20 August 2015

Person of Interest

I've not mentioned it on this blog previously - at least not in any real depth - but I'm going to quickly post about it here.

If you've definitely not seen it, you should definitely check it out. Start at the beginning - it's a bit slow to get started but by Season 2, it becomes truly excellent.

The TLDR summary is that it's a series about a guy who developed a supercomputer to use comprehensive surveillance predict acts of terrorism and found it was also predicting regular crimes. As the government aren't that interested in the latter, he hires a former CIA operative to work with him to stop the crimes. Every week, "The Machine" gives them the Social Security number of someone about to be involved in a violent crime. They don't know what it is - or whether the person involved is a perpetrator or a victim. It's their job to find out and hopefully stop it.

It's a lot more fun - and also pretty funny - then it sounds; as well as thought-provoking. Also, I will say Amy Acker's character, when she turns up, is the most deliciously crazy and unpredictable one I've seen in my life. She also has brilliant entrances... consistently brilliant entrances.

15 August 2015

VJ Day 70 years on

Today marks 70 years since the surrender of Japan. The war in the Far East sometimes doesn't get the attention it deserves, but it was just as key and just as unpleasant as the war in Europe.

As the surviving veterans remember and we commemorate their sacrifice for the peace and freedom many nations enjoy today, I thank you for your service.

May we never have to go through something like that again.

14 August 2015

Labour leadership votes

I'll be voting Andy Burnham 1st, Yvette Cooper 2nd. I believe that they offer the best policies to be a credible alternative to the Conservatives at the next election, but to be honest, we're not likely to win it unless there's another recession.

As for Jeremy Corbyn, if you want to vote for him be my guest, but don't say you weren't warned if it (as I think it will) goes very wrong for Labour. He may have principles, but I don't think his policies are right for this country and I think they won't appeal to the Middle England voters we have to win back from the Tories if we're to form a government.

For the deputy, it'll be Tom Watson... not sure about other preferences yet.

09 August 2015

Well that was a slog (Review: "War and Peace", 1869)

Well, I've finally managed to do it - I've completed a read through of Tolstoy's literary door stopper. It's not the longest novel ever written; not even in the top ten in fact - but I can only imagine that the original Russian text is even longer due to the greater length of Russian words.

Did Tolstoy have an editor?

Voyna i mir, to quote its Russian title, is (primarily) an epic about a group of rich Russian families in the period between 1805 and 1820; with particular focus on the Napoleonic Wars, specifically the Corsican's invasion of Russia, which saw him capture Moscow (getting a bit further than Mr. One Testicle), which promptly ended up being mostly destroyed in a big fire before having to retreat due to the Russian winter.

The "war" is better than the "peace" by a good margin; Tolstoy did extensive research on the period and captures the intrigues, politicking etc. of the Russian high command very well. In addition, Tolstoy (having served in the Crimean War and ended up a pacifist as a result) exposes the chaos and difficulties of fighting a war before the invention of radio communications brilliantly, not to mention the horrors that exist eternally.

That's not to say that the non-battle stuff is poor; there's some good character arcs, with Pierre Bezukhov's quest for meaning in life being particularly key. The life of Russian aristocracy (parties, gossip and marrying for money) and general Russian customs is insightful; also an insight into days when if someone went on a trip, you had no idea when they might actually return... if at all.

Where the novel really runs into problems, however, is when Tolstoy takes a break from it to have a moan at historians he doesn't like; especially those who thought that the events were all driven by the 'great man' Napoleon Bonaparte; he argues that many thousands of individual wills were involved. Some of this may be OK, but when he devotes an entire second epilogue of 12 chapters to a discussion of free will versus inevitability, you're really just desperate for it to end. In addition, the first epilogue actually just kind of stops.


While definitely a good book and certainly worth a read, Tolstoy's habit of going on long diatribes knocks this down considerably. The story is interesting, but if I wanted a discourse on the nature of historiography, I would have read a different book.

Personally, I prefer Crime and Punishment.


08 August 2015

The Gorn Identity (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.18, "Arena")

Beaming down to the remote Earth outpost of Cestus III, the crew find it has been destroyed by alien attack. As they pursue the ship, they are stopped by another advanced group of aliens, which transport Kirk off the bridge and put in a contest to the death with the other ship's captain, a powerful reptilian Gorn.


I'm going to start off by mentioning the fact that Mythbusters, back when Grant Imhara (who plays Sulu in Star Trek Continues) was still on the show, examined a key element of the story here. Without saying too much, let's just say that they found some problems with it.

Secondly, I have seen this episode before, but very little of it was fresh in my memory; it loses little on a second watching.

This episode starts hitting some classic beats early; the three leads are well-characterised (this is another strong Kirk story) and it's not long after we beam down that a red shirt purchases the farm.

There's a lot of close proximity explosions that you would never get away with today (indeed, slightly reckless use of explosives is a common theme in this era of science-fiction); indeed all three of the regulars apparently ended up with tinnitus as a result.

We then get a rather good spaceship chase (I was almost expecting Scotty to say "She cannae take it, Captain!", although I don't think he ever quite said that line) and then the main 'arena', taking us to Kirk's Rock for the second time this season. The battle of strength and wits is thrilling as well as engaging, although I do wonder where the cameras are that allow the crew to see it on the main screen back on the bridge.

This is a great episode; Kirk in particular demonstrates the whole UFP creed in this. If the Prime Directive is about non-interference, the Secondary Directive is about defending yourselves, but not using violence unnecessarily - as he demonstrates in the climax. It's proved to be the right decision.

The Gorn costume is slightly unconvincing (it was probably uncomfortable for the actor in it) and there is also a fairly big plot hole in all of this; if you intend to lure a ship into a trap, shouldn't you bring enough resources with you to make sure that you can actually close the trap? Also, it's difficult to deter invaders without allowing someone to send a message back.


Quintessential Trek (and oft homaged); if it wasn't for the slightly dodgy Gorn outfit, I'd be giving this a 10.


06 August 2015

70 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first of only two (thank the Lord) uses of nuclear weapons in warfare.

One can agree or disagree whether the dropping of the bombs was justified or indeed necessary to end the war. However, I think we can all agree that the fact they were used is a tragedy in itself; if you end up in a situation where killing 100,000 civilians is the least bad option, it's a pretty bad situation.

Hopefully as the last survivors of the bombings pass on, the memory will remain - and they will never be used again.

01 August 2015

Life, Jim, but more immature than we know it (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.17, "The Squire of Gothos")

I'm slightly disappointed this isn't called "The Squire of Qo'nos"... you may or may not get that.

As our favourite starship is about to cross a void in space that supposedly contains no planets, one turns up on the scope. Then Kirk and Sulu disappear off the bridge, taken off the ship by Trelane, a superbeing who has a considerable amount of flamboyance but not a lot of maturity.


I'm going to start this episode by discussing the 'guest' of this episode, Trelane, a world-creating super-being who has developed his ideas from Earth through long-distance observation, but his history is a bit inaccurate; apparently he's looking at Earth 900 years in the past because of the whole speed of light thing... which considering that the stuff in his house is of Napoleonic vintage, rather flies in the face of the later established Trek timeline placing this series in 2264 - this had not yet been determined by the writers.

Trelane, played by the late William Campbell, who was very active in the convention circuit for much of his later life, manages to be one of the most watchable and simultaneously most irritating people you will ever see; a strong performance by Campbell. The 'retired General' Trelane is an immature brat with a powerful machine, managing to 'mention the war' as soon as he discovers a crewmember is of German descent, mistake Uhura for a captured slave. It makes you want to slap him, but at the end of the episode, you end up changing your mind; for there is a very good reason why he is like that.

At one point, Trelane dressed as an English judge (apparently there was some difficulty in finding a wig... or more specifically Shatner agreeing to allow time to find said wig), plans to hang Kirk; this is of note for me as a British opponent of capital punishment myself; it had only been two years since the final British executions were carried.

One big drawback, however, some very obvious green backgrounds in sight in the 'outdoors scenes' and a dodgy split-screen effect at the end; even Doctor Who in this period generally made more of an effort than this.

A well written episode with a great twist at the end; the relatively small number of guest cast allows for a tighter episode that keeps you engaged through its whole running time.

However, some obvious effects issues mean I can only give this 8/10.



The next episode is "Arena"; another one I've seen before and also one featured in Mythbusters... more to be explained next time.