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The Crumbs Are More Than The Cake

Also called Othoral and Hiadmath


There were once two people, by the names of Othoral and Hiadmath, who lived in a small house in the countryside. The house stood on a slight rise in the land, and was surrounded on all sides by field after field of tall crops grown by Othoral and Hiadmath.

Every day, Othoral made a cake for Hiadmath.

‘I am looking forward to this.’ Hiadmath would say as the cake was in the oven. ‘I do so like cake. I could happily eat the whole thing in one go.’

Once the cake had been baked, Othoral would take it out of the oven, and place it on the table. Once the cake had cooled, Othoral said to Hiadmath ‘Here, the cake is made. You may eat the whole thing.’

But despite his earlier eagerness for the cake, Hiadmath would say ‘I may have some of it later.’, for Hiadmath would be preoccupied by other things. Some days he would be sweeping the floor; some days he would be brushing soot out of the fireplace; some days he would be making a wooden chair. He complained about these tasks the entire time he was doing them, but he did them nevertheless.

Only after many hours would he sit at the table and have some of the cake, and when he did, he would only cut a thin slice for himself.

‘Why not have another slice?’ Othoral would say, once Hiadmath had eaten the first. ‘I know you will like it.’

But Hiadmath would say ‘No, I have had all I want.’ or ‘I may have some more later.’ (but even when he said this, he would always become preoccupied with other tasks again).

This happened every day. Othoral would make a cake, while Hiadmath talked of how much he was looking forward to eating the whole thing. But once the cake was made, Hiadmath would only have one thin slice.

After a while, Othoral was fed up with this, so one day, rather than just give Hiadmath the whole cake, Othoral took the cake, along with many plates, and walked around the fields and through the thickets near to their house. Every few paces, he placed one of the plates on the ground, and then broke a single crumb off the cake, and placed the crumb on the plate. Once he had placed every crumb of the cake, he returned to the house.

In the afternoon, Hiadmath, after many hours of working, said ‘I rather fancy a piece of cake.’

Othoral said ‘Look outside the front door.’

Hiadmath did so, and he saw a plate on the ground, on which was a single crumb of cake. He picked up the plate, and ate the single crumb of cake that was on it. ‘Mmm’, he said, ‘that was delicious, but I would rather like some more.’

Hiadmath then saw another plate on the ground, a few paces away. He walked over to it, and saw that it too had a crumb of cake on it. He picked up the plate and ate the crumb. ‘Mmm, that was also delicious, but still I would like some more.’

Hiadmath followed the trail of plates around the fields and through the thickets. He picked up each one, and ate the crumb of cake that was on it. By the time he got back to the house, he had eaten a whole cake.

‘All that cake was delicious!’ Hiadmath said to Othoral. ‘I could eat even more!’

Othoral had made another cake while Hiadmath had been wandering around outside, and he placed it on the table. ‘Here you go.’, Othoral said, ‘I have made another.’

Hiadmath immediately ate the whole second cake.

And this was how they continued. Every day Othoral baked a cake, and then walked around the fields, placing down plates, and placing a single crumb of the cake on each one. Every day Hiadmath walked around the fields, picking up the plates, eating the crumbs. And when Hiadmath returned to the house, he would eat a second whole cake.

Hiadmath ate far more cake than he had done before – before he had only eaten one thin slice of cake, but now he ate two whole cakes! He even ate more than he had at first wanted to – at first he had only wanted to eat one whole cake – for, as Othoral realised, the crumbs are more than the cake.


An original story by Benjamin T. Milnes

Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

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The Emperor’s Pink Elephant

There was once a great empire.

This great empire was vast – reaching from the pine-covered mountains of Arennia in the west, to the golden beaches and azure reefs of Marcanne in the east, from the freshwater lakes of Belgamon in the north, to the apple orchards and apiaries of Arganza in the south. It was so vast that evening on one side of the empire was morning on the other. And at its centre stood its Capital – a limestone and marble metropolis that was the seat of power for a hemisphere.

This great empire was also extraordinarily wealthy. Though it had started as only a small city state, it had fought many wars over the years against the kingdoms and principalities along its borders, and it had won most of them. With each new territory it had conquered it had stolen all the riches it contained, fuelling yet further expansion of the empire. And with each monarchy that fell before it, ever more convinced did the subjects of the Emperor become that they were the only truly civilised people in the world, and that all those beyond the empire’s borders were barbarians.

But most of the people in the empire were not wealthy – they were impoverished – for most of the great wealth extracted from the lands they had taken was hoarded by the Emperor and his Barons. By the time of this story, they were far wealthier than they had ever been. The Grand Imperial Palace at the centre of the Capital was a small kingdom of ivory towers, marble colonnades, golden cupolas, glass-walled orangeries, wisteria-wrapped pergolas, and mosaic-covered terraces. The statues that stood atop the walls, the painted domed ceilings, and the stained glass windows all gleamed with a brilliance that was taken as proof of the empire’s immutable virtue.

The Emperor and his Barons spent their days strolling through the lush gardens and great halls of the imperial palace, but for most of the people of the empire, such a life was but a whisper of a whisper. In contrast to the luminance of the imperial palace, most of the great city that was the empire’s capital was in disrepair. Fires broke out every month; the sewers overflowed; the bridges collapsed. The houses were small, cramped, and expensive. Disease was often a death sentence.

Most of the people who lived in the city worked twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours of the day. A person had to be a master of two or three crafts in order to survive. Many were in debt. Food, at least, was cheap – not fine food, but food that would keep you alive, and well, for a time. In what little free time the people of the empire had, they had fun, and some were able to find a reluctant contentedness, but none were truly able to change the circumstances of their lives, and the risk of deprivation, despair, and death remained constant.

Many of the problems of the empire could have been resolved if some of the empire’s extraordinary wealth were put towards resolving them. The ordinary people of the empire knew this. And why should this not happen? After all, it had been these ordinary people who had fought the empire’s wars in the first place. They had obeyed the commands of their divine Emperor and taken land in the name of their exceptional civility, and then been left to suffer.

The People of the Capital thought that perhaps if they could speak to the Emperor, they could persuade him to implement policies that would solve the empire’s many problems. But getting to the Emperor was difficult – the Emperor, his Barons, and his Ministers were isolated within the Grand Imperial Palace. They never went beyond its tall walls.

So the People of the Capital gathered together, and resolved to send one of their group into the palace as a representative, to become one of the Emperor’s Ministers. (Unlike the Barons, who passed down their fortunes and titles to their sons, the Emperor’s Ministers were chosen from the greater populace.) They chose one man from their group who they believed would succeed – he was eloquent, rational, and honest, if somewhat brusque.

It was on a bright day, just before lunch, that this First Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial palace, to be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung outward, and the First Man stepped forward into a world he could not have imagined.

The Grand Imperial Palace is filled with a great many wonders of the world: the Hydrargyrum Fountain, which will amalgamate any coin that is thrown into it, to become part of its quicksilver jets; the Lotus of Charan’girak – the flowers of which are fifteen feet tall and only bloom on the day after a blood moon; the Tree of Rhonyssia, each branch of which produces a different kind of fruit – cherries, pears, bergamots, dates, pineapples, blackberries – everything.

The flowerbeds, the shrubs, the walkways were all kept perfectly tidy by the imperial palace’s many hundreds of servants. Every leaf that fell from every tree was caught before it even hit the ground. Every cracked paving stone was replaced before the Emperor could see it. Every oil lamp was refilled every hour throughout the night so that not a single flame would go out.

It was through this wondrous place that the First Man strode on this day. Though he was transfixed by the chiselled cornices, the viridian ponds, and the onyx statues, he walked past them all to the great glasshouse at the centre of the palace that was the Emperor’s Menagerie.

Though the imperial palace had galleries, chambers, and halls that were the official locations where the discussion of legislation took place, the Emperor and his Barons and his Ministers actually spent very little time there. Instead they gathered in the Emperor’s Menagerie, every day, at midday, to discuss and give assent to policy.

The Emperor’s Menagerie was bright and humid. It had tall walls and many glass domes. The fronds of the ferns and the cycads were a lush green, and the pools that sat and the streams that ran throughout the building were clear.

But despite the grandeur of the architecture and the greenery of the Emperor’s Menagerie, most of the animals in it were rather unspectacular. There were lorikeets and parakeets, lemurs and macaques, pythons, puffins, porcupines, and pangolins, chameleons, tortoises, sloths, a jaguar, a giraffe, and even a hippopotamus, but they all looked rather tired and grey.

There was one exception to this, however – a unique specimen that was the Emperor’s prized possession. In the very centre of the Emperor’s Menagerie, beneath the great crystal dome and on a circular plinth of gold and garnet, sat an enormous … pink elephant.

The elephant was truly gigantic – twice the height, width, and length of a normal elephant. But as remarkable as its size was, it was nothing compared to the colour of its skin. The elephant’s skin was a lurid, electric fuchsia – a hot, shocking cyclamen. It was such a vile and offensive shade of magenta that it stung the eyes to look at it. It was so fluorescent that it drained all of the colour from everything around it.

The elephant was also disgusting. It gave off a nauseating stench of bitumen, vinegar, oyster sauce, burnt aubergine, and piss – the entire menagerie smelled of it. This may have been caused by its diet. The elephant did not eat leaves and grasses as normal elephants do – it ate incredibly expensive foods, provided to it at the behest of the Emperor and his Barons: caviar, goose liver, lobsters, artichokes stuffed with white truffle, bluefin tuna, and it ate all of this food in vast quantities. The servants of the Grand Imperial Palace would drag great bowls – four feet across – filled with this food up to the elephant every half hour. The more recently-appointed servants were given the task of carrying away the elephant’s shit, which was produced almost constantly.

All of this makes the Emperor’s Pink Elephant difficult to ignore, but ignore it you must, because if anyone talks about the elephant – whether they go on about it at length or just mention it – that person will be swiftly removed from the palace, and never be permitted to return.

Almost all of the people of the empire, however, at this point, were completely unaware of the existence of the pink elephant. As such, when the First Man strode through the glass doors of the Emperor’s Menagerie, to begin his first term as one of the Emperor’s Ministers, he gawped at the pink elephant, in shock and amazement. The pink elephant stared back, grinding crabshell in its teeth, bored with the turn of events.

The Emperor’s other Ministers shuffled up to the First Man, with their hands clasped together and forced smiles on their faces. They nodded politely as they asked the First Man pointless questions and ignored his answers. And after a few minutes, the First Man said ‘I had no idea that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his menagerie! What an unusual creature!’

The Emperor’s other Ministers continued to smile and nod, but did not refer to the elephant themselves. They changed the conversation to something meaningless and dull.

An hour after the First Man had arrived in the menagerie, and before the First Man had had the chance to speak with the Emperor (who always stood on a raised area at the back of the glasshouse, dressed in imperial green and guarded by a number of his Barons) one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the First Man and said ‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The First Man, suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to the golden gates of the palace.

He stepped through the gates of the palace. Once he was outside, the gates were closed behind him and locked, and the servant walked away.

The First Man, like those who had elected him to become a Minister, was naïve to the way that the palace operated, and so was confused. He had expected to find this matter outside the gates of the palace, but he did not. The servants had walked away, so there was no-one he could ask. He waited for an hour in case the matter reappeared, but it did not. Then he tried to get the attention of someone in the palace, but none came to him.

By the end of the day, he realised that this was not a mistake, and that he would not be permitted back into the palace, and could not take the people’s requests to the Emperor. What he couldn’t figure out was why.

He analysed the day’s events with the People of the Capital. He told them of everything that had happened while he had been inside the Grand Imperial Palace, and everything he had said to the Emperor’s Ministers. He told them that in the very centre of the Emperor’s Menagerie there was an enormous pink elephant that ate vast quantities of expensive food and gave off a foul odour, and that he had mentioned the elephant to the Ministers. But he had said so many things and made so many slight gestures that neither he nor the People could figure out which of them had led to his expulsion.

But the empire still had many problems, so, since they could not send the First Man back into the palace, the People of the Capital chose another from their group to become one of the Emperor’s Ministers in his stead. This Second Man was very similar to the first, but perhaps slightly more observant.

So the next day, just before lunch, this Second Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial palace, to be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung outward, and the Second Man stepped forward into a world he had heard a few things about.

He walked the two miles from the entrance to the palace to the Emperor’s Menagerie, not stopping to marvel at the Opal Obelisk, Sereri’s Fresco, or the translucent chrysanthemums. But when he stepped through the glass doors of the menagerie, like the First Man, he was awestruck by the pink elephant. The elephant looked at him with impatience.

The Emperor’s other Ministers shuffled up to the Second Man, eyes eager and greedy. They chatted with the Second Man about things both tedious and irrelevant, and laughed at things that weren’t funny. And after a few minutes, the Second Man said ‘I must say, I knew that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his menagerie, but I could not have anticipated just how vivid its skin is, or how pungent its smell is.’

‘His Majesty’s Menagerie has many wondrous and unique animals in it.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said, though it wasn’t true in the slightest – all of the other animals were rather dull. ‘My favourite is the pigeons.’ he said, pointing up to the rafters, where hundreds of fat, grey pigeons sat.

‘Oh yes’, another Minister said. ‘Far better than those sparrows that used to be here. And I never liked that crane either.’

An hour after the Second Man had arrived in the menagerie, and before he had had the chance to speak with the Emperor, one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the Second Man and said ‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The Second Man, also suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to the golden gates of the palace.

He passed through the gates, and they were locked behind him. He was tricked just as the First Man had been, though the Second Man realised this as soon as he heard the lock clink behind him.

The Second Man also analysed the day’s events with the People of the Capital. He told them everything he said and everything he did, and the People realised the only thing that both the First Man and the Second Man had done was to talk about the elephant in the room.

As ever, the problems with the empire persisted. The People resolved that they could not give up, so they chose a Third Man from their group to try to get into the palace and speak to the Emperor. But this time, he would go in with the intention of not saying a single word about the pink elephant, and if one of the Emperor’s servants said he was needed at the gates, he would try to find a way of not going.

So the next day the Third Man went in. When he stepped into the great glasshouse, the Emperor’s other Ministers shuffled up to him, whispering and glancing at each other. He did not say a single word about the elephant, but he did stare at it – it was difficult not to – its skin was so blindingly saturated. And of course, it was right in the middle of the room.

The Emperor’s other Ministers watched the Third Man as they prattled at him. They didn’t look towards the elephant themselves, but they knew that the Third Man was looking at it – they knew that he was thinking about it.

And after an hour, one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the Third Man and said ‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’

The Third Man immediately realised what was happening – they were trying to expel him from the palace – he must have done something the other Ministers didn’t like. ‘I’m sure the matter can wait.’ he said to the Emperor’s servant. ‘The discussion of policy is very important; I would not like to miss any of it.’

‘Oh that won’t start for ages yet.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said. ‘We’ll probably just be babbling on for another few hours yet, as we do.’

‘Yes’, another Minister said, ‘you won’t miss anything – I’m sure you’ll have the time to deal with this matter.’

The Third Man had not anticipated this. ‘His Imperial Majesty expects all of his Ministers to be in attendance.’ he said.

‘Oh he won’t mind.’ one of the Ministers said.

‘Yes, I’m sure he won’t mind.’ another said with a smirk. ‘You should go.’

The Third Man couldn’t see how he could reason his way out of this. Everyone wanted him to go to the gates.

‘Very well.’ the Third Man said, after a moment, and he followed the servant out of the menagerie.

He knew that the moment he stepped outside of the palace, the gates would be locked behind him, and he wouldn’t be able to get back in, so he tried to think how he could avoid going through them. He could just run to a different part of the palace, he thought, but they would only find him, and then tell him to go to the gates again.

He couldn’t think of how to get out of this. When he got to the gates of the palace, which were wide open, he stopped before passing them, adamant he would not go a step further.

‘Well, where is this matter then?’ he said to the servant.

The Emperor’s servant said with half-lidded eyes ‘It is in the marketplace a short distance away from the palace. I will take you there.’

The Third Man was still suspicious. ‘What on earth is this matter?’

‘It will be easier to show you.’ the servant said.

Once again, the Third Man didn’t see how he could refuse. But the servant would be with him – they’d have to let the servant back into the palace when they returned, and he could go in at the same time. So the Third Man stepped past the gates of the palace, and followed the servant to the marketplace.

The marketplace was bustling. The Third Man followed the servant through the dense crowd as they wound between the stalls. He was almost starting to believe that there was some important matter for him to deal with, but for a moment he looked the other way, and when he looked back, the servant was gone.

The Third Man immediately realised what had happened, and pushed his way back through the crowd to try to get back to the palace as soon as possible. But when he arrived at the entrance, the gates were once again locked shut, and there was no-one on the other side who could or would open them.

Like the First Man and the Second Man, the Third Man told the People of the Capital everything that had happened. They realised that not only would talking about the elephant get you thrown out, but even looking at it – acknowledging it in any way.

So the People of the Capital sent a Fourth Man to the palace. The Fourth Man did not mention the elephant at all, nor did he stare at the elephant when he first walked into the menagerie. He managed to stay in the menagerie for longer than the first three had – most of the afternoon. But though he avoided staring at the elephant, when its amaranth skin caught the edge of his vision, he couldn’t help but steal a glance at it.

The Emperor’s other Ministers had been watching him closely the entire afternoon, even after they had run out of things to blather on about. They saw the Fourth Man look at the elephant for a fraction of a second, so the Fourth Man was expelled too.

The Fifth Man that the People sent in was the first one who managed to remain in the menagerie for a while. He said nothing about the elephant and did not look at it even for a moment.

He went into the menagerie at midday every day for a week, along with all of the Emperor’s other Ministers. The first few hours of every afternoon were spent rambling on about things that didn’t matter. Many of the Ministers would wander around the menagerie with one of their friends – the menagerie had many winding gravel paths through it (walled by emerald foliage, which prevented anything the Ministers whispered to each other from being overheard by others in the glasshouse).

It was only towards the end of each afternoon that any actual discussion of policy happened, and it was usually very quick. The Ministers and the Barons were in complete agreement on almost everything. The Emperor did not question any of the policies that were proposed – in fact he didn’t say anything at all in the discussion – and he gave assent to everything that the Ministers and the Barons decided upon. The Fifth Man realised that it was not the Emperor that he needed to speak to, but the Ministers and the Barons.

Over the days that he was there, the Fifth Man tried to convince the other Ministers of the policies that the People wanted. He tried to persuade them to support the rebuilding of bridges, aqueducts, and sewers. He tried to persuade them to put some of the palace’s great wealth towards building more houses, so that the people of the city would not have to live in such cramped spaces. He tried to persuade them to end the constant war and expansion – the empire was big enough as it was – any bigger and it might fracture.

He went from group to group within the menagerie, repeating the same arguments. The Ministers smiled and nodded. They responded with things like ‘What an interesting idea.’, ‘I couldn’t agree more.’, and ‘Oh yes, we must support the common people.’. But when he asked if they could put the policy to the Emperor, they said ‘Let’s do that tomorrow.’, or ‘This will fit well with a bill I’m writing for a few days’ time.’, or ‘Let’s talk to some more people about this.’.

But they never did. Every day they would defer it. The reasons were slightly different each day, but the effect was the same. Though the Ministers said that they liked the Fifth Man’s policies, they would never allow them to be put to the Emperor.

But while he was in the menagerie, the Fifth Man also realised something else. You see, while he did not look at the pink elephant, he could still see it. When his eyes were focused on something else, the pink elephant might be on the edge of his vision, and he could turn his mind’s eye towards it. And of course, the menagerie was made of glass – he could often see the elephant’s reflection in a window.

He knew what the elephant was doing at any one time – they all did – all of the Ministers knew. They all pretended not to, but everyone in the room knew what the elephant was doing, and they all knew that everyone else knew. But what the Fifth Man realised was that the pink elephant must have been costing the empire a fortune to keep. It ate a great bowl of the most expensive foods in the world every half hour for every hour it was awake. A team of eighty servants had the task of preparing all of the elephant’s food and bringing it to the elephant. Keeping the elephant cost more than all of the palace’s other daily expenses combined! The elephant was part of the problem! If they didn’t have to pay for the elephant, they would have more money to spend on repairing and rebuilding the city.

After a week, getting nowhere trying to persuade the other Ministers to put his policies to the Emperor, and seeing just how ridiculous it was keeping this disgusting, useless elephant in the menagerie, the Fifth Man snapped.

‘This is absurd!’ the Fifth Man shouted so that all of the Ministers and Barons could hear. ‘All of you are twattling on about things that don’t matter, and then passing legislation that does nothing to solve the actual problems of the empire, all the while ignoring that revolting elephant that is partially the cause of those problems! What are you doing?! What are you here for?! Why do you keep ignoring the elephant in the room?!’

The Fifth Man was completely right of course, but while he had understood the Ministers enough to be able to get into the menagerie, and even stay there for a few days, he did not understand them enough to realise that there was no point asking these questions, because the Ministers would not answer them – they would never answer them. No amount of rationality or rage would ever make them answer these questions.

The Fifth Man was greeted with gelid silence. All of the Ministers and Barons looked at the Fifth Man with stony expressions, insulted that anyone would be so direct about the elephant. The Fifth Man, looking around, realising that he had no power in the menagerie anymore, did not need to be expelled by deceptive means – he left the palace himself.

But of course, the problems of the empire persisted, and the People of the Capital sent in a Sixth Man, then a Seventh Man. The Sixth Man remained in the menagerie for several weeks, and the Seventh Man for several months. Neither of them said a word about the elephant, but as time went on, the two of them, and the People who put them there, realised that it didn’t matter whether or not they mentioned the elephant. The Ministers and the Barons simply didn’t want to implement the policies they were suggesting. All of them were in agreement, and anyone who did not agree with them would be removed – that way they kept their control over the Emperor and the empire – that way they stayed in power. And though they all did this – they all knew that this was what they were doing – they never acknowledged it.

The Sixth Man and the Seventh Man were eventually expelled too. The Eighth Man to go in tried a more radical method of solving the empire’s problems. He took a pistol into the menagerie, hidden in his coat. As soon as he saw the elephant, he took the pistol out, and shot at it. But the bullet bounced off the elephant’s skin (who would have known that in addition to being quinacridone the elephant’s skin was also bullet-proof?), and instead struck one of the Barons in the arm. (The Baron didn’t die – in fact he recovered remarkably quickly.) The Eighth Man was swiftly removed and imprisoned for life.

And then … the Ninth Man went in. By this point, most of the ordinary people in the empire knew about the pink elephant, and many realised too that the elephant was part of the problem. The Ninth Man had listened to everything his eight predecessors had said, and he had an idea. He asked that the People of the Capital choose him to be the next person to be sent to the palace, but he did not tell them what his idea was, knowing that he would not need to.

And so the Ninth Man, when the sun was high overhead, strode up to the glass doors of the menagerie, and went inside. He did not mention or look at the elephant. The Emperor’s other Ministers shuffled up to the Ninth Man, as they always did, and started talking small.

The Ninth Man said similarly dull things back to them. He caught a glint in their eyes – they thought they’d got one of their own this time.

And then after a few minutes of meaningless words, the Ninth Man said ‘Oh, by the way, I have brought a gift for the Emperor.’, and he signalled to one of the servants to bring it in.

The servant wheeled it in. It was covered by a satin cloth. With a flourish, the Ninth Man pulled the satin cloth off, revealing a large copper cage underneath it. And within the cage was a magnificent … turquoise flamingo.

The flamingo was delightful. Its plumage went from cyan to aquamarine to cerulean to teal. Its eyes were a glimmering silver. And the bird had an aroma of blueberries and pears.

‘Oh what a marvellous animal!’ the Emperor’s other Ministers all sang together. They then looked for a space for it within the menagerie; the Ninth Man directed them towards one of the spaces on one of the paths that wound through the building.

And then the afternoon wore on as it usually did. All of the Ministers spent several hours warbling and twittering at each other, and at the end of the afternoon, they voted on some legislation. The Ninth Man played along.

The Ninth Man stayed in the menagerie for many months. He did not mention or look at the pink elephant, even though he, like those before him, knew that it was a big problem. He chattered and jabbered with the other Ministers, and they were not suspicious of him. Everyone in the menagerie was overjoyed by the turquoise flamingo – most of all the Emperor, who often came down from his malachite throne to stare at the bird in its cage. Unlike the pink elephant, the turquoise flamingo was cheap to keep – it ate the sorts of foods that flamingos normally eat: small insects, molluscs, and crustaceans, and it didn’t eat all that much of them. The flamingo was a far better centrepiece for the menagerie than the elephant.

After many months had passed, it was time for the people of the empire to elect another Minister – well, two actually. They did so, and two people showed up at the glass doors of the menagerie. The Ministers – not including the Ninth Man – shuffled up to the two newcomers, as they always did. They watched them eagerly for many hours, to see if they would talk about the elephant or glance at it. Neither of them did – clearly both of them knew that they must not do so.

The two new Ministers walked around the menagerie, talking to people and gazing at the other animals. And then they came to the flamingo, which the Ninth Man always stood next to.

‘What a marvellous animal!’ the older one said. ‘Where did it come from?’

‘Oh I found it atop Mount Sarabaya.’ the Ninth Man said.

‘On top of a mountain?!’ the older one asked.

‘Yes. I climbed the mountain in an hour, found the bird standing at its summit, and then was back down again before tea.’

Anyone who knew anything about Mount Sarabaya knew that it could not be climbed in an hour – it normally took at least two days to scale the icy peak, and the same time again to get back down it.

‘That’s absurd!’ the older one said. ‘No-one could climb Mount Sarabaya in an hour!’

The Ninth Man puffed himself up and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I’ve won the Arennian Mountain Climbing Championship seven years in a row! I am undefeated to this day!’

Believing he had insulted the Ninth Man, the older of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying ‘Oh … er … well, of course an ordinary person could not climb the mountain in an hour, but I’m sure it’s quite easy for a mountain climbing champion.’

‘Indeed it is!’

‘What are you talking about?!’ the younger one said. ‘It doesn’t matter how many championships you’ve won – no-one can scale Mount Sarabaya that quickly – it’s more than five miles high!’

‘As the current Arennian Mountain Climbing Champion I dare say I am the expert on mountaineering in this menagerie, and it is absolutely possible!’ the Ninth Man insisted.

‘Mount Sarabaya Base Camp is ten miles away from the summit! Unless you sprinted up the mountain, it’s not possible.’ the younger one said.

The older one gawped as this argument was happening – shocked that the younger one would dare suggest that the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.

But the Ninth Man had actually succeeded in his aim. ‘Well perhaps you’re right.’ he said to the younger one. ‘It was so long ago – it’s all just a blur now. Perhaps it simply felt like an hour.’ and the conversation moved on to other things.

Later in the afternoon, the Ninth Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The older of the two new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help him use those talents.’

The servant understood, and a few minutes later the older of the two new Ministers was expelled from the palace, in the same way the First Man had been.

The younger of the two new Ministers was allowed to stay. Both he and the Ninth Man did not talk about or look at the pink elephant. They smiled and nodded along with the other Ministers, and did not attempt to persuade them to support better policies, for both of them knew that they never would.

A few months later, and another two people were chosen by the public to become Ministers. They stepped into the menagerie one day, and they successfully ignored the pink elephant. They soon came over to the turquoise flamingo, where the Ninth Man stood.

‘What a marvellous animal!’ the shorter one said. ‘How on earth did it acquire such a colour?’

‘I believe it is a rare species. I saw a similarly-coloured flamboyance of flamingos when I was travelling across the Manjure.’

‘There are flamingos in the Manjure?!’ the shorter one asked.

‘Yes of course. Flamingos like hot weather.’

Anyone who knew anything about the Manjure knew that it was in fact freezing cold there most of the year. It was a vast, dense, boreal forest, interrupted only by icy streams and snow-covered mountains.

‘What on earth are you talking about?!’ the shorter one said. ‘The Manjure is freezing cold!’

The Ninth Man puffed himself up and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I have travelled along the Trans-Manjurean Railway no fewer than seven times! I’m quite familiar with the Manjurean climate!’

Believing he had insulted the Ninth Man, the shorter of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying ‘Oh … well … I suppose you must be very familiar with the region then.’

‘You suppose correctly!’

‘That’s absurd!’ the taller one said. ‘The Manjurean caribou is famous for its thick fur. The Manjurean caribou would all die of heat exhaustion if the Manjure were a tropical climate!’

‘I am good friends with the leading expert in the climate and geography of the Manjure at the University of Marcanne! I dare say that I’m more familiar with it than you!’ the Ninth Man insisted.

‘Being friends with an expert does not make you an expert. Unless the climate of the Manjure has changed drastically in the last few years, it absolutely is not a hot region!’ the taller one said.

The shorter one gawped as this argument was happening – shocked that the taller one would dare suggest that the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.

But the Ninth Man had once again succeeded in his aim. ‘You know what I think you might be right.’ he said to the taller one. ‘I’m thinking of Bansoor – that’s where I saw those flamingos. The service on the Bansoor Express is so awful I think I blocked it from my memory.’ and the conversation moved on to other things.

Later in the afternoon, the Ninth Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The shorter of the two new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help him use those talents.’

The servant understood, and a few minutes later the shorter of the two new Ministers was expelled from the palace. Now there were two Ministers in the menagerie who the Ninth Man had allowed to stay. They and the Ninth Man played along with the faux concern of the Emperor’s other Ministers.

And this was how it continued for many months – years even. Whenever a new Minister entered the menagerie, first the Cabal stalked them, to see if they would acknowledge the pink elephant, and then the Ninth Man countered it. The Cabal believed that everyone in the menagerie was part of the Cabal, since they expelled anyone who acknowledged the pink elephant, but really the only people who stayed in the menagerie were those who the Ninth Man did not expel.

Over time, more and more of the court was on the side of the turquoise flamingo. They waited not just until they could win any vote against the old Ministers and the Barons, but until almost all of the old Ministers had been replaced – otherwise the supporters of the pink elephant would realise that their strategy was no longer working, and would change it.

And once this had happened, those on the side of the turquoise flamingo started to put forward and vote for policies that would benefit the people of the empire – much to the shock of the Barons.

They voted for bridges to be rebuilt, for sewers to be maintained, and for houses to be built further apart so that fires would not leap from one to another so easily. They voted to pay for doctors to heal the diseased; they voted to nullify debts; they voted to end the wars of expansion. They voted to remove the Barons from the menagerie, and the people of the empire started to prosper once again.

And at the end of all of that, they voted to release the pink elephant back to the wild. It was taken over the sea and released into the humid forests of Bansoor.

But not just that – they also released the turquoise flamingo, for now that there was no-one left in the menagerie who would use the pink elephant for deceit, there was no need for the turquoise flamingo. Those coming to the menagerie would no longer be expelled for talking about the elephant in the room. They would only need the turquoise flamingo again if the pink elephant were brought back.

The pigeons left the menagerie, and the sparrows returned. And every now and then, on a clear day, the people of the city could just about see, flying high in the sky … a turquoise flamingo.


Original story and artwork, Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

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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.