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The Magic Money Tree

There was once a great city.

Hundreds of thousands of people lived in this city. But the people were divided into two groups: the Many, and the Few.

For the Few, life in this great city was wonderful, for the Few were very wealthy. They lived in grand houses on the banks of the river that meandered through the city. Each marble mansion was filled with drawing rooms and dining rooms and more than forty bedrooms. Each grand hallway was filled with gold-framed oil paintings and fine china vases. The baths were made of burnished bronze and the toilet seats were solid silver. Every house had an outdoor pool, an indoor pool, and a glasshouse. And the gardens stretched a hundred yards, all the way to the river, with orange trees and lemon trees to sit beneath in summer.

The Few lived lavishly. The mornings were spent dressing for lunch. At lunch they sat with their true friends, eating chocolate cake and cream-filled pastries, gossiping about who among the Few had the most money. The afternoons were spent dressing for dinner, and every evening they sat with their fair-weather friends and feasted on all manner of fowl, stuffed inside one another – a quail stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a pheasant, stuffed inside a grouse, stuffed inside a chicken, stuffed inside a goose, stuffed inside a turkey, all roasted in lard with potatoes, parsnips, and pork sausages. They talked about the fate and fortunes of the city, all the while trying to curry favour with the few of the Few who held the most power and influence in the city. And at the end of every evening, they shat out the feast from the day before, clogging the sewers that took their shit to the river.

For the Many, however, life in this great city was grim, for the Many were not wealthy. The Many lived far from the river, on the higher ground. In this part of the city, timber-framed houses overhung narrow cobblestone streets. The rooms of the houses were small, with low ceilings. Twelve would live in a house built for two. There were no sewers in this part of the city, so shit sloshed down the streets, and the Many had to step over the brown rivers as they pushed past each other.

The Many lived meagrely. They woke up early, and worked for twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours of the day, in factories making cotton or iron. The work was repetitive and the air was filled with coal smoke. They were given no time to rest, and if someone did not produce enough in one day, the factory owner – who was often one of the Few – found someone to replace them. They were paid little, and if they were lucky, at the end of each day they had enough money to buy fresh bread and vegetables, but if they were unlucky they would have to catch rats and pigeons.

The death rate among the Many was high. Those who did not die of starvation died of disease. Those who did not die of disease were killed in the factories. And those who were not killed in the factories killed themselves. The death brought more disease and despair, and always more young people flooded into the city from the countryside, believing it would be a better life.

It had been this way in the city for many years. No-one could remember a time when it wasn’t so. Indeed many believed that it had always been so – since the beginning of time itself. (But in reality it had only been this way for a few decades.)

Everyone in the city knew the myth of the Magic Money Tree. It was said that far away, deep in the icy mountains north of the city, there grew a tree … with leaves of pure gold. And the tree did not drop its leaves once a year, as most trees do, but every day, and each morning new golden leaves grew. The leaves that covered the ground could be gathered and melted down to make gold bars or coins.

If the tree were real, and the Many knew where it was, many of their problems would be solved. The Many could journey to the tree, gather up some of its golden leaves, melt them down into coins, and then when they were back in the city they could pay for more spacious houses, better food, and better clothes. They may even be able to buy many of the luxuries that the Few had. Sure, after a while, gold would be very common, and the Few would not have so much of it by comparison, but it would mean that a happy life was not so immutably the domain of so few.

But everyone (almost everyone) agreed that the tree did not exist. It was fiction. You might go into the mountains in search of the tree, but you would find nothing. There was no Magic Money Tree.

Except that … there was.

The tree … was real! The Magic Money Tree did exist! Its golden leaves, its copper bark, the sapphires and rubies that grew like fungi among its roots – it was all real …

… and the Few knew where it was.

But the Few did not want anyone else to know where the tree was, because they too realised that if the Many were given access to the tree, the Many would become wealthier, and the Few would become less wealthy by comparison. The Few did not want to lose their lavish lifestyle, and so did not want the Many to have access to the tree.

But if the Few acknowledged that the tree existed, and kept only its location to themselves, the Many might still be able to find it. A small number of them might venture into the mountains, and, given enough time, they would find the Magic Money Tree. So rather than just keep the location of the tree a secret, they also tried to keep its existence a secret. They pretended that it did not exist. Whenever anyone who was not one of the Few asked whether the tree was real, they would say loudly ‘Don’t be ridiculous! There is no Magic Money Tree!’. But in the evenings, when they were among the Few, they all acknowledged the tree’s existence, and shared the location of it with each other.

While most of the Many believed that the tree did not exist, there were some who knew that it did. This was partly because the Few’s deception was conspicuous – they were so fervent in their dismissal of the idea that the tree existed that it was suspicious. But it was also because they were somewhat careless in keeping their secret – lavishness and meticulousness are rarely found in the same person, it seems. Some of the Many worked for the Few in their mansions – as servants and cooks – and often did they hear the Few, through doors both open and closed, talk about the very real tree. This information found its way to those among the Many who were more vocal about the great wealth disparity in the city.

These more vocal people tried to convince the rest of the Many that the tree was real, and that the Few knew it. They tried to convince them that the Few were deceiving them, because if the Many found where the tree was, the Few would not remain so wealthy for very long. But as loud as they shouted, the Few shouted louder, and indeed the Few paid some of the Many to shout for them. And ultimately it was the intuitiveness, not the veracity, of what the Few said that swayed so many of the Many. ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ they said. ‘Have you ever seen a tree with golden leaves and copper bark? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’

Except that … it did.

One year, there was a great flood. It had rained continuously for two weeks, and the river through the centre of this great city overflowed its banks. The Many were hardly affected by this at all. They lived on the higher ground far away from the river – the water did not reach their houses. The Few, however, lost a lot. All of their houses lined the river, and all were flooded. The water rose half-way up the ground floor, turning all of their oil paintings to brown sludge, and warping all of their antique wooden furniture. The cellars and glasshouses, pools and gardens, were all turned into bogs.

The cost to repair it all would have been enormous. While most of the Few had enough money to pay for all of the repairs to their houses and gardens, it would have been a substantial fraction of their total wealth. And the Few were reluctant to give up so much money.

But as the Few knew the location of the Magic Money Tree, they decided that, rather than spend any of their current wealth on the repairs, they would simply go to the golden tree, gather the golden leaves on the ground around it, melt them into gold coins, and spend those on the repairs.

And that’s exactly what they did. A small number of the Few made an expedition to the mountains. They found the Magic Money Tree, which grew in a shallow between two great summits, its golden leaves and copper bark reflecting the light in a thousand directions down the valley. They gathered the leaves on the ground, cut away some of the bark, and dug in the soil around the roots to find the rubies and sapphires. Once they had filled the sleds, they hauled their riches back to the city.

When they got back to the city, they melted down the gold and minted hundreds of thousands of new gold coins. They paid a select few artisan stonemasons, decorators, and gardeners to repair their houses and their gardens, and any money that was left over they kept.

The Many saw all of this. Most did not see the sleds being dragged into the city, for they were brought in under cover of darkness, but they saw all of the repairs being made to the houses and gardens, and they saw all of the rubies and sapphires that were given out as payment. But they did not question it. They did not question where the riches came from.

Those among the Many who knew that the tree existed shouted that that’s where the Few had gotten the money from. ‘They have gotten all of this money from the Magic Money Tree!’ they said. ‘The tree is real – the Few know where it is! But why should they be the only ones who have access to the tree? Why are their problems important enough such that they can use the money from the tree, but ours are not? We have starved for years; we have died for years; and throughout all of it they refused to use the tree, and pretended it did not exist! But at the first inconvenience to them, they will use the tree.’

But most of the Many did not believe it, for they were so rooted in the idea that money did not grow on trees, that even though they could not explain where all of this new gold had come from, they refused to even consider the possibility that the tree might exist, and that the Few simply didn’t want them to know about it.

Twelve years later, there was a great fire. The fire ravaged the city, burning both the areas where the Many lived and where the Few lived. Much of the city burned to the ground, and many people died.

Fortunately, a lot of people had managed to leave the city before the fire had reached their houses. They moved to the countryside around the city. For many, life improved – the air was less stale, there was less disease, and everyone had more space.

The fire burned through everything it could, and by the time it had burned itself out, not much was left of the city but smouldering ashes.

The Few, who were now living in their country mansions, discussed what they wanted to do about this. While a number of the Few had inherited their wealth, a lot also had owned factories and machinery that had been destroyed by the fire, and they were dependent on the profits from those factories to maintain their extraordinary wealth. (It cost a lot of money to eat a seven-bird roast every evening.) They wanted to rebuild the city, and bring all of the people back to it – give them factories to work in and houses to live in – so that they could continue to get the profits from what they produced.

But rebuilding the city would cost even more than it did to repair all of their houses as they did many years ago. This time, the Few absolutely did not have the money to pay for it all themselves, and the scale of the disaster was far bigger than what it had been before, so it was easy for the Few to decide: they would once again use the Magic Money Tree.

They made another expedition to the tree, taking far more sleds this time. This time they gathered every leaf in sight, even grabbing the ones off the tree that had not yet fallen that day. They cut away more of the bark, and picked up all of the branches that had fallen over the last few months. They burrowed for more rubies and sapphires, and they even picked the fruit of the tree, which was shaped like a pear, but which was silvery-green in colour, and which instead of seeds at the centre had small pearls. (It was also said that eating the fruit would give you an extra eight years of life.)

They brought all of it back to the city, and they paid for all of the factories and houses to be rebuilt. This lured the Many back to the city – they moved into newer, but still just as small, houses, and began working in factories again, though the work was still repetitive, and the coal furnaces blasted out just as much smoke.

But still, even though the Many themselves were the ones that the Few paid to rebuild the houses and the factories – even though they had been given the gold and rubies and sapphires from the tree – they had held it in their hands – they still did not believe that the tree existed.

‘Where do you think they got the money from?!’ those among the Many who did know that the tree existed said. ‘They didn’t have all of this money before – where do you think it came from?! They went to the tree again!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ the Few shouted. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’

‘Yes, don’t be ridiculous!’ the rest of the Many parroted. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’

‘There is no Magic Money Tree.’ they chorused together.

And nothing changed. Within a few years, the city had returned to how it had been before the fire. The Few still held control over the tree. Only when it was in their interest did they harvest its leaves, but always did they pretend that it did not exist. And never did the Many learn, that sometimes, when someone doesn’t want you to do something, rather than try to persuade you not to do it, they will try to deny that it is even physically possible.

When actually … it is.


Original story, Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

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Dramatic Dissonance

In my reviews of Star Trek Picard, I’ve started using the term ‘dramatic dissonance’ to describe something that we’re seeing on-screen. This particular phenomenon or quality may already have a term to describe it – if it does, I don’t know what it is, so for now I’m going to use ‘dramatic dissonance’ (to mimic the phrase ‘dramatic irony’). And while I’ve started using this term in my Star Trek Picard reviews, it’s something I’ve seen in lots of other shows too – like Star Trek Discovery and recent Doctor Who – so I thought I’d write a blog post about it in order to define it more clearly.

Dramatic dissonance is when the reactions of the characters to each other, or to the events of the story, are different to the audience’s reaction to the characters or to the events of the story.

Here’s an example of this: one character says something, and several other characters around them consider it a very awkward thing to say, or a faux pas, but the audience doesn’t think that it’s an awkward thing to say.

Here’s another: one character does something (it could be anything), and all of the characters around them think that this character is a genius for doing it, but the audience isn’t impressed by it at all.

This second example is one we’ve seen a lot in both Star Trek Picard and Star Trek Discovery – in fact this second example is often a way of determining whether a character is a Mary Sue. (Other characters will just think that they’re brilliant no matter what they do.)

Dramatic dissonance is a bad quality for a show to have. It is, by its very definition, unrealistic, and if a show has it, the audience will sense something is amiss, even if they can’t quite put it into words. The audience can sense it because things in the show don’t seem to make sense.

I’m not sure I could exactly say what the origins of dramatic dissonance in a show actually are, but I don’t think it’s an acting problem – I think it comes from the writing. It may come from writers thinking too much about ‘How do I want this character to react?’ rather than ‘How would they react?’.

New Book Release

The sequel to On The Subject Of Trolls is finally done – it’s finally here.

And the title of the book (which has been going by the codename of On The Subject Of Trolls 2 for the last few months) is simply: More On The Subject Of Trolls.

Like the last book, this book is a collection of short stories, and there are five stories again in this book (this will probably be the format for all of the books in the series). The five stories in this book are:

  • Clund the Obstructive
  • Kill The Golden Goose
  • The Company
  • Ceod the Beautiful
  • Ceon the Noble

Five trolls are named in this book – the three major trolls in the titles above, and two minor trolls: Obglud and Fut.

The book is available in both paperback and ebook form on Amazon via the following links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08CM6LDCS/
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CM6LDCS/
Amazon Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B08CM6LDCS/
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B08CM6LDCS/

Star Trek Picard – Series 1, Episode 10 – It’s just shit

It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this review – I’ve been putting it off, because quite frankly I’m just glad that this series is over and I don’t want to spend any more time on it.

This final episode ultimately epitomised everything that was wrong with this series. I think all of the main things that have been bad about the previous episodes were in this one too. Because of that, there was no one main thing that was wrong with this episode, and so nothing that I can focus this review on – I’m just going to have to go through everything in order. So here we go.

At the start of the episode, Seven and Elnor are talking, and Seven says that the ex-Borg have no homes. This is odd, because the convention up until now is that de-assimilated Borg go back to the civilisation and planet that they were originally from. Sure that might not be an option for some people, as the Borg might have destroyed their home planet and the entire civilisation on it, but then there must be other ex-Borg from the same species, with whom they could start a colony – something which happens all the time in the Star Trek universe. Or they could even just join the Federation – there must be loads of Federation worlds that would have them. I get that the point of this series is that the Federation became closed off, but that was to Romulans, not just everyone.

Similarly, Seven says that she has no home. Err … Earth?

Narek makes his way into the Borg cube, where his sister greets him with a knife to the throat. Why? I get that these two are adversarial, but she knows it’s him doesn’t she? These two characters are weird – most of their conversations are quite incest-y. I can’t tell if they hate each other or want to fuck each other.

Shortly after that we hear a bit more of Narek’s backstory, from Narek himself. He’s rather pleased that he’s the one who found all the robots, and describes himself as ‘The Zhat Vash wash-out.’ … err … Can you leave the Zhat Vash? Surely they’d kill you – they seem like the sort of people who would kill you if you left. Also, has he left? The entire series he’s been doing stuff for the Zhat Vash? This show not only contradicts canon established by previous shows, but also things from earlier episodes!

We get a bit of chat between Picard and Soji at this point in the episode. They try to talk philosophy, but the writers aren’t capable of it, so a lot of what they say is just gibberish, but at one point Picard says ‘To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.’ – no, this show is a failure of imagination.

Speaking of imagination, we get a weird scene between Rios and Raffi where they try to fix their ship. All of the dialogue in this scene is weird. Santiago Cabrera once again sounds like he’s reading his lines for the first time, Raffi is just insufferably patronising as she tries to get Rios to use the imagination tool thing to fix the ship. In this situation, Raffi obviously would have no more of an idea of how to use this tool than Rios would, but somehow she still tells him what to do with it.

This whole scene is completely unnecessary. What does it add to the episode or the series? Nothing. The imagination tool is just a deus ex machina tool. It can apparently do anything at any time with no constraints on materials or power. You don’t even have to learn how to use it. How does it work? We don’t know. Did the robots know? How did they make it? Did they make it? Where did they get it from? Seems like it would be good to have a lot of these things about. Are any of these questions going to be answered? No? Okay then.

Also, the imagination tool sends out these Borg-like tubes to fix things – is that a deliberate reference? If so, to what? How did these robots get a Borg device like that?

Throughout this episode we get a lot of very unsubtle foreshadowing that Picard is going to die and get put into this artificial body that they’ve been building. But … why are they even making that body in the first place? Apparently Soong and the other robots have been making this body, but … why? Who was it for? Was it for Soong? He was the only human there when they started building it, so it must be – does that mean he has to give up a new body so that Picard can have it?

Narek goes to the ship where Raffi and Rios are. He tries to get their attention, and when they ask what he wants, he says he’s ‘Trying to save the universe.’. No, just no. Fuck off with that. This is a problem that’s endemic to science fiction nowadays – people aren’t just trying to save a person, or a group of people, or a civilisation, or a planet, or a star system, or a galaxy – no, they’re trying to save the whole fucking universe. Stop. Putting. This. Line. In. Stuff. The story isn’t made more grand and epic by adding this line – you don’t raise the stakes, because no-one can really imagine this. This doesn’t increase the tension, it just makes the characters needlessly melodramatic. You know what actually raises the tension? Putting characters who we actually give a shit about in danger. Make us give a shit about the characters, and then put them in danger. Just having a character exposit the end of the universe does nothing.

It’s also completely inconsistent with what we’ve found out so far in this series. If this super-advanced AI does arrive, then they threaten, at most, all of our galaxy – there has been no mention of them going to other galaxies at all. So no, Narek, you are not saving the fucking universe.

I also noted down at this point in the episode that it’s very hard to believe that both Narek and Elnor are Romulans. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can just show the variety that there is to Romulan culture.

Narek’s telling of Ganmadan is fun, but the fact that the imagery here isn’t better shows that these aren’t very good writers. Also, this series would have had more tension as a whole if we’d heard this story far earlier in the series.

Narek says ‘And the fascinating thing about history is … it always repeats itself.’ No, Narek. No it doesn’t – it sometimes repeats itself. This is the kind of bullshit profound I expect on Twitter, not in Star Trek.

Jurati’s plan to help Picard escape seems to consist of just unlocking the door. They walk the six miles back to the ship pretty quickly.

By this point in the episode, I think most of the main characters know that genocide is imminent, but considering this they are not panicking nearly enough. Apparently they are all going to die in a few minutes, along with the people on a lot of other planets (it would seem), but no-one’s panicking – why is no-one panicking? This is partly why this episode has no tension, despite it being a ‘save the universe’ plot. The characters are about the same level of bothered by this as not being able to get a clue on a crossword.

We have some more bullshit profundity from Picard. He says ‘To be alive is a responsibility as well as a right.’ … Jesus fucking Christ. That might sound like the sort of thing that would go on a cheap inspirational poster that someone shares on Instagram, but this is actually quite a dark statement. The implication of this statement is that unless you, as a life form, do not carry out your “responsibilities”, then you don’t get to be alive. (This also shows why the word “responsibility” is vague, meaningless, and only really used as a way to get other people to do things regardless of how right or wrong that thing is, but that’s a rant for another blog post.)

Jurati says ‘Make it so.’ to Picard. How the hell does she know that he says that? This line is one of many that just serve as a shallow attempt at fan service by going ‘LOOK! SHE SAID THE THING! SHE SAID THE THING THAT HE NORMALLY SAYS! REMEMBER THAT? HE NORMALLY SAYS THAT! REMEMBER THAT! REMEMBER THAT BETTER SHOW THAT YOU COULD BE WATCHING!’ … You know what’s actually fan service? MaKiNg A gOoD fUcKiNg ShOw!

Down on the planet, Soong and the others are trying to stop all of the androids from doing whatever it is they’re doing. He goes up to Sutra and uses some device on her that knocks her out. He only uses this device ONCE. They then try and fight the other robots off by hand.

Back on the ship, Jurati says to Picard ‘Are you not answering to build suspense?’ – I suppose this is an attempt at a funny meta-line, but it doesn’t work. In order to break the fourth wall (or in this case, dent it), you first have to establish that there is a fourth wall by making your show immersive, which this show is not. Too often in this show the thoughts of the characters blur with the thoughts of the writers, which makes a meta-line like this just look like bad writing.

On the Borg cube, Seven has a gun pointing at Rizzo, and for some reason she doesn’t kill her straight away. There is no reason for this. Rizzo then somehow just pushes Seven’s gun aside, and they fight.

Throughout this entire episode, Commodore Sunglasses is the only Romulan we see on the Romulan ships – I guess they just didn’t have the money for more.

Picard and Jurati just fly around in front of the Romulans for a bit, not really doing anything.

Jurati also knows about the Picard manoeuvre. How? I get that it’s famous, but is it so famous that people outside of Starfleet know it? The only military manoeuvre that I know is the pincer manoeuvre, and that’s been around for millennia. This is just more desperate fan service.

Picard gives Soji a call on Zoom. Soji is not surprised to learn that Picard has left the village.

Up in space, Commodore Sunglasses says ‘Ready planetary sterilisation pattern number five.’ … apparently planetary sterilisation patterns one to four are not suitable in this case.

Back on the FaceTime call, why does Soji give a shit about Picard dying? When she first met him, she didn’t trust him. Have we ever actually been given a reason why she changed her mind? When did she change her mind? It all just happens because the plot requires it.

They activate the beacon, and it turns out it’s not just a beacon that sends a message, it opens the portal from Avengers Assemble. Jesus fucking Christ – check your fucking script! Make. Sure. You. Know. Whether. It’s. A. Portal. Or. A. Beacon. They. Are. Not. The. Same. Thing.

Also, the portal is now red when last time it was green.

The Starfleet ships arrive, and they look like they’ve just been copy-and-pasted in Blender.

We get about a minute of back-and-forth between Riker and Commodore Sunglasses, and for a few brief moments, the show actually feels like Star Trek. Jonathan Frakes is still great. If we had a whole series with him as a captain of a star ship, it could be amazing (though, without any of this Discovery / Picard style writing – I don’t want another classic character to be ruined).

Picard’s brain problem spontaneously flares up again, and honestly it has better dramatic timing than most of the actors.

Very slowly, the super-beings are making their way through the portal, and apparently they’re just tentacles – not what I was expecting.

They manage to close the portal again, and the super-beings just decide to go back into it. Apparently even though they’ve been summoned, ostensibly to rescue the androids down on the planet, they decide that since the portal has closed they must not need rescuing.

Picard dies, and the rest of the characters just mope around for a bit. Seven of Nine says that she intended to never again ‘kill somebody just because it’s what they deserve’. What a weird thing to aim for.

Okay, this next one’s harsh – maybe too harsh, even for me – but Evan Evagora is not an experienced enough actor to pull off that short scene with him and Raffi. Now, I like Evan Evagora – he’s got some great pictures on Instagram – but he doesn’t have a lot of acting credits – only two before Star Trek Picard. Now this alone isn’t a bad thing – in fact I quite like that the show was willing to give out some parts to less-experienced actors – it helps them to get going in the acting world. This short scene is very cringe-worthy, and I actually blame the directors for this, because if you as a director get an actor to do something, and it’s obvious that they can’t really perform that way yet, do the scene differently.

Anyway, we then learn that Data has actually been alive all this time, inside a simulation, for about twenty years. Why did they leave him there? They’ve been building all of these other android bodies, why not make one for Data?

Also, considering how good Brent Spiner is at playing Data, they should have had a lot more of him in this series.

Data says he wants to die again, and he says ‘Mortality gives meaning to human life.’ No, no it doesn’t. This line kind of highlights what’s wrong with this show – Picard is supposed to be a philosophical character, and Star Trek is supposed to be a philosophical show, but you can’t have that unless the people writing it are very intelligent.

Anyway, they transfer Picard’s memories into a new body – I’m not sure what kind of body this is – the show doesn’t seem to understand that a biological android is just a fucking human, but it seems to want to think that somehow they’re still robots – I don’t know – it doesn’t make sense. But something that other critics have said is that this new Picard isn’t Picard – the real Picard died when his body died. And this is an important point: is a copy a continuation? If this were classic Star Trek, this idea would have been explored, but since it’s not classic Star Trek, it isn’t.

The characters are fine with it anyway – they all seem to consider this new body with Picard’s memories to be Picard. I did wonder though – what did they do with the old body? Did they just dump it in the trash? We don’t see the other body at any point – itself an odd choice for the show to make. Perhaps they just wanted to ignore the philosophical implications of all of this.

In the end, Picard has no brain problem, and Data is still dead, so basically nothing has changed since the start of the series. (Because this series chose to make Picard’s brain problem into a thing – they could have just ignored it any no-one would have noticed.)

For about half a second just before the final shot of the series, there’s a brief lesbian moment between Seven and Raffi. This really pissed me off. It’s so fucking weak. You don’t get representation points for lesbians holding hands – it’s not 19-fucking-95 – it’s 2020. Two decades ago you got points for that, but not now. If you want credit for having lesbians in your show, put them front and centre – make the main two characters lesbians, THEN you get credit for it. Either put them front and centre or don’t bother at all. Ambiguous sentences and people in the background holding hands is just fucking weak.

And then at the end, the ‘gang’ is about to go off on some other adventure. It’s not obvious why they decide to do this. But more importantly, what’s actually going to happen to all of those androids down on the planet? They can’t just be left there – the Romulans would just come back. In the end, we have no idea what happens to the androids, which was the entire point of this story.

It’s just astonishing how much of this episode made no sense – not just in terms of the wider context of the Star Trek canon, but in terms of things this show said earlier in the series. There is no consistency; there is no coherence.

I was optimistic about this series – I was optimistic that it wouldn’t have the same problems that Discovery had. But while it’s not quite as bad as Discovery, it’s obvious from this series that the showrunners have a critical error in their understanding of what Star Trek is supposed to be, and a complete inability to do world-building, separate their thoughts from the thoughts of the characters they are writing, understand character motivations, write natural dialogue, build suspense, or have any philosophical ideas that are distinguishable from what Inspirobot chucks out.

The acting in this show is sometimes good, sometimes repulsive. The CGI is mostly alright, with the occasional copy-and-paste. The music is forgettable, but inoffensive. But the writing is an absolute clusterfuck. This show is a complete failure of writing, and the only value it has is as an example of what not to do.

I gave Star Trek Discovery a second chance, and watched the second season. Star Trek Picard is getting no second chance – that’s it, this show is dead. In fact, after three awful series’ of television, I’m tuning out of modern Trek. There is just no point watching it, and until there is a complete change of writing philosophy I’m not going to watch any more modern Trek. Other shows deserve more of a chance; modern Trek goes to the back of the line.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 9 – What the fuck is going on?

That episode was a complete mess. The pacing was dizzying. New things were brought in so fast that by the end of the episode I had no idea what was going on, what any character wanted, or what anything meant. I just had an endless stream of questions as I was watching the episode – none of which were answered, so for this review, I’m just going to list them all:

  • How are they able to travel through a Borg transwarp conduit without a transwarp coil? Or do they have a transwarp coil? Do all Federation ships have them now? Did they get them from the Artefact? If they do have a transwarp coil then, why is their ship shaking so much as it goes through the conduit?
  • Why does Picard decide to bring Narek onto their ship immediately when it’s so obviously a trick and Soji even says she thinks it’s a trick? Since when would Picard fall for such an obvious ploy?
  • No-one ever explains these flower things. What are they? How do they make them? Are they living things? How do they survive in space? Are the flowers meant to crash ships into the ground, or was that an accident? Can the flowers only do this by dying? How do they control the flowers? Do the flowers control themselves? Do the flowers have free will? How do you even ‘make’ a flower anyway – don’t they mean ‘grow’?
  • Apparently crashing through an atmosphere is a viable way of getting down to the ground.
  • Picard is apparently going to die, and I don’t know what the point of this is.
  • Soji remembers things whenever it’s convenient to the plot. Is she going to get all her memories back at some point, or will she just have hazy memories forever? How are these memories even being blocked? Why does no-one question it? Why does no-one ever ask her to just tell them everything she knows?
  • Somehow a large part of the cube survived the landing.
  • Apparently Seven enjoyed being a Borg again for a bit. This massively, massively undermines the Borg as a threat.
  • The gang leaves the Borg cube within minutes of arriving, making the whole thing seem pointless.
  • Why does Elnor stay with the Borg when he clearly wants to go with Picard?
  • Five strangers walk into the android’s village and no-one asks them who they are for several minutes.
  • All of the androids in the village look more like Data than either Soji or Dahj. Why? Why did they make Soji and Dahj differently? And how?
  • Why are the androids fascinated by how old Picard is? Soong is there and he’s just as old.
  • How does Altan Soong look identical to Noonian Soong? (Some have speculated that it’s actually Lore.)
  • Why didn’t the androids make more flowers? Why did they think fifteen was enough? What else are they doing all day?
  • Why is Picard not there when Soji explains everything?
  • Why did they block Soji’s memories in the first place if it was possible that she might accidentally reveal the location of the planet? Why was it necessary to block her memories at all? How were they expecting Soji to return to the planet if all of this hadn’t have happened?
  • Why doesn’t Soji just remember everything now that she’s back in the village? Is anyone going to help her get her memories back at all?
  • It turns out it was stupid for the Romulans to grab onto that glowing handrail.
  • Why did the robots only have one ship? And why didn’t they make another one after the first one was destroyed?
  • How the hell is Sutra able to do the Mind Meld? She looks like a Soong-type mechanical android – I thought they couldn’t interact psychically with anything? Thinking about it, Troi couldn’t empathically sense Soji, so even Soji shouldn’t be able to do it.
  • Why does Sutra decide to do a Mind Meld even though it might drive her mad too? At this point it’s only a hypothesis that this information was intended for androids. And a psychopathic synthetic is far more dangerous than a homicidal human.
  • Sutra claims that ‘organics’ hate robots because they don’t age, which is not something that has ever been suggested by anyone so far in this series.
  • If the super-beings are always watching, why do they need a special signal to know when to come?
  • Everyone condemns Jurati as being a bad person for killing Maddox, even though they all agree that she had been driven mad by the Romulans.
  • Also, everyone seems to be over the fact that Jurati killed Maddox – they can’t seem to decide whether they like her or not from one scene to the next.
  • The robots have a tool that can repair your ship with imagination, but apparently can’t build a fucking ship.
  • Picard says he has a ‘first contact situation’, but is it really first contact when Maddox and Soong have been there for a while?
  • Why do Picard and Soji discuss the moral implications of Jurati killing Maddox when she was brainwashed?
  • Why does Narek run to the Borg cube? Don’t they all hate him there too?
  • Did Saga just lose an eye? How did she die from that – she’s a robot?
  • Is Sutra in charge? Why is Sutra the one that’s in charge?
  • Jurati is apparently over her brainwashing now. And the psychic block that didn’t last more than a few minutes. How? Why?
  • And probably the most annoying thing in this episode: the Romulans were right. They tried to understand some information intended for synthetic minds; it drove them mad, and apparently they got it wrong; but they actually got it right – if the galaxy keeps making androids, eventually the super-beings will come and destroy them all. It’s extreme dramatic dissonance, where the audience can see that the Romulans got it right, but the show is telling us the opposite.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 8 – I don’t think I liked any of it

This episode had more moronic moments in it, and thinking back on it, I don’t think there was anything that I actually liked about it, though there were a few things I was indifferent to. I’m going to go through the problems with this episode in the order that they happened.

At the start of the episode, we saw some CGI of this octonary star system. Later on we’re told that the orbits of these stars would have to be very complex in order for such a system to exist. That’s actually not entirely true. This is an extension of the three-body problem in physics. Solutions to the three-body problem, for the most part, cannot be determined analytically, and must be determined computationally – i.e., using a simulation. But for any number of masses, there is always one trivial solution if the masses are all the same – the masses can all orbit a central point with the same speed and direction. This is a very simple solution to the problem, and, if you were creating this star system, as is postulated in this episode, possibly the solution you would go for. It would also be the most conspicuous solution, given its symmetry, and so good for sending a message. (The main problem with this solution however is getting eight stars with the same mass.)

But that’s not what we see at the start of the episode. In fact we see all of the stars close together – REALLY close together, and by the looks of it the stars all have different masses. In fact the stars are so close together that they must be having tidal effects on each other, possibly pulling mass off each other – they look like they’re in each other’s Roche limit. It certainly doesn’t look like a stable system.

Also, one of the stars has a distinct magenta hue – that’s not possible in real life – there are no magenta stars.

Raffi says later on that the planet is at the centre of the star system, but in the CGI we see clearly that it is not. I give the show a pass on this, however, because how would Raffi have any idea where the planet is? She’s only just found out that this star system exists – she’s just guessing. But also, if it were at the centre of all of those very close stars, it would be in perpetual daylight, and completely roasted – it probably wouldn’t survive very long, let alone have plant-life on it.

Much like with all that stuff in Star Trek Discovery, this shows why Star Trek needs scientific advisers (I don’t know if this show has one – certainly there’s less nonsense in it than in Discovery). But not only that, it shows why your scientific advisers should be involved in the CGI process as well – artists draw what looks good, not what could be real.

Then we go down to some stuff on the planet’s surface. Apparently, in the entire history of the Zhat Vash, no-one has questioned whether they should keep touching the alien artefact that instantly radicalises people. I suppose no-one would, since everyone who survives it has then been radicalised. But still, we have no idea if what that weird barrier thing shows you is even true.

Similarly, even though the knowledge you gain via Admonition is apparently very important – important enough to set up a super-secret organisation to act on it – it’s apparently not so important that anyone tells any major governments about it.

Rizzo says to Ramdha ‘I’d’ve made a much better Borg than you.’ … err … what? … who? … wh- … Who on earth relishes being assimilated? Who the fuck thinks the idea of that is fun?! I don’t know what they were going for with this line.

Picard and Asha come onto the ship. Picard then doesn’t know what the nearest starbase is – … how? Even if Picard is a bit out-of-the-loop, surely he’d know where Deep Space 12 is? I mean, there’s apparently only been 11 other deep space starbases before that one. The line is so unnecessary as well, so this must have been a deliberate choice by the writers.

Then Raffi is once again very irrational, but the show does not acknowledge it – dramatic dissonance.

There are many times throughout this episode where Santiago Cabrera sounds like he’s reading the line for the first time. I don’t know how chaotic things are on set, but if they are very chaotic, this could well be the case.

Also, why do the holograms’ eyes light up when they try to search for something – that shouldn’t be necessary.

Then we have a scene between Picard and Asha where Picard is asked to describe Data. He does it very badly. He misses out all of the actually interesting stuff about Data, and there’s no way that Asha could build a picture of him with the information she’s given.

Now, this should have been a very long scene. This is the scene where the main character of the series (which, let’s face it, is Asha, not Picard) learns about Data, the person she is essentially cloned from. This should be a big scene. But it’s not – it’s actually very short. In this scene, we definitely should have heard about the trial that established Data’s legal status, because that’s the event that ties all of this together – Picard, Data, Maddox, Asha (and because it’s probably good for Asha to know the result of that trial). But we didn’t. This is a massive failing of this show – it can’t even get its core story right.

Shortly after that we have a scene between Asha and Jurati too. Asha asks Jurati ‘Am I a person?’, and we don’t get to hear Jurati’s answer (because that wouldn’t have been interesting or anything (!)). Why the fuck does the show keep doing this? Why does it keep not letting us see characters’ reactions and responses to things?

But these two scenes also reveal something that is missing from this series that we should have seen a few episodes ago. We never really had any scene where Asha tries to process the fact that she’s a robot. (In fact we’ve not even really had confirmation that she is a robot – everyone just seems to believe that she is. Is no-one going to do some kind of scan? It might answer a lot of Asha’s questions.) But even just a scene where we see Asha ponder the implications of being a robot is missing from the series. The show went straight from Narek trying to kill her to her being on Nepenthe being told by some kid that she’s a robot. At no point was there disbelief or scepticism. At no point did she think ‘But how is it even possible? No-one’s been able to recreate a robot like Data.’

And I think this points to something that the current writers of Star Trek need to realise, which is that you sometimes need slow scenes where characters contemplate things, or discuss things in a non-adversarial way. Every scene in Picard is either a fight scene or just characters being maximally emotive.

Around this point in the episode, we hear more about these eight stars from Raffi: ‘You’d have to capture eight suns, move them across light-years in space, and set them in motion.’. Okay, so, this is science fiction, and maybe in this universe there’s a way to do this. But this show completely lacks a sense of scale. Just throwing this in there lacks any awareness of just how big stars are, and just how big a light-year is. You can only do this if you have some way of simply counteracting or nullifying the effect of gravity around a star. Manipulating gravity is possible in the Star Trek universe – that’s presumably how they all have gravity on their spaceships – but it’s usually done on a much smaller scale. Even the warp bubble around a ship is nanoscopic compared to a star. To move a star, you would have to create an enormous, artificial gravity well (one basically as big as the star itself), near to the star, and then drag that well and the star in the direction that you want the star to move. You’d probably be limited to sub-light speeds, so it would take you many decades to move the star from one star system to another. You’d also probably disturb the gravitational interactions of the local cluster at the same time, potentially destabilising other star systems or planets, or grabbing yourself a rogue planet as you went.

And sure, the whole point of this idea is to show that this ancient civilisation was very powerful, but doing this requires years of planning and building infrastructure to do it, and then decades or centuries to actually implement. And apparently, this civilisation only did this once they realised that androids were getting too powerful, which is probably too late. This is all a bit ridiculous. The only people who could have done this are the Q.

We also have, at this point in the episode, a cutesy scene with Raffi and all of the holograms. Maybe this scene seemed good on paper; on screen it’s just annoying, as the different holograms are paper-thin characters.

Then we get to the part of the episode that I think I disliked the most. When Elnor and Seven of Nine are trying to take control of the Borg cube, Seven decides to reintegrate herself into the Borg, and become, presumably, a Borg Queen.

I absolutely hate this. This completely minimises what assimilation is. Assimilation by the Borg is the complete and utter eradication of the self. Your body is hijacked and transformed – there are Borg nanites in your blood that interrupt the normal function of your cells – your very cells are slaves to microscopic machines. Organs and body parts are changed to machinery – in some cases your entire spine is replaced. Your thoughts are invaded and overwritten with the popular will. Uniqueness, individuality, identity, and dissention are not permitted. Your personality is gone. You are gone. You cease to exist. It is a fate worse than death precisely because you disappear while part of the biological form that allowed you to exist goes on as a cog – a dispensable, replaceable component – in a biotechnological machine that actively resents the concept of the basis of your existence. It’s the great irony of the Borg that even though they seek the cultural distinctiveness of other species, they destroy it when they try to merge it in with their own.

This is emphasised by the irreversibility of assimilation. It is far easier for someone to be assimilated than for someone to be de-assimilated. You cannot easily get back what was lost through this process. Now, Star Trek itself has been somewhat inconsistent about this – Picard himself was able to recover from assimilation almost fully and relatively quickly. Seven of Nine, however, took years to recover, and never had all of the implants removed. Star Trek has generally suggested that the longer you’ve been assimilated for, the harder it is to return. They’ve also been somewhat ambiguous about whether the Borg eradicate your personality or just suppress it – personally I don’t see the difference when the method of suppression is one that involves direct physical access to your brain.

But regardless of the reversibility of this process – even if the effects are only temporary – this is not something that should ever be portrayed lightly. The subjugation of thought is pretty fucking serious. Seven even protests at the idea when Elnor mentions it, so it’s bizarre that she then goes and does it. The show continues to portray this process as not serious when Seven very easily de-assimilates herself about a minute later.

I do not believe that Seven of Nine would ever have chosen to do any of this, and I find it repulsive that this show portrays one of the most conceivably horrific things as easy and 100% reversible.

Anyway, there were two more annoying things after that in the episode. Firstly, Soji suddenly remembers things whenever it is convenient to the plot, and there is no explanation for it. Secondly, Picard doesn’t know how to fly the ship when he tries – it would have been such a boss moment if he had known how to fly it, and even though it’s been over a decade since he was in Starfleet, I can’t believe that the technology and the interfaces have moved on that much in that time.

This was an absolute disaster of an episode, in just about every way.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 7 – A Mix of the Magical and the Moronic

Okay, this episode was annoying, because this episode contained some magical moments, but also some unbelievably crap writing.

I’m going to start with the good stuff – a lot of other people have pointed out this stuff.

Firstly, seeing Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi again and Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker again was a genuinely magical part of the episode. They completely brought the characters back to life. While they were each given a few out-of-character lines to say, for the most part the characters we saw on screen really seemed like Deanna Troi and Will Riker.

Furthermore, a lot of the scenes between those two and Picard were incredibly reminiscent of TNG at times. Somehow, when those actors are put together, they just seem to talk in the right way. As has been the case throughout this entire series, the new characters have nothing on the old. (And as much as it seems as though Jonathan Frakes doesn’t want to do any acting anymore (preferring to direct), he is still very good at it.)

Secondly, this episode genuinely had a lot of tension. A lot of this show so far has had no tension – the episodes have dragged on and a lot of what’s happened has seemed pointless. But this episode genuinely had suspense. And it did this in a very simple way – one half of the gang was being pursued by a member of the Zhat Vash. We cut between the slower scenes on Nepenthe and the more tense scenes on the ship – it was very simple.

(Oh, and as a minor third point, Tamlyn Tomita continues to perform Commodore Oh well.)

Now for the bad. There was one aspect of this episode that I found particularly annoying. Several episodes ago, we were told that the Zhat Vash hate all artificial life, and we were told that the reason why they hated artificial life and AIs was because of something so horrific that if you knew it, it would, essentially, drive you insane. That was a big promise. What could it possibly be? we wondered. What was it about AIs that was so Lovecraftian?

In this episode, we found out. Commodore Sunglasses shows Tilly 2.0 via Mind Meld. And it turns out that the reason why the Romulans hate AI so much is because some robots are going to do a Star Wars on a planet and blow it up.

How … … … dull. What an uninteresting answer to that question. We were promised something so shocking that it would make someone go insane. We were promised something Lovecraftian. Instead, we got the whole blowing-up-a-planet thing, which has been done ad nauseam not only in Star Wars but also in Star Trek itself.

Now sure, Jurati does go kind of mad after learning this – she kills Maddox and then tries to kill herself. But here we arrive at a point of dramatic dissonance, because while the characters in the story may find the idea of a planet blowing up more shocking than us the audience, destruction of that scale is not unknown so far in the Star Trek universe (the Romulans, after all, are in their current predicament because their home planet was destroyed, albeit by less malevolent means), and it’s difficult to believe that anyone in the Star Trek universe would be as shocked by the idea of such destruction as Jurati appears to be. I think if she’d just been told this information, rather than given it via Mind Meld, her response would have been very different.

And all of this actually opens up something much darker than I think the writers were intending. Normally, Mind Melds are only done if both people consent. Here, Commodore Sunglasses just does it, without permission. This is very, very rapey. I’m actually surprised that this was allowed into the show because of that – I think it’s because the writers didn’t think about the implications.

So what we have seen is a member of the Zhat Vash Mind Meld with someone without their consent, and then impress images into their mind of some horrific event. The imagery is so visceral that it immediately wins over that person to the Zhat Vash. There is no proof that androids will do what the Zhat Vash say they will do – how do they really know that the robots will do that? They don’t. So is this all that the Zhat Vash is? It’s just a series of people forcibly Mind Melding with other people and impressing images to them?

The implication of all of this is that there’s actually nothing wrong with the robots at all – the Zhat Vash just represents a problem with Mind Melds. Mind Melds can apparently be used to instantly radicalise people. If Star Trek Picard goes with this idea, it would actually be very interesting, but I suspect that they won’t.

Furthermore, after this very rapey Mind Meld, Commodore Sunglasses insists that Jurati swallow a tracking device. Jurati is clearly in no state to consent to this either – this is coercion – and I am again very surprised that they decided to add this into the episode.

That stuff was what really stuck out, and that was right at the beginning. There were many other annoying moments, but they’re not really worth several paragraphs of explanation each, so here they are as a big list:

  • There’s lots of dialogue at the start of the episode that’s just exposition. Its purpose is clearly to inform the viewer what happened in the last episode, but I don’t know why they need to do that in the dialogue, since they have a ‘Previously, on Star Trek Picard …’ bit at the beginning.
  • At one point, Chris Rios says to Raffi ‘Can’t you hack the traffic control system?!’ and Raffi says ‘The underlying code’s all freaky Borg machine language!’ while looking and sounding as though she is indeed attempting to hack it. If it’s in a completely different language that she doesn’t understand, how does she have even the slightest chance?
  • Rizzo continues to be insufferably over-the-top.
  • Chris Rios and Raffi immediately forget about Elnor, and when they are reminded about him, they don’t really care, and are fine with letting him stay (probably to die). They don’t give a shit about him, and it just makes them look like the terrible people they are. The decision about whether to stay and rescue Elnor or leave and get to Picard should have been far harder for them.
  • Picard just tells Soji ‘Your sister is dead.’ and it’s unintentionally hilarious. Why must the plot of this show depend on characters making faux pas? Surely Picard would know not to say this so bluntly?
  • Will Riker accuses Picard of ‘classic Picard arrogance’. Err … when in TNG was Picard arrogant? Wasn’t humility one of Picard’s defining traits?
  • Soji doesn’t trust Picard and there is no reason for this. It seems to be simply so that the other characters can give Picard a ‘dressing down’.
  • Will Riker says to Deanna Troi ‘Easy there imzadi!’. I’m pretty sure ‘imzadi’ isn’t supposed to be used this way. I never got the sense that it was supposed to be used angrily, or when there were other people around.
  • Deanna Troi says to Picard ‘Pretend that our dinner table is the ready room of the Enterprise.’. This is weird, desperate, and patronising. Also, they proceed not to actually do it.
  • Hugh is killed off – seems like they kind of wasted the character – they could have done loads more with him.
  • Why are the medical and hospitality holograms so inconsistent at appearing?
  • Also, the medical and hospitality holograms have no personality. Remember when a holographic doctor had so much personality that he was a fan favourite character?
  • Soji ‘gives Picard purpose again’ and it makes no fucking sense.
  • Alison Pill continues to be an outstanding actor. She is by far the best of all the new cast and is orders of magnitude ahead of the rest of them. Put. Her. In. Series. Two. And. Don’t. Give. Her. Shit. Lines.
  • At least Picard is aware of the ridiculousness of all the drama.
  • Picard says to Riker ‘They seem to be carrying more baggage than all of you ever did.’. This is a meta-line from the writers and it pisses me off. This line is a criticism of TNG – it’s saying that TNG did not have enough in-fighting between the characters and that the characters didn’t have enough tragic backstories. The writers could not be more wrong, and this is why Star Trek Discovery was shit.

When do you get to call yourself a ‘writer’ or an ‘author’?

This is a question that’s asked a lot on YouTube and on other social media sites by people who either are writing a book or people who want to write a book.

Everyone has a different answer to this question. At one extreme, some people say that you are only an author or a writer once you’re making a lot of money from books you’ve written. This is a very unpopular opinion, as it would mean that lots of people who are generally considered authors or writers by most other people would now lose the title – it would be a fairly useless definition. At the other end, some people say that you are a writer if you write. This definition is, in a literal sense, completely true, but also so broad as to possibly make the title ‘writer’ useless.

Now, I’ll start this post by saying that actually I really don’t mind how anyone else decides to use these terms – you want to call yourself a writer or an author? Go ahead – it doesn’t bother me. I’m not writing this post to try to suggest a ‘right’ definition for these terms – use whatever criteria you want.

The reason why I’m writing this post is because I had strict criteria that I used for myself – before I would call myself an ‘author’ – and it was very rewarding. And other people may also find it rewarding, so I thought I’d write it down in a blog post, in case anyone else wants to do it too.

(I’ll also say at this point that I’ve never really had any interest in the word ‘writer’ – I technically am a writer, but I’ve never used the word to describe myself. The word I’ve always fixated on is ‘author’ – the rest of this blog post is going to be about the word ‘author’, but it could equally apply to ‘writer’ if that’s the term you prefer.)

I only started referring to myself as an ‘author’ once I’d published my first fiction book (which was Zolantis back in 2018). I had been writing fiction for many years before that, but I only allowed myself to start using the term once I had published some of that fiction in my first book. There weren’t any criteria on what kind of book it had to be – it didn’t have to be a novel (in the end it was, but Zolantis wasn’t planned as a novel – it’s really more of a long novella). It didn’t have to sell loads of copies either – in fact I didn’t care if it didn’t sell any copies at all. It just had to be a book, and it had to be published.

Doing it this way was very motivating, because for the entire time before publishing Zolantis, I really wanted to finish a book, so that I could start using the title ‘author’. The desire to have a book of which I was the author, and to be able to start using the title ‘author’, gave me the drive to finish Zolantis. And then when I did finish it, not only did I have the reward of a book that I could hold in front of me that was mine, but I could also start using the title.

And this would be my advice to anyone else: if you wait until your first book is published before using these terms, it will drive you to finish that first book (and the first one is often the hardest one to finish).