What I’m Watching: Deep Space Nine
I’ve never been a Trekkie. We didn’t watch a lot of television growing up, and the main one running when I was old enough to surf the airwaves was Voyager, a series with a… mixed reputation. Most of what I knew about Star Trek came from a knick-knack catalog my parents got called Signals which offered mementoes of Monty Python, Benny Hill, Fawlty Towers… and Star Trek.
But it’s impossible to escape Star Trek completely–my roommates both in college and university were big into it, and I’ve absorbed a lot of Trek knowledge and lore just from Youtube videos and comments in web articles. And of the different series, the only one I’ve found really interesting is Deep Space Nine. Original Series is too goofy, Next Generation has an allegorical / self-righteous bent which is annoying, Voyager is… well, Voyager. What I’ve seen of Enterprise is interesting, but not particularly compelling.
Deep Space Nine, though, makes an effort at creating consistent alien cultures (instead of the allegorical ones inhabiting TNG) and has characters that feel more real, with more personality (I’ve been especially hunting out episodes with Garak. And Odo. Probably Worf, now that I’ve gotten to his part). It feels in some ways a repudiation of Rodenberry’s vision, with a militaristic bent and an arguably tolerant, if mocking, approach toward the cartoonishly capitalistic Quark. And while Captain Sisko tries to remain neutral, he seems to have a looser approach to the Prime Directive than even Kirk. Entirely consistent, given his backstory–which again, given its association with Picard, seems in some ways to oppose Roddenberry’s vision.
It’s always interesting to see how a show reflects its time, and it’s impossible not to read the American interventionism of the 1990’s in DS9’s more nation-building approach, as they “elevate” desirable leaders, undermine coups (or support them), and leak information to unaligned planets. There are religious terrorists/freedom fighters, reforming dictatorships, and new expansionist empires to counteract. Oddly enough, it also strikes me as more socially conscious than TNG, despite TNG’s fondness for social allegory. Perhaps its because the social issues are ongoing and something the characters themselves genuinely struggle with.
I’m still not watching it exactly consistently–I’m mostly jumping around to season premiere/finales and “best episodes” listed on internet guides. It’s just got too much still of the Star Trek silliness, with omnipresent maintenance shafts that no one checks and meaningless technobabble to resolve contrived plot points. Again, I’m not a Trekkie, and I feel at this point it’s too late for me to become one. But it’ll certainly keep me entertained for a while.
What I’m Reading: Legacy of Wrath
I didn’t enjoy this book. In many ways it’s better than most self-published books–the world is futuristic and the action is intense. But the action is also very disturbing, in a way I find hard to explain.
First, a synopsis. The story takes place in a futuristic Germany, its economy failing, its politics racked by internal tensions from the growing Muslim population. The protagonist, Daniel Hansen, works at a government laboratory developing teleporters for black-ops missions, when a conspiracy at the highest levels of German government orders the massacre of his entire team. Barely escaping the slaughter of his colleagues through the use of one of the prototype teleporters, Daniel Hansen is a man on the run, knowing the conspiracy will track him down wherever he flees. It’s an action-packed story with somewhat threadbare themes and an overall tone that I found genuinely disturbing.
If you’ve read my books, you know I’m not shy about action. My action scenes are, I think, pretty santized so far as action goes, but I try for some vivid descriptions of attacks and injuries. So I’m generally not troubled by written scenes of violence. A few weeks ago I read a self-published book that involved people being cut into bits and reintegrated into robots, and it was affecting but not disturbing to me.
So I’m not sure why I found the violence in Legacy of Wrath so disturbing. It’s nasty, sure, with people being drowned in hot tubs and buried alive underground, but there’s more to it than that. I think it’s that the book does an excellent job of making you identify the victims as real people with hopes and dreams. They struggle to live, they’re afraid of dying–but it doesn’t help. They still die. Often senselessly, needlessly. A long selection in the early part of the book involves a renegade cyborg murdering every member of his own support team. It repeatedly notes that the people he’s killing are nice people who he doesn’t dislike–they’re just “on the wrong team.”
In a way, arousing emotion, sometimes even disgust, is what a story should do. There’s talent in making something disgusting and disturbing, and certainly there are disgusting and disturbing things. It would be a disservice if literature pretended bad things never happened to good people, or that the Holocaust never happened. And its important that people understand the horror of such moments. I read Elie Wiesel’s Night last year as part of the high school course I was teaching. That too was disturbing, in a different way.
But there’s also a danger in becoming obsessed with the horror, of enjoying the horror for its own sake. I’m willing to entertain that the horror genre serves a good purpose (though I’ve never enjoyed them), but you will never convince me that there is anything redeemable about the Saw franchise. Lingering on the horror is dangerously close to revelling in it, enjoying it.
Maybe the problem with Legacy of Wrath a sense that the author is a little too interested in examining how these good people are all dying. There’s a part where the cyborg examines a damaged android closely, marveling at the way it mimics the emotions of a dying person. It’s an indication of how sociopathic the cyborg is, but it’s also, I think, a good analogy for what’s going on with the writing. The writer examines the victims, makes them human, makes them almost unnaturally nice and likeable before killing them brutally and watching them die. Thinking on it, now, I don’t think there was a single un-likeable victim.
It serves a point, of course. Legacy of Wrath is about terrorism, both from German ultra-nationalists and Muslim fundamentalists, both of whom feel intense hatred for the perfectly nice, perfectly innocent people they have little reason to hate and kill. There’s never a sense that the fascistic hatred is in any way noble or justified, and that’s a commendable goal of the author.
But again, the themes feel ham-fisted. The blatantly political arguments that arise about the Islamic presence in Germany come at odd and unnatural intervals in the story–the protagonist has barely escaped a massacre when he argues with his father about whether Islam is a peaceful religion or not (despite the book showing an agreeable Islamic technician already.) The abhorent violent makes it clear that innocents are caught in the crossfire–but it also has a way of making the entire issue seem almost cartoonishly simple. The stated “motivations” of the villains are mentioned but never really dwelt on; you never really feel that they themselves suffered to any extent that explains their sociopathic actions. The motivations, if anything, seem like set dressing.
There’s some undeniably good writing in Legacy of Hate. If there wasn’t, it would hardly have been as disturbing as it was. But it’s more than it needs to serve its point, and the point itself comes across as almost secondary to the violence. Certainly some will enjoy it, but I did not.
What I’m Writing: The Teutonic Doctrine
Still making progress–I’ve set a goal of writing 4-5 pages a day. But I’m a bit troubled; I’ve written nearly fifty pages and I’ve just barely finished the first scene, which honestly doesn’t have a lot to do with the main plot. Still. That’s what a rough draft is for. I can cut it down, or cut it out entirely and maybe save it for a fanfiction. The Nephilim Protocol used to start with a conversation between Chad and Jess, and The Hospitaller Oath, in its original original form, had Chad and Gideon with Dr. Schaefer in Kashmir. So who knows, maybe the beginning will end up not being in the final cut at all.
I’m also starting to doubt this is a good idea, so I might not keep it up. It might cause problems with enrolling the book in KDP, and some writers apparently hold that showing off your drafts makes you lose the intimacy you feel with your own writing. We’ll see.
I look up into the unsmiling face of a Chinese soldier. His companion has his gun at the ready. For once, they’re not looking at Gideon as much as they are at me.
Crap. “Right. Papers.” I fumble in my jacket and produce the papers we brought all the way from Xinjiang.
The soldier inspects them. “These are outdated.” He frowns at me.
“Yes,” I say. “We got them just before the regulations were changed.” Because of that attack that never officially happened. These would have been very good ID’s if it hadn’t been such a public attack.
I get a sense of weary frustration from the guard, though I can’t read it in his face. I imagine we’re not the only people to have outdated papers, with how recent the change has been. “You must come with us.” He nods to his partner.
“We’ve been trying to get them updated,” I say. “But the office is so busy…” I smile without thinking and quickly suppress it. The Chinese do not smile to strangers—only to their family and close acquaintances (which honestly makes better sense). They’re used to tourists being smarmy, but that doesn’t mean they like it. And we need these guys to like us.
“We are going to take you to get your papers updated.” The guard says. “Now. Come with us.”
We’re brought to a brutal concrete structure that was clearly built sometime in the 1980s. The officers bring us to a clear plexiglass room where they’re apparently keeping everyone with outdated papers, and then we’re left there.
This is bad. Our papers don’t have any actual records to back them up. If the desk attendant actually looks up the info, things are going to fall apart very quickly. Our only saving grace is that the office doesn’t seem to move any quicker for people the police have brought in. Still. We have an hour, at most, before we’re called up. And there are guards and cameras everywhere.
“Any ideas?” I mutter to Gideon. He’s the enigmatic bastard.
He gives me a brilliant smile. “I am endeavouring to think of one, my friend. Please be patient with me.”
I sigh. Perhaps there’s a nearby room we can escape to. I put my hand against the plexiglass and send my sense out through the building. Unfortunately the surrounding area feels very solid. Concrete walls everywhere. Some rough drywall partitions, but always concrete on the outside. Guard stations. Heavy steel doors. We could break out, but not without a lot of violence, which would bring a lot of attention. If we could only…
There’s… a basement. Most places in Lhasa don’t have a basement, because it’s basically all bedrock. And I can’t actually feel a door to the basement. It’s completely sealed off… I try to get a sense for the room. Buried under rubble, and sealed with concrete on top of that.
Our missing tunnel? A place to hide, at least, or possibly escape. Too bad it’s on the other side of the office. “Gideon,” I mutter, opening my eyes. “I think I’ve found something…”
Gideon isn’t beside me, anymore. He’s over by the security door to the room, studying the lock.
Oh shit. I hurry over. “Gideon,” I hiss. “Don’t use your Aptitude to hack the door lock. Everyone can see you. It’ll draw too much attention.”
“Oh, I know.” He nods. “But I was thinking. A security lock such as this is doubtless networked into the building security system—something to help them coordinate the cameras, door locks, fire alarms.”
I raise an eyebrow. “So?”
“So it occurs to me that if it’s networked to those, I could potentially hack them all from here.” He taps his chin. “That is what I am thinking.”
I stare at him. “That sounds… hard.”
“Complicated,” he says. “And potentially lengthy. I would certainly need to be touching the door for an extended period of time. That is not a thing I would say they are likely to let me do.”
“No.” I nod. “So do you have another plan?”
He heaves a breath. “Call the guard over here.”
I glance at him. “What?”
And then he collapses.