Deep Space Nine: s05 e19: Ties of Blood and Water


A ‘family’

In another week, I might very well have enjoyed this episode much more, or at least have been more impressed by it. Instead, being tired and headachey, I couldn’t really respond to what, when seen through the looking glass, was an obvious attempt to manipulate its audience through a sequence of predictable scenes. So I apologise in advance for the negative tone of what is to follow, which is at least as much me as it is the story.

The episode focuses on Major Kira, which usually cheers me up, and furthermore, for the first time since she first took on the O’Brien’s foetus, Nana Visitor is back in that old form-hugging uniform, and rocking that crocheted undertunic as well.

She’s come up with a plan to undermine the Dominion domination of Cardassia by using the popular political figure of Tekeny Ghemor (LawrencePressman) to lead a counter-revolution, for which purpose he’s on his way to DS9. Ghemor was a leading light in the Cardassian Dissident Movement that led to the lifting of the Occupation on Bajor, which puts him, in Kira’s eyes, firmly in the position of a Good Cardassian, but more importantly, he is the her pseudo-father from the third season episode in which the Obsidian Order transformed the Major into a Cardassian, supposedly Ghemor’s long-lost daughter. Kira loves Ghemor as if a father.

He’s perfect for her plan except for one thing (reaches for the Cliche Drawer): he’s dying.

Basically, the episode is about Kira’s reaction to losing a ‘parent’ again. In the absence of the still-missing Iliana, Kira is the closest Ghemor has to a daughter, or, it seems, to any family. He asks her to share with him the Cardassian ritual of Shri-tal, where a dying person shares all their secrets with their family so that these may be used against their enemies.

Kira is initially reluctant, which the episode will explain by means of flashbacks that I found obvious and banal in my present frame of mind. She persuades herself to do it out of a combination of love for the old man and the strategic value of this information. Ghemor is in pain, and it takes a long, halting time, primarily because the information is a McGuffin, required only to bring Kira to this point.

And we flashback to the Resistance days, in the caves, Furel (William Lucking) in charge, Kira with unflattering, long, straggly hair, and her father brought in, gut-shot, in pain, obviously dying but mainly enraged because the Cardassians had burned down his garden. The clunk I heard at that moment was the rest of the episode falling into place.

Because I knew instantly what it eventually took three flashbacks to establish, that Kira had run out on her father. That he was dying and wanted her with him, but she ran out on him to join a raid on the Cardassian troops responsible, that he died, calling for her, whilst she was gone, and all she did was to a) plan another raid and b) dig his grave in solitude, without fanfare or service.

Gul Dukat’s on board the station by now, insisting on taking Ghemor home to die at ease on Cardassia, and enjoy a lavish state funeral. He’s got Weyoun with him, which seems odd because Weyoun’s dead, killed by his own Jem’Hadar troops, but in order to bring Jeffrey Combs back, the Weyouns have been turned into clones: this is Weyoun 5.

And Dukat offers to reunite Ghemor with Iliana: the Gul knows her whereabouts. Ghemor is not so stupid as to trust him, however, so Dukat goes to the opposite extreme and poisons Kira against him: Ghemor took part in the Liessa Monastery massacre. Angered that he never confessed this to her, Kira breaks off all ties. That Ghemor was a 19 year old soldier under orders is not allowed to influence her, since she’s reverting to her hate-all-Cardassians mode, except that you and I know that a) she’s recalling her father’s death alone because she couldn’t face up to it and b) she’ll go to Ghemor just before the end.

Which she does. Nana Visitor then gets to deliver a monologue of self-realisation, which also comes from the Cliche Drawer, and which only exists for the hard-of-thinking in the audience who haven’t worked any of this out from the copious clues that have been battering them about the temples for the past twenty minutes. I know, I know, prime-time network television in the Nineties, never trust your audience to spot something for themselves, always spell it out in brightly coloured letters on baby blocks.

That’s why this was the wrong week for me to watch this episode. I should have had last week’s Quark-centric atrocity to blog, or next week’s Quark-centric atrocity instead. Something that deserved a good kicking, instead of an earnest, worthy character exploration episode with my favourite cast member (for all the shallow reasons).

One final point, and one skillfully underdrawn, to the point where I didn’t twig it myself but had to read it: to quote Robert Hewitt Wolfe on the scene where the Major shows off Kiriyoshi O’Brien to Ghemor: The father that is not her father. The baby that is not her baby. That’s Kira’s family.

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The Infinite Jukebox: The Association’s ‘Cherish’


You look at the clip and you think that they can’t possibly be taken seriously as pop or rock musicians. Six young men, dressed immaculately in conservative three-piece suits with high-collared white shirts and ties sharply knotted. Though their hair may be just a little on the long side, they’re a far cry from the degenerate long-haired animals that pass for young men these days. Some polite, restrained group, hoping one day to make it in the Catskill circuit, playing nice, safe, well-mannered versions of old standards. Not pop, nor definitely rock. Surely not.
But The Association were a pop group, and a rock group, a soft rock group who, in the late Sixties, were lauded as witty, articulate and, with their six man harmonies, capable of some of the finest vocal arrangements outside of Brian Wilson.
‘Cherish’ was their first big American hit, the first of two number 1 hits (three in some charts). It’s a gentle, soothing, pop ballad, unobtrusive backing, resting its weight on its voices and its words. And Cherish is an odd word, an archaic word for a pop song, a love song. It isn’t a strong word, its connotation is of a one-sided feeling, not reciprocated. But The Association have chosen this word deliberately: indeed, the song’s opening line makes a point of this selection.
Cherish is the word he uses to describes all the hopes he has hidden deep inside. So yes, it’s the right word, for this is a boy-loves-girl-but-she-don’t-love-him song.
She doesn’t know how many times he wished that he could hold her, or that he had told her or, and this is where the dodgy attitude of Sixties love pop applies, where the woman has no agency in her feelings and is no more than a response to the male’s libido, how many times he’s wished that he could mould her into someone who will cherish him back with equal urgency.
The position is made even more clear by a second verse in which Cherish is replaced by its exact rhyme, Perish. That’s the word that more than applies to the hope in his heart each time he realises, and there is a further litany, each line of despair and denial. He’s not going to be the one who shares her dreams, nor is he going to be the one with which she shares her schemes, nor yet what seems to be the life that she will herself cherish as much as he does hers.
This literary approach continues into the bridge, as more of the band join the two who are sharing these vocals. He’s beginning to think that Man has never found the words that would make her want him, words with the right amount of letters and sounds that will make her hear, and see, and if until this moment you’ve entertained any thought that his careful, articulate words are a put-on, too clever for words, now the band strip away the circumlocution and he openly, plainly states that she is driving him out of his mind.
There’s a momentary pause in the music as these words are absorbed, and then the careful distance, the attempt even now to find words that will unlock the distance between them. The band sing of things he could say: he could say he needs her, but that would be a dead giveaway, because then she’d realise that he wants her, and that in turn puts him on a level with a thousand other guys who’ve told her they love her for the rest of their lives, but really that’s just a cover for their real desire, which is to touch her face, her hands and gaze into her eyes, which is about as far as this kind of contemporary pop allows the singer to state, even though we all now how to decode it into physical desire: you don’t really think that all John Lennon wanted to do was hold her hand, do you?
But he is above that, or at least he’s trying to tell her so, by implication. Yes, she’s gorgeous and any guy would want her, but that’s not all for him. He wants more than her body, her kisses. He wants that life, to share it intimately, and he’s so far from it, but it means so much to him, and that’s when the band respond with a force that surprises.
It’s that first verse again, the helpless wishing, but instead of the polite two-voice enquiry, backed by quasi-doo wop ornamentation, this time it’s the full band, six-man harmony, at full-tilt, with vocal swoops and stresses. No more Mr Polite Guy, this is the sound of hurt and pain, of direct need, wrapped up in jewelled harmonies, coming from a gang of immaculate musicians, who surely can’t produce something this powerful?
But they do. Just like they cherish her. There is no relief. Not even the lushness of this arrangement will convince her, though it convinced enough people to take it to number 1 for two weeks in 1966, and launch The Association’s commercial career.
A band with that vocal flexibility could never be just the cabaret audience entertainers they affected to appear. A song like this might not be hip, it may be constructed, manufactured, but the workings were genius and the sound inspiring. If a sound like this couldn’t win her over, check her for breathing.

The Infinite Jukebox: Almond Marzipan’s ‘Marie Take a Chance’


Some songs belong on The infinite Jukebox just by chance. In themselves, they’re of no great significance, just a song to be enjoyed when heard. There are hundreds of them in my head, music of a time that arouses vague impressions of who I was and what I was doing, pleasant enough, but unremarkable. Some of them, though, find themselves tied to rather more specific memories.
I wouldn’t remember ‘Marie Take a Chance’ if it weren’t for a moment of frustration.
My first radio was an old-fashioned affair, with a grille, lit from behind, full of old, vanished radio station names. You turned a dial to scroll a bar from left to right and back again, lining it up against the names on the grill to hear the broadcasts, or rather hear silence, or a hiss, or a burst of static. My Dad had installed it for me in the bottom half of a small wooden bedside cabinet, some years before. I used it to listen to ‘Junior Choice’ on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Throughout 1970, I used it to listen to Radio 1 in every spare moment I had.
It was old, it was decrepit, it was on its last legs. It would be replaced at Xmas that year by my first transistor radio. It was prone to random bursts of background static, cutting into and across whatever song I might be enjoying at that particular moment, sometimes so badly that it completely blotted out the sound.
I was horribly untechnical, and if it were something Dad could have fixed it for me, the time had passed when he could even have tried.
Almond Marzipan’s cover of ‘Marie Take a Chance’ got a decent amount of daytime airplay that late summer. I knew, and still know, little of them, except that they were a six-piece band who appear to have only recorded two singles: four tracks, three of them good, tuneful pop. ‘Marie’ was the second of these: I didn’t even know it was a cover until earlier this year, discovering via the inevitable YouTube that the original came from late Sixties pop band, Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours (subsequently Pinkerton’s Colours and even Pinkeron before they reached the logical point of removing the name entirely and split: they had one hit, ‘Mirror Mirror’, a no. 9 in 1968).
Almond Marzipan were already out of date in 1970, a good, not spectacular late Sixties pop band of the kind that had already been displaced by the swerve towards ‘heavy music’ that kicked off the new decade. ‘Marie’ is bright, it’s breezy, it has a decent energy of it’s own, and a clear, well-formed chorus. Boy asks girl to give him a chance, he’s hooked on her and he hopes she’ll be hooked on him.
Whether she fell for him is something left to ponder. She may have done: he was sweet and naïve and no doubt he’d grow out of it one day. Not that I ever did.
I wanted to tape it but that meant keeping a fast ear open and an even faster finger for my old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder. At last I got the chance, the last time I heard the song played. But the static kicked in about half a minute into the song, a constant background presence that suddenly switched gears into an aural burst that all but drowned out the song, before mysteriously clearing for the last twenty seconds ago, as if some evil mastermind had had his doomsday machine switched off by Steed or Mrs Peel.
It was the only version I had into the digital age, and I still expect to hear it when I play the song now. The Infinite Jukebox holds both versions, but even no longer permit you the true version, a blast of already outgrown music from my formative year, and the radio my Dad made for me. There are three different versions of the song to be heard, with the version by Clem Curtis (ex-lead singer with The Foundations for ‘Baby Now That I’ve Found You’) coming closest in arrangement and energy to the Almond Marzipan take.

Great Walks: The High Stile Range


A fish-eye lens view of the Range

I haven’t previously written of the High Stile Range as a Great Walk because, although it undoubtedly is, my experience of it was in large part a frustration. Not wholly: there was much that was good and the start and the end of the walk, but when the main fell, the highest peak, is covered with cloud during the part of the walk where you’re crossing it, you can’t really call it a success.
The High Stile Range is three high peaks in a dead straight line of under two miles, between Buttermere on the rocky, impressive, challenging north-east and Ennerdale on the dull, grassy, featureless south-west. Most walks tackle the ridge from Buttermere, for reasons that will be immediately obvious to anyone who sees the Range from that side: you don’t even need to view the Ennerdale flank to make a decision.
Those of us who hate to cross trodden ground during a walk find ridges like this a bit difficult. There is no Horseshoe element whatsoever, or if there is it’s one that’s been straightened out by Desperate Dan. You have to gain the heights at one end and drop down off the other and find some reasonable way of connecting the walk-foot at each end.
Fortunately, this is not an insuperable problem with the High Stile Range.
The day began with the usual engine-stressing, brake-busting crossing of Newlands Hause. Parking at the Village end of Buttermere is at even more of a premium than the Gatesgarth end, and I took refuge in a small roadside quarry a quarter mile or so before the Village, where, if I recall correctly, I still had to pay for a day’s parking.
At either end, the ridge is across the valley from the road, and there is a long, flat, green walk to the base of the Range, rising steeply from the edge of the lake. At the Village end, the path across the fields is narrow and bounded. It felt like a long way to go just to get to the bottom of the walk, especially as I was eyeing cautiously the cloud level, sweeping about at just below the top of High Raise.
I’ve done this before, setting off for a walk that might take me under cloud cover, anxiously raising my eyes but ploughing on determinedly, daring the cloud to still be there when I get up with it. Helvellyn, that time I went round by Sticks Pass, Raise and White Side, ending up sitting in a wind-shelter too crowded to get into the lea side, watching people arrive out of the cloud at least every thirty seconds. A first attempt at the Coledale Horseshoe, having driven up Friday night during the 1994 World Cup, and having to descend to Coledale Hause after feeling my way to Hopegill Head, the water droplets catching in my beard. Bowfell the first time, via Rossett Gill, Rossett Pike and Ore Gap, nearly coming to grief on Bowfell Links when we lost the path down. I should know better by now, or then, but I pressed on.
The walk didn’t really begin until we reached the further lake shore, and then the lines of walkers turned towards the head of the valley, until a gate at the foot of a long, diagonal path. And it was through the gate and up, up and up, single file, through the woods on a long, narrow route that kept to the same gradient and never ended, left, right, left, right, nowhere to turn aside and take a break without holding up a continual procession behind.
That’s exactly what it was like, a procession going up the stairs. I’ve never had an experience like it on the fells, before or since.
Not until the route emerged from the woods did the way widen to enable people to settle to their own pace. And after a short section directly up the broad fellside, the way turned right, and we could enjoy an extended level section, dashing or strolling, all across the face of the fell, below Bleaberry Cove, on rock. I couldn’t resist the urge to stride out and overtake a lot of the stair-climbers who had preceded me, whilst allowing the younger and fitter to burst past me.
The openness and the levelness was like a rush of fresh air, especially after the confines of the woods. I have never liked not being able to see where I am in height at any time on a climb.
At the far end of this extended terrace was the confused and tumbling outflow of Bleaberry Tarn, white water to hop across to gain the far bank and turn back uphill, scrambling into the lip of the cove, the tarn bright under a heavy sky, and High Stile’s buttresses beyond it.
The cloud was still hovering, this time around the top of Red Pike, my first destination. The path moved away to the right, onto the saddle separating the Pike from its subsidiary, Dodd. I wondered, on the saddle, about turning towards the latter, but it would be a strenuous day and Dodd was a literally backwards step, a few hundred feet of climbing I would have to repeat when I got back to this point. An actual Wainwright, of course. A subsidiary summit, no.
So I committed to the long, straight ascent towards Red Pike, and to the lowering cloud cover that was making the day grey, and doing the same for my mood. For the first time today, the walking was tedious, and I found wisps beginning to float around me and across me.

As not seen from High Stile today

Red Pike was almost exactly the same height as the cloud base. I did get a full view, but it was from under a very low roof and through grey air that robbed the panorama of its richness. And as the clouds were unshifting, I had before me the prospect of crossing to High Stile in complete invisibility.
The ground underneath was not too difficult, though the path was far from being as distinct as I would have liked, and the presence to my left of steep and dangerous cliffs had me like a cat on hot bricks all the way to High Stile’s summit cairn. There was nothing to see, not through the swirling grey. I had Wainwright’s word for it that the supreme viewpoint was down the slope towards the lake, at the end of a rocky nose.
I went in that direction with ultra-caution as to what might lie beneath my feet or, rather, what might suddenly not lie beneath my feet. This viewpoint was lower than the summit, maybe it might, just, peep beneath the cloud, but as ever my optimism was merely hopeful. For a moment only, a swirl of wind blew away the screen, and I caught sight of the lake and the Village and the deep valleys opposite, but it was literally a moment only, and then the enclosure again.
I made my way back to the summit cairn, collected the rucksack I had, trustingly, left there, and started towards the rough descent to High Crag. It was still a bit nervy: I do not like cloud on the tops. But I came out below the cloud level, the ridge started to narrow, and then I was walking the narrow path along the top of Burtness Comb, and behind me the cloud had burned out and it was all sun and afternoon glory, and I was alone on this narrow, level ridge, with steepness on both sides, and behind me High Stile bare, proud and clean of cloud.
Not that I was going to turn round and add that extra climbing to my day. There’s a psychological dimension to descending from a summit, and I have found that once I have gotten more than a token distance from the top, steps retraced are heavy and draining. Onwards, ever onwards, not backwards. Though I regret not summoning that extra energy now, and going back for the view that now was unobstructed.
I was now above Burtness Comb, on a flat ridge that felt as narrow as a rail, and the sun was now burning down on my exposed position. It was one of those crossings that felt endless, with little change in the scenery to suggest I was getting much further forward, High Crag not seeming to loom at all, and care required in view of the lack of width.

The ridge to High Crag

But at last I reached the third fell, and made the short climb to its little top, bare of summit furniture on which to sit.
With nothing to wait for, and the sun slowly dehydrating me, I set off down the unremittingly steep ridge towards Scarth Gap. This was a strain on the knees throughout, and I quickly made a mental resolution that when I came back to the High Stile Range, I would not reverse the order of ascent. This ridge was not merely steep, but well-scraped, and hard underfoot.
By the time I got down the worst of it, to the base of Seat, the soles of my feet were burning. I had the option of the easy route, bypassing this long, subsidiary upthrust to the south, and joining the Pass lower down but, purist that I am,  insisted to myself on crossing it along the ridge, before finally reaching Scarth Gap.
This made the third time I had dropped down off that particular Pass, to the Buttermere valley, but this time there was the matter of returning to the Village, not Gatesgarth. However, rather than the road, I had left myself the lakeshore path, which was cool, and quiet, and level, and uncrowded. There was no need for hurry, and the presence of the Lake lifted the spirit of my feet, even if I couldn’t physically plunge them in it for cooling.
In the end, I met the gate where the diagonal stair debouched onto the route, and not too much further was the turn across the valley to the Village, and the little quarry car park where I could relieve myself of my boots and transfer to soft-soled trainers for the drive over Honister and back to Borrowdale.

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’s Clothing: Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist


Soldier of the Mist, the first of, ultimately, three books featuring the character, Latro, represented an inversion of the situation in The Book of the New Sun. From a series set in the distant future, narrated by a hero who could not forget, Gene Wolfe deliberately turned to a series set in the distant past, narrated by a hero who could not remember.
Wolfe had form for this sort of thing. In the early Seventies, he had written a brilliant short story feeding off H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, under the title ‘The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories’ (itself the title story for a collection published as The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories: Wolfe loves his word puzzlery). When this story was misannounced as having won a Nebula Award (the actual result was No Award, but Wolfe’s story had received the highest number of votes in its category), its title was mangled. Taking this as a cue, Wolfe wrote a story under the title ‘The Death of Doctor Island’, followed by ‘Death of the Island Doctor’ and, when these three were collected as The Wolfe Archipelago, added for the collection, ‘The Doctor of Death Island’. All four stories are radically different).
So turning Severian on his head gave us Latro. That’s not his name, merely the one by which he is known. Latro, the very epitome of an unreliable narrator, is a mercenary, seemingly Roman in origin, in what will become Greece during the Pelopponnesian Wars. When Soldier of the Mist begins, Latro has just received a head wound that has deprived him of his memory: henceforth, his past will disappear behind him, as he is unable to remember anything for more than twenty-four hours.
In order to maintain any continuity of memory, Latro must write down his life every day, on one of the scrolls he carries with him for this purpose. What he does not write down effectively does not happen. Each morning, he must be reminded to read his scroll, so that he will know who he is.
There is one other aspect of Latro’s condition. As a consequence of his head wound, he can now see, hear and talk with the Gods.
In further, but inevitable contrast to Severian, whose prose was rolling and convoluted, Latro’s writings are clipped and contained. He is, of course, writing things down on a scroll, using a stylus that makes tiny marks, and he is trying to make the maximum amount of use of the surface area of the scroll. The conceit of the books is that the recent destruction of a pair of Ancient Grecian earthen jars brought the scrolls to light, and Wolfe’s position is that of translator, just as it is with Severian’s future opus.
Latro, as I said, is not a name. It means Soldier, Mercenary, Brigand and other terms not especially reputable. He is, though this has to be determined from the situation, an enemy, a mercenary with the invading Persian army that, throughout the course of the first scroll, is being forced back. Latro’s first writings concern the healer who has bound his head injury and supplied his scroll and stylus, but inevitably Latro has lost him by the second day.
He has regained his oldest ‘friend’, a black man who never speaks any of the local languages though he understands more than appears, and a small group quickly coalesces around him, though almost each day Latro mistakes the members of that group and everyone’s relationship.
These are Pindaros, a poet, imposed on Latro at the shrine of the Great Mother, to lead him to another shrine where healing might be found (Latro’s wound is sustained at or by such a shrine and his affliction is attributed to his having offended the Goddess), Io, a ten-year old girl who becomes a devoted slave to Latro and almost an exterior memory for him, and Hilaeria, with whom we are led to assume Latro has slept, and whose background we never quite learn.
Needless to say, in a land at war, this little band is soon taken captive, and for most of the book, Latro is a slave, moved between masters, a condition he accepts as a practicality but which he never allows to make him feel a slave.
In the context of the War, it is little surprise that Latro’s band is soon captured, and become slaves, transferred from one master to another. First, there is the jovial Hypereides, who in civilian life is a master of leather and who has transferred his skills and his speciality to captaining vessels for his city.
He in turn transfers Latro, Pindaros and Io on to Kalleos, who is basically a madam, though he keeps the black man. Latro becomes a ‘fancy man’, or a whorehouse enforcer.
Whilst with Kalleos, Latro encounters Eurykles, a prolix blowhard who claims to be able to raise the dead. It should be a con, especially as it is one of Kalleos’ women who will play the part, but Latro is instructed by the God to touch the dead body that has already been exposed, and she actually comes back to life!
This episode comes to an indeterminate end soon after, when Kalleos wants Latro for her bed: though she falls asleep before requiring his actual services, the experience leads to Latro ceasing to record is daily experiences, and in effect ceasng to exist as far as we readers are concerned.
In this manner, Wolfe splits his book up into four parts, each separated by lacunae that sees Latro and his little band leap astonishing distances to new sites. Such movements are complex, and each time the reader needs to re-orient himself as much as does Latro, especially as Eurykles joins the party before transforming – of which Latro seems to be the first to perceive – into a woman first ugly then glamorous, who takes the name Drakaina and who seeks to seduce the mist-driven soldier.
Add into this that Latro is writing, and presumably thinking, in a language different to that spoken around him, and that he gives place names with which we would be familiar as the translation of their name: Rope (Sparta), Thought (Athens), and the story becomes even more of a jigsaw puzzle to translate to follow, a jigsaw puzzle with a great many pieces that the reader has to draw for himself.
For a long period, the account is driven by Latro’s new ‘master’, Pausanius, who has been charged with besieging and taking Sestos and who has had a dream that Latro will bring him success. Pindaros has been allowed to return to his city by this point, his role having been taken over by Drakaina.
Nearing the end of the first scroll, Latro comes to a temple of the Great Mother where he is taken below ground by a Goddess. She gives him various options, and he chooses the one by which he will be reunited with his friends. Having broken with Pausanius, and having come once again into the company of Hypereides and the black man, this promise is fulfilled in the worst of fashions, evidencing that the Gods choose to honour their commitments in their own way: Latro is now in battle in Persia itself where he comes across a Roman mercenary who knows him, who names him ‘Lucius’. But this friend is mortally wounded, and dies almost on the instant.
Soldier of the Mist is a superb example of historical fiction. Wolfe has researched its details thoroughly, and depicts life as it was lived in this era without fanfare but with complete conviction. You can read the book solely from this perspective if you wish, and get a great deal from it, but it would take an incurious mind to ignore Latro’s predicament, the secret of who he really is – if this has any real relevance to the story unfolding – and the question of whether the Gods can override the medical science we know exists, and restore Latro’s memory to him in any significant sense.
Those who remain fascinated by this question would eagerly await the next book in the series. It would not be Wolfe’s next book.

 

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e21: Mourning Becomes Matuka


And thus it ended. The only season of Tales of the Gold Monkey finished with a bit of a bang, and a hand to play for everyone in the cast, except, oddly Roddy McDowell. But for the little-used trio of John Calvin, Marta Dubois and John Fujioki, there was a full part to play in a story set entirely on Princess Koji’s island kingdom of Matuka.

The hook, not that we are told this at first, is that it is the Princess’s birthday, and she has gathered her entire organisation to pay her homage, and give her birthday presents. As representatives of the French Mandate, we have that less-than-French quartet of Jake Cutter, Corky, Sarah Stickney-White and the Reverend Willie Tenbaum (whose role as a German spy has been completely forgotten for over half a series). Not to forget Jack.

It begins with blind zen horseback archers trying to kill each other, until they simultaneously turn and fire at the Dragon Lady… no, sorry, the Princess. But we all know who she’s been. Koji is saved by Todo throwing himself in the way, but with him out of the action, a new bodyguard is needed, and it will be Jake Cutter. Any reluctance he has at playing the part disappears when it transpires that Koji not only knows, but has proof, that Sarah is an American spy. She also has General Ajani, head of Japanese Military Intelligence, on Matuka.

Jake has to play along. And he mustn’t tell anyone, not even Jack.

Nobody believes he’s doing it for the money, not even $10,000. Which he probably won’t get paid since at the present-giving party, when Koji is sat next to her Irish half-sister Shannon Smith (out of deference to a truly atrocious Irish accent, I will not name the guest actress: think Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, only Irish), a clockwork cupid musical box fires a miniature aroow into Koji’s chest barely breaking the skin, but killing her.

I am probably not going to spoil the dramatic tension if I tell you she’s not really dead, even though the Princess lies in ‘state’ for five days before a superfast cremation. Jake still can’t let on what’s going on, even though Corky tries to make out he’s nearly blind in one eye so he can’t fly Sarah and Willie out in the Goose. And Jake’s insistence on wearing his Flying Tigers jacket in front of a horde of Japanese troops and a General who lost a brother to a Tiger is hardly the height of diplomacy.

But, as I always suspected, the whole thing’s a put up designed to get the would-be assassins out into the open. One is, unsurprisingly enough, little Irish sister, who frames Jake as the killer, but it takes the ritual of Seppuku (performed with a collapsible knife) before the General is fingered as her partner. He goes to the piranhas and she goes to the Living Death, which comes over as a more extreme and considerably more creepy version of being sent to Coventry.

Jake has survived to fight another day, but not, sadly, another series. Tales of the Gold Monkey was a hit, especially in Britain, at 8.00pm on Monday nights, BBC1. We would always switch straight over after Coronation Street. But it needed to be a bigger hit to overcome the production costs of filming in the South Pacific and, unlike Lost, a quarter century later, it didn’t reach that level.

And so there was no more. Looking back on it now, I can see a host of flaws, and it really never did know what to do with either Caitlin O’Heaney or Marta Dubois – nor John Calvin for that matter – except to reduce two potentially strong roles to cliches, one insulting, one sexual. but it was still fun, and unpretentious fun as well. It knew what it wanted, it set out to provide that, and it skillfully evoked older and more simple times with its tongue not further in its cheek than it took to play along with the joke. I would have enjoyed more, most definitely then, and even now. Perhaps on Earth-2, they’ve got the second season available on their equivalent of BluRay, and all I have to do is find the exact deserted crossroads, just outside Central City. And the ability of the Flash to alter by body’s vibrational frequency.

Thank you for indulging me. For the next twenty four weeks, Thursday will cease to be Gold Monkey Day and will become ******** ****** Day. Hint: another one season series, bit nearer the present day.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e18: Business as Usual


I do not like Ferenghi stories. I do not have the least interest in them. From the combination of the open, and the title, I was immediately aware that this was to be a Ferenghi story. I was bored from start to finish. Even the B story was trivial in the extreme, not even a B story: perhaps a tangential D story, comic relief to a multi-strand episode.

And since the big game-changer of the opening shots in the Dominion War, this is the third standalone, character-driven episode without even a mention of the changed circumstances, which is terribly disappointing.

Yet ‘Business as Usual’ is supposed to be a great episode, and Armin Shimerman regarded it as his best and most complex performance as Quark. It’s supposed to explore his character, and in particular how he has progressed from the pure Ferenghi commerce-only culture to being influenced by the morals of the Federation. Which is an admirable purpose and a worthy achievement to pursue, if you give the slightest shit about Quark. Which I don’t.

The story then: very well. Quark’s flat broke, going under. To save himself, he goes in with his cousin Gaila, who’s into arms dealing, working with the highly-successful Hagath (a Special Guest Appearance by Steven Berkoff who, using a fraction of his ability, blew everybody off-screen). Quark avoids breaking the law by not bringing weapons aboard but rather doing his salesman bit to effect sales using a very precise holosuite programme.

It’s technical and Odo’s going to ignore it until the Bajoran government insists Hagath be left alone: he supplied weapons to the Bajoran Underground.

The only thing that Quark’s unhappy about is that he isn’t seeing any of the profits, since Hagath is paying off the Ferenghi’s creditors directly with them. That, and the way he’s become even more of a complete pariah to everyone except Morn.

The crunch comes when the Regent of Palamar wants weaponry to kill 28 million people. This is where Quark’s conscience kicks in. Of course it begs the question of what lower figure would have been acceptable but we don’t go there because once we’re on this kind of path, we don’t dare suggest he may have been ok with, I dunno, 9 or 10 million deaths, because that may undercut the comic aspect of the character. Either way, I cannot summon any enthusiasm for Quark’s moral dilemmas.

To get out of it, Quark opens surreptitious negotiations with the Regent’s enemy, General Nussac, bringing her to the station and putting her and her guards in with the Regent, his guards, Hagath and Gaila. Result: lots of shooting, people running away, improbable odds of survival, Quark off hook and everybody instantly forgets what a little shitweasel he’s demonstrated himself to be. Ha, ha, how funny. Maybe he’d have been ok if it had only been 27 million.

As for the B story, the Chief’s life is complicated by Kuriyoshi crying his little eyes out if he’s not being held by his Daddy. There’s nothing wrong with him, but O’Brien has to take him everywhere, until he stops doing it for no more apparent reason than when he started.

That Deep Space Nine can come up with back to back episodes like ‘In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light’ and this piece of toss in such a short space of time fills me with despair. And there’s another bloody Quark episode the week after next. Would anyone mind if I miss that one out?