Microview: “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson

mistbornWhat’s a “Microview”? It’s a miniature review of something! I doubt that I coined the phrase, but I just randomly thought of it today so I’ll claim it for now. With a Microview, you, dear reader, get exposed to random things I read/watched/experienced in a very short form. Because this is the first, I’d love feedback from you on the format!

Mistborn

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn features the coolest magic systems I’ve ever read. It’s truly unique and worth reading the book for that alone. However, the plot is also fantastic and Sanderson masterfully weaves a history of the world into a book filled with action and intrigue. Vin and the other main characters are very interesting and each has a past that makes readers want to know more. Philosophical and theological problems are also briefly addressed throughout in ways that inspire reflection and thought.

The Good

-Astoundingly unique magic system
-Interesting Characters
-Great Plot with many twists
-Brings up issues of worldview in ways that demand engagement.

The Bad

-At times feels rushed

The Verdict

Overall a fantastic book that I would recommend you immediately go and read.

 

Star Trek: TNG Season 3 “The Hunted” and “The High Ground”

"Now I'm creeped out...."

“Now I’m creeped out….”

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“The Hunted”

Plot

As the Enterprise visits a potential member of the Federation–Angosia III, a fugitive tries to escape, leading the ship on a brief but difficult pursuit. It turns out the fugitive is actually a soldier created by the members of Angosia III and then cordoned away along with many other created warriors on a prison planet (with some comforts) once war was eliminated. This is why he is so dangerous, and as Troi continues to learn more about him, Picard must decide whether to turn him back over to the authorities or not. Ultimately, the fugitive escapes and leads a rebellion which culminates in Picard telling the leadership of Angosia III they must deal with their own self-inflicted difficulties.

Commentary

Troi. Boom. I said it. Finally, at long last, we have an episode in which Troi is neither target for uncomfortably-close-to-assault lust nor an awkward “we need a mind reader” point. In “The Hunted,” Troi is just… Troi. She is compassionate, caring, but also powerful and, well, counseling! It was an awesome use of a character I’ve always liked. Her interactions with the fugitive feel real rather than contrived, as well, and they lead to a logical, but fun ending featuring Picard.

There’s really not much wrong with this episode, as the premise is interesting, the “big reveal” of finding out Angosia III’s secrets was well-done, and it finally features a lead character–Troi–in a role that does not seem to compromise her as a person. The only real complaint I have is that it seems they recycled scenes by having the fugitive break out so much. It’s not a bad thing at all, but it felt like they were using the escape to fill space.

Grade: A- “A fun episode with a great balance of mystery and action.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It had good action scenes and interesting characters.”

“The High Ground”

Plot

The Enterprise is providing aid to the inhabitants of a planet embroiled in civil war when Dr. Crusher is kidnapped by the rebels. As Riker tries to coordinate efforts to rescue her with the local police force, Crusher realizes that the rebels are being destroyed by their own technology. She tries to help them, but they ultimately attack the Enterprise as well. Finally, Wesley manages to track their movements and Riker works with the local authorities to rescue Crusher and Picard. During the rescue, the police chief kills the rebel leader, hoping to end the violence, and is almost killed by a boy who Wesley talks down. The possibility for conversation is thus opened.

Commentary

There’s a lot going on in this episode, and much of it is great. The juxtaposition of different viewpoints as we first see the local authorities, then the rebels gives a picture of conflict as more complex than “good guy” and “bad guy.” Riker’s relationship with local authorities has much of interest. The increasing tension as the conflict embroils the crew of the Enterprise ever more deeply was done well, and the ambiguous ending caps it off with some thoughtful moments.

Unfortunately, not everything goes right. In particular, the rebel leader’s creepy stalker-ish behavior around Crusher is weird. He keeps drawing pictures of her which the episode makes feel like a clumsy attempt to endear him to the audience (it doesn’t work). In fact, his character overall is off-putting despite clear attempts to make him add to some of the moral ambiguity throughout the episode. He’s just not that relatable but rather aloof and creepy.

Overall, though, this is another solid entry. The action is great, and the intensity of the episode almost never lets up. Although the rebel leader is not great, Crusher’s performance makes up for it a bit. A good but not great episode.

Grade: B+ “Great juxtaposition of viewpoints, but a few oddities keep it from all-time greatness.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It had solid characters in ways we don’t always get to see them and a compelling plot.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 “The Survivors” and “Who Watches the Watchers”

Tea good. House good. Worf pleased.

Tea good. House good. Worf pleased.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“The Survivors”

Plot

A settlement of 11,000 people is destroyed but for one household. The crew of the Enterprise attempts to figure out why they were spared, while being chased around the system by an angry ship. Meanwhile, Troi experiences mental trauma as a song continues to play. Picard eventually figures out the ship (and song) are caused by the man on the surface who is an extremely powerful being. That being reveals himself, heals Troi, and admits to killing off an entire species because of what they did to the colony. Picard concludes the being is to be left alone.

Commentary

This is one of the more memorable episodes so far in TNG. It starts off very slowly, but eventually the seeds of mystery planted in the beginning come to fruition. The plot keeps viewers guessing throughout, but not in a way that is ever obvious. Yes, it’s clear that the evil ship has a connection to the couple, but viewers have to reason alongside Picard in order to try to figure it out. It’s a mystery which keeps viewers guessing until the end. It is unfortunate that the episode feels so slow. It’s not bad at all, but the whole thing just lacks the kind of pacing that the greatest episodes of TNG are able to muster.

Worf’s “I like gall” line was great, but his “Good tea. Nice house.” one-off was better. He’s a great character so far for these one-liners, but I can’t wait to see him develop more as a character.

Picard’s moralizing is interesting, and leads to a number of questions: why could not such a being be punished?; how could this be seen in any way as justice (as Picard possibly implies)?; is there a punishment which could be meted out upon a such a being? These and other questions spring to mind, but “The Survivors” leaves them unanswered at the end, allowing viewers to muse upon them as the Enterprise flies off to another adventure. It doesn’t feel unsatisfying; rather, it calls for reflection in the way that the best episodes of TNG do.

Overall, a very solid episode marred by a fairly slow pace.

Grade: B+ “It’s not a thriller, but it stays interesting–and mysterious–throughout.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was slow to get started but ultimately the plot was quite compelling.”

“Who Watches the Watchers”

Plot

A Starfleet anthropology site is seen by the locals when a hologram projector fails, leading to the belief that Picard is deity. Troi is a captive and her life is in danger as the locals attempt to please their re-discovered belief in the “Overseer.” Ultimately, Picard reasons one of the proto-Vulcans into unbelief and convinces the rest that he is not a deity. They part ways, but have learned more about the broader universe.

Commentary

There is much to love in “Who watches…” First, I haven’t commented on the music in the series yet, but this episode had some pretty solid tracks. At some points they got overbearing/repetitive, but it is the first episode I actually noticed the music in, and it was a good thing overall. Second, the concept of Starfleet having little observation posts all over the place is compelling and interesting, and I remember my childhood wonder at the fact that they’d be there in the midst of discovering. Third, the overall plot is pretty solid.

Unfortunately, the episode isn’t all great. The main difficulty is the constant theme of “religion is for idiots.” On a blog with the title “Eclectic Theist” it should be no surprise that I think this is bunk. Picard emphasized that getting beyond belief in deity was a major intellectual accomplishment, and I would agree that it is–when one is not believing rationally in the actual God. However, apart from the fact that it is very reasonable to believe in God, the whole episode seemingly relies upon the history of religions school which is largely bunk. That is, it seems to portray simplistic primitive religion (which the people of the planet are retreating towards) as an evolutionary step on a movement beyond totemism and finally into “enlightened” atheism.

Now this history-of-religions is actually false, but it also makes for an episode which continues to operate on a kind of moralistic anti-theistic level which is just grating on the nerves. We can debate the finer points throughout, but that is for a different place (see linked posts). My point regarding this as an episode is that it simply destroys much of the appeal of the plot to have religion reduced to such simplicities that people instantly “devolve” into “primitive” religion when confronted with technology, and that this would seem just obviously true. It’s a weak plot point and, again, rams down our throat the notion that it is true throughout, despite having little empirical evidence and even a great amount of counter-evidence (see, for example, this book).

Okay, I promise I’m getting off the high horse now. The episode has a solid premise and some genuine entertainment value. It’s just brought down by the points mentioned above, along with the difficulty of believing that the situation would in any way develop as it did. To think that a person could move from unbelief to casually choosing to attempt to murder others to please an alleged deity is tough to swallow (and speaks to the what I mentioned above). It makes for one of the episodes where you wonder about what could have been rather than what is actually presented.

Grade: B- “A memorable episode brought down by shoved-in-your-face moralizing.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B- “It was a good story, but there were too many unbelievable plot moments.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin religion- Who cares about facts?– I discuss some difficulties with the alleged origin and development of religion from totemism to ever-increasing complexity of practice. This belief is commonly associated with Freud, but is there evidence for it?

SDG.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 “Manhunt” and “The Emissary”

The moment I realized this would not be a good episode.

The moment I realized this would not be a good episode.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Manhunt”

Plot

The Enterprise is playing shuttle for delegates to a conference: two fish people and Lwaxana Troi. The latter is in midlife crisis mode for a Betazoid and goes after Picard, random people, Riker, and a holodeck character in turn. The episode follows Troi’s attempts at conquest and Picard’s evasions. In the end, Troi fails and leaves, after revealing the fish people as assassins.

Commentary

Lwaxana Troi.

Those two words, which compose a ridiculous name, are instant episode-killers. I don’t remember every episode with the mother-Troi, but I’m going to take that as a blessing. Anyway, this episode was ruined the moment the elder Troi showed up and unleashed her innuendo-laden comments and ridiculous caricature of hyper-sexuality into the mix. The scenes with her pursuing Picard are generally painful and filled with poor dialogue.

There are good things in the episode, like Picard’s genius move to use Data to use up all the time with Troi at dinner, the episode’s title as a pun, or Worf’s random admiration of fish-people “They’re a handsome people.” Picard’s introduction to the holodeck was also pretty funny, as the program continued to up the ante with violence when Picard just asked to relax. Ultimately, though, these moments are not enough to save the episode from the garbage heap.

Grade: D “Lwaxana Troi is in this episode. Enough said.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: C “It just felt sort of silly.”

“The Emissary”

Plot

Commentary

Star Trek poker is always awesome, and the introduction was once again awesome. Data’s interaction with Worf was hilarious. “Talk or play. Not both.” Worf, you complete me.

Anyway, this is one of those episodes that really sells TNG as a series. It’s a stand-alone, as they all are, but it has far-reaching plot threads that viewers can feel even with just one episode. It sets up future plot events–or at least makes it seem like we’ll encounter again. But it also looks backwards and fills in story for one of the key characters, Worf. Set that alongside a solid main plot with an awesome climax (Worf’s idea to save the day was just brilliant) and “The Emissary” is the best episode to come along in a while.

There are few downsides to this episode apart from the fact that because it doesn’t really resolve the love story it introduces, it feels a bit anticlimactic at the end. Overall, though, with its dramatic plot, great character development, and very solid acting, “The Emissary” stands tall among the better episodes of the season.

Grade: A- “A full episode of epic Worf moments, with great character development and a good ‘main story’ to boot.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It had both a compelling plot and good character development.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 “The Samaritan Snare” and “Up the Long Ladder”

samaritan-snare

Don’t talk to someone when they’re reading, Wesley. Don’t do it! Oh… you did it.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“The Samaritan Snare”

Plot

Picard has to travel with Wesley to a starbase because his heart is giving out and he doesn’t want to lose face. Meanwhile, Riker and the Enterprise respond to a distress signal, which turns out to be a trap to try to capture a crewman from the ship. Geordi is kidnapped and eventually freed by tricking the aliens into lowering their shields, while Picard’s condition in surgery plummets. Dr. Pulaski is flown in and able to save Picard. High fives all around.

Commentary

Another episode with lots of elements, but this time they got put together in a cohesive and believable way. The background for Picard’s character, told through a dialogue with Wesley on the way to the starbase, was interesting and gave Picard’s character even more depth. It also says something about Patrick Stewart’s acting ability that he’s able to essentially deliver a monologue about his past and keep the audience in rapturous interest without any flashback scenes. Well done!

The main (or side?) plot with Geordi being kidnapped was a good premise, though the aliens couldn’t have been any dumber. It’s like they have an intelligence score in D+D of 3 or so (if you get that, you’re awesome). Anyway, it was resolved through some clever trickery, making light of a rather suspenseful situation (I mean, Geordi was basically tortured!), but not in a dismissive way. It was pretty well-executed.

The episode is not without flaws: the aliens are almost unbelievably stupid and one-dimensional, which makes it hard to believe they even managed to make it out of their beds, let alone off their planet. The fact that Riker doesn’t immediately act on Troi’s words telling him Geordi was in danger was really hard to comprehend, particularly since Worf concurred. As my wife said, and I agree, “When the Betazoid and Klingon agree on something, you’d better do it.” I mean seriously, your psychic counselor and warrior-man each say Geordi’s in danger! Time to act now Riker! Also, Pulaski’s bedside manner continues to be ridiculous.

Overall, though, it was a fun episode with elements of humor and some awesome character building for Picard. I thought about scoring it lower than I did, but I enjoyed it too much to be realistic with anything lower.

Grade: B “Patrick Stewart’s acting ability brings an average episode into the ‘good’ range.” 

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “I enjoyed the character development but the Geordi kidnapping adventure was strange.”

“Up the Long Ladder”

Plot

The Enterprise responds to a distress signal and beams up a bunch of displaced 19th century Irish people (okay they actually left Earth to try to live a simpler life, but whatever). As they try to figure out what to do with them, they go to a second colony which apparently is populated entirely by clones. The latter colony faces a crisis of genetic breakdown as their clones continue to deteriorate in genetic quality. They steal Riker and Pulaski’s DNA but are thwarted. Ultimately, the solution is to lump the Irish with the clones so they can have a broader genetic base and learn from each other.

Commentary

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way quickly: this episode is made up of two episodes. Halfway in you’re thinking it’s about the weird struggle of coping with some Irish people, then the rest of the episode follows the drama of the clones. It’s as though the writers just put two episodes with the same premise together and then hack-jobbed an ending onto it. First half is an episode about trying to find a way to deposit the Irish, and, of course, Riker’s latest affair. Second half is a more intense episode about clones desperate for aid. Then, the ending is put forward to try to tell you that, oh yeah, we decided to make this one episode. It’s too crazy.

I should note the intro scene with Worf’s interaction with Pulaski was just awesome. Seriously, Pulaski still has a lot of growing up to do, but she delivered a great scene with Worf and the whole tea ceremony was epic. I absolutely loved it.

Random comments: Can I just question why it took Starfleet a month to respond to the distress signal? I mean seriously, what if everyone were dead? Also, how many women has Riker been with at this point in the series? A lot. I know he and Troi aren’t officially a thing, but come on! Show some restraint!

Anyway, the episode just seemed like two episodes that the writers decided to jumble together because they had similar premises. It just didn’t work. The ultimate solution–breeding with at least 3 different people–was absurd on its face both on the side of the clones and the Irish. Whatever happened to the Prime Directive, or does it not apply to human colonies? Moreover, how could Picard (and Troi, for that matter) sanction the “shotgun wedding” taking place (yes, that term was used)? It was just absurd. A roller-coaster ride of an episode with brilliant moments marred by lots of garbage time.

Grade: C- “Two completely different episodes + the need to put them into one episode = one deus ex machina (read: “absurd”) ending.” 

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B- “The divergent colonists made for an interesting dilemma but the solution involved a lot of people acting out of character.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Star Trek: The Next Generation “Pen Pals” and “Q Who?”

q-who

At last we reveal ourselves to the Enterprise; at last, we shall have revenge.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. Here, we’re in season 2 and discussing episodes fifteen and sixteen. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Pen Pals”

Plot

Wesley is put in charge of a team for a geological survey of a planet in order to continue his development towards officer training. Meanwhile, Data receives a transmission asking “Is anyone out there?” and decides to answer it by saying “Yes.” It turns out the transmission is from a young girl whose planet is experiencing geological upheaval. Data wants to fix it, but this would violate the prime directive. Ultimately, Wesley’s team figures out a way to stop the upheaval while Data saves his interstellar pen pal, after which her memory is erased.

Commentary

Wesley’s struggles with his first command of a team were actually pretty compelling. It was delivered in a winsome way while also cashing in on the premise. Watching him in a command situation while also trying to figure out the nuances of the situation was well-done and even well-acted.

The discussion over the Prime Directive between the senior officers was interesting, and the juxtaposition between Worf’s absolutism and Pulaski’s willingness to bend it was great. The ensuing debate over fate and the plight of a world was great, bringing forward philosophical ethical issues. Picard’s reasoning about moral certitude was catching, and Data’s insight into the issue not being a philosophical debate was well-placed.

The episode raises these questions alongside the debate over wiping the memory of the alien girl. Pulaski comforts Data by pointing out they need to wipe the girl’s memory to allow her to stay on whatever path she was born into, but one wonders whether perhaps her path would be to discover that there is life “out there” among the stars. Similar questions about fate were raised with the previous discussion on the Prime Directive, and TNG often tries to answer the questions. Here, we’re basically just served a number of questions without a proposed solution. It’s frustrating and charming all at once, and it calls for reflection afterwards as well.

Despite all these great aspects, there really was quite a bit of need for “suspension of disbelief” throughout this episode above and beyond the standard fare. Why didn’t Data immediately report this contact with alien life to Picard or a superior? Why does O’Brien unquestioningly transport Data and this alien to the Enterprise? Wouldn’t there be some kind of discipline for flaunting the Prime Directive so eagerly? Since when did they have the technology to wipe out memories, and how easily could they solve other Prime Directive issues with it? (Or apply it to crazy amounts of criminal activity?) How does a planet’s geological upheaval get fixed within seconds? The questions just keep coming, and the episode almost gleefully flaunts these issues without offering any explanation. They keep “Pen Pals” from being the great episode it could be.

Grade: B “Any episode that stars Wesley and isn’t terrible is refreshing. The stretching of imagination, however, got painful.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: C+ “It was nice to see Wes grow in his character, but the plot was very hard to believe.” 

“Q Who?”

Plot

Q shows up and is petulant because Picard won’t make him a crew member so he shoots the Enterprise off to meet the Borg. The Enterprise is worse for the wear after the engagement and Picard appeals to Q to get them back home. He does, the end. Oh, and Guinan is apparently hundreds (or thousands… or millions… or !?) of years old and has some history with Q somehow. Oh, and there’s a new engineering Ensign named Sonya who’s overeager and a klutz.

Commentary

If my summary seems a little chaotic that’s because I was trying to reflect the episode: it has a lot going on and seems a bit thrown together. We never get any reason behind Sonya’s introduction and she seems tacked on. The encounter with the Borg has much drama, but Q was there to deus ex machina the whole thing. It was cool to have the episode point ahead: “Look out for what’s coming!” but hard to follow that theme alongside weird revelations about Guinan. Lots of questions were raised, and no answers provided. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it also leaves me scratching my head. What was the point of this episode? It’s like an episode-long version of “What’s next on TNG.”

That said, the Borg are awesome. The creators did an awesome job introducing a truly sinister threat, but doing so in a way that isn’t over-the-top. There’s no question that the Borg are a major threat, but there’s also no question that they aren’t sporting devil horns and worshiping Satan; that is, they’re not evil for evil’s sake. There’s a mystery to them that makes the episode more appealing and wins me over despite its total lack of cohesion.

If the episode had simply stayed about the Borg and Q trying to show Picard they need to prepare even more, it would have had more cohesion. As it stands, it’s got too much going on to be a truly great episode.

Grade: B- “Introducing the Borg was genius, but it could have been done without so many distractions.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was very interesting but the Q manipulation felt artificial… and annoying.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

The Day I Discovered Japanese Military Science Fiction

all-killThere  have been a few movies in the past which have sent me scrambling to find the book afterwards. None, I think, will I mark as important as “Edge of Tomorrow” (check out my look at the themes in the movie). The book that inspired the brilliant film is All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. I decided to pick up the book because I enjoyed the movie so much and had heard it was worth reading. Thank God I did!I found some really fascinating elements spread throughout the book, like sacrifice, comments on truth, and human nature.

Mark it: 6/27/14 was the day  I discovered Japanese Military Science Fiction. Yes, I already liked military sci fi. David Weber is my favorite author with his masterful Honor Harrington series. But All You Need Is Kill comes from a different cultural perspective–one in which the individual is not valued so much as the group. It reflected throughout the novel.

Then, at the end, there was an advertising page. Apparently the publisher, Haikasoru, has brought over more Japanese military sci-fi.

It is now time to devour these works. I must have more! All You Need Is Kill was just fantastic. It was a short book, but dense–each page seemed to be dripping with development. The characters received more development than one would think possible in 200 pages. It was a masterwork, if I’m going to be honest.

I can’t wait to dive in and read more.

Have you read any Japanese Military Sci-Fi? If so, what have you read? What other branches of sci-fi am I missing out on? Let me know in the comments!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 “Time Squared” and “The Icarus Factor”

icarus-factor

“Riker, I am your father!” “NOOOOO!!!” *read as Vader*

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. Here, we’re in season 2 and discussing episodes thirteen and fourteen. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Time Squared”

Plot

The Enterprise discovers its own shuttle from 6 hours in the future, complete with Picard. They scramble to find out what went wrong as the ship’s destruction is imminent. Picard is forced to kill himself (?) in order to stop the time loop and prevent the continuation of a cycle of death for the Enterprise.

Commentary

TNG has become famous for its time-travel episodes, and “Time Squared” is another great reason why. A sense of impending doom and mystery pervaded throughout the whole episode, as they raced against the clock to discover how to save the Enterprise. The sense of mystery is never fully resolved, either, which adds to the compelling nature of the episode. How long had the loop been going for? How many times had Picard made the wrong choice? Was it only once? Could they have been stuck in the loop for thousands of times? If future-Picard was killed, does that impact an alternate universe? These questions, and more, are raised by the episode.

The discussion between Pulaski and Troi over Picard’s potential lack of capacity for command was a great use of both characters as well. They took a concern for the safety of the ship to the forefront and delivered on a great character-building conversation.

I should briefly mention the fun intro scene in which Riker makes a eggs for his friends. The humans all think they are disgusting, but Worf pounds them down and his only comment is “Delicious.” Love it. Worf is so awesome.

Overall, this is one of the better episodes in a solid season.

Grade: A- “Another awesome time-travel episode to add to TNG’s list.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: C “It was interesting but there didn’t really seem to be a reason for any of it.” 

“The Icarus Factor”

Plot

Riker is given the chance to promote and has to meet his dad to discuss the aspects of his possible new assignment. Pulaski apparently was in love with Riker’s dad. Meanwhile Worf is mad for some reason. Wesley helps solve the issue by giving Worf a Klingon-pain festival, while Riker solves his daddy issues through future-martial arts. Ultimately, Riker turns down the promotion and it’s business-as-usual on the Enterprise.

Commentary

This episode suffers from a bit of “too much of a good thing” complex. There really is enough going on in this episode for 2-3 episodes, and it shows as no aspect is given the screen time it deserves. Worf’s character is always interesting, and it seemed to undercut his character to have his tension so cheaply resolved by a trip to the holodeck. The love-tension between Riker’s dad and Pulaski is another interesting facet to Pulaski’s character, but is left essentially unresolved at the end.

There is a decent amount of gender essentialism in this episode which drove me up a wall. According to Troi, despite our evolution as a species, there are still things that each gender must hash out in their own ways. Troi and Pulaski then shake their heads collectively at all men-folk. This concept of having each gender specifically acting out in certain ways is largely shattered by simple observation, but it also makes one wonder about men who do not fulfill such stereotyping now (i.e. I am not a martial artist and have not been in a fistfight… therefore I solve problems in a less manly way?). For a show that is supposed to be set in the future, it sometimes looks into the past with its comments on gender.

The “Ultimate Evolution” of martial arts is hilarious and awesome at the same time. Where did they think of this? Blindfolding combatants and having them find each other with staffs that make sounds when they find the adversary is genius and fun to watch. I hope we make this into a real thing someday.

Riker’s change of heart over accepting the promotion would have been shocking if it weren’t obviously going to happen. His explanation is simple, but one has to wonder whether he did it to rebel against his father or to follow Troi or simply because he wanted to learn more.

It’s not at all a bad episode, it just has far too much going on to really get on board with any one of the many threads throughout.

Grade: C+ “Too many plot threads and gender issues bring down this otherwise compelling episode.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “It was good character development but very busy.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 “Contagion” and “The Royale”

Contagion

From one machine to another?

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. Here, we’re in season 2 and discussing episodes eleven and twelve. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Contagion”

Plot

The Enterprise is infected with a millenia-old virus that threatens to tear the ship apart, while also being pursued by a Romulan Warbird. Picard manages to save the day with his knowledge of archaeology, while Data plays interpreter. Starfleet and Romulus avoid war again.

Commentary

This was definitely an entertaining episode. I love the fact that Picard has a side interest in archaeology. It fits his character beautifully and was seamlessly interwoven into the episode. The focus around an ancient alien race was a great premise, and the fact that they were able to maintain the mystery of that race while still putting forward a compelling episode is something to be credited. Adding the Romulons to spice up the plot with some added tension was a wise choice as well.

All that said,”Contagion” is not without a number of flaws. The “believability” factor strikes in a number of places. It took too long for the crew of the Enterprise to figure out what was happening with their computer, for one. They’re instantly racing to the alien planet when they are near a cloaked Warbird undermines much of the credibility for wanting to “keep the technology” away from the Romulons. Blowing up one base on the planet’s surface was great, but who’s to say there wasn’t far more technology that was missed on the way?

Overall, it was a very solid episode, just not as well realized as it could have been.

Grade: B “A fun, interesting, and flawed episode. Picard wins again.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was entertaining and kept me guessing.” 

“The Royale”

Plot

Data, Worf, and Riker beam down to the surface of a planet in a zone which is inexplicably safe for humans. There’s a building, the Hotel Royale, which they explore, only to find they cannot leave until they have figured out how to bring the plot of a novel which it was based on to its culmination. Data rolls the dice, wins enough to buy the hotel, and they leave.

Commentary

The premise of this episode isn’t all that awful, but then as it continues I realized that the notion the whole world is based on this B-rate novel doesn’t help it at all. It turns out that the episode is just as boring as its inspiration. Cliche’s are strewn throughout, the characters in the casino never progress beyond cardboard cutouts, even the “big reveal” of discovering the NASA crewman is delivered in a ho-hum fashion.

Deanna Troi’s capacity to read other’s emotions comes to the front a couple times in this episode, and it seems fairly inconsistent. In some episodes, all she gets are vague “That person is happy” while in others she can say “oh they’re definitely lying”; in “The Royale,” she goes so far as to say that Riker has a feeling of being trapped like in a box. Maybe we can credit that to her knowing Riker better, but it just doesn’t cohere as well as it should. Her character continues to serve as one with a lot of promise, but little delivery.

The only thing to save this episode from all-time worst levels is the entertainment of watching Data gamble throughout. His fixing the dice at the end is genius, and the way he quickly engages the crowd is charming and so Data. I almost considered upgrading my overall score more, but even Data’s best efforts can’t salvage this yawn-inducing episode.

Grade: D “Just as exciting as one would expect a B-rate novel which drove the premise of the episode would be, which is to say ‘very boring.'”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “It was entertaining but dragged and was somewhat predictable.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

The Fresh Morning: The Run

I don’t like to sleep in. I love the feeling of waking up to the birds chirping outside the window, smelling the freshness of Spring and Summer, and going out for a quick run.

There is something relaxing and even spiritual about running with the morning sun shining and the shining of dew on the grass all around. As I weave my way through the local community, I wave at people and they wave back. Sometimes, we even greet one another as it is someone I have seen more than once.

It’s about the experience: feet pounding on the ground, body striving to go, breath getting harder as I push myself to increasing speeds. But it is about more than that: a way to get out and see nature in the morning, to experience the community, and to recognize that I am part of a larger picture of reality that goes beyond the confines of my normal route to work and back.

I think there is something deeply spiritual to this activity. It is hard to describe and nearly ineffable, but it might be sensed, it is experienced. By placing myself in the context of a larger world, I acknowledge that the world is not centered around myself. There is a feel, a beat to the community as cars move in patterns, people go outside to get their papers, birds chirp in the trees, and squirrels seek ever-more acorns. As part of this world, I realize that it goes beyond myself. I realize that I have become part of…

The Fresh Morning: The Run.