‘Positive Good’ and the Evolution of Mutually Assured Massacre: "In the abstract, where no humans actually exist, there’s actually a compelling logic to this. If I know you’re armed, I’ll be on my best behavior. You will too because you know I’m armed. Of course, in practice, almost everything is wrong with this logic."
  • The AR-15 Is Different: What I Learned Treating Parkland Victims: "With an AR-15, the shooter does not have to be particularly accurate. The victim does not have to be unlucky. If a victim takes a direct hit to the liver from an AR-15, the damage is far graver than that of a simple handgun-shot injury. Handgun injuries to the liver are generally survivable unless the bullet hits the main blood supply to the liver. An AR-15 bullet wound to the middle of the liver would cause so much bleeding that the patient would likely never make it to the trauma center to receive our care."
  • Inside The Federal Bureau Of Way Too Many Guns: "There's no telling how many guns we have in America—and when one gets used in a crime, no way for the cops to connect it to its owner. The only place the police can turn for help is a Kafkaesque agency in West Virginia, where, thanks to the gun lobby, computers are illegal and detective work is absurdly antiquated. On purpose."
  • Why the Second Amendment does not stymie gun control: "Nearly every gun regulation under discussion today—from expanded background checks to bans on military-style weapons—would seem to pass constitutional muster."
  • Slavery, the Second Amendment, and the Origins of Public-Carry Jurisprudence: "The idea that citizens have an unfettered constitutional right to carry weapons in public originates in the antebellum South, and its culture of violence and honor."

Linkdump for January 17th through February 26th

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between January 17th and February 26th.

Sometime between January 17th and February 26th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Ever since Columbine, she said. Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine. Good Lord.
* How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment: “The Founders never intended to create an unregulated individual right to a gun. Today, millions believe they did. Here’s how it happened.”
* The Problem with Panic: "Sexual misconduct, affirmative consent, and the dangers of shame and moralism." A very interesting and thoughtful piece on the current cultural shift regarding sexuality, assault, and accountability.

An Open Letter: I’m a Liberal

An open letter to those who don’t know me yet, or have just met me recently enough that my not-at-all-closeted political leanings have not yet become blindingly obvious: I’m a liberal, and a pretty far left-leaning liberal that that.

An open letter to those who don’t know me yet, or have just met me recently enough that my not-at-all-closeted political leanings have not yet become blindingly obvious:

I’m a liberal, and a pretty far left-leaning liberal that that. To many, that means I’m one of those bleeding heart commies who hates anyone who’s white, straight, or conservative, and who wants the government to dictate everything you do while taking your money and giving it to people who don’t work.

Well, not exactly, but close enough.

Let’s break it down, shall we? Because quite frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for. Spoiler alert: Not every liberal is the same, though the majority of liberals I know think along roughly these same lines:

  1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period.

  2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that’s interpreted as “I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all.” This is not the case. I’m fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it’s impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes “let people die because they can’t afford healthcare” a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I’m not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.

  3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I’m mystified as to why it can’t work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt.

  4. I have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. I’m not opposed to the idea of Universal Basic Income, even if that means my taxes go towards allowing some people to survive without having to work. I don’t believe that people deserve to die because they cannot work, for whatever reason that may be; I don’t even believe that people deserve to die because they choose not to work. If that brands me a communist, socialist, or whatever -ist is being used as a slur because I think it’s better that people be alive than dead, then so be it.

  5. I don’t throw around “I’m willing to pay higher taxes” lightly. I’m neither rich nor poor, far more likely to end up being the latter than the former, but I still pay taxes. If I’m suggesting something that involves paying more, well, it’s because I’m fine with paying my share as long as it’s actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare.

  6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn’t have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.

  7. I am not anti-Christian; I grew up in the Episcopal church, and what I learned there heavily influences who I am today, even if I rarely attend church. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; compulsory prayer in school is – and should be – illegal). All I ask is that Christians recognize my right to live according to my beliefs. When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I’m not “offended by Christianity” — I’m offended that you’re trying to force me to live by your religion’s rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia law on you? That’s how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don’t force it on me.

  8. I don’t believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe they should have the same rights as you.

  9. I don’t believe undocumented immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN’T WHAT HAPPENS (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they’re supposed to be abusing, and if they’re “stealing” your job it’s because your employer is hiring illegally). I’m not opposed to deporting people who have committed some types of crimes, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc).

  10. I don’t believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It’s not that I want the government’s hands in everything — I just don’t trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc. are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they’re harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation.

  11. I believe our current administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I can’t get over an election, not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things here are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past.

  12. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society (along with many bigotries — xenophobia, homophobia, sizeism, transphobia, ageism, classism, etc. — that may be less overtly systemic but which are just as present) is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege — white, straight, male, economic, etc. — need to start listening, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that’s causing people to be marginalized. And yes, as a person with many privileges on my side (straight, white, male, middle-class, and many more), this includes me. I do my best to listen to and learn from those with less privilege when they try to tell me something. I have and will fail at times, and when I do, I’ll do what I can to do better.

  13. I am not interested in coming after your blessed guns, nor is anyone serving in government. What I am interested in is sensible policies, including background checks, that just MIGHT save one person’s, perhaps a toddler’s, life by the hand of someone who should not have a gun.

  14. I believe in so-called political correctness. I prefer to think it’s social politeness — or, well, “not being an asshole”. If call you Chuck and you say you prefer to be called Charles I’ll call you Charles. It’s the polite thing to do. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you’re using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person?

  15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else.

  16. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human. They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should have the same rights as men and should be free from abuse. Why on earth shouldn’t they be?

I think that about covers the basics, though I’m sure there are many more points that could be added. Bottom line is that I’m a liberal because I think we should take care of each other. That doesn’t mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money. It just means I don’t believe there is any scenario in which preventable suffering is an acceptable outcome as long as money is saved.

So, I’m a liberal.

(I didn’t write the above from scratch but edited a similar post to reflect my personal beliefs. Please feel free to do the same with this post.)

Linkdump for December 27th through January 8th

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between December 27th and January 8th.

Sometime between December 27th and January 8th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • Why So Many Men Hate the Last Jedi But Can’t Agree on Why: SPOILERS: "I don’t think every human who disliked The Last Jedi is an evil, evil misogynist. I do think that we have so deeply internalized sexist narrative tropes that we see them as 'correct' and 'good filmmaking' while seeing their absence as 'flaws.'"
  • My Hero, Luke Skywalker: SPOILERS: “It is a beautiful fantasy and, I thought, a particularly resonant message for the anxious and depressed about what you can be capable of, the kind of peace you may be able to find if you dig down deep enough and push yourself emotionally.”
  • Stop reading what Facebook tells you to read: "Literally, all you need to do: Type in web addresses. Use autofill! Or even: Google the website you want to go to, and go to it. Then bookmark it. Then go back every now and again."
  • List: Alternatives to Platonic Love: "Newtonian Love – There’s a strong attraction between your bodies."
  • This is not going to go the way you think: The Last Jedi and the necessary disappointment of epilogues: SPOILERS: “Happy endings are always undone because ‘endings’ don’t really exist. Time doesn’t stop when you want it to. Your ‘destiny’ can and will be slowly eroded away by the many small, cumulative abrasions of life that inevitably follow after you achieve it. This is real, and it’s disillusioning, and it can fill you with righteous anger at the unjustness of it all.”

Linkdump for December 20th through December 26th

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between December 20th and December 26th.

Sometime between December 20th and December 26th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Linkdump for November 12th through December 19th

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between November 12th and December 19th.

Sometime between November 12th and December 19th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • Toxic Masculinity Is the True Villain of Star Wars: The Last Jedi: SPOILERS: “Poe's character, while not one of the main protagonists, has even more to do in The Last Jedi. However, while he may be filling the role of the dashing pilot that Han did in the Original Trilogy, director Rian Johnson is using the archetype to say something completely different about heroism, leadership, and—perhaps most importantly—masculinity.”
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi Offers the Harsh Condemnation of Mansplaining We Need in 2017: SPOILERS: “Any female boss in 2017 or American still nursing the hangover of the 2016 presidential election can tell you that even nice guys often have trouble taking orders from women.”
  • Star Wars, the Generations: SPOILERS: “Great movies reflect an era through the eyes of artists who embody that era. George Lucas embodied the era of Baby Boom ‘destiny’ and self-conceit. Rian Johnson embodies our era of diminished heroism, cynicism and near despair– tempered by the hope, if we can but learn from our heroes’ mistakes, that somehow, some way, some day, we may yet restore balance to the Force.”
  • Rian Johnson Confirms The Dorkiest Reference In ‘The Last Jedi’: SPOILERS: “There is a dorky reference in Star Wars: The Last Jedi that even director Rian Johnson admits that you may have to be of a certain age to get – thanks to a narrow window where you might have been watching premium cable in the very early ‘80s when this bizarre little short film would air in-between feature-length films.”
  • Rian Johnson Says There Are No Twists, Only Honest Choices: SPOILERS: “It seemed completely honest to me. It seems like the most dramatic version of that. And that’s what you’re supposed to do. Find what the honest moment would be, and then find the most dramatic version of it. So, in terms of the big ‘twists’ in the movie, they sprung from a process of trying to follow where these characters would go as honestly as possible.”
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi humanizes the Force: SPOILERS: This was one of my favorite things about The Last Jedi. To my mind, a very smart direction to take things.
  • Did You Catch the Brazil Reference in Star Wars: The Last Jedi?:
  • ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Redeems the Prequels: SPOILERS: “One of the many reasons I love Star Wars: The Last Jedi is that it redeems the prequels. … It recontextualizes the prequels and reinforces what I loved about them.”
  • Pro-Neutrality, Anti-Title II: Interesting argument that the likely change to ISP regulations — the 'net neutrality' debate — may not be quite the horrid thing it appears to be. Worth thinking over. "The question at hand, though, is what is the best way to achieve net neutrality? To believe that Chairman Pai is right is not to be against net neutrality; rather, it is to believe that the FCC’s 2015 approach was mistaken."
  • Keyboard Maestro 8.0.4: Work Faster with Macros for macOS: Saving for me to remember and look into when I have more time.
  • The Amazons’ New Clothes: “The Wonder Woman designs received acclaim from fans and costume fanatics alike. They were clearly inspired by the Amazon’s origins in the Mediterranean and were feminine but very functional. Why mess with perfection? Oh, right. The all-male team of directors and executive directors wanted women to fight in bikinis.”

Linkdump for September 21st through November 11th

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between September 21st and November 11th.

Sometime between September 21st and November 11th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery and CBS All Access

The preface is complete, time to start chapter one. I’m hoping it’s a good one.

Now that I’ve let the first two episodes of ST:DIS bounce around in my head overnight, and have seen a few reviews and bits of commentary, it’s time to toss my two cents in.

I’ll start with non- or less-spoilery stuff, getting more spoilery as things go along, so those who haven’t seen the premiere episodes can bail out before bigger spoilers pop up.

And, of course, these are merely my thoughts and opinions on all of this. YMMV.

CBS All Access

Yes, Discovery is CBS All Access only (aside from the initial broadcast of the first of the two episodes released on Sunday). Yes, a lot of people are upset about this, for varying degrees of “upset”.

For me, it’s not a big deal, for a few reasons.

$6/$10 a month for one show is a rip-off!

Put that way, that could be true — but then, just how true it is depends on all sorts of factors. I’m of the opinion that it’s a badly stated argument, though, because it’s not $6 or $10 a month for a single show, it’s for access to everything CBS offers under All Access. As it stands right now, that includes every Star Trek episode produced to date (TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT, and DIS), along with a number of other shows.

It may well be true that there are people out there who are only interested in DIS; for those people, the fee may seem high. But even if they’re only interested in one show, it’s still true that they’re getting access to a lot more than that, even if they choose to never take advantage of that. In my particular situation, while I already have TOS, TAS, TNG, and DS9 in my own collection at home, All Access is also giving me easy access to VOY and ENT (only one of which actually interests me, admittedly, as I’ve just finished off VOY and didn’t think much of it) in addition to DIS and the After Trek post-show show (which I haven’t sampled yet). Outside of the Trek universe, there are a number of other shows that my wife and/or I have enjoyed in the past and might want to continue watching or revisit (The Amazing Race, Cheers, Frasier, Madam Secretary, The Twilight Zone), that are related to shows we’ve enjoyed in the past (NCIS precursor JAG), or that we haven’t tried yet but might want to give a shot (Elementary, The Good Wife).

So for us, $6 a month (or even $10 a month, if we choose to move up to that tier) doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable. But that’s just us. If the only thing CBS has available on All Access that interests you is Star Trek, and if you’ve already watched (or already own) everything other than DIS, then sure, this might not be a good value.

But you still get commercials!

Yes, and this is one area where I definitely wish All Access was better. I’d absolutely be happier if there was a single no-commercials option, rather than the current $6 “limited commercials” or $10 “no commercials unless we feel like it” option.

At the same time, I realize that TV is expensive — particularly TV like DIS, which is reportedly one of the most expensive series in TV history, on the order of $8 million per episode. And while cynical, it’s not entirely untrue to see the shows we watch as nothing but filler designed to keep our butts in the seats in between the advertisements that provide the majority of the income for the studios. Like it or not, advertising is the bottom line that allows us to enjoy much of the media we consume, and while I prefer not having to sit through advertisements (strongly enough that I stopped watching TV for close to a decade in the late ’90s and early ’00s, as there wasn’t enough content I was interested in to make sitting through the commercials worthwhile), I also recognize that without advertising dollars underwriting things, we’d have a lot less media to choose from.

What bothered me the most last night as I watched DIS was not that there were commercials (particularly as I wasn’t paying for the higher-priced “commercial free” tier), but that the same commercials were repeated over and over, and that they were so loud compared to the show. I found the “happy drivers” commercial with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” amusing the first time, increasingly annoying each additional time; the same was true for the rest. And though the FCC claims that commercials have been required to be the same average volume as the programming since 2012, that sure doesn’t seem to be the case in practice.

So for me, commercials are an annoyance that I’d rather not have, but I’ll cope with gritting my teeth and dealing with the inanity and having to keep the volume control nearby if it means we get a better show in the end.

Of course, if you have the magical solution that allows CBS to produce big-budget TV without either running commercials or asking us to pay for it, I’m sure they’d be happy to know.

Design, Technology, and Timelines

(As a side note, if I had the time and expertise, I would love to host a podcast focusing on the technology of DIS and comparing/contrasting/retconning it with the rest of the Trek universe. Said podcast, would, of course, be named “DISCOtech”, and the intro music would be edits of Meco’s “Star Trek Medley”. Since I don’t have the time or expertise to do this, if someone sees this and decides to run with the idea, you’re free to do so; I’d just appreciate a call-out.)

So, I’ve seen many people up in arms about the design and the technology of DIS, particularly noting that though placed a decade before TOS and in the original timeline (and yes, it is in the original/”prime” timeline, not the Abrams-verse Kelvin timeline), it looks far more like the Abrams-verse films than the classic TOS episodes.

To which I say, well, yeah, no kidding. TOS was produced in the 60s, with the tech and budgets they had available then. DIS is being produced now, with the tech and budgets we have now. We in the present-day real world already enjoy technology that is in many ways advanced over much of what we saw as “futuristic” in TOS. To expect a modern show to try limit its production design to that of the 1960s is silly at best, and likely a sure-fire recipe for a failure of a show.

I’m very curious as to what people think DIS should have done — what would be the “right” way to present a show set two and a half centuries after where we are now, but a single decade before a show produced on a 1960s TV budget? Would we really expect the show to find some convoluted reason why over the next two hundred and fifty years, we suddenly decide to ditch touchscreens, adaptive UIs, and ultra-miniaturized electronics in favor of CRTs and physical toggle switches?

(Though, I’ll admit, it would have been interesting if the producers had come up with some heretofore unknown period of technological regression between ENT and DIS to explain why the entire DIS-era galaxy was using pseudo-60s-era technology and production design. Because nobody would have had any problems with shoehorning that into the canon!)

Real-world technology changes constantly and quickly, and to expect our futuristic media to slavishly abide by the restrictions that the real-world technology of the past imposed is just silly.

(And another aside. There’s a question that iO9 asked a few years ago that this silly debate keeps reminding me of: Why doesn’t anyone in Star Trek use social media/text messages? The real answer, of course, is that it’s a form of communication that rose to prominence after the show was aired, but viewed through the lens of today’s technology, it really does seem bizarre that by the time any version of Trek comes to pass, we will have entirely given up something as simple and useful as text messaging.)

For me, the most important thing about Trek is always the stories. The presentation is always a product of its time, for good and for ill: we enjoy the simplistic design of TOS Trek while also recognizing how well they did for their time, we recognize the areas where they broke new ground (diversity and inclusion, tackling real-world subjects through the lens of science fiction, and basically doing all the “social justice warrior” stuff that so many sad people — including, sadly, William Shatner himself — complain about) while also recognizing where they stumbled (including no few incidents of cringeworthy sexism, ranging from TOS to the Abramsverse films). But the stories, the optimism, and the hope for humanity and the future is always the heart of Star Trek.

So if DIS looks like a product of today than a product of the 1960s? I’m entirely okay with that, and welcome that. New viewers — who, make no mistake about it, are as much in CBS’s target as all of us “old school” fans — are going to be a lot more comfortable with that decision, too. As Kevin Church said:

As much as I love TOS and its design, you have to update it to meet modern audience expectations, especially if you’re trying to get a new audience, which is what CBS needs. They’ve gotten about as much revenue as they can from the previous series and a cash infusion is going to have to happen to keep the franchise afloat for them.

That said…

However — and I’ll admit right off the bat that this line is going to be a somewhat fuzzy one, open to interpretation and argument — I do have quibbles with some of the technology shown as being in use in DIS and how it fits in to the established Star Trek technological universe.

My rationalization for this boils down to the difference between the technology of the production of the show (the overall look and feel of the sets, props, effects, etc.) and the technology of the universe of the show (warp drive, transporters, subspace communication, etc.). Real world technology and methods that affect how the show looks in comparison to the other shows I’m fairly tolerant of; fictional world technology that doesn’t jibe with what’s been established in the other shows, I’m less tolerant of.

Y’know. Geeks. Pick your battles. (And as I’ve said frequently, part of what I love about being a SF geek, and a Trek geek in particular, is long-ranging, in-depth, passionate arguments about absolutely ridiculously inconsequential pieces of trivia. So there’s that, too.)

The big thing that stood out to me along these lines was the holographic communication used on the Shenzhou. This is a very different style of communication than we’ve seen in most Trek to date; I actually didn’t remember seeing holographic communication in the Trek universe, though Memory Alpha notes that it was seen a few times on DS9, which I’d simply forgotten about.

Amusingly, the article has already been updated to include its use in DIS, noting that the Shenzhou has “an early version of this type of device”. However, I’d argue that the technology shown in DIS can be seen as “early” only in that it has the same blue-tinged, see-through, “ghostly” presentation that we’re used to seeing in /ahem/ that other SF universe, rather than the realistic, solid-appearing holodeck-style holograms that appear to have been used on DS9 (judging by this screenshot, since my memory is faulty here). Otherwise, it seems more advanced in how the characters can interact with each other during holographic communication, even in ways that don’t really make sense, including Sarek walking around Burnham and sitting on the edge of a desk in the room — wouldn’t this require his having a room that just happened to have the right furniture (or something to sit on) in just the right spot?

So this is once instance where an in-universe discontinuity was far more jarring to me than the overall stylistic differences between TOS and DIS. (Riker seems to agree with me, even!)

And Then There’s the Klingons

As for the Klingons themselves: yes, they look different in both the physical makeup and the design of their ships. Yes, right now, that’s difficult to reconcile with established Klingon appearances. And for the moment, at least, I’m willing to let that slide.

Klingons have changed — repeatedly — over the course of Trek as it is. We all know that the only real reason the Klingons original changed appearance was because TMP had a bigger budget than TOS did, and the Klingons got upgraded along with everything else. For years, there were essentially two ways of looking at the change: either Klingons had always had the ridges, but 60s TV production didn’t have the budget to reflect this, or there was a physical change for some unknown reason. I was good with either; the latter was fun to speculate about (some earlier Trek literature posited that the intercepted transmission from the Klingons facing off with V’Ger was the first time that Starfleet saw the “true” appearance of Klingons). Yes, the Augment virus solved the Klingon forehead problem; I just kind of wish it hadn’t actually been solved.

And I’d argue that if the Augment virus hadn’t been introduced, if ENT had just let the change in appearance stand (either by going with TOS-style Klingons (though, hopefully somewhat less racially problematic, if that could be done) or by just going with ridged Klingons and accepting that certain elements of fandom would have fits), we might have less grumbling about the new revisions to their appearance. I’m sure it wouldn’t be nonexistent, but at least we’d have established discontinuities to work with, rather than an established continuity that the present design doesn’t seem to be compatible with.

For myself, I’m willing to just go with “new show, new Klingons” for the moment, and shrug off the weirdness. No, it doesn’t make sense (and, heck, it could easily be argued that my acceptance of this doesn’t even fit with my above distinction between accepting real world production differences affecting tech presentation but grumbling about in-universe tech changes, since this is a real-world production change that drastically conflicts with established in-universe continuity). But for me, at least, it doesn’t make sense in a way that I’m willing to work with for now. For whatever sense that makes.

The Show Itself

(By the way, now we’re getting more into spoiler territory. Just so’s you know.)

For the moment, at least, I’m optimistic, though not without some reservations.

There was a lot of talk during the run-up to the show about how there were reasons why both the show and the ship are called “Discovery”, that the old goals of exploration, of “seeking out new life and new civilizations” was going to be a large part of the show, that the Discovery itself is an exploration vessel, that the hope and optimism of Trek were going to be part of the show. And I think we got at least some of that, particularly during the first of the two episodes. However, the second episode, and therefore the overall feel of the first two, was very battle-focused, and it’s also been made clear that war with the Klingons was going to be major ongoing plotline for this first season.

Now, I’m not entirely opposed to learning more about Starfleet’s history with the Klingons (let alone learning more about the DIS take on the Klingons). But at the same time…look, as much as I liked Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot, that’s not what I want Star Trek to be. Yes, Trek has often had battles and militaristic plotlines, often used to very good effect, but they were always a part of the whole, and I’d be disappointed if DIS ended up shifting so far towards the conflict with the Klingons that it lost sight of what, for many of us, has made Trek such an enduring part of our lives.

As others have noted, I do think it might be worth considering these first two episodes not really to be the pilot episode(s) of DIS, but as a prequel of sorts; something of an “origin story” for Burnham and for the state of the Star Trek universe for DIS. There’s a lot that changes between the end of these two episodes and the beginning of next week’s episode; as it is, we have yet to be introduced to the Discovery itself, let alone its captain or the majority of its crew (we know Burnham and Saru will end up on the Discovery, and promo images make it appear that the red-headed helm/conn officer might as well). Several of the primary characters of the first two episodes are dead (one — Georgiou — I expected; one — T’Kuvma — I did not). Burnham has been sentenced to life imprisonment for her mutiny. Lots of shifts going on, enough that it can be argued that next week’s episode will be the true pilot.

The preface is complete, time to start chapter one.

I’m hoping it’s a good one.

Linkdump for July 25th through September 21st

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between July 25th and September 21st.

Sometime between July 25th and September 21st, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!