Saturday 27 July 2019

FANS WHO: "The Final Game" - Part One

Back in 1973, plans for afoot for the upcoming eleventh season of Doctor Who. The final serial would have seen Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado face each other one last time as the Doctor and the Master. The Final Game would have served to write out the Master, revealing the secret of his true identity and might have also been the last serial for Pertwee's Doctor. Had The Final Game happened, the Master would have given his life for the Doctor in a grand send-off. The character would presumably not have been resurrected in the almost unrecognisable form played by Peter Pratt in 1976's The Deadly Assassin and Doctor Who history would have been very different.

Sadly, Delgado was killed in a road accident while filming abroad, and as such the story had to be scrapped. With his friend gone and several other cast members having left or being phased out, Pertwee made the decision to leave the series (by some accounts deliberately pricing himself out of the market so his contract wasn't renewed) so that the last serial of season eleven was confirmed as his last. The third Doctor regenerated at the end of Planet of the Spiders in 1974 and the third Doctor became the fourth.

Black Glove Studio - named for the Master's signature mittens - has been created with the purpose of bringing The Final Game to life. Chris McKeon, writer of a previous "lost story" -  the sixth Doctor regeneration novel Time's Champion - has taken the scant notes made by Robert Sloman for The Final Game and crafted his own version of the story, one that fits into the existing Doctor Who story. The essential part of the story remains: a final confrontation between the third Doctor and the original Master that we never had the chance to see.

With only part one so far available for preview, how the Master's story will play out is still a mystery until the serial is released in full on YouTube. Based on the first part, The Final Game has all the makings of a fine Doctor Who adventure, with an authentic late Pertwee era feel. This does mean it's a little slow in spots, but this was the case for many of the original serials, and there's a nice air of mystery concerning the Master's involvement in the story. The story includes an omniscient narrator, who uses a deliberately portentous style to sell the momentous nature of the story.

The performances in the story are generally good, with a selection of third Doctor era characters recreated for our listening pleasure. In most cases, the actors don't provide impersonations of the original cast, instead giving their interpretation of the characters. Sarah Wheatley's version of Sarah Jane Smith is a bit posher than the original but still has her confidence and humour, while Tony Fyler's clipped tones are perfect for the Brigadier. The vital roles of the Doctor and the Master are recreated excellently. Terry Cooper doesn't exactly sound like Delgado but reproduces the actor's delivery well, and convinces as the nefarious Time Lord. The biggest applause, though, has to go to Marshall Tankersley, who recreates Pertwee's Doctor with uncanny precision. He's better than Tim Treloar, who Big Finish have got to play the third Doctor in their own recreations of the era.

It's a fannish production with some characters who would been unlikely to appear in the serial as planned in 1973 but who are very welcome additions. It's a gorgeous celebration of the Pertwee era and I'm looking forward to the rest of the adventure.

At present, Black Glove Productions can be followed on Facebook. The serial will be released on YouTube when complete.

Thursday 25 July 2019

More Picard speculation has a full breakdown of the trailer here along with some speculation on what it all means.

Reflecting on all this, with more time to go over the details, it seems pretty clear that the Borg are a contemporary presence, rather than appearing only in flashback. This is reinforced by the fact that Hugh has been confirmed to be appearing. (He might be the Borg being operated on - not necessarily dissected - in the trailer, but it's not very clear).

It makes sense for there to be a link between Picard, Seven and Hugh, as they are the only recurring characters in the franchise to have escaped from the Borg. There are potentially, however, a lot more, especially considering that Voyager introduced a whole movement of drones who achieved individuality, and then ended with the destruction of a Borg transwarp hub and the Borg Queen. This was the last time we saw the Borg onscreen, except for the Enterprise episode "Regeneration," but that was set over 200 years earlier and featured Borg from Star Trek: First Contact (in either respect, from before the events of VGR: "Endgame).

We don't know the extent of the damage to the Borg following Voyager. The novel line and Star Trek: Online have explored the aftermath in completely different ways. Although the Queen died, she's died numerous times before and seems to simply be replaced by another, although the nature of her destruction in "Endgame" may have put paid to this.

In any case, there's nothing in the trailer to suggest that there are any Borg still active. The cube is being cut up and explored, and the Borg alcoves look like they might be in a Romulan facility. That said, I loved this detail, which suggests ate least some drones are being activated:

That's about sixteen years, by the way, so given the current understanding that Picard is set around 2397 to 2399, it's actually before the destruction of Romulus. Nonetheless, I'm wondering if the Romulans are trying to use Borg technology to set themselves ahead of the rest of the Alpha/Beta Quadrant powers, given that their power base in the area must be at rock bottom after their system was destroyed.

Interestingly, the IDW comic series Star Trek: Countdown, which until now has been the closest thing to a canonical look at the post-TNG period, revealed that Nero had enhanced the Narada with Borg tech, explaining how a mining ship could be so terrifyingly lethal. This had consequences in the Titan comic follow-up, but all this is outside of screen continuity and in another reality, so probably doesn't have much bearing here.

Then we have Data and/or B-4. Again, Countdown had Data as captain of the Enterprise-E after Picard's promotion to admiral, seemingly using B-4's body. This doesn't appear tenable with what we're seeing here, though. Brent Spiner's comments suggest that Data isn't fully restored, and a lot of fans have wondered if we're seeing a holodeck recreation. However, surely a holographic recreation of an AI could easily be considered an actual AI, especially if they're using Data's memories. To use a Doctor Who quote, "Different casing, same software."

A thread that was sadly not fully explored in Voyager, because it really got started just before the series ended, was the rights of holographic beings. There's no confirmation of Robert Picardo appearing as the Doctor, or indeed other versions of the EMH, but given his friendship with Seven and the AI theme that appears to be running through the trailer, I'd be unsurprised if he shows up.

So the remaining big question is Dahj, the young woman who comes to Picard for help. Based on nothing more than a hunch, I'm still convinced she's Lal, or at the very least, another android based off Soong's work. I realise she's bleeding in the trailer, but we don't know how sophisticated her appearance is now. In fact, given the research into the Borg, there's obviously a resurgence in the concept of integrating flesh and machine. Perhaps a restored Lal is a step ahead in the evolution of AI? Lal is Hindi for "beloved," although I haven't been able to find if "dahj" means anything.

Regardless of her identity, it looks like AI and cybernetic enhancement is a major theme of the series. The showrunners are obviously not worried about bringing back past characters and elements to use in Picard, and there's a lot of material from the TNG-era series for them to draw on. 

Sunday 21 July 2019

Exciting Star Trek news! Short Treks and Lower Decks!

While Picard is the big news, there's plenty more Star Trek coming in the new year. Discovery is heading to season three, now over a thousand years in our future in the 32nd century. We don't know much, other than there's a new regular character called Book, played by David Ajala (Manchester Black on Supergirl), and that the Disco crew don't make it to safety on planet Terralysium. I;m looking forward to breaking away from the 23rd century and seeing a whole new era of the Trek universe.

However, for those who want to see more of the recognisable universe, Short Treks is back with six new episodes. The trailer above tells us something about the first three, which give us more time with the Discovery version of the original Enterprise crew. Looks like we'll get to see Spock's first day on the Enterprise - and yes, he's shouting his head off (altogether now - "THE WOMEN!") It's good that we get to see more of Rebecca Romijn's version of Number One as well, and any more time spent with Captain Pike is worth your time. Plus, a tribble episode, with Archer's H. Jon Benjamin of all people. Looks like I might get Archer Trek after all.

The remaining three episodes include a Picard introduction, and two animated episodes. Whether these tie into a particular series in uncertain, although they may be related to the upcoming animated series Lower Decks. This is reported as a series of half-hour episodes set on the USS Cerritos, a California-class starship - a new one for the franchise. We'll follow four ensigns who try to keep the ship running. Rutherford in particular sounds fun - a cyborg who's basically described as a shit Geordi la Forge (so, just like Geordi la Forge then).

Left to right are Tendi, a medical officer (a new alien species perhaps?), Rutherford, Beckett (further art shows her wielding a bat'leth) and nervous Boimler. Then we have the bridge crew (including a Caitian as chief medic, it appears). 90s favourite Jerry O'Connell's on the cast - haven't seen him on anything for a while.

It'll be interesting to have an out-and-out comedy in the Trek universe, but we've seen various series manage comedy well in the past (particularly DS9), and I have high hopes for this one. As yet, no more information on the other animated Trek series, the Nickolodeon-based adventure show aimed at kids, and it sounds like that's still very early in the planning stages.

Exciting Star Trek news! Picard trailer!

Now, how ruddy exciting is that?

Straight from SDCC is a whole raft of info on the new slate of Star Trek series coming out in the near future. At the forefront of every old school fan's mind is just how will Star Trek: Picard play out? With the first full trailer now available, I'm more excited than I have been in years about a Trek production - probably since the 2009 movie was announced. There's an thoughtful tone to the trailer, but it still offers plenty of action among the introspection. And while I want to see new things from new Trek, Picard and the post-Nemesis universe are elements of the franchise that are worth exploring.

Naturally, I want to dissect this trailer and analyse everything in the hopes of predicting its course. It's confirmed in dialogue that it's set around 2397, "almost two decades" since Data's sacrifice in Star Trek Nemesis, set in 2379. This, then, puts it around ten years after the destruction of Romulus and Remus in 2387, as seen in Star Trek (2009). Last we saw Picard, he was making the first steps towards a lasting peace with the Romulan Empire. Given that he was also close to Spock and involved in his attempts at Vulcan-Romulan reunification, the destruction of Romulus is naturally something that will be weighing heavily on his mind.

Beyond this, things are more mysterious. There are a number of Romulans in the trailer, so Picard still has some kind of relationship with the people. Much more surprising is the inclusion of brent Spiner as Data. Spiner has previously been very reluctant to take up the role again, particularly as he is getting older and would struggle to play an ageless android these days. Of course, the Marvel films have pushed the way forward for convincing de-ageing algorithms, so it's possible to have him take on the role realistically again. At the beginning, Data is in pieces, which is actually rather rude health considering he appeared to be vaporised in Nemesis. (On the other hand, it could be his "brother," B-4, whose body is used.)

The other surprise cast member is Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, which is actually something i was half-expecting (well, it's what I'd have done). Seven was a fascinating character, and the chance to see how she's developed over twenty years in the Alpha Quadrant is irresistible. Moreover, Picard may have an interesting relationship with her, given their history with the Borg. We even see a Borg cube, although this could, of course, be a flashback. There also appears to be a Borg body - possibly Hugh, who has been rumoured to be in the show.

The main new character appears to be the mysterious young woman played by Isa Briones. There's no clue to who she really is, other than she's about twenty, good at fighting, and trusts Picard. Still, appearances are deceptive. My money is on Lal, Data's daughter. She died after only a couple of weeks of life, but technology and research must have moved on in the last thirty years of Trek history. If they can rebuild Data, couldn't they rebuild her? Yet a Romulan character seems to think she's a threat, and it flashes directly to the Borg cube. I wonder if perhaps this suggests tension between technological and biological life?

Most importantly, as the recent poster reveals, Picard has a dog. His name is Number One, because of course it is.

Saturday 20 July 2019

FICTION: "The Orb of Amarella"

I've been sifting through my old files and emails for certain bits and pieces, and while naturally I can't find what I was actually looking for, some interesting bits have popped up. I wrote this story twelve (!) years ago, for a young lad called Edward. My mum used to work as a teaching assistant, and Edward was one of her pupils. I think he'd have been eight or nine at the time, but it was a long time ago so I'm not 100% sure. I met him on one occasion I dropped in to see mum (might have been a bit of voluntary work there now I think of it, but again, this was a long time ago). He was a huge Doctor Who fan, so naturally we hit it off. He was having a hard time of it back then,so I wrote a little story for him in the hopes it would cheer him up. By all accounts, it worked, and he loved it.

I thought this was long gone, but I'd attached to an email which was still sitting in my drafts folder. It's very much written for kids, and not particularly original to be honest, but reading it back I think it works pretty well. If you happen to stumble on it Edward, I hope you're doing well. You'll be around twenty now, I guess, not far off my age when I wrote this for you. I hope you enjoy it again.

The Orb of Amarella

Edward Thomson was pretty bored. Winter could be like that. There wasn’t much on the telly this time of year, with all the good stuff being saved for Christmas, and it was too cold and damp to go outside. A little snow would have been better – the cold never mattered so much if it was snowing – but the closest the weather got was a layer of frost on the cars first thing in the morning. It was enough to melt into a film of icy water by lunchtime, so that all the hard, frozen ground would be turned into sticky mud and ensure that no one was allowed outside during playtime at school. It wasn’t even wet enough to be proper mud weather. You couldn’t go out in your wellies and jump in muddy puddles; there was just about enough mud to make sure you slipped over and fell flat on your face.

So, on the weekends, when his homework was done, there was little for Edward to do but let his imagination wander. It was that or think about school – and he didn’t like to think about that any more than he had to.

It was on a Sunday night, as another dreary and drizzly weekend drew to a close, that Edward forgot his boredom and drifted off to sleep. He found himself woken some time later. What had disturbed him? Edward realised that he could hear something – a faint sound, a whistling, like in old Looney Tunes when a character fell from a cliff. Only, this was getting louder.

He got out of bed, and rushed to the window, pulling aside the curtains. He saw, in the sky, a glowing dot of light, brighter than the moon. It burned with a golden light. As he watched, it grew from a point to a sphere. It was getting closer. At first, he thought it was headed towards him, but he realised it was angled downwards, and that it would land further away. As he watched, the glowing orb sped into his back garden – crashing, not with a loud bang as he’d expected, but with a dull thump.

Edward rushed out of the house, not caring how cold he was or about the feel of frost against his feet. He gingerly approached the glowing orb, sitting, undamaged, on the lawn. It was about the size of a tennis ball. The glowing softened, until it appeared simply as a shiny golden ball. Carefully – would it be hot? – Edward reached out, picking it up in his hands. It wasn’t hot, merely a little warm. Rushing back indoors, Edward went into his room.

He decided he’d keep his discovery a secret for now – no one else had woken up, and who knew what this might be? He’d have to take it with him to school, to make sure it wasn’t found while he was there. Carefully, Edward put the orb into his schoolbag, a jumper stuffed around it to keep it from producing a suspicious lump.

Eventually, despite the mystery and excitement, he fell asleep.

Later, the next day, after the school bell had rung for the long-awaited final time, Edward trudged out of the school gates, the orb still in his bag. He could feel it there, pressing against his back, the slight heat of it just perceptible through the fabric. He looked around for his mum, hoping to get his new find back to home to safety as quickly as possible. What he saw was not his mum. It wasn’t even human. Standing over the other side of the road, large as life and twice as ugly, was what could only be called a monster. It had to be seven feet tall, and at least three wide. It was roughly the shape of a man, but was incredibly bulky, with the sort of proportions that would dwarf a sumo wrestler. Its body was a deep, metallic green – something like a tank’s hull, or maybe more like the shell of a beetle. In fact, a beetle was what it reminded Edward of most. Its head was little more than a shallow lump between its huge shoulders; two dully glowing red eyes were facing him, beneath stubby antennae.

Edward gasped – the eyes were facing directly at him. The monster was looking right at him!

It began to stride over towards him – moving quickly, despite its bulk. It ignored the other children who stood around, stuck with fear and awe, and made straight for Edward. What should he do? What did it want? The answer came to Edward quickly – the creature had to be after the orb he had found. What else could it want with him? What should he do – hand it over to him?

A car screeched around the corner. The man driving it was going far too fast, and couldn’t brake quickly enough. Edward saw the look of shock on his face as his car smashed straight into the monster. The car buckled in the middle, as the driver opened his door, toppling out as he tried to escape. The creature was still standing, oblivious to the children screaming all around it, its attention momentarily taken by its collision. It didn’t look hurt – but Edward bet it was pretty angry.

Then, Edward did something possibly very brave, or possibly very foolish. He ran. He turned on his heels, and legged it as fast as he could in the opposite direction to the monster. He bumped and crashed into kids in his way, pelting down the road as quickly as he could. What was he doing? Wouldn’t the monster come after him? Why shouldn’t it have its orb back? However, something within him told him he had to keep the orb safe – and it wasn’t safe with the monster.

He snuck a look behind him – the monster had started coming after him. It wasn’t running, simply walking, calmly and purposefully towards him. It didn’t need to run. It would catch up with him eventually. Puffing, Edward continued to run – this was worse than cross-country!

He was concentrating so firmly on his running, that he didn’t notice a man step out in front of him from around the corner of the road. He ran straight into him , knocking the man back a bit. The man grabbed Edward by the shoulders, forcing him to a halt.

‘Whoa, steady on there, fella!’ said the man. Edward looked up at him. He was youngish, tall and skinny, with sticky-up brown hair. He was wearing a blue pinstriped suit with a shirt and tie, underneath a long, brown suede coat.

‘What’s the hurry? You late for your tea?’ the man had an enthusiastic voice, with a bit of a cockney accent.

‘There’s – there’s a monster after me!’ panted Edward.

‘A monster?’ said the man, then seemed to notice the creature that was approaching for the first time. ‘Oh, that monster – no worries. I’ll sort him out.’ The strange man pulled some kind of tool out of his jacket pocket – a thin, silvery instrument, sort of like a wand. He pointed it at the rapidly encroaching monster, and activated it. A blue light shone brightly from its tip, and an ear-torturing, skull-splitting whine filled the air.

The monster fell to its knees, clutching at its stumpy head. Edward felt like doing the same, but the man grabbed him by the hand and went running down the adjoining road. They swiftly came to a blue box, bizarrely just standing in the middle of the pavement.

‘In here – quick!’ he shouted.

The box was just about big enough for two people to squeeze inside, but it seemed better than no cover at all, so Edward followed the man through the narrow doorway…

… and into a vast golden cavern, in the middle of which stood some kind of futuristic machine, glowing from within with a blue-green light. Elegant crests of coral linked the floor to the ceiling. The man slipped off his coat and flung it casually onto a crook in one of the coral branches, dashing up a metallic gangway to the unfathomable device in the centre.

‘Go on, then,’ said the man, as he began to fiddle with buttons and levers on the machine. ‘Say it.’

‘Say what?’ asked Edward.

‘ “It’s bigger on the inside.” It’s what everyone says when they first come in.’

‘It’s fantastic!’ said Edward. ‘What is it?’

The man turned around to face him, a huge grin across his face. ‘It is fantastic, isn’t it? It’s called the TARDIS. It stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. It’s a sort of space-and-time-ship. It can take you anywhere, and anywhen. Brilliant, isn’t it?’

‘It really is,’ said Edward. ‘Um… am I allowed in here? I mean, I’m not really supposed to go with strangers.’

‘Very good policy,’ said the man, ‘but this is a pretty unique situation, wouldn’t you agree?’

‘Yes, but… who are you?’

‘I’m called the Doctor. What about you?’

‘Edward. Edward Thompson.’

‘Edward! Ed. Ted. Eddy-boy! Pleased to meet you!’ The Doctor dashed forward and shook his hand vigorously. ‘Now, before you ask, that thing outside is a Normanite. It’s from the planet Norman. Yes, it’s a ridiculous name, but it means something thoroughly grand and impressive in Normanish, I’m sure.’

‘What does it want?’ asked Edward, although he was sure he knew the answer already.

‘Same thing as me,’ said the Doctor, once more attending the strange central machine. ‘I’m looking for something very valuable. It has to be around here somewhere – I’ve been tracing it, tracking it across the Galaxy. I’ve been to Valuensis, Lonsys, Magathoria, Viltvodle Six, Baragwin… spent three weeks stuck in the Great Fellasorian Republic on Mannaton Three, after I took a wrong turn in the Sylvannic Wastes… got locked up for a month on Slarn, and totally lost the blooming thing. Finally got another trace on it, and where did it finally land? Only Earth! Can you believe that? Of all the places, on all the planets, in all the star systems, it lands in England!’ He finally stopped to take a breath. ‘Not entirely sure where, though, but it can’t be far. In fact, I think I’ve got its location traced… very strong signal… incredibly strong! In fact… it’s in here!’

The Doctor spun round to face Edward. ‘It’s in your backpack, isn’t it?’

Sheepishly, Edward removed the bag from his shoulders, and fished out the orb, still glowing gently.

‘Where did you find that? said the Doctor.

‘It landed in my garden.’

‘And you had to go and pick it up! Honestly, humans, have to go and have a poke… still, can’t whinge really, I’m the same. But, I’m afraid I’d better take that right now.’ The Doctor held out his hand, expectantly.

‘What is it?’ asked Edward, handing it over, a little reluctantly.

‘Only the most powerful object in this Galactic Cluster. That, Eddy-boy, is the planet Amarella.’

‘How can that be a planet?’ asked Edward, confused. ‘It’s tiny.’

‘Well, so’s the TARDIS on the outside. But it’s just huge on the inside. Amarella’s sort of the same.’ The Doctor sat down in front of Edward cross-legged. ‘You see, the Amarellans are an incredibly advanced race. About a million years ago, they developed psychokinetic abilities unparalleled in this Universe since the Carrionites and Hervoken wiped each other out in the Dark Times. It was practically magic – as close as you can get to magic in the real world, in any case. Of course, all the other species in the Galaxies wanted this for themselves. So to stop everyone trying to invade them, the Amarellans shrunk their planet down to the size of a tennis ball, enclosed in a protective sphere, trapped a baby sun inside to keep them warm and suntanned, and set it shooting off around the Universe. Clever, eh?’

‘So, what do you want it for? Are you after the power too?’

‘Me? Power! Nah, I’m just trying to keep it safe. After it swung back round into this Galaxy, I knew someone would get wind of it. Sure enough, the Normanites got a whiff of its power trail and set off after it. Found it had landed here just about the same time I did, it seems. Fortunately, you found it before them. I shudder to think what they could be capable of with that kind of power. Right bunch of thugs, the Normanites. They invaded Trion once, went around smacking the Trions with half-bricks in socks. Anyway,’ he took another deep breath, ‘I’ve got it now. Just need to get it back into the intergalactic void and away from trouble. Then I can nip back and send the Normanites packing.’

The Doctor leaped up, returning to the bank of machinery at the centre of his ship. ‘All I need to do…’ he said, flicking a series of switches, ‘… is dematerialise, and rematerialise somewhere between the Andromeda and Triangulum. Should be plenty far enough.’ The glowing object in the dead centre of the ship began to rise and fall, a noise like a warped trumpet rising from the depths. The movement stopped with a sudden clunk.

‘Now, wait a minute…’ said the Doctor, under his breath. ‘This isn’t right…’

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Edward, a bit worried about the idea of an alien spaceship going wrong with him in it.

‘Oh, nothing, nothing,’ said the Doctor, as he frantically pressed levers and twiddled with buttons. ‘Come on, old girl, what’s wrong?’

‘Doctor,’ said Edward, getting a mite panicky, ‘what is wrong?’

‘We’ve materialised on a planet,’ said the Doctor, straightening and sweeping his hair back. ‘A planet where there shouldn’t be a planet. And now the TARDIS is refusing to leave. Something is keeping her here, and I don’t understand what…’

He grabbed hold of a computer screen that protruded from the central machinery, swivelling it round to face him.

‘That’s impossible…’

‘WHAT?’ shouted Edward, and you couldn’t really blame him.

‘The planet we’ve landed on,’ said the Doctor, looking surprised, and a little dumbfounded, ‘is Amarella.’

‘But, that’s the planet you’re holding!’

‘Yeah, that’s right. So, the TARDIS is on Amarella, and Amarella is in the TARDIS.’ He broke into a huge grin. ‘Brilliant! Only, a bit of a problem really. No wonder we can’t take off – infinite recursion. A’s inside B but B’s inside A… we’re stuck in a loop. The Amarellans final trick… it’s a space-time trap.’

To be continued…

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Trailers for Far From Home were careful to avoid spoilers, even giving warnings about spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, from Tom "King of the Spoilers" Holland, of all people. This review, on the other hand, contains spoilers, so it's after the break.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Immigration: Hatred vs. Compassion

This isn't going to be a well-thought out essay or anything. It's just a collection of things that I've been fuming about on Facebook over the last few days after some time at least trying to keep my feed positive but finally giving in to the nightmare future we're careening towards.

Quick bit of background: I'm British, I live in the UK. I'm not an immigrant. A quick look at my name will tell you, though, that my ancestors were. As it happens, my genes are a mix of English, Welsh, French and traveller. I don't even know if they were Roma or Irish travellers or a mix of the two, and frankly there's bound to be other elements in my ancestry I'm not aware of. A fair number of my friends, including some of my closest, are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, from all the continents of the world. (Well, the inhabited ones. I don't know any Antarcticans.) Brighton and Mid-Sussex are pretty white, British areas, and even here there are quite a few immigrants living amongst us. And this is a good thing, in spite of the standing alone rhetoric the Brexiteers and assorted far-right parties are spouting.

Yet none of this compares to the bile that's being peddled in the United States lately. The most openly racist president in modern history is leaning heavily into outright xenophobia and race-hate, not in spite of his supporters, but because of them, because the people who support him are largely the sort of people who hate anyone brown or with a funny accent and have been dying to say it outside their homes for years. (The few non-white people who support Trump have achieved a level of cognitive dissonance I truly can't fathom, like a working-class gay man who wants Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.)

Case in point. Now, in this latest semi-coherent address, Trump was talking about immigrant gang members, who I'm sure in many cases are exactly the sort of people who should be deported. It's illustrative though, and it's a very short hop from this to calling the criminals families animals, or anyone else from their country, legally migrated or not. This, in the same week that Trump told four US congresswomen to "go home" to their "shithole countries," to crowing applause from his supporters. This, in spite of the fact that three of them - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley - were born in the US, and the fourth, Ilhan Omar, is a naturalised citizen of the country.

Omar's treatment is perhaps the most heinous, since she came to the US as a refugee from Somalia when she was twelve. The first non-white woman elected in her state of Minnesota, and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, the other being the aforementioned Ms. Tlaib. Crowds at yet another rally of Trumpites shouting "Send her home!" is positively disgusting. Yet it's exactly the sort of thing we should expect from the sort of people who gleefully voted him in. And all the while, this more sellable crime against humanity is diverting attention from his treasonous collusion with Russia and the latest evidence that he's a serial rapist.

Why so much focus on America? After all, it's not the only place where this shit is happening. The UK treats refugees like shit as well, with the notorious Yarl's Wood detainment centre being described as "hell" by the people held there. Given that the population there is overwhelmingly made of women and children, and the guards overwhelmingly male, it's depressingly unsurprising the number of accusations of sexual assault coming from there. All over the world, richer nations are dealing with refugees from poorer or more dangerous ones, and most are responding by treating them as criminals or worse. Anyone who wonders why the many people fleeing African states don't stop at Libya should how appallingly they're being treated when they make it there.

I think the reason that what's happening in the US is so intensely rage-inducing is that every single person in that country is an immigrant or from recent immigrant stock. Except for the descendants of the handful of survivors they left when they'd finished with the native population. (Ditto for Australia, who've had a real head start with this shit but have fallen out of the news lately.) The USA is, in spite of what the Republicans think, a secular nation that allows freedom of religion, which doesn't mean the freedom to discriminate against those you don't like but the freedom to worship as you wish. However, the supposedly Christian elite have somehow managed to skip the parts of the Bible where they were instructed to take in foreigners and treat them as their own. It's almost as if they don't actually care about their religion's teachings at all, just the parts that can be twisted to say they should hate those different to them. It's the shameless, screaming hypocrisy of it all.

Right now, calling immigrants "animals" isn't the biggest issue. They are being treated as worse than animals by the American and British governments. You couldn't legally keep cattle in those conditions in most developed countries. While Mike Pence calmly stands in front of cages crammed full of men, dispassionately calling the facilities a success, remember this has to be the least bad of the lot for them to have publicised it. Meanwhile, children are living and dying in squalid conditions where disease runs rampant. If you're debating whether or not something constitutes a concentration camp, you've already gone too far. The video at the top should not have become a reality between recording and broadcast.

Saturday 6 July 2019

TREK REVIEW: "The Captain's Oath" by Christopher L. Bennett

The popular image of James T. Kirk is greatly at odds with the character as originally conceived and presented. The idea of Kirk as a galactic lothario, a maverick captain with no respect for the rules is one that evolved out of the later episodes and films, further embedded in the public consciousness by many parodies. The version of Kirk we meet in the Abramsverse movies – womanising, rebellious, disrespectful and unrepentant – is a world away from the youthful Kirk we heard about in the first season of Star Trek, a studious, rule-bound young man who was still quite restrained even when he took command of the Enterprise. Amusingly, the Abramsverse version of Kirk is far more like Picard was at the Academy than the Cadet Kirk of the Prime timeline.

With The Captain's Oath, Christopher L. Bennett provides his own account of Kirk's early time as a starship captain. It's far from the first such attempt; aside from the 2009 movie's alt-timeline version, there's Enterprise: The First Adventure by the late Vonda McIntyre and various flashbacks in the comics over the years. Still, it's an under-explored part of Star Trek's history, and Bennett provides what might be considered the definitive version, at least as far as the literary continuity is concerned.

Rather than focus on one particular mission, Bennett provides an array of adventures from Kirk's early career, all of which shape him into the man we see in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and Star Trek's first season. Some of these – such as the rescue of the pre-warp Chenari people from imminent extinction – we've heard of before in passing. Others are entirely new inventions by the author. The novel is split into three main timeframes, covering Kirk's first command posting on the USS Sacagawea, a planetside posting and return to the Sacagawea and his eventual award of the command of the Enterprise. The story jumps back and forth between these timeframes, with the consequences of events sometimes being revealed before the events themselves. It's a deftly plotted book, and Bennett handles the multiple storylines well. He makes it look easy, which is the mark of true skill.

We meet various characters, both recognisable and new. It must have irresistible to portray the first meetings between Kirk and McCoy, Spock and Sulu. They feel at once momentous, due to what we know of the characters' futures, and ordinary, just another day on the job. We know what's coming, but the characters don't. Their storied futures are still to come. We also get to spend a great deal of time with Gary Mitchell, a character who is far more like the clich├ęd version of Kirk than the man himself. Of the original characters, my favourite is Rhenas Sherev, an Andorian archaeologist and long-time friend of Kirk, who recurs throughout the novel's different timeframes. She's a strong-willed, stubborn character who bucks authority when she's got a personal mission to complete.

Kirk's various missions give the novel a real sense of adventure. There are clashes with Klingons, first contacts and diplomatic overtures. Again, some of these involve elements fans will recognise – the early negotiations with the Acamarians from “The Vengeance Factor”, for example. Others are wholly new, included an ingenious sidestep to the planet Nacmor, a world at a 20th/21st century level of development where fictitious alien invaders are being used to keep the populace in line. Along with a later storyline involving the Aulacri, the problem of misinformation, whether it's withholding facts from the people or all-out “fake news” is a running theme.

There's one plot thread that runs throughout the novel, impacting multiple worlds. Without wanting to go into too much detail, because the fun is in discovering the truth along with the characters, it involves a new alien race that are novel in conception, and potentially pose a major threat to the Federation. As is often the case, though, things are not as they seem, and again Bennett uses a sci-fi setting to discuss the problem afflicting the USA and the world at large today. Exactly what Star Trek should be doing.

Throughout the novel, Kirk learns some sober lessons about command, learning when to follow orders, when to protest, when to stick to his guns, when to let others change his mind. He becomes less rule-bound, more willing to bend the rules or even break them, but only when it's the right thing to do. We see the impact his more relaxed friends and colleagues have on him, but never does he stray from the truer representation of the character that Bennett is striving to recreate.

Like much of Bennett's work, there's a clear intention to fill the gaps in Star Trek's history. Along with the many references and appearances by familiar elements, it steers close to fanwank, but the overall impression is that Bennett is someone who has really thought about this fictional universe and how it could work. For all the intellectual exercises and introspection in this novel, it's also tremendous fun.