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30Oct2017 1930: Fluctuations in Space-Time

It's been nearly two months of Star Trek: Discovery, and I can't figure out if they're a serialized Battlestar Galactica or an episodic Star Trek. This week was definitely their Time Loop episode, but I feel like there's still a season-long trick they're building to. Which is probably that they're in the Mirror Universe. Don't be fooled. It's the damn mirror universe.

Now, it's a really good time loop episode. Star Trek never shied away from time travel even while banning it, but usually we're in the thick of things with the crew as they figure out how to break free. This time they had the fun little twist that Michael Burnham The Only Character That Matters is a part of the loop and gets to watch the guy outside the loop get progressively freakier. Why not watch Groundhog Day from Rita's point of view?

But ST:D (really?) isn't even the best Star Trek on TV right now. Technically because it's not on TV. BUT. On the advice of my parents who are incredibly rarely correct about pop culture, I got into The Orville. This show is a goddamn gift to everyone put off by Discovery. I expected less than zero from the series. Seth MacFarlane is at the helm in what looks like an ego trip, Adrianne Palicki landed here after Marvel jerked her around, the trailer had a toilet-seat joke (amirite guyz?)... hype was colliding with me and releasing pure energy. BUT. What I did not expect from Seth MacFarlane was reverence. The look and feel, the theme song, the ethical dilemmas, their visit to a contemporary not-Earth: every bit of this show is a reverent homage to the early 1990s Star Trek. People at this show care very deeply about all the cheesy stupid things that made Roddenberry's future so aspirational for all of us. And it still takes time to humanize the crew more than Roddenberry ever cared to. When confronted with an alien crewmate that can metabolize anything, you're damn right you start replicating everything in the databanks.

Star Trek: Discovery is going to tell a thrilling, cohesive two-season story about four or five people who are in Starfleet. The Orville is going to be five or more seasons of an ensemble cast commenting on a better future. And you can watch both, right now, but CBS will make you pay.

24Oct2017 1830: Rather A Lot Of Kingdoms

My Hugo adventure continues! N. K. Jemisin has been straight murdering the Hugos with her Broken Earth trilogy, so I dipped back into her 2011 also-ran, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Three things stood out immediately:

  1. She has a house style. Spoiler: she likes to narrate her novels from a point of future apotheosis.
  2. Speaking of spoilers, the wiki page contains spoilers from the two other books in the Kingdoms trilogy so maybe don't go there like I did. :FROWN EMOJI:
  3. 100k Kingdoms is quite fine as a fantasy politics book but also contains a lot of ladyporn.

And by "ladyporn" I mean the same structure and adjectives employed by the later runner-up Uprooted. A secretly magic lady moves out of her rustic village to a big, important city and meets a brooding broodman who is openly super-magic. There are then three hundred pages of flirting and heavy petting. They do one perfect sex, the woman's magic awakens fully, and the guy becomes nicer. The literal end of Uprooted is "I'd like you to meet my mother." What's wrong with fridging a dude once in a while?

16Oct2017 1830: The 7th Continent

Part of my September sabbatical was an intense Thursday dive into The 7th Continent. The central conceit is tailor-made for my generation: it's a board game that plays like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. You wash up on a deserted island and start following numbers around. Where a CYOA book would have you jump to random pages to hide the narrative flow, 7th Continent has you pull numbered cards out of a giant deck. Just like a CYOA book, you can die suddenly and messily. Just like a CYOA book, the true joy lies in discovery of new situations...although you will be replaying early portions on each successive attempt. It's a cooperative game that really seems to punish splitting up the team, so "turns" get fuzzy and quarterbacking is an issue. The profusion of icons does it no favors. The arbitrary nature of the "investigate" vs "examine" vs "observe" actions had me pulling my hair out; a magnifying glass can help me examine, but not investigate or observe? And now that our team died in a dungeon (and it was only partially because I ate those mushrooms) we have to start our quest over again.

But none of that really matters. Wherever this might fail as a game it excels in creating a story. The magic is not in flipping cards or min-maxing our party actions; it's in crawling desperately up to the watering hole with rumbling bellies and running into a horned bear. It's my friend LoTech earning his title The Thrice-Poisoned. It's the legendary gunstick Bugbane: I dug up a rusty revolver with two bullets, lashed it to my walking stick, and within five minutes had fired both bullets at separate instances of nasty giant insects.

That's why I'm backing the new stuff on the expansion Kickstarter -- which adds a gosh-dang hot air balloon quest -- and also why you probably shouldn't.

09Oct2017 1930: Purple Nurples and Onesies

And here I was worried that Star Trek: Discovery wouldn't capture the true spirit of Star Trek! They spent three episodes on breathless action and CG maelstroms of violence, which is exciting for a Star Trek to do but isn't really the classic flavor of monologuing and moralizing. But this week, episode four! They brought out those old-fashioned thinly-veiled-metaphors-with-aliens! Let's follow the chain of logic:

  1. Would you drive a really sweet car if it were bad for the environment?
  2. What if that car were a spaceship instead?
  3. What if "bad for the environment" was "torture a cow"?
  4. What if you had to watch this cow being tortured?
  5. What if this cow was a half-ton tardigrade?
  6. What if by "torture" I meant "give a titty twister"?
  7. Okay, but what if the tardigrade really didn't like it?

We know normal warp drives can cause problems, so the metaphor isn't new to this universe. And who's to say that the warp core doesn't cause excruciating pain to dilithium crystals? Are you sure? ARE YOU SURE??

They also worked the phrase "displacement-activated spore hub drive" into the script without immediately stating the obvious acronym. I admire the restraint on the part of the writing team; just don't make it a season-ending punchline. It'd be funnier if they never abbreviated it.

Tardigrade Titty Twister is a rad name for a band.

04Oct2017 1630: Near Enough

I completed my trek through 2017's Hugo nominees and it was an extremely strong year. Ninefox Gambit poses the hoary old question: what if magic were science? Eh? Eh? Except there are no robodragons or fiber-optic wizard robes or enchanted laser broadswords. This magic is all based on some sort of feng shui, rigorously defined and mathed out based on the passage of time and the formation of soldiers or ships. High holy feast days and the tyrannical dogma of citizens power all manner of ridiculous technology. The standard galactic politicking and warfare is wrapped in a pleasing fresh layer of non-European tropes. Sometimes that's all it takes to give a tired story some legs!

Like Star Trek: Discovery! Somebody at CBS called it Star Trek but it feels like any number of modern sci-fi shows. However, slapping that classic Trek badge on everybody's chest gives it an illicit air. I want to see how grungy this show gets and how awful that makes me feel. We're seeing a side of the Federation that generally doesn't intersect with an Enterprise until official state functions.

Remember what I said about datelines in novels? I do. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is covered in them but is still somehow amazing and charming. Maybe what I really hate are salutations? Anyway, TLWtoSAP eschews the modern phenomenon of character point-of-view chapters in favor of discrete adventures separated in time. It's like getting a full season of a great sci-fi show. By the end I knew each of the character's names, their backstories, their favorite foods, how much they loved the ship. And the sequel is Hugo-nominated! You now have the proper context for my disappointment when I cracked A Closed and Common Orbit and found character point-of-view chapters starring a minor player from one episode of TLWtoSAP. This book was also charming and well-written, but ditching the ensemble and the episodic structure was a bummer. Nominating the merely good novel instead of the previous great one does feel like they're making up for the mistake.