Star Trek: The Next Generation – Coming of Age

Written by Sandy Fries, Hans Beimler, Richard Manning, Hannah Louise Shearer, and Tracy Torme
Directed by Michael Vejar

At this point as I go through the first season episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I am thinking I have seen just about enough of Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) and it’s about time they give this character a break.

Unfortunately, the Star Trek writers do not agree with me.

The sad thing is, if I hadn’t already been hit with Wesley-Crusher-overkill, this would have been a pretty good episode.

As the Enterprise orbits Relva III, two different stories are taking place. On one hand, teenager Wesley Crusher beams down to the planet to take Starfleet Academy entrance exams. He is pitted against three other youths from different species.

At the same time, the crew of the Enterprise is being thoroughly interrogated by Commander Remmick (Robert Schenkkan), the adjunct to Admiral Quinn (Ward Costello). The object of their suspicion seems to be Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart).

This is a well-balanced episode with very few holes in the plot. We get to see the crew talk about the episodes of the last season as they are interrogated about each event. Each crewmember conveys their frustration as Remmick seems to twist every answer of theirs to his own purpose. At times it seems as if he is almost trying to set Picard up to take a fall for some imagined indiscretion.

During the investigation, one of the youths aboard the Enterprise, Jake, hijacks a shuttlecraft after a fight with his father. His intention is to sign-on with a freighter after having failed to qualify for the exam that Wesley is taking. Picard has to deal with what is essentially heckling and harassment on the part of Remmick as he attempts to talk Jake through a major malfunction. Why they did not just beam him out of the shuttlecraft when it is first launched seems to be the only plothole in this episode. Beaming him out of the shuttlecraft is not brought up until he is – of course – out of range.

Watching Wesley deal with the demons of his past as well as trying to focus on what he has to do to pass the test is also very interesting. He must stay true to his own self and at the same time is being put through draining mental and physical exercises. The tests do not just measure his intelligence, but other factors as well.

What is nice here is the way the Picard/Quinn storyline is actually the first part of a two-parter. This is one of the first storyline arcs we see in Star Trek, as the conclusion comes at the end of season one. All of the actors involved in the interrogation give strong performances, from Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Worf (Michael Dorn) to Remmick on the other side. As Quinn begins talking about a vast conspiracy in Starfleet, we have to wonder if he managed to find a collection of old X-Files episodes (note: Star Trek‘s first season was well before X-Files.)

This is a fairly good episode, especially as the first part of the two-parter. The acting is strong, the plot does not feel contrived, and the characters seem to be acting with reason.

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Woke Up To The Sound of Pouring Rain

I don’t often talk about Danny any more, although I think of him often, especially when it rains.

Do you think I mean my son? No, but it’s who I named him for.

I remember the day I first saw him clearly. I was working in McDonalds near where I was living at the time. He walked in during an orientation, and my jaw dropped. “He is going to work here?”

To me, he was gorgeous. And what I considered out of my league at the time. More about that another time. Yes, he started working there. We became friends… then something more.

More than anything, he wanted to be a NYC Police Officer. That was his dream. At the time that seemed to be a “catch” to my parents who adored him. His parents liked me because I balanced his demeanor with my emotions and thoughtfulness. Everyone wanted to see us together.

Except us, apparently. Over the course of 3+ years we broke up and got back together many times. We were better suited to being friends and tried that, but once you crossed a line it was hard to go back. He worked as a bouncer at a club for a while and I’d bring my friends there every weekend and we’d hang out. When he finally got called to go into the police academy as a Transit Cop, he stayed at our house often because it was closer than his parents’ home. We drifted in and out of relationships constantly. I think we liked each other, maybe even “loved” each other, but we weren’t “in love” with the passion that so many feel. We dated other people, but it never seemed to work because we always drifted back together.

It was during one of those “friends only” times that the worst happened. He had been planning to stay at my house with me while my parents were away. I was a few weeks into dating someone who would end up being my oldest daughter’s biological father. Danny still didn’t want to see me at the house alone, so he was going to stay there. I knew he had a softball game on Sunday and didn’t think much of it when he didn’t show up that night. These were the days people didn’t have cell phones to keep in contact all the time.

Monday I went to work and came home – still no sign of Danny. Maybe he’d changed his mind. I wasn’t sure of his work schedule. I fed the dog, then sat down to read the newspaper, which was delivered in the afternoon those days. And I started screaming.

His death made headlines. On the way to the softball game there’d been a single car accident that had killed him, his brother, and one of their friends when they hit a tree. His parents hadn’t meant for me to find out from the newspaper. They’d called a mutual friend to tell me and somehow in all of the grief that didn’t happen. There are much better ways of finding out someone you care about has died in a horrific way. How someone finds out can make a difference.

I was alone. I was grieving. I called the house and Mom couldn’t even talk to me, someone else got on the phone and talked to me and I don’t even remember the conversation. I called my “new” boyfriend who couldn’t show up to make sure I had someone around me (that should have told me something). I was alone for the whole night and came close to giving myself alcohol poisoning with a bottle of Jack Daniels. It’s why I really don’t have a taste for it any more.

My parents didn’t come back home. I wanted to go out and stay with the family for the week. They were mostly worried about who would take care of the dog. So every day I had to drive back and forth nearly 2 hours to attend the wake and the funeral. When my parents came home, they wouldn’t even talk about it. That’s the way my family dealt with things like that – you didn’t talk about it.

I felt him around me a lot in those days. I promised myself when I had a son I would name him Danny. When I finally was able to do that, I was happy. That’s when feeling him around me started to diminish. I don’t feel him around at all anymore. I have “my Danny” now.

About a year or so after his death, this song came out. It always brought him to mind when I heard it. Even all these years later, whenever I wake up and it’s raining outside, I think of Danny because of this song. I think it’s likely we would have ended up together, had a few kids, then divorced. I’m realistic enough to know that we had too many issues. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have cared. That doesn’t mean I didn’t miss him in my life.

Hiking and Geocaching in Page Pond Community Forest, Meredith NH

Page Pond Community forest is a relatively new conservation area in the town of Meredith, NH. I hiked and geocached part of the area a few weeks back, near the old quarry site on the Quarry Trail. I went back with my son and granddaughter recently to find more of the geocaches hidden there and do more hiking during this time when we’re staying pretty close to home.

The map above is the most recent map of the trails in the forest. These are available at the trailheads where the “P” indicates parking. The online maps don’t show all of the current trails – the map above was revised January 9, 2020. There’s a total of 30 geocaches hidden within the confines of this community forest right now.

We parked at the Blueberry Hill Trailhead today and came in from a different direction. Our main objective was the Old Mill site and the Mill Dam. I’d also looked for the larger size geocaches to find since my granddaughter likes finding the bigger containers.

Danny and Boo, ready for action

After our last adventure where I found a water bottle wasn’t enough for me, I invested in a backpack with a 2 liter water bladder. I tried that out today.

The trails were well-marked and pretty easy to follow. This was about the largest incline we found. We had a one-day break after a pretty heavy rainfall and the trail wasn’t muddy to the point that we were blocked at any point.

There were nice areas through the forest with bridges over the larger water crossings. We saw small waterfalls in the stream that runs through the forest and once powered the old mill property located inside the forest.

The mill property itself was pretty interesting. I could see in the middle where the water wheel had once been. It’s pretty impressive to see these structures where the land around it provided the rocks for the foundation, and that’s all that remains any longer. The top was marked off to keep people away as the rocks are no longer stable, but we could walk up pretty close to it.

We walked a total of 4 miles on the trails and ran into 8 people during our time there. It wasn’t very busy mid-week during the quarantine. We found 7 more geocaches, meaning I’ve found a total of 16 of the 30 geocaches currently in the forest. I’ll have to come back another time to finish it up. Danny found two of them, and Boo found two (one just pointed in the right direction and the other I spotted and sent her to “retrieve” it with a big hint). I found the other three. One of the geocaches was attached to a beech tree, so we learned that a beech tree has smooth bark.

This is Page Pond, for which the forest is named. It had a couple of beaver dams at one end, although no sign of the beavers themselves.

The trails here are good for novice hikers without much of a strain. The stewards do well providing updated maps at the trailheads. There’s plenty of pretty scenery and interesting things to find. If you’re a geocacher, there’s a lot to find here.

Book Review – Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is an author known for his specialization in Alternate History. He asks the question what if something different had happened at some point in recorded history? In the Worldwar series of novels, Turtledove asks what would have happened if an alien race decided to invade right as World War II was going into full swing?

Sounds completely implausible, right? That’s what I thought before I began reading these books. I expected to be reading something out of a bad 50’s science-fiction B-movie.

I have been delightfully surprised.

In Upsetting the Balance Turtledove continues the story of the characters he has been following in the first two novels of the series. Though he does give brief summaries of what has happened to them prior to this novel, to really know them with the depth to understand all that is happening, you really do have to read the first two novels. However, you could get by without reading them and just start here. Why you would want to, though, is beyond me since the books are that good.

Having seen the horrors of nerve gas and mustard gas during the first World War, there was a great reluctance to use them on humanity. In Upsetting the Balance, once the alien race (known simply as The Race to themselves, while the humans call them Lizards) begins to invade Great Britain, the old caches of gas are brought out and used against them. It isn’t pretty, and Turtledove gives some fairly graphic descriptions of the effects of the gas. In Germany, the nerve gas is turned on the Lizards in an effort to beat them back from their assaults.

In China, guerilla warfare is being staged against the occupiers by the People’s Liberation Army. Though not able to drive The Race from their country, they do manage to make life very difficult at times. While in the United States, Denver is being protected at all costs as physicists attempt to produce nuclear weaponry.

Unknown to humanity, The Race is facing quite a few problems of their own. From insurrection and defection among dissidents, to massive addiction to the herb ginger (which has an effect on The Race similar to the effect of cocaine on humans), the Fleetlord Atvar must deal with complications never planned on. The most pressing problem seems to be the ever-dwindling supply of armaments brought with them for the invasion. The probe upon which they based information for the invasion was sent to earth almost 800 years before, and The Race has never encountered a species that has evolved at the rate that humanity has.

Chicago, Miami, Seattle, the outskirts of Moscow, Munich, Hanover, Breslau and Rome all begin exploding in fiery atomic pyres. This confounds The Race as the humans seem intent on destroying not just the invading Lizards, but their own world as well. It is only after this that The Race begins to catch on to the importance of shipping on our world – there being little water on their own.

If there’s one quibble I have with this novel, it’s the fact that to retaliate for one of the atomic bombs, Atvar chooses to bomb Pearl Harbor. I know Turtledove was going for the impact of having it bombed once again, but it didn’t strike me as realistic. So many other cities in the U.S. would have been targets with bigger impacts: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, New York (Washington DC was atomized in an earlier novel).

Overall, however, Turtledove has once again written a compelling, page-turner. The characters are all interesting an believable. He weaves historical figures such as Benito Mussolini, Albert Einstein and Robert Goddard in with his own characters such as Sam Yeager and the Shiplord Straha of The Race as they try to learn how to build weaponry and rockets on the scale of The Race. The humans keep turning out better and more sophisticated weaponry, while The Race‘s technology stagnates. That is a difference Turtledove manages to convey and which perplexes Atvar and the Lizards to no end: humanity’s knack for innovation.

In Europe we witness the exploits of the SS officer Otto Skorzeny as he proves to be a big thorn in The Race‘s side. Heinrich Jaeger, a Panzer (or tank) Colonel in the German army accompanies him on many missions, but does not share the same philosophy as Skorzeny. Many times he is uncomfortable with what he has learned about his homeland during the fighting. In this way, Turtledove manages to convey the faults of the various powers on Earth during this time.

With regards to the Soviet Union, not only are conversations between Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov – the Foreign Commissar – presented to us, but we also get to see the misinformation that was given to the people of the Soviet Union. Pilot Ludmila Gorbunova is a good citizen of her country and pretty much blindly believes everything she has ever heard coming out of Moscow all these years. The chinks in the armor of her beliefs begin to appear as she goes on missions outside of the Soviet Union and witnesses the world for herself. Even then, she desperately clings to her beliefs.

It is these characters – so realistically created with such different personalities – which make the novel. Instead of putting people in place who we hardly know, Turtledove has managed to create well-rounded characters who feel like real people we might have known. it is also another drawback of the book; keeping track of so many characters as Turtledove jumps around between them can be difficult at times. Each chapter is structured with vignettes about several of the characters to give the reader the impression that all of the events are happening at the same time at various places around the globe. To help the reader along, there is a “Cast of Characters” at the beginning of the novel to which the reader can refer back. This is not a novel which can be put down and picked up again weeks later, or you will forget who the various people are – the canvas is that wide.

Believability is the one key component to these novels, and Turtledove has managed to make it feel as if this could have happened. It is because of both his knowledge of history, and the details in the personalities of his characters, both human and Lizard. Turtledove has a PhD in Byzantine History from UCLA so this is why he has managed to create stories which feel authentic.

If you are a history or science-fiction buff, I think this series of novels is for you. This book in particular propels the series along nicely and does not drag in the least. It builds nicely towards the final novel in the series.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – When The Bough Breaks

Written by Hannah Louise Shearer and Tracy Torme
Directed by Kim Manners

The Enterprise follows a trail to a legendary planet that no one has yet been able to prove exists. When the planet Aldea is actually found by them, initially no one seems to question why, after all these years when no one else could find it, the Enterprise and its crew manage to. Eventually, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), the ship’s First Officer, does comment that it did seem like they were being led right to the planet.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to deter Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) in the least as he immediately seeks to establish relations with the Aldeans. Their technology seems to be much more advanced than that which the Federation currently possesses. The half-Betazed ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), also cautions that all is not what it seems after her empathic abilities kick in during a conversation with the Aldean leaders.

For a very long time the Aldeans managed to conceal their planet using a shield similar to a cloaking device. Why have they suddenly allowed themselves to be seen?

The answer comes when all of the children mysteriously disappear from the Enterprise. It seems that the Aldean race is dying off and they wish to take the children to replenish it. They offer technological and logistical information in return for these children. Captain Picard must now find a way to get the children back through the powerful Aldean planetary shield before they decide to enact the cloaking device and disappear.

This part of the plot is very well done. Watching Captain Picard deal with the Aldeans on one hand and the irate parents on the other was very interesting. Patrick Stewart has done a wonderful job, especially conveying the fact that Picard does not like children and feels quite uncomfortable around them. This does not prevent him from having empathy for the parents who do not know what has happened to their children.

The biggest part that doesn’t work, however, is the Aldean culture itself. This is a supposed advanced race with technology the likes of which the Federation can only dream. However, not one of the surviving Aldeans seems to have any clue as to how it operates. Doctor Crusher (Gates McFadden) eventually figures out that the power source for the great shield is depleting the ozone and allowing dangerous radiation to the planet which has caused the sterility. If this is so easy for her to discover, why weren’t one of the early scientists aware of this?

Here on Earth, we have noticed ozone problems with technology that is far behind that of the Aldeans, so it does not make sense that the people who created all of this technology would have no idea of the damage it could be doing. Even if it were believable that the remainder of the Aldean population has no mathematical or scientific education, the people who originally conceived of this technology should have been more adept. The Aldeans we see now seem to be totally clueless as parents as well when they have to deal with mild rebelliousness on the part of the children when they stage a “sit-in” demanding to be returned to the Enterprise.

If I had to guess, I would say that this episode was written by someone who hasn’t had children. They are entirely too well-behaved and seem to feel at home on Aldea entirely too fast. There are no signs that they miss their parents or act out until Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) organizes the “sit-in”. The one boy, who we are shown being scolded by his father for not wanting to learn calculus in the beginning of the episode, seems to prefer being on Aldea. When they are eventually reunited with the parents, it seems as if the parents are being played as the “bad guys” for telling the boy he has to go to school, rather than letting him do whatever he wants.

This is not bad for one of the episodes for the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, if a more plausible scenario was found for the source of the sterility of the Aldeans rather than the ozone depletion, it would have been much better.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Home Soil

Written by Robert Sabaroff, Karl Geurs, Ralph Sanchez, Robert Sabaroff, and Tracy Torme
Directed by Corey Allen

The Enterprise journeys to the planet Velara III to witness the terraforming of a planet. Terrafoming is when a scientific team takes a desolate planet which is seemingly incapable of supporting life and creates a livable habitat out of it.

Immediately upon arrival they are greeted with hostility by the Project Leader of the four-person team. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is immediately suspicious. Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), the part-Betazed Ship’s Counselor, uses her empathic abilities and announces that he is afraid of them and concealing something.

The crew beam down to the planet to investigate the facility. Soon after, the Hydraulics Engineer is mortally wounded by a malfunctioning laser drill. While attempting to investigate the malfunction, the android Data (Brent Spiner) is also attacked, but his android reflexes allow him to survive.

Now a Federation matter, Picard launches an investigation of the remaining three terraforming crew. He is convinced that one of them murdered the Hydraulics Engineer in an attempt to conceal something. They soon discover that there is inorganic, intelligent life on the planet living in a thin layer of water beneath the surface.

This life is brought back to the medical lab and soon begins to reproduce as it feeds off of the lights in the medical lab. It eventually manages to communicate with the crew using the universal translator, and declares war on the humans for the great loss of life its kind has experienced at the hands of the terraformers.

After manually shutting down the lights, they force the life form to listen to them and agree to beam it back to Velara III and abandon the terraforming project.

There are so many contradictions in this episode that it isn’t even funny. The build-up in the beginning seems to be that the terraformers know about the life-form but try to hide it in an attempt to carry-on their project. However, as the investigation wears on, it is apparent that none of the terraformers had any clue that this life form was on the planet. What is with all of the deception and concealment then? After all the sinister build-up throughout the episode, there is no payoff.

This team is supposed to be a highly knowledgeable scientific team, and yet Deanna Troi talks about the one member, Louisa Kim, almost as if she is an empty-headed ditz. When she can’t get anywhere with figuring out what she knows, she suggests that Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) talk to her instead as he might “have more success”. What is she insinuating here? That the young woman will swoon for the man and spill her guts to him?

It also becomes apparent that there was some signs that were missed by this scientific team, and again I have to question how they can be educated and knowledgeable in something like this and still be able to miss all the signs.

The episode could have been written with out all of the defensiveness on the part of the terraformers and I believe it would have worked better. An error in writing was made to build this up as if they are covering up something and then have them all to be clueless about what is going on around them.

The only salvage to some of the episode is the acting. Patrick Stewart does a great job as Captain Picard, having to play off of a dot of light for the last part of the episode. I thought Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi also came into her own a great deal more during the episode, although I wanted to gag when she said “We think all life is beautiful!” Eaten any meat or vegetables lately? You’ve eaten a living thing then. The writing is more at fault there, though, than her acting ability.

This episode wanted to show how highly evolved the human species had become and how much we value life, but it doesn’t get to that point. Instead it comes of as far too pretentious and self-congratulatory. It is just another example of a first-season episode with a good premise, yet it completely falls apart in the execution.

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In The Line Of Fire: Great Suspense Movie Starring Clint Eastwood

Written by Jeff Maguire
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

In The Line of Fire is a suspense-filled thriller about the Secret Service. In contrast to the film Murder at 1600, which I also recently viewed, the Secret Service here is portrayed in a much better light; having a responsibility beyond covering up for the President and his family.

Clint Eastwood portrays aging Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan. In the beginning of the movie we see him at work undercover in Counterfeiting Investigations. Dylan McDermott is his new partner, Al D’Andrea.

A tip leads them to the apartment of a man we will later know as Mitch Leary. In that apartment, Frank finds a haunting reminder of his failure to protect the President as a young agent: clippings of the Kennedy assassination. There are many other clippings as well, all leading them to believe that another kook is on the loose with designs on trying to assassinate the current President. Unaware that this is no kook, but a psychotic killer who is watching them, Frank and Al leave the apartment to come back later with a warrant. When they do, it has been cleared of everything except a clipping showing a young Agent Horrigan with his head circled in red pen.

John Malkovich portrays Leary, and this is one of his best roles as he leads Agent Horrigan in a game of cat and mouse. Leary is a former CIA assassin who wants to make one last strike against the government he is angry with. His intention is to kill the President, knowing he will die as well. This means nothing since he knows his own agency has tried to kill him already.

But the game is the thing for Leary and he enjoys taunting Frank with his past failures. The fact that Agent Horrigan has to sit there and listen to it as other Secret Service agents attempt to trace the taunting calls is very believable, so we are not wondering why he doesn’t just hang up. The telephone conversations between the two men build the suspense throughout the film. Both Eastwood and Malkovich manage to convey the building tension between the characters when these conversations take place. At times Horrigan seems to be cracking under the relentless emotional abuse by Leary, while at others, we see Frank managing to break through the emotionally cool exterior of Leary. It is a thrilling game of cat and mouse as each side in this battle seems to have the upper-hand at different times.

Agent Horrigan also has a reputation as a bit of a renegade, which is what made his new partner so uncomfortable in the first place. Other agents in the field do not want to work with him, and through a series of set-ups by Leary, his reputation is further eroded. Only the Director, portrayed by John Mahoney, best known right now as Frasier‘s father, seems to really believe in him, and yet he keeps trying to do his job. Horrigan is moved from the President’s Detail after repeated requests by the Agent in charge (Gary Cole as Bill Watts), the White House Chief of Staff (Fred Thompson as Harry Sargent) and, finally, the President himself (Jim Curley).

Rene Russo portrays Agent Lilly Raines who is part of the President’s Detail and also ends up being a romantic interest for Agent Horrigan. Their romance is believable, even as they move through the cliches of his sexism of dismissing her as a secretary at their first meeting, as well as his arrogant attitude and reputation. Lilly seems to know what is going on inside Frank. Having been burned romantically by another Agent, she has sworn off romance on the job. When she sympathizes with him at various times it does not have the feeling of pity, but pure compassion. Lilly believes in him, but can see both sides of the argument.

Wolfgang Petersen has done an amazing job directing this film. Where it could have easily fallen into the usual predictability and cliches, he has managed to instead craft an exciting thriller. Credit also must go to write Jeff Maguire, especially for the dialogue while Leary and Horrigan are on the telephone. Eastwood and Malkovich are fantastic in these roles – it is as if it were written specifically for these two men.

The only drawback I would have to say is the predictability of the movie. As soon as Al talked about his wife and taking his kid to school in the first scene, I knew he was going to bite the dust at some point in this movie. There are some parts that are that terribly predictable. However, the movie works despite these parts – a great credit to the cast and crew.

The visual imagery especially around Washington D.C. was stunning as well. It almost felt like a travel documentary and made me want to visit! The monuments and parks looked absolutely pristine and perfect.

On the DVD there are a host of Special Features. Included are the usual Cast and Crew bios, and trailer, as well as the ability to view the film with a running commentary by the Director. The Deleted Scenes are:
— a scene of a woman trying to pick-up Agent Horrigan in the Piano Bar
— a conversation about a practical joke Frank played on a supervisor
— a conversation between Frank and Lilly prior to his being assigned to her team before the President’s trip to Los Angeles
— Agent Horrigan watching news coverage of him roughing up a bellman in the hotel lobby
— another conversation in the Piano Bar, this one with Lilly about being assigned to protect Fidel Castro.

There is a nice piece called The Ultimate Sacrifice where Wolfgang Petersen and Executive Producer Gail Katz discuss getting the cooperation of the Secret Service. They tell how former Director Robert Snow became their Technical Advisor. He then discusses the Secret Service and its duties. Another short piece talks about the Secret Service’s Counterfeit Investigation division.

There is another short piece about the special effects which mostly consist of digitally inserting images into different places. In some spots, actual clippings of John F. Kennedy had a young Clint Eastwood digitally inserted into them. At other times we see how campaign rallies were created to appear larger than they were.

Finally, there is a great documentary Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service. It was very interesting to see how much goes into being an agent and what training takes place.

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Book Review: How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove: Special Order 191

Do you know what Special Order 191 was? It’s one of those pesky little details we weren’t taught about that in history class; details that, if something had just gone a little differently, history would have been changed.

This is what begins the Harry Turtledove novel How Few Remain. Special Order 191 was Confederate General Lee’s details of where every Confederate Army division was supposed to go and what they were supposed to do. In the real world, this order was lost by a Confederate courier and made its way into Union General McClellan’s hands.

Now suppose that didn’t happen…

Without going into the details of how the Confederacy won the Civil War, Turtledove sets this piece twenty years later as bitterness has now set in between the Confederates and the USA. A second engagement takes place and features familiar faces in different roles: Theodore Roosevelt brings together a renegade regiment out in Montana, Samuel Clemens is a newspaperman in San Francisco, General Custer is attempting to quell a Mormon uprising in Utah, Abraham Lincoln is about to break from the Republican Party to join the Socialist Party, and Frederick Douglass is a reporter writing from the battlefront.

What instigates the confrontation is the Confederacy purchasing two territories from Mexico which enables them to stretch from sea-to-sea. General Jeb Stuart is working with the Apache Indians (including Geronimo) in an attempt to keep Union soldiers out of the newly-acquired territories. France and Great Britain have sided with the Confederacy while Germany is attempting to remain a neutral observer.

This is essentially the first novel in his The Great War series in that it sets up what will happen in the next four novels about World War I. Alliances have been formed, continents divided, people coming into power at times different from what has actually happened in history.

This genre is known as Alternate History and makes for a fascinating read. Turtledove is thorough in his research and characterizations which makes the story so believable. The only problem is that so much detail and history can sometimes drag the plot along. Another thing I disliked was that he focused on people in history we already knew, rather than bringing in his own characters.

Note: This is not a sequel to Guns of the South which I previously reviewed. Though the premise is the same – the south winning the Civil War – in this novel their only help comes from the countries of France and Great Britain.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation: 110010001

Written by Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, and Tracy Torme
Directed by Paul Lynch

The Enterprise checks into Starbase 74 for a routine maintenance and system upgrade at the hands of the Bynars. The Bynars are a species that acts the same was as the binary computer language. They work in pairs as a “1” and a “0”. This allows them to interface with the computer at great speeds. Their language when they talk to each other is also incomprehensible.

For some reason, Wesley Crusher (portrayed by Wil Wheaton), the son of the ship’s Doctor, and First Officer Will Riker (portrayed by Jonathan Frakes) are immediately suspicious of the Bynars. They write it off to just being the way another species behaves.

The upgrades the Bynars are loading into the computer also include the holo-deck, a place that is essentially a virtual-reality room. It is like nothing we have seen yet here, but the technological advances make everything in that room seem all too real. Commander Riker heads down there to check on that upgrade and while recreating a New Orleans Jazz Club manages to create what he sees as the perfect woman named Minuet. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) joins them briefly and is also captivated by this “enhancement” to the holo-deck.

Meanwhile, the android Data (Brent Spiner), determines that there is a problem with the anti-matter containment field and evacuates the ship. It must be sent out as far away from people as it can get before it is destroyed. However, Captain Picard and Commander Riker cannot be found.

When Picard and Riker make it out of the holo-deck they discover the Enterprise has been abandoned and is orbiting the Bynars home planet. All of the Bynars on the ship are dead, and there are no life-signs from the planet. A nearby super-nova caused the Bynar computer to malfunction. Since the Bynars are essentially co-dependent on their main computer, they too died. Once Picard and Riker begin reloading the information into the Bynar computer, they live again.

Though sympathetic, Picard and Riker must take the Bynars back to Starbase 74 for a hearing. When questioned as to why they didn’t just ask for help, the Bynars reply that they were afraid of being told “no”. In their world, everything is black or white – a “1” or a “0”. There is no in-between for them.

The main intrigue in the episode is the Bynar species. They are written in a way that is very interesting. Watching them work and “chatter” is also played well by the actors. The other good point is the use of the holo-deck. Riker begins to fall in love with the computer-generated character of Minuet. Her personality is such a perfect match to his ideal woman that he has trouble remembering that she is not a real woman. However, she will play an important part in a future episode of the series, Future Imperfect. Kudos to the writers in later seasons for consistency.

I thought the one little comment about “the way another species behaves” was interesting. What would it be like to try to interpret another species by human standards? Would our standards of behavior – our suspicions, our hunches, our interpretations of “body language” – apply to an alien species? It is something that is only glossed over, but that one little comment raised a whole host of questions for me. I wish that had been delved into more. It was also interesting to wonder if part of the crew’s reaction to the Bynars had to do with their height. At about half the size of Jonathan Frakes, it seemed like the at times they were being looked at as children. Was it because they were a race unfamiliar to the crew – or was it their prejudices? More could have been done here, but the writers missed the boat.

A big disappointment I have is that such a well-developed species as the Bynars is never again seen in Star Trek. It seems a shame to have developed them so thoroughly and then to completely drop them from the canvas. Otherwise, this is a pretty decent episode in what was an uneven first-season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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Book Review – Worldwar: Tilting the Balance by Harry Turtledove

Worldwar: Tilting the Balance by Harry Turtledove is the second of four novels in this series. Turtledove writes in a genre called Alternate History – what would happen if a different event in history had occurred? With this type of novel, the setting is usually a familiar one historically, with a twist.

In this case, Turtledove puts forth the premise of what would have happened if an alien race had attempted to conquer the earth in the summer of 1942?

Sounds ridiculous? Dumb? Not interesting? Or like something out of a bad science fiction film? I had a lot of those same suppositions before I started reading these novels, and I like science fiction! I was worried about this being like an “aliens have landed” B-movie from the 1950’s.

These books have – so far – managed to delightfully surprise me.

The difference is Turtledove’s writing and attention to detail. He has a Ph.D. in history from UCLA. Because of this, he has a great feel for balancing historical and fictional characters.

He also has honed out The Race very well, down to their mannerisms and society. They are a culture that evolves very slowly and methodically, so they expected the earth to be at the same place it was 800 years ago. They are lizard-like and much shorter than humans. Their weaponry is more advanced – about the level it is now on earth in the year 2002.

I’d think that the weaponry of today would make it an easy defeat for The Race, but it doesn’t work out that way. For one thing, because they are slow to evolve, they are also slow to adapt. While humans manage to adapt their techniques rather quickly and update their weaponry regularly, The Race stagnates.

This also applies to tactics. The Race uses tactics that worked in the conquering of two other races. However, these tactics only work for a short time with humans before they begin to adapt to them and find ways around them. The leaders of The Race – and The Race itself – are extremely slow to adapt.

Couple that with the humans’ discovery that for The Race, the herb ginger has an effect similar to cocaine on us. The Race does not know how to cope with addiction, other than ordering its males (only the males fight in battle) not to taste ginger. This has about as much of an effect as “Just Say No.”

The Race is also used to a very warm planet. Even summers in the United States and Russia seem to be cool to them. It is during the winter of 1942-1943 that the humans manage to strike the first serious blows back at their invaders.

Tilting the Balance picks up where Worldwar: In The Balance left off. Teams of physicists in the United States, Germany, Japan and Russia are all racing to develop an atomic weapon to use against The Race. The Race already had these weapons, but is reluctant to use them since it would ruin the planet for the colonization fleet which is about 20 years behind the invasion fleet.

In Russia, supplies are being delivered with U2 planes as they take small, stinging shots at The Race. By flying lower and slower than The Race’s jets, they manage to avoid being noticed most of the time. This is also how intelligence is gathered when it is deemed important: people are ferried about in these planes. Turtledove focuses on a female pilot in the red Air Force, Ludmila Gorbunova. Her adventures during this time are fun to read, especially her experiences as a woman. Not only does she fight The Race, but also for the respect due her.

In Germany, SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny continually is a thorn in The Race’s side. Along with Heinrich J??ger, a Wehrmacht panzer (tank) colonel, they stage a few successful strikes against The Race in some of the most outrageous ways.

Meanwhile, in the Warsaw ghetto, Moishe Russie and Mordechai Anielewicz are learning that they have traded murder at the hands of the Nazis for oppression and slavery at the hands of The Race. For in the beginning, they chose to embrace their coming as divine intervention.

Aboard one of The Race’s spaceships and in China, we follow the lives of two civilians whom The Race kidnapped during their initial landing. Since The Race only mates during mating season, they are fascinated with the fact that humans can (and often do) mate all the time. While trying to learn about humans, they subject a Chinese peasant woman, Liu Han, to multiple rapes with multiple partners. When she encounters a former American baseball player named Bobby Fiore, they manage to carve out a relationship. Liu Han becomes pregnant, and they are sent to live in the Chinese prison camp as The Race continues to study them.

In the United States, we are shown a variety of fronts. Former baseball manager Mutt Daniels is among a group of soldiers trying to keep The Race out of Chicago. Jens Larssen is a physicist who finds that his project has been moved out of Chicago to Denver while he was on a different mission. His wife is with them as well.

Following the novel can be difficult at times as Turtledove jumps around between the characters quite a bit. This gives the reader a feeling of what is happening at the same time, but it also makes for a more difficult read. Each chapter contains a few pages about three or four of the characters, then moves onto something else entirely in the next chapter.

Anyone who likes science fiction as well as anyone who enjoys history will enjoy these novels. Turtledove gives enough of the background of each character that you could pick up this second book without having read the first, but for the characters to really feel like you know them, the novels should be read in order.

The novel ends with a climax that Turtledove is building towards all the way through. The only question is what will happen next???

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