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keep on Trekkin'

C and I just watched the final episode of Season 1, "Operation: Annihilate" (a remarkably uninformative title). In the course of the story, James Kirk's brother Samuel Kirk and his wife Aurelan died, leaving Peter Kirk, the captain's roughly 10-year-old nephew, an orphan. I don't think we ever saw him again. I wonder why Roddenberry didn't put him into the Wesley Crusher role? Did Kirk have any other siblings who could adopt him? The whole question just seems to be dropped by the episode's end.

even Heinlein nods

I just picked up and reread The Rolling Stones, one of Heinlein's juveniles for Scribner's, and to my taste one of the best. One of its better known episodes is the "flat cat" episode, where the Stone family acquire a Martian animal called a flat cat, a pancake-shaped furry animal that attaches itself to hosts, snuggles against them, and purrs. After 64 days, it gives birth parthenogenically to eight flat kittens; after another 64 days they have kittens; and after 64 more days those kittens have kittens—and Heinlein says there are 513 kittens.

Now, we start with 1 flat cat. The next generation is 8; the third is 64; and the fourth is 512. But the sum of those numbers is 585. The number Heinlein gives is the sum of the first and last generations, implying that the intermediate generations died—which he doesn't mention and presumably didn't mean to have happen.

And there's a deeper point than that. If Fuzzy Britches had had another litter when her kittens had kittens, that would have been 9 flat cats giving birth to 72 kittens, for a total of 81; and if they all had kittens, it would have been 648 kittens, for a total of 729. So it appears that each flat cat had only one litter. That's certainly a possible life history—but it makes no sense for an animal that reproduces once to go on living afterward, apparently indefinitely. Certainly the flat cats should die by the time their kittens reproduce, and they could very well die right after giving birth, as there's no mention of nursing or other parental care. But Heinlein doesn't show any of them as dying. So really, the numbers ought to have been even higher!

Heinlein liked to put explanations of how vital it is to study mathematics into his juveniles, and The Rolling Stones has one, early on. It's ironic to find him miscalculating a simple geometric series expansion!

anticipation

In the course of checking Amazon listings, I saw mention of a tenth volume of Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story—but no release date. However, some hunting around suggested that the volume is due out this November. I'm particularly happy because it's apparently going to turn its focus back to Amir and Karluk, the original wife and husband of the series; I've enjoyed the other stories, but I've felt that their story was left unresolved, and besides, I really liked the way their feelings for each other were shown. It sounds as if that may start to change in the next volume!

we shall not see his like

When I got back from errands early this afternoon and checked the Steve Jackson Games Website, I saw a post saying that Harlan Ellison died in his sleep this morning.

C and I have been watching original Star Trek episodes via Amazon Prime, and entirely fortuitously, we were just up to "City on the Edge of Forever." Watching it seemed an appropriate commemoration for Ellison.

I'm seeing all of these after a gap of many years, and I'm repeatedly struck by several different things: episodes where a famous bit of canon ("I'm a doctor, not an X!") shows up for the first time, scenes that look disturbing in retrospect (for example, James Kirk flirting with Miri, who is purported to be just entering puberty), episodes that don't really hold up when watched critically—and other episodes that are still effective. This was one of the last group. The script gives Kirk a serious and dramatic conflict; and, somewhat unusually, Shatner's acting lived up to it fairly well, particularly after we see Edith Keeler call him on his bullshit. His final line, "Let's get the hell out of here," was a believable reaction to what the character had just had to do.

I realize that Ellison wasn't happy with the rewriting of his script. But I think that the rewrite is dramatically effective and that it has to have gotten that effectiveness from Ellison coming up with a good central conflict, and one that followed logically from the sfnal premise, in the classic Wellsian style. So I think it still serves as a memorial to Ellison's virtues as a storyteller.

back to work

At the start of the week, I got back comments on my current GURPS supplement. The line editor and I have thrashed out a few rules issue, and I've started my revision. As of tonight, I've done the great majority of the revisions to Chapters 1 and 2 (out of a total of 6) and added in a vignette, which I've borrowed from GURPS Steam-Tech (after 15 years, I think it may be okay to re-use it). I hope to get through the remaining chapters in a week or less.

Then comes the challenging part: Researching additional material, both from the suggestions in the comments and from my list of things to look into for the revised draft. I'll have around a month to do that. And once that's done, I can do as much neatening up of the organization as time permits.

And then comes the playtest, which I expect to be really lively. . . .

films

C and I had talked of going to see Solo, and it's still on our agenda. But some other films got ahead of it in our queue.

Yesterday, C didn't feel up to going out, being in some physical discomfort and not energetic. So I suggested that we might watch something at home. Our former TV now serves both as the display for our Blu-ray player and as a monitor for her desktop. She suggested that we might download Kedi, a documentary about street cats in Istanbul, which we had missed seeing when a local theater had it for one day. This took a quarter hour or so on the phone with Apple figuring out why iTunes wouldn't download the video after we rented it, and installing an updated version—but then it worked fine.

Kedi was directed by Ceyda Torun (I believe the given name is pronounced "jaydah"), who grew up in Istanbul and went back there to make the film. She picked out seven cats for follow with drones, small mobile cameras that moved at cat level, and standard cameras for filming the humans who interacted with them. The film actually was as much about the human attitudes toward cats as it was about the cats, and I was struck by how much good will the human subjects showed: for example, the woman who cooked 20 kilos a day of chicken or the man who was bottle feeding a small group of orphaned kittens and had acquired antibiotics for one with an eye infection. At the same time, Torun showed us some of the harsher aspects of cat life, such as the female who bullied other cats or the two males in a serious dispute over territory.

Today, C's headache was gone, so we went to the local theater to see the film that had displaced Solo in our interest: Hotel Artemis, directed by Drew Pearce (apparently his first film) and starring Jodie Foster; other actors whose names I recognized were Jeff Goldblum and Zachary Quinto. This is a near-future film that isn't really cyberpunk but has the same noir sensibility as cyberpunk. The setting is a defunct hotel in downtown Los Angeles that's been adapted to a different function: Providing health care to people injured while committing crimes, operating under strict rules to keep it from being found by law enforcement or destroyed by its own patients. Nearly all of the story takes place in that one building, but there's a background story about Los Angeles being wrecked by riots inspired by water shortage.

I liked this a lot, partly because it wasn't based on any previously released source material, and I couldn't predict where things were going. The plot involved the central character, the Nurse (Jodie Foster's character), dealing both with several different sets of patients and with issues from her own past that have left her with a lot of emotional damage—when the film starts she hasn't been outside the building in a long time. I thought all of the characters were well drawn and plausibly motivated, and the three different main agendas that various patients brought to the building will tied together really well; two secondary storylines also contributed interesting bits. I did find one scene near the end, where "Nice" (played by Sofia Boutella; all the patients are referred to by the names of their rooms) takes out half a dozen armed gangsters who have broken into the building, a bit too superheroic to fit the rest of the film, but I had enjoyed the character's earlier scenes enough to forgive both her and the director an over-the-top action sequence. The science fictional aspects were good, too, particularly the advanced medical equipment that still couldn't fix everything or save everyone.

And I really liked having a sense of who the characters were as people, and how their actions grew out of this. Establishing essential character for nine significant characters in a film with this much action is quite an accomplishment.

Somehow I'm afraid we won't be as impressed by Solo, but we still plan to see it. We had talked of seeing Upgrade also, but we watched the trailer after we got home and we both have our doubts about it now. . . .

typo

Yesterday I was cleaning up a reference list on a journal I've newly added to my work queue, and I discovered a citation to a journal that was given as Human Sexuality and Martial Therapy. What a difference a simple transposition makes!

The Will to Battle

I lately visited the Riverside county library, and one of the books I brought home was the third volume of Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series. As with the earlier volumes, I'm finding it intellectually interesting, but I'm ambivalent about other aspects of it.

At a very basic level, I find it hard to be involved with the characters. I don't think this is a matter of either the characters or the setting being alien; I've been deeply moved, for example, by scenes in Donald M. Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, which portrays a far more alien society, or in Michael Flynn's The Wreck of The River of Stars, set in a nearer future but with characters very different from me. But in this case, my mind can't latch onto anything the characters care about or are motivated by in a way that gives me the slightest investment in their gaining or keeping it; I see them struggling but I'm not involved in their struggle. It's almost impossible for me even to remember who is on which side.

In some measure this may reflect a secondary aspect, the ideas Palmer is exploring. There's a scene in this novel where one of the characters says that their society is the wealthiest, happiest, and freest humanity has ever known. And I don't see that "freest" at all. This volume, like the previous one, opens up with formal statements of permission and restriction by the official censors of the seven Hives that govern most of the world; so it doesn't have freedom of speech or the press. It's established in the first volume that it's a criminal offense for more than two people to discuss religion; once again, no freedom of speech, or of assembly, or of religion. This book establishes that there are Reservations for people who insist on adhering to religious observance, which made me think of the savage reservations in Brave New World. Palmer does tell us that there are "Hiveless" people who live by Graylaw, which mainly protects life, liberty, property, and contracts (though it may be as authoritarian as the European Union in doing so), or even by Blacklaw, which grants no rights except what you can defend for yourself by force, and allows you to do so. But an early chapter lists the eight prohibitions that apply even under Blacklaw, and under the first of these, spreading religion outside a Reservation is an "intolerable crime" that justifies forcible restraint even of people who are licensed to murder and torture one another. That's not my idea of freedom, even though I myself have nothing that most people would call religion, and don't even understand why anyone would feel a need for it. I suppose Palmer may mean those statements about "freedom" ironically, but I can't tell—and if I take all these people ironically, it severely limits my emotional investment in any of them.

So I think this is intellectually stimulating enough so I'll finish it, and read the final volume when it appears. But I don't feel the emotional bonding to it that would make me ever think of rereading it.

franchise

California's next election is this coming Tuesday, 5 June. I've made a practice of voting in elections, but I'm doubting whether I'll vote in this one. It's California's primaries for a lot of offices, under the open primary system, and there are absurd numbers of candidates—25, I think, for governor!—and I've been busy and haven't remotely had time to research any of the candidates. Of course I can cut the lists down somewhat—for example, I won't vote for any Democrat, and still less for candidates from the overtly socialist minor parties—but sorting out whether the Libertarian candidates are actually libertarians, and if not, which of the Republican candidates are not totally intolerable, still takes more time than I have had, or can have in the next four days.

I could just go in and vote no on every ballot proposition that establishes new taxes or authorizes bonds, and maybe I will. But I'm even less motivated than usual.

I'm not happy about the open primary system in any case. It's basically a clever trick to ensure that no Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, Green, or other minor party candidate will ever appear on the November ballot. Even worse, it bans write-in votes on the November ballot, which is a blatant and unethical denial of voter sovereignty. And I've seen past elections where the November vote was for either a Democrat or a Democrat, which is effectively no choice at all (just as having the candidates be two different Republicans would be no choice at all for many other people).

dinner

C and I are both fond of Mexican food, though we have to modify the recipes, now that I've been advised not to eat cheese and both of us have been told to avoid tomatoes. But in recent years, I've been finding it hard to find good tortillas. I bought many different brands of corn tortillas in supermarkets, but over and over, they would lose their integrity in the process of being cooked; this was often worsened by their sticking to the pan and having bits tear off. Down in San Diego, there was a neighborhood liquor/convenience store a block from us that sold big packages of handmade tortillas of superior quality, but we haven't found such a thing up here.

However, on recent visits to Trader Joe's, I've tried the experiment of buying their store brand of corn tortillas, with good results. I do still need to slide a pancake turner under them and lift them up, and to slide them around the pan, to avoid sticking, but this actually works; the very worst loss of integrity is comparable to my best outcome with supermarket tortillas. And they also have a satisfying flavor. It doesn't hurt that the price works out to less than ten cents per tortilla. . . .

Anyway, for dinner tonight, after preparing soft taco shells, I cooked half a red onion and a couple of inches of Anaheim chili pepper, both finely sliced, in olive oil; added a pound of grass fed ground beef; seasoned with California chili, ancho chili, and cumin; and squeezed half a lime over it all at the end. Then I filled the shells with this and with finely sliced red leaf lettuce. We were both really happy with the flavor.

Now I just hope that Trader Joe's doesn't figure out I like their tortillas and discontinue them. But maybe that's only a conspiracy of supermarkets.

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