Deep Space Nine: s05 e17: A Simple Investigation


See, I told you so

I was unconvinced about this week’s episode on watching the open, which came over as bitty, and threatening too many elements for an ordered episode, but I was wrong about that side. We went from a hooded Idanian being thumped and eventually disintegrated by two Finneans, all blue skin, holes in their faces and raggedly clothing, looking for It and a woman, to Bashir, Dax, O’Brien and Odo discussing their holosuite programme that’s a sequel to ‘Our Man Bashir’, only for Odo to get all nervous over how he’s supposed to steal the girl and walking out, and ending at the bar with Quark hitting on a very attractive blonde woman of a certain age, who doesn’t need Odo’s help to handle importunate Ferengis, even if the Constable has ‘bedroom eyes’ (now, there’s a term that has gotten seriously out-dated). It didn’t need the camera shifting angle to expose the two Finneans watching the lovely Arissa for us to link the first and final parts of this sequence together.

After that, however, the episode settled into being a well put together two-hander between Odo and Arissa, played with neatness and economy by guest actress Dey Young, a less-than-blatant beauty that nevertheless convinced at least one member of the audience that she was someone that men could get obsessed about at first sight.

Odo is clearly smitten, but his next encounter with Arissa is on a professional basis, when she’s arrested for trying to bypass station security and access data on an Idanian named Torvid Rem, i.e., our disintegrated guy. Arissa tells Odo a bunch of porkies, claiming he was assisting her in tracking down the daughter she’d given up fifteen years ago, but Odo doesn’t believe her, which he’s right to do. And he keeps harping on about strip-searches and the like, to Arissa’s flirtatious amusement.

No, flirtatious is not the right word. Odo is beyond inexperience, and is aware of that, which ensures that he is keeping everything tremendously reserved whilst at the same time betraying his fascination in every movement (boy, did that come over as being incredibly familiar). And Arissa’s ‘flirtatiousness’ is too cool, too grave, to strictly merit the word. Since we’re seeing things from Odo’s perspective, we simultaneously find it obvious that she wants him to unwrap her from that clingy grey dress she’s wearing and do naughty Changeling things to her, and that Odo can’t be sure that it isn’t just an act by which a much more experienced woman strings him along (boy, did that come over as being incredibly familiar).

The true story (at this point anyway) is that Arissa worked for Draim, a big wheel in the Orion Syndicate but, having realised that the far-removed things she did nevertheless resulted in great harm, she wanted out. The crystal Torvid Rem had contained the super-seriously encrypted information that would enable her to walk away without Draim having her knocked off.

Not that Arissa really believed that. Even with Odo appointing himself her personal protector, willing to take leave of absence to go with her, Arissa knew too much to ever really believe Draim wouldn’t get her. And finally, Odo, after interrupting the holoprogramme to seek advice, works up the nerve to kiss her, after which it’s a night of red-hot sex, so good that Arissa doesn’t even realise Odo’s been a virgin up to that moment (boy, was that not in the least familiar. Or plausible).

But the denouement is rushing towards us. Arissa gives way to her fears, does a deal to trade the crystal for her life, not that Draim intends to keep his side of the bargain. And an Idanian Intelligence agent turns up in Odo’s office to drop the bombshell I hadn’t foreseen, namely that Arissa is actually a surgically-altered Idanian Undercover agent, given a fake set of memories and personality, who’s spent the last two years getting information on Draim that’ll crack his organisation wide open.

What’s on the crystal is the real memories and personalities of not-Arissa. Which, we learn in the close, include the fact that she’s married. Not to mention that, once her sub-Cardassian knobbly forehead is restored, and she’s covered up by the hood all Idanians wear,  Dey Young doesn’t look a bit attractive. Nevertheless, before she leaves Odo alone and heartbroken, she does rather rub a bit if salt in it by telling him that she remembers Arissa very well, and she did love him and that that love is still there, a bit, fat consolation that is.

So this episode is basically a love story, and one of the better-handled ones, given that Dey Young not only looked seriously attractive, but also looked, and played, very intelligent. You could imagine talking to this woman for a very long time, which isn’t always the case.

For all that, and in the grand scheme of things, ‘A Simple Investigation’ was not at all well-planned. In the first place, it should have come whilst Odo was still humanoid, and exploring being human, not reverted to Shapeshifterdom. And it was intended to show that Odo had gotten over Kira, and was no longer in love, an intention that, I am reliably informed, will be reversed less than six weeks from now.

As for Our Man Bashir II, this was restricted to one entirely nebulous scene apparently because MGM had threatened to sue over the original episode, stupid idiots.

Overall, an enjoyable episode, enlivened for me by the presence of the attractive Dey Young (have I mentioned she was attractive?), though I note this is the second one-off episode since the great ground-shifting of ‘In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light’ to not even reference the changed situation. One step up and two steps back, as it ever was.

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Dan Dare: Pilot with Another Future


Perhaps if I’d got this cover…

It’s a decade now since the surprisingly successful Virgin Comics attempt to revive Dan Dare in a form acceptable to the contemporary age, and now Titan Comics have discarded the habit of a lifetime, of only publishing comics that have been successful for other people, and have hired Peter Milligan to write and Alberto Foche to draw a new series.

This time, we’re looking at four issues, so that if it’s a disaster, at least it will be brief. Today’s visit to Forbidden Planet included the first issue, so I want to record a few immediate impressions.

Garth Ennis, ten years ago, seemed an improbable writer for a traditionally ‘straight’ character who was born out of the desire to present a truly clean-cut cut, moral yet still quite human hero for young boys, yet he understood the ideals of the Pilot of the Future came from and respected Dan Dare, and his version was worthy of revival.

Milligan, on the other hand, has always been an iconoclast, an underminer of all things established, and a trickster of a writer. I’ve read very little of his work, it just not being to my taste, so I was doubtful of the choice from the moment I heard of this.

His set-up does, at first, promise a different approach. For one, there is no Prime Minister appearing as a veiled depiction of David Cameron or even, thanks all the ghosts of Spacefleet, Theresa May. On the other hand, we have the Mekon: of course we’ve got the Mekon, we always have the Mekon. It’s like only ever having Doctor Who face up to the Daleks.

Milligan’s included a lot of the old cast already: Dan, Digby, Peabody, Hank Hogan, Sir Hubert, Flamer Spry, though he’s jumbled some of them around. Digby, or ‘Digs’ is now an engineer and openly calls his Colonel ‘Dan’, Peabody’s a Special Science Advisor who walks around in uniform and carries big guns, and Dan only ever calls her Peabody. Hank’s had one line so far, and already sounds out of character.

Then there’s the Mekon. Milligan’s story, subtitled ‘He Who Dares’ actually starts five years ago, with the Mekon as the democratically elected President of Earth and Dan’s little band declared terrorists. That is, until they expose the hypnosis machine by which ol’ Greenbean has cooked the result.

He’s been in rehabilitation for five years, concentrating his supreme intelligence on growing food on the moon. Even when a Liberation Army comes to free him, he orders them to disband and hands them over to Dan for incarceration.

Can the Supreme Brain overcome the Genetic engineering that made him into a power-crazed overlord? Has he? Milligan’s certainly come at things from a previously unexplored angle (for what it’s worth, I’m going for No).

But the only problem is, if the Mekon is beaten for good, there are no enemies left. No obstacles to Galactic peace and harmony and progress. Nothing for Dan Dare to be Dan Dare for, and Dan’s actually praying for something for him to do, to get back into space for.

Which is when a dirty great spaceship appears out of nowhere, Crypt-like, and destroys one of Saturn’s moons, just like that. Dan’s prayers have been answered, or so it seems. No hint yet as to whether Tharl and his empire exist in this Future, though again I’m going for No.

Apart from this bit about Dan Dare wishing for violence and enemies, which is not, never has been and never will be any part of any legitimate version of the character, it’s reasonable enough so far. Certainly worth suspending judgement over until we see more.

As for Foche’s art, I’m always going to start off by looking askance at anything not authentically Hampsonian, and it’s fair to say that this art in no way draws from the master. Apart from a token effort with Digby, and an even more token one with Sir Hubert, oh, and of course Dan’s eyebrows (that’s all anyone ever cares about: get the eyebrows properly crinkled and it’s Dan Dare, no matter how wide of the mark everything else is), Foche makes no effort whatsoever to follow any existing design work.

And his Mekon, redesigned to make the big brain a bit more organic, has immediately become less frightening, less distinctive, less alien. Even at his most evil in the flashbacks, this guy just doesn’t look in the least bit evil: Hampson’s Mekon, indeed his Treens, were unnatural. It’s why they worked so bloody well in the first place.

But I won’t judge until the series is over, unless it takes an irreversible nosedive into the sludge to the point where it’s obviously a schtumer. There are two pages of Foche’s designs featuring half a dozen and more characters we’ve not yet met, none of whom thrill me with anticipation, but we’ll see. It won’t take long, at least.

Mage III: The Hero Denied (and an apology deserved)


Just over three years ago, and as part of the series on Uncompleted Stories, comic book series that have never seen their full intentions come to fruition, I commented on Matt Wagner and what we had all, in the beginning, was going to be his most significant work, Mage.

Mage was conceived as three series, each of fifteen issues (the last of which being double-sized), representing different stages in the life of everyman, Kevin Matchstick (a metaphor for Wagner himself), who learns that he is the modern incarnation of the Pendragon: of King Arthur.

The first series, ‘The Hero Discovered’, appeared between 1984 and 1986, from Comico. The second, ‘The Hero Defined’, did not arrive until 1997, a delay engendered in large part by Wagner’s struggle to regain the rights to his work after Comico went into bankruptcy in 1990.

And after that a long silence, still prevailing in 2014 when I wrote. I had anticipated/resigned myself to another decade, but we were well beyond that period, and so I categorized Mage as Uncompleted, and that was that. Thankfully, I am not a prophet.

About four or five months ago, Wagner announced the appearance of ‘The Hero Denied’, to the same fifteen issue format, again to be published by Image Comics, who brought us the second series. And today, my visit to Forbidden Planet in Manchester has seen me bring back issues 1 and 2 of the final story.

It’s far too soon to pronounce. Wagner is still drawing in the same style he used for ‘The Hero Defined’, with his son Brendan as colourist. A decade has passed since the events of that story: Kevin may still go in for the same black-and-white Captain Marvel influenced t-shirts, but he’s bald on top. He’s also married, to Magda, witch and one of the Weird Sisters of Mage II, and they have two children, Hugo, aged about eight or nine, and Miranda, about two. They’ve been in hiding from the nasties, but chance has exposed Kevin, less than a week before Magda’s potion of pure protection will be ready, after eight years preparation.

The Umbra-Sprite is once again moving, as are the Sprite’s spawn, but these are now Grackle-thorns, and all six are female. They still hunt for the Fisher King, who was absent from series 2, but they still seek revenge upon the Pendragon, and especially now his children, of whom Hugo, by the end of issue 2, has learned that neither the world nor his Dad are what he’s so far been let to believe.

No sign yet of the Third Mage, he who will follow Mirth and Wally Ut, nor yet a glimpse of anyone who may be that Third representative of Magic, and no attempt yet to come to even a premature verdict on what I have read, nor will there be until Mage, but in this year when Twin Peaks came back, and when I took a thirty year old manuscript and made it something on the verge of publication, here’s another moment of unexpectedness, and resignation refuted, to make this world, at least momentarily, less of one where faiths fail, possibilities close and stories go without endings.

To Matt Wagner, my profound thanks.

 

Brief (and thankful) update 5


At the umpteenth time, I have finally completed the bloody formatting.

The novel now goes on to Cover Design, for which I’m now reliant on a work colleague who, working from some vague visions I have that I have no technical ability to execute, is designing a cover for me.

My target is still publication by my birthday, next month, so I hope the next announcement will not be too delayed and will have the link to where you can buy it.

Fingers crossed.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e19: Boragora or Bust


It’s getting late. What Saturday Morning staple have we not yet had? A Treasure Mine? Let’s throw one of those in.

The ingredients are familiar: veteran prospector, been digging for decades, faithful creaking mule and eccentric methods, strikes it rich. Old Dowser’s an Aussie with a slightly variable accent and his mule is of course called Matilda, though it’s not gold that he’s struck, it’s platinum, way up in the mountains on Boragora. Forty years he’s been prospecting and on the edge of giving up, dynamiting the mine and himself inside it, and Dowser strikes it rich.

And there was Jake Cutter, who loves the old geezer like a father, complaining that his piloting career in the Maravellas is boring and lacking in excitement and recalling those old days of red hot jazz on a Friday night.

Overnight, Boragora becomes a creditable impression of a boom town, with all sorts of hopeful and ignorant would-be prospectors, and the usual gang of hangers-on, including an outfit offering ‘French’ ladies to entertain the prospectors and arousing the fighting ire of the Reverend Willie Tenbaum when they start using his ‘children’ to supply ‘blessings’.

And what you really need for a story like this is a claim-jumper, and we got one, the unruffled, immaculate smooth-as-snake-oil Mr Hastings. There’s only one problem: he’s in the right. He can take Dowser’s claim, within the law, because Dowser forfeited it thirty years ago for his complete failure to ‘improve’ it.

So, once Dowser is prevented from settling this island-style, with knives, it’s back to plan A: if Dowser can’t have the claim he’s scratched forty years to win, Hastings won’t get it either. He’ll dynamite the mine – with himself in it.

Put like that, the episode can be easily dismissed as a collection of cliches. But first of all, we’ve agreed all along that that is what Tales of the Gold Monkey is, and has always set out to be. It’s about the nostalgic fun of old and hoary adventure stories, played with just the teeniest dose of self-awareness, and tons of gusto. The knockabout fight on the beach starting when Willie dumps the tarts’ tent and ending with him hopping up and down in glee at a great brawl, and roaring in German, in a perfect specimen.

But there was more to this episode than just the fun. There were quieter moments, cameos that addressed, in brief but effective fashion, the emotional realities that lie behind the glorious nonsense. Dowser’s despair at losing what he’s worked for, his emotionalism at the fact his beloved mule won’t be shooed away and will go down with him. Sarah’s for once quiet concern about the risks Jake is taking to try and intercept Dowser, her recognition of the fact that she’s always saying goodbye like a wife, and they haven’t even… Jake’s warm and tender kiss. And in the mine, with Dowser lighting the fuse whilst holding Jake and Corky at bay with his gun, it’s the latter who walks forward, calmly refusing to believe Dowser will shoot him, to cut the fuse and extinguish it.

In the end, the mountain comes down. There’s a death-defying motorcycle leap, the insouciant whistling of a tune I have no hope of recognising, Dowser getting to look aat the face of the legal cheat who failed to rob him. And another boring Friday night in the Monkey Bar, with Jake back to bitching and off to an early bed… until Louie comes up with a stack of red-hot jazz discs, and it’s grab Sarah and let’s cut a rug.

I’m going to miss this show all over again.

What it’s like the day after


It doesn’t last.

By the next day, I’m usually recognisably human again, and I can go into work, and I can talk to people, and joke, and make ironic comments, several of them aloud, and in quiet moments between calls, I can string together dialogue that bridges a gap in the Long Overdue Sequel, and it feels like I’m back to what passes as normal.

And today’s the day when my shift starts and ends early, so that even with a brief visit to ASDA, the chippy’s still open when I get off the bus, and I can have my ritual Wednesday night fish’n’chips dinner, and very nice it is, but I still can’t help but wish that instead of a cold bottle of caffeine-free Diet Coke in the fridge, I had a fucking massive container of Will to Live. Because, people, I have had enough of you today.

No,not you, nor you, or you, nor any of those stalwarts who flatter me with your attention. I mean the people that it is my business to talk to, and to help with the problems that prevent your Broadband connection and/or your telephone line from working. I am a senior advisor, with years of experience, and I know what I am doing.

But you have utterly drained me today. Do you not think, given that I deal with dozens of your calls daily, that I might possibly understand the horrors you are experiencing, the utter, wrenching misery of a life without Broadband? No, you have to explain to me what it means to have your service disrupted, and you are so concerned that I should understand you, when I understood completely before you got halfway through the sentence, that you tell me again, and again, and then again, completely unaware that I can’t do anything to help alleviate your problems until you shut up and let me start asking you the pertinent questions.

And then there’s the ones who can’t grasp that, marvellous as this technology is, and how we’ve lasted a whole seventeen years into the Twenty-First Century, that I can’t just wave Sooty’s magic wand over it, go ‘Izzy-wizzy, let’s get busy’ and it’s all fixed. That the Broadband network in this country is all fucked up and not half as good as it could and should have been, and the reason for that is dead simply, it’s Maggie Bloody Thatcher again.

I mean, take my word for it, though I can’t be arsed explaining the political decisions that brought us to this, and no, I’m not just being politically prejudiced when I say that. But by now you’re bringing out the “Surely…”s, when I’ve patiently explained to you what can really be done in practice, and you really can’t grasp that it isn’t the way you expected it to be, because, yes, of Thatcher, and I even had to say to one customer, who had explained things to me about a dozen times, that if there was another way, our conversation would have ended twenty minutes ago, because I would already have done it.

At least this guy’s bright, and he realised that I’m also saying that I would really prefer not to have to listen to you repeating yourself for twenty minutes, which is not an exaggeration for effect, I promise you. And Yog-Sothoth protect me from the ones who still think there must be a magic wand and an “Izzy-wizzy” that I’m deliberately concealing from them, just to be spiteful.

No, people, I have had enough of you today, and this is when I’m feeling back to normal, and it’s my one weekday night where I have time in which to genuinely relax. And you don’t know, when you threaten to cancel and go to someone else, even after I’ve patiently explained to you that the fault’s in the network and it won’t magically disappear if you start having their signals sent to you instead of ours, how close you’ve been to be told to fuck off and bend their technician’s ears.

Why do I keep doing this? Because they pay me to, which means fish’n’chips on Wednesday evening,  and Pizza Hut once a month, and all the Caffeine-free Diet Coke I can stomach, just so I can write things that aren’t usually as dark as this and last night.

Your patience is appreciated. Normal temperament will be resumed, just as soon as I can remember what it is.

 

What it’s really like sometimes


There are days when the depression can’t be held at bay, when no matter how much you’ve put into accepting that this is the way your life is, and the prospects of change are beyond your influence, the reality of the situation is too stark to be resisted, and you have no mental energy with which to do anything.

These are days when the job becomes tiresome and frustrating, when the calls that aren’t even for your discipline get harder to handle, when the manifest errors of the new diagnostic system become too wearisome to fight back against, and when that determination to go the extra mile in pursuit of the customer’s need becomes a tired inability to even reach across the desk.

And the shift that has already lasted most of your life, because your head is emptier than an empty shell, still has two more hours to last, and you’ve run out of the telephone voice and the energy to sound concerned, and identify what’s wrong, and talk them through without wanting to scream at them down the phone, because you’ve promised to do what is needed to fix the fault, what they’ve been asking you to do all along, and they’re still not satisfied.

There are many different categories of clients and on different days you hate different types more than others but there is a special hell even on good days in dealing with the customer who won’t take Yes for an answer.

Sometimes, most days, when it gets like this I can carve out a little time in the day to write something: for my blog, for one of the several potential novels I have had in mind for the last few years, for the sequel to Love Goes to Building on Sand that I have been cheerfully batting out, about which I’ve yet to decide whether this will be a publishable project, or a personal indulgence.

But my head is empty. I have no energy for words, no concentration. This is as far as I have gotten because I can’t think of anything else. Call it a little reality implant, in amongst the generally comic attitude I usually try to display.