Star Trek: The Mark of Gideon

“The purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis.”

Star Trek

Yep. We’re here again, I’m afraid.

The Mark of Gideon (another Original Series offering) is actually a bit of a mixed bag. Captain Kirk, beaming down alone (why does his crew let him do these things?) to Gideon, an unknown inhabited planet, inexplicably finds himself on board the Enterprise again – but it is completely empty, apart from a random woman who, handily, claims to have forgotten how she got there.

The detective-y part of this episode – consisting of Kirk trying to find his crew and his crew trying to find Kirk – is really quite interesting, involving as it does the investigation of a wholly alien (although suspiciously and inexplicably humanoid, not to mention English-speaking) civilisation, involving a vision of severe overcrowding that is haunting in the way that Golden Age sci-fi often is (although I was not impressed by Spock’s “logic” which I personally would be more inclined to call “wild surmise”). But the relationship between Random Woman and Kirk is so syrupily overdone that the episode frequently threatens to become sleep-inducing, and the solution to the mystery doesn’t really make a lot of sense. The Mark of Gideon swings rapidly and somewhat dizzily between very good (for Star Trek, that is) and very bad (by any standards). So, on the whole…I guess it was another average Star Trek episode. Better, at least, than the hour-long propaganda extravaganza that was The Omega Glory.

The Mill: Ep. 1

“Come, my friends: ’tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

Alfred Tennyson

For a wonder, last Sunday I actually found something new that I wanted to watch on television. Even better, it was neither Star Trek nor a Murder Mystery. It was in fact The Mill, Channel 4’s new historical drama about life in the cotton mills during the Industrial Revolution, when a ten-hour day for child workers was still considered radical and impractical.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Well, the main impression I got from The Mill was “grey”. This isn’t a romanticised, sugary Victorian nostalgia piece, by any stretch of the imagination. Someone gets his hand cut off in the first ten minutes. It’s real, and rather political too. Oppressed workers, ineffectual parish workers, that sort of thing. And certainly better than anything else that’s on television at the moment. I’ll be watching next week.

The Long War

“People do what they do. But that doesn’t mean that whatever your deeper hidden personal motives, you can’t try to do something good.”

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Look! Look, everyone, is a new Terry Pratchett book!

(And Stephen Baxter, of course. But nobody seems to know who he is.)

The Long War is the sequel to The Long Earth, a novel which introduced the concept of a possibly infinite series of worlds only a step apart and asked what exactly would happen if humanity had access to these worlds.

So The Long War is set twenty-five years after the events of The Long Earth. Joshua Valienté, who, together with Lobsang, an apparently omniscient computer who may or may not be a reincarnated Tibetan motorcycle repairman, first explored many of the worlds of the Long Earth, is summoned again to solve a mystery that may be crucial to the survival of the Long Earth: where have all the trolls Рthe kind, singing, intelligent humanoids slowly being driven away by human stupidity Рgone? And can the increasingly intolerant Datum governments ever be reconciled to the newly emerging cities of the Long Earth?

First of all, I think this cover is just fantastic. I mean, look at it. It has an airship. And pretty clouds. Who wouldn’t want to read this?

I personally read it in two days, which is fast even for me. And most of it I loved. Unlike The Long Earth, which suffered a little from plotlessness, The Long War has several storylines, all engaging, all fascinating, which slowly begin to overlap and develop and gain complexity in a really quite wonderful way as they reveal more of the secrets of the Long Earth.

And then – it all just stops. With one line, the whole thing is ruined:

The Long War was over.

Oh. Right…did I miss something? Did something momentuous happen while I wasn’t paying attention? Or is this just a case of Everything was Magically Better syndrome? There doesn’t really seem to be any satisfying resolution to the main tensions of the book. It just – stops. And then Lobsang does a bit of ex post facto explanation and…that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, the scene in Valhalla that serves as the denouement was genuinely heartwarming, but what it was not was an elegant solution. And there are odd gaps, too, throughout the novel, events that are skipped over that we really should have seen up close rather than have them explained vaguely afterwards (the escape of Mary and her cub is a case in point), scenes that are summarised rather than shown.

And the dialogue is really awful. At several points the characters seem to be talking past each other like bad Shakespearean actors who don’t really understand what they’re saying.

But, somehow, all of these flaws, which would kill any other book, are just dwarfed for me by the sheer reality of the world (or multiverse). I loved reading about how humanity has coped with the challenges and potentials of the Long Earth, the settlements millions of worlds away, the new lifestyles, the transport links, the communications systems, the political and economic realities of having a fifth of the world’s population step away into infinity, the Star Trek-y Operation Prodigal Son, the insights into the uninhabitable Joker worlds, even the name of the inn in Valhalla (the Healed Drum. Anyone?) that proves this is a Terry Pratchett book. The Long Earth as a concept is so damn convincing that it’s almost weird returning to the real world and realising that it’s total fantasy. And, yes, you can see the ending coming a mile off, especially given the ending of The Long Earth, but it’s still scary.

I haven’t enjoyed a new Pratchett this much since Unseen Academicals. I can’t wait for the next one.

Star Trek: Insurrection

“Kill if you will, but command me nothing!”

Stephen King

In a break from the frankly ludicrous Star Trek Original Series (but still going with the Star Trek theme) I decided on a whim to watch Insurrection, a film apparently part of the Star Trek universe but seemingly having little to do with the Original Series, or, indeed, any of the Star Trek I’ve ever seen. The only thing in common seemed to be the Enterprise, and even that was unrecognisable.

(I realise I am running the risk of sounding a little like Sheldon Cooper here.)

So I’m unclear where Insurrection fits in with the general Star Trek scheme of things. It’s in Kirk’s future. I think. Vaguely. The captain of the Enterprise is, apparently, Patrick Stewart, going by the name of Captain Picard.

The hideously deformed Sonar people are, with the help of the Federation (broadly speaking, the good guys), observing a society which has apparently not yet achieved faster-than-light travel, meaning that, according to the much-vaunted Prime Directive, they cannot interfere with or make themselves known to said society. However, an android in their service goes mad, and it soon becomes clear that the Sonar’s intentions do not stop at mere observation.

Insurrection is, I would say, a moderately entertaining film, certainly with more narrative drive than the Original Series, and the inspired addition of Gilbert and Sullivan being sung in space. There’s still the annoying question of why exactly all alien races appear to speak perfect English, even ones that haven’t been in contact with the human race, ever. But Data, the android-trying-to-be-human, is a nice touch, the plot more or less makes sense, and Patrick Stewart is at least a decent actor, unlike William Shatner.

I’m not convinced this is a film that I’d watch again. But it’s good enough to watch once.