Archive for June 2017

The Expanse: Forget Star Trek and Watch This Show

I’ll admit I used to be a Trekkie. I grew up watching reruns of Star Trek and had a Starship Enterprise model hanging from my bedroom ceiling. When the movies came out I saw them in the theater. When Star Trek Next Generation came out, I loved the show so much that the Wife’s father taped it and sent us VHS episodes to us in Japan. I even followed the spin-off Deep Space Nine.

But then it became a bit repetitive. I never got into Voyager with Captain Janeway sounding too much like a dalek. And the remakes? I’ve skipped them. I even hear there’s yet another Star Trek themed show destined for TV. My first question: Why?

My first literary love was SF. In my teens I devoured writers like Ben Bova, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. I subscribed to the long defunct OMNI magazine which lit my imagination like no other magazine. I learned that there is a lot of good science fiction out there with universes as detailed and inviting as anything imagined in Star Trek. Think I’m wrong? Go read Larry Niven’s Ringworld series and get back to me in a few years.

So I had pretty much given up on science fiction TV even though there is a whole cable network devoted to it.

Then my wife made me sit through the pilot of The Expanse, and the only thing left to decide was where to put an OPA tattoo.

Detective Miller wonders where he lost his hat.

This series is good. Really good. So good I haven’t felt this excited about a show since the second season of Star Trek Next Generation when it began to get interesting. There are great writeups on this show. See here. Here. And here. Why do I like this show?

It’s realistic. When a single threat blows up in space it becomes a threat of a million little pieces. Physics is a harsh mistress, and that enemy ship speeding towards you that you’ve just hit with a rail gun? Well guess what? Now the remains of that ship are punching holes in yours.

It’s well written. The wife and I have seen a lot of good television over our combined 110 years. We’re also very well read. So it takes a lot to surprise us. Well, actually, let me dial that back and say it takes good writing to surprise us, and The Expanse is good writing. It’s unpredictable but not completely chaotic with threads that pass through the episodes and tie the series together in a very well-written ball.

The UN Sucks. Well I am an anti-UN conservative and the portrayal of the UN as world government of an earth where the haves live on the moon and the havenots live in the streets of the cities is poetic justice. Oh and they can’t blame the Republicans because they’ve all gone to Mars.

The Universe is incredibly detailed. The belters, the people living and extracting wealth for Earth and Mars, speak a language that is about what you would expect for a multi-ethnic group of people living together in the asteroid belt. The language has its roots in English but follows the development of creole languages and is carefully constructed. Even the gestures are a mix of Japanese, Indian and other ethnicities. Life in the belt is very Blade Runner-esque, which is a good thing given how great that movie is. Even detective Miller, one of the main characters, wears a fedora just like Gaff.

The future is limitless. The Expanse is based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey, and has only touched on the story in books 2 and 3. There is no limit to where it can go, whereas Star Trek will always be constrained by previous series and movies. A new Star Trek show brings not only the baggage of its audience’s expectations, but the limits of the stories told in its universe. Star Trek Voyager attempted to go beyond that by being teleported to the other side of the universe, but in the end it gave in to temptation and made it back to the Federation. This show has no such limits, and with a new series its audience’s baggage is a small carry-on that can be safely stowed under the seat in front of you. Which leads me to…

It’s fresh. The Earth vs Mars vs the Belt. All three groups are battling to stay alive and independent. Mars dreams of terraforming the planet and his held back by an agreement with Earth. The Belt sees Mars and Earth take and take and give little back in return. No wonder the OPA, the belter resistance movement, flourishes under these conditions.

And it even has a sense of humor. Mormons in Space. Enough said.

The Mormon Interstellar Ship Nauvoo

Oh and Mythbusters’ Adam Savage shows up in the season 2 finale in a bit role. How cool is that?

There is good science fiction around these days, and it’s about time that TV reflected it. We need more shows like The Expanse (and we also need more seasons of it too. So far we’ve only been promised season 3), not another retread of Star Trek. 50 years is enough for that show, let it live on in our collective nostalgia. Instead lets see strange new worlds and boldly go where no TV show has gone before.

Make it so, SyFy Channel. Make it so!

The Lesson of Julius Caesar For Trump Haters

The New York Public Theater’s production of “Julius Caesar” is making news, mainly for turning the play into the assassination of Donald Trump complete with the main character’s wearing of a yellow wig, having a wife who speaks with an eastern European accent, and assassins played by women and minorities. The controversy has caused some sponsors to pull backing, others to pledge their continued support. It’s worth remembering the facts of the actual assassination of Julius Caesar, facts that would likely cool the excitement the play has engendered among Trump-haters.

Like Trump Caesar was a populist who disparaged the ruling elite even though he was born into it, a member of the Julia family which claimed descent from the Trojan prince Aeneas, the son of the goddess Venus. Caesar went on to build an illustrious career as a general and was popular with his men. His political career also endeared him to the common people so that when the Senate tried to arrest him for treason, he descended upon Rome with his troops and took power and his Senate opponents led by Pompey fled. He hunted them down but pardoned his political enemies who stayed behind in Rome.

The Roman Senate was nothing like its US counterpart. Few people had the right to vote and those that had it faced a list of selected candidates by the elite. Voting in a Roman election wasn’t meaningful to the male Roman citizen who did it other than to repay the debt to his patron, usually the neighborhood politician who he owed a favor to. In fact the patronage system that operated in Democratic Machine-era cities of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia would be very familiar to ancient Romans.

Caesar cut deeply into the power of the ruling elite, so it was only a matter of time that the enemies he pardoned allied with his former friends worried about the power he was concentrating into his own hands. The conspirators evidently believed their own propaganda. They thought they were fighting to save the liberty of the republic and that the common people would view their murder of Caesar as an act against tyranny. They believed they would be celebrated as liberators of Rome and even made a coin commemorating the event.

Unfortunately their murder of Caesar backfired. The people were so distraught by his murder that at his funeral pyre they began to tear wood off buildings and grabbed furniture from nearby dwellings and threw it into the fire. Instead of being applauded for their heroic act his assassins were hunted down in the streets by angry mobs. Suetonius writes, “Immediately after the funeral the commons ran to the houses of Brutus and Cassius with firebrands, and after being repelled with difficulty, they slew Helvius Cinna when they met him, through a mistake in the name, supposing that he was Cornelius Cinna, who had the day before made a bitter indictment of Caesar and for whom they were looking; and they set his head upon a spear and paraded it about the streets.”

The elite had lost touch with the common people and simply assumed that they felt as they did, that Caesar had taken power away from them without understanding that the common people had no power, and Caesar’s edicts had benefited them more than those made by his elitist predecessors. Within three years all of Caesar’s assassins were dead and the elites that opposed him destroyed, their property confiscated.

The parallels are eerie. A man of the people born of the elite. An out-of-touch elite who doesn’t understand the popularity of their object of hatred. Their drive to destroy him at all costs. How far will these parallels go?

But let me end with this: Trump is not Julius Caesar and America is not Rome. Julius Caesar had complete power when he died, Trump can’t even get a travel ban enacted. America has a system of checks and balances that no president can destroy whereas the government of Rome laid completely at Caesar’s disposal. Portraying Trump as Caesar not only shows the ignorance of the play’s producers about Roman history, it proves their ignorance about American civics, and it makes Trump look much more powerful than he is.

The Run, Hide and Tell Policy: Proof the UK Has Surrendered

Has it come to this?

Has it come to the point where the mother of our country has to tell her citizens to run and cower from Islamic terrorists?

Is this the country whose leader once pledged “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”? And that was said when the UK was being faced with daily devastating attacks across the whole of England that killed hundreds by the world’s largest and most effective air force of the time, not just a ragtag bunch of religious zealots wearing tin cans armed with carving knives.

Has it really come to this? How?

What’s next for the UK? How many jihadist attacks must happen before the UK’s Metropolitan Police updates their graphic?

Here’s my version on what such a graphic would look like if it were released by my local North Carolina county Sheriff’s Office.