March 25, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Ep 9, "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1"

It's hard to review this episode, as it is very much a setup for the season finale, with the fireworks still to come. Still, we get a surprise appearance, and a downer of a plot point, and a delightfully bonkers sort-of rescue on Soji's home planet.

No flashbacks, at least in the first scene: we're plunged right into the transwarp conduit, with La Sirena covering 25 light-years in 15 minutes. They shoot out above Soji's home planet of Coppelius, and unfortunately Narek's ship follows, firing on them. A brief engagement takes place, with Narek's ship disabled by Rios' fancy shooting. Soji, understandably, doesn't give a crap if Narek dies, but Picard (in a foreshadowing of the ethical issues he and Soji later debate) tells Raffi to beam Narek aboard. Before Raffi can do so, five bogeys ascend from the planet's surface--and these are honest-to-God giant orchids that grab the ships and bring them down to the surface. (They don't do so well with Seven of Nine's Artifact, which has followed La Sirena through the transwarp hub. The cube more or less crashlands and splits apart, although Seven, Elnor and many of the Ex-Borg survive and are trying to bring as many systems back online as possible.) This is about the craziest thing I have seen in a Star Trek episode--well, I guess TOS's planet-sized space amoeba is along the same lines--and it's so over-the-top (and so brief; they're only glimpsed in a couple of scenes and then vanish, and it's later established there are only ten of them, nowhere near enough to fight the fleet of 218 Romulan warbirds that is on the way) that it works. Unfortunately, on the way to the surface something happens to Picard; he blacks out, babbling incoherently.

Therein enters the depressing plot point: Agnes Jurati discovers Picard's brain disease, and that it has progressed to the terminal point. (Although one wonders how long this will stick, given that the series has already been renewed for Season 2.) Picard breaks the news to his crew, emphasizing, in Patrick Stewart's marvelous matter-of-fact delivery, that "Anyone who treats me like a dying man will run the risk of pissing me off." The orchids have set the ship down near the planet's main settlement, Coppelius Station, but our group first sets out for what remains of the Artifact.

There they reunite with Seven and Elnor, with--once again, grumble grumble--our woefully underused pair only getting a couple of scenes. Seven is once again, grumble grumble, given short shrift, as the aftermath of her hooking back up to a mini-collective is hardly dealt with. Elnor and Picard say goodbye, and Picard tells Seven "That's [saving the galaxy] all on you, now."

(Which of course is a prime and totally un-backdoor setup for The Qowat Milat Power Rangers or whatever they decide to call it. Nevertheless, pairing the cynical, ruthless, still-recovering Seven with the comparatively innocent and lethal Elnor is quite a thought.)

After Raffi plugs into the cube's long-range sensors and discovers the looming Romulan fleet, the group treks to Coppelius Station, where they discover the rest of the synths. (Anybody else get a strong "Way to Eden" vibe from this?) Soji tells her kin what is coming, and we meet the sister of the deceased Jana, Sutra--played by the same actor with Data-style golden skin and yellow contacts--who extracts the Admonition from Agnes Jurati's mind (because Sutra has apparently "taught herself" the Vulcan mind meld? Uh, sorry, that's a little bit far-fetched, people). The message of the Admonition drove so many Romulans mad because, as Sutra reveals, it was not meant for organic minds. It was meant for synthetics, a message from "an alliance of synthetic life" (presumably on a higher plane of existence?) that will, if summoned, rally to protect them from what these uber-synths view as an inevitable, murderous conflict between synthetic and organic life.

Speaking of Data...there is another appearance by Brent Spiner, in the form of the heretofore unheard of Altan Inigo Soong (A.I. Soong. Get it? Get it?), son of Data's original creator, who has been here working on the synths with Bruce Maddox. Altan, after delivering the mildest possible rebuke to Agnes Jurati ("Shame on you, Agnes") gives her the chance to redeem herself by carrying on Maddox's work. He reveals his so far incomplete creation: a golem, an as yet unactivated synth capable of holding an organic mind transfer. Altan hints he created this for himself...but this is surely the Big Bald Shakespearian Elephant in the Room, as I don't doubt this golem will be transferring an organic mind rather different from the one Altan intended.

Now that Sutra has unlocked the Admonition's message, she talks to Soji about summoning the higher-plane synths, viewing this as the only way to save themselves, even if the ubers wipe out organic life. Soji is very torn about this, and has a conversation with Picard about "the logic of sacrifice." She is about to reveal what Sutra is pressuring her to do when the newly captured Narek is dragged into the settlement. Narek is briefly imprisoned, but Sutra seizes upon his presence as a way to manipulate her people into doing what she wants, as she frees him (and either allows him to murder one of the synths or does it herself), and uses the woman's death to prod everyone into agreeing to broadcast the summoning signal.

Picard tries to shoot this down, making one of his trademark eloquent speeches about promising to advocate for them to the Federation, only to be shot down by Altan, who points out--somewhat rightfully, although he doesn't know that a Federation fleet is also coming--that Picard and Starfleet are hardly on good terms these days. The episode ends with Picard being placed on house arrest, Agnes Jurati throwing in her lot with the synths and working to protect them, Raffi and Rios off to fix La Sirena, and the final scene showing Commander Oh at the helm of her strike fleet, coming in on the synths' seemingly defenseless planet.

Again, it's a little hard to evaluate this episode without the totality of the finale. Still, like the last episode of Discovery's second season, I think we're in for some rootin-tootin', CGI-heavy space battles, with the additional excitement of a sword-swinging Elnor, judging by the previews. (Or at least I hope so.) We shall see.

March 22, 2020

Review: Shatter the Sky

Shatter the Sky Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This surprised me a bit. The first chapter makes it seem like a fairly generic fantasy (even if the romantic couple are teenage girls) where the leads are broken apart by the big bad priestesses taking one of them away. This changed the further along I read, with some interesting worldbuilding and a genuinely different way of looking at dragons, along with some notable personal growth on the part of the central protagonist, Maren.

What impressed me the most was how well-written the charcter of Maren was. I think sometimes in YA books the main characters are more "teen-agey" than they need to be--that is, they make rash and/or dumb decisions just for plot convenience purposes. Of course such characters are usually not well written to begin with. I never got that vibe from this book. Maren's single bad decision was at the beginning of the narrative, when she hatched her pie-in-the-sky plan to go to the Dragon Fortress and steal a dragon, with very little knowledge of the actual creatures or how the Dragon Fortress was run. This halfbaked idea soon came to a screeching halt, but Maren learned from her error, retrenched, and began to plan anew. She was cautious and thoughtful, and the mistakes she made were from simple inexperience rather than being Too Stupid To Live (a distinct difference). The story grew along with her character, well-paced and slowly revealing its depths, and by the time Maren busted her girlfriend Kaia out of the place where Kaia had been held captive (and acquiring a huge black Mother of Dragons along the way), her triumph felt totally earned.

This book ends on a cliffhanger, so be aware if you don't like that kind of thing. I'm not overly fond of it myself, but in this case I can live with it. I've already pre-ordered the second book in what is apparently a duology, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the story.

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Review: Honor Lost

Honor Lost Honor Lost by Rachel Caine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the Honors trilogy, which is a young adult space opera whales! This is the Leviathan, a species that can not only survive and travel in vacuum, but carve out hollows within themselves where human technology can be installed--including docking bays, hatches, and airlocks--and provide oxygen to their passengers. And apparently generate artificial gravity as well. And they can also break the lightspeed barrier, and gain the power to do all this by "recharging" via the wavelengths of specific stars' light. Your tolerance for this story depends on your being able to accept this nonsense from the start. I could, because the story and characters are worth it, but be aware.

You really need to have read the first two books to make sense of this final chapter, as there is no recap or list of dramatis personae. I would encourage you to do so, however, as those are fine books in their own right. All the plot and character threads come home in this book, where Zara Cole, Pilot of her Leviathan Nadim, together with their Navigator Beatriz, face off for the last time against the newly awakened Lovecraftian-style alien god Lifekiller, who they inadvertently released in the previous book, Honor Bound.

As was hinted previously, the romance between the three main characters becomes a full-blown polyamorous triad. Zara and Beatriz are together physically, and Zara, Beatriz and Nadim are together mentally, in some well-written sex scenes. The romance is not the main thrust of the book, however--saving the galaxy, and the Sol system itself in the gargantuan final battle, is. The setup for this takes most of the middle section of the book, and while I'm sure some may feel this dragged, the revelations of plot and characters kept my interest. The secondary characters are dealt with well--particularly Zhang Chao-Zing, who undergoes a horrifying transformation that enables her to play a pivotal role in the end. And may I say the way Lifekiller goes out? Delicious.

Everything is wrapped up well, most of the characters survive, and everything is righted in the end. This is one of the outstanding YA trilogies of recent years, and well worth your time.

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March 18, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Episode 8, "Broken Pieces"

This the episode where (seemingly) all the cards have been laid on the table, and the pieces set in motion for the season finale. We could have a few more surprises--additional cameos, for instance--but I believe everything is on board for the endgame.

Our flashback this week begins, as so many have, fourteen years ago, on the planet the Romulans call Aia, the Grief System. We see the dozen or so female leaders of the Zhat Vash there to read the Admonition, the two-hundred-thousand-year-old psychic warning about synthetic life from a dead race. It is being introduced by Commodore Oh, who is later revealed to be a decades-old Romulan plant and half Romulan/half Vulcan, which is why she was able to perform the mind meld on Agnes Jurati. Among the Zhat Vash gathered are our favorite incestuous sibling Narissa and her aunt Ramdha, the Romulan later assimilated by the Borg. The circle of women touches the Admonition, and the images they receive are so horrific--the same flashes of android eyes, nuclear explosions, and fracturing planets shown previously--that two of the women are driven to immediate suicide and one tries to claw her face off. Narissa is nowhere near as affected (I'd already come to the conclusion that she's a sociopath, although she does have a seemingly genuine affection for her aunt, which serves to humanize the character at least a bit), and back on the Borg cube in the present day, she is talking to her catatonic aunt and revealing the afterimages of the Admonition in Ramdha's mind are what shut down the Artifact. She's also figured out where Soji's homeworld is and is going to join the fleet she has summoned to raze it, once she has destroyed all the ex-Borgs on this cube.

There are two separate storylines in the episode, one showing Picard and his motley crew aboard La Sirena in the aftermath of his finding Soji, and the other aboard the Artifact with Elnor and Seven. Of the two, although I was happy to see Seven again, I felt she got the short end of the stick. She comes on board the cube in response to Elnor's triggering of the Fenris Rangers beacon in the previous episode, and saves him from a pile-on of Romulans. Which leads to him running to her and hugging her, a delightful little scene which serves to reinforce how young Elnor is--this is no doubt the first time he's ever been offplanet, much less in the midst of such a mess as Picard has gotten him into. (The first words out of Seven's mouth are, "Where's Hugh?" which only reinforces what a waste Hugh's death was. I would have loved to see him and Seven interacting.) Elnor explains what happened, as much as he has time for, and Seven finds the Queen's chamber and starts the process of the Artifact regenerating. Narissa, meanwhile, is striding down the hallways shooting XB's, and when Seven becomes aware of this she does what she has not wanted to do--link into the cube and become its Queen (albeit a self-contained Queen, as she does not restore the link to the larger Collective). Narissa, acting to stop the thousands of drones which would soon be awakened from stasis, has them all dumped out into space. Seven directs the remaining XB's--which I assume would still have enough Borg tech remaining inside them to be ordered by the Queen, even as Seven still has enough tech to link into the cube--to pile on Narissa, but unfortunately our Space Cersei is able to escape by beaming out to her fleet. Elnor, still all absolute candor-iffic innocence, asks Seven if she is going to assimilate him, and she replies, "Annika still has work to do," as she disconnects.

This seemed a bit shortchanged to me. This was a monumental step on Seven's part, and something she must have been terrified by, having worked so hard for so many years to regain even part of her humanity. Yet she does it. I would have liked at least one scene showing its immediate aftermath (and also to spend a bit more time with Elnor, a terrific character who has really been underused, at least so far). But there is a lot happening in this episode, and the showrunners probably felt they didn't have time for it. Too bad, because it seems very much like a missed opportunity.

On board La Sirena after Picard and Soji arrive, we finally find out more about Captain Rios. He was first officer on board the starship Ibn Majid, nine years ago when they made first contact with two residents of an unknown planet. Their names were Beautiful Flower and Jana, and after they had come aboard and were in the midst of negotiations, his Captain, Alonzo Vandermeer, was abruptly ordered to kill them both by Commodore Oh, in what Rios calls a "black flag" operation (sounds more like blackmail to me, as Oh threatens to destroy the Ibn Majid if Vandermeer does not comply). Oh knew they were synths from Soji's mysterious homeworld (the "how" of that is left unexplained), of course, and apparently so did Vandermeer, which is why he followed the order--Rios says he "thought he could live with it." Rios could not, and when he came down hard on his captain, Vandermeer committed suicide--and Rios covered the whole thing up. Six months later he was out of Starfleet. Naturally Jana was another twin of Soji (these synths are acting more and more like Cylons all the time), so when she beams aboard, Rios about has a heart attack. He agrees to set course for the nearest starbase and retreats to his quarters to get royally drunk.

Raffi catches Picard up on everything that happened while he was on the cube, including her suspicion that Agnes murdered Bruce Maddox. Agnes is still in a coma, but when she wakes up she confesses all. Oh put a psychic block in her mind along with the images of the Admonition during the meld, so she couldn't say anything (apparently accomplishing her task erased that), and she explains that the Admonition's warning amounts to drawing undue attention from....something....when synthetic life crosses a certain threshold, which must be avoided at all costs. (Alison Pill acts the hell out of all these scenes, by the way. When Agnes says, "I think of suicide every day," she makes you believe that it would come as a relief.) Of course, she is put to the test right after this, as she soon meets Soji. The excitement of talking to a synth who eats and drinks, who feels sadness and cries, falls away when in response to Agnes' exclamation, "You are a wonder," Soji replies: "Am I a person?" She says it again and again, not letting Agnes dodge the question. The question is answered, not only for Agnes but for the audience, when she and Soji appear a little later and Agnes announces she will turn herself in when they reach the starbase.

(Although they never quite get there, due to later developments. They also don't rendezvous with the fleet Admiral Clancy sends out to meet them. Athough Picard does get a wonderfully snotty I-told-you-so scene with Clancy, where he is clearly delighting in rubbing her nose in it.)

There's another good performance here from Michelle Hurd, who methodically puts together what happened to Rios by the clever means of talking to all the Rios holos aboard La Sirena. (If you can, turn on closed captioning for these scenes, as the Scottish [of course!] accent the actor affects for the engineering hologram, Ian, is so thick I couldn't understand him. Also, the Hospitality holo is rather pushy and more than a little creepy.) You can easily see why Picard depended so much on her, and I hope she can stay clean going forward.

Finally, there's a wonderful scene between Picard and Soji, where she asks him to tell her about Data. She asks what Data would say about Picard if their positions had been reversed and the Admiral had been the one to die before. Picard responds slowly, saying he was a superior officer and a friend who counseled Data when necessary and if not, "got out of his way," and Soji sums things up thusly: "He [Data] loved you."

After all this everyone gathers round the table and all the revelations are made. When Soji realizes that the Zhat Vash, using the information Narek gleaned from her, mean to destroy her home planet, she storms off. She starts to take over La Sirena, intending to direct it to the nearest Borg transwarp hub in an attempt to get there ahead of the Romulans. This is cut short by Rios' failsafe, a song he sings in Spanish to remove her protective force fields and stop her. But Soji still succeeds, when first Picard urges Rios to try things her way, and then when she simply asks him: "Captain Rios, please take me home. For Jana's sake."

In the face of this, Rios gives in, and La Sirena enters the transwarp hub--and the final shot is of Narek's little ship (and again the question is, "how?" Did Agnes not succeed in removing her tracker after all?) following them in.

This episode was written by Michael Chabon, which I think is why the Elnor/Seven storyline felt rushed, as he was clearly emphasizing all the character-revealing scenes on board La Sirena. I loved those scenes, but I wish Elnor and Seven could have been given a bit more. Although one presumes Seven will be able to detect Picard and Co's passage through the hub, and the reactivated cube will show up for the final battle. I hope so, anyway.

March 15, 2020

Review: Captain America, Vol. 2: Captain of Nothing

Captain America, Vol. 2: Captain of Nothing Captain America, Vol. 2: Captain of Nothing by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been following Ta-Nehisi Coates as a writer for some time--I've read his essays and purchased his novel, The Water Dancer--and I also have the first two volumes of his Black Panther run. The difference between Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet and this volume is considerable. He has found his feet as far as comics writing goes, and this is the best I've yet seen from him.

This volume is pretty introspective, with many of Steve's interior thought bubbles decorating the panels, but given the storyline, these seem necessary. Coates is doing a bit of a deconstruction here, breaking down the character of Steve Rogers and the myth of Captain America, and examining and ultimately severing the links between the two. This story is taking place in the aftermath of the Hydra/Supreme Commander storyline, and this haunts Steve's every move. He ends up turning himself in for the murder of Thaddeus Ross, even though he didn't do it. But his lover, Sharon Carter, is still on the outside (with the shield) and she ends up working with the Daughters of Liberty (one badass group of female superheroes including Misty Knight, Sue Storm, Mockingbird, and Spider-Woman) to break him out of his prison.

This volume ends with Steve still on the run, working with the Daughters of Liberty to clear his name. For the moment at least, there is no "Captain America," as Coates' dialogue makes clear.

Steve: "Hydra broke something in this country. I thought Captain America could set it right. But there's no 'Captain' without an 'America' that believes in him."

Sharon: "Then perhaps what we need right now isn't Captain America. Maybe what we need is Steve Rogers."

This, along with the last page (view spoiler), sets up a very intriguing storyline. I'll definitely want to see how it goes.

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March 13, 2020

Review: Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk Sparrowhawk by Delilah S. Dawson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bah. I did not like this at all. Yes, it is tremendously dark for a comic (as alluded to and explained by the author's afterword). I am not objecting to the darkness in and of itself, however. I am objecting to the storyline where the main character slowly but surely sacrificed every inch of her humanity, step by step, turning into the thing she claimed to be there to resist, to get back to her world. There were a couple of panels where she seemed to realize what was happening, but she would go on and chop some other Fae's head off (including Warren, who tried his best to tell her what she was doing and got his throat slit for his trouble) and double down. Then, of course, when she did return to her world to confront the Unseelie Queen...she did so by pulling her sister Caroline into Faerie, setting her on the same terrible path. One gets the impression this has happened many times before, which is why that unctuous little ass named Crispin is there to greet the new arrivals, both at the beginning and the end of this volume. And thus the wheel keeps turning, splattered by endless gore and blood. I don't know if there are any subsequent volumes of this comic, but I for one will not be reading them.

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March 8, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Ep 7, "Nepenthe"

I had high hopes for this week's episode after last week's excellent "The Impossible Box," but unfortunately those expectations were not entirely met. That's not to say this episode was bad. The characterizations, which is this show's strength, were on target, and the acting was mostly very good. But there were a few plot holes that tripped this episode up, and one plot point in particular had me vexed!--Vexed, I say!--

Why he was met even now
As mad as the vexed sea, singing aloud,
Crowned with rank fumiter and furrow-weeds. (King Lear, Act 4)

--which I will get to. (Yeah, I had to put in something Sir Patrick Stewart would appreciate.)

This episode takes place mostly on the planet Nepenthe, where Picard and Soji fled via the Borg spatial trajector, in what Picard terms an act of desperation. Riker, Troi and their daughter Kestra (a neat callback to TNG, as Kestra was the name of Deanna's deceased older sister) live there. What follows is a series of scenes where both Troi and Riker immediately figure out Picard is in trouble and urge him to stay as long as he needs; Riker speculates about what is going on, quite rightly, even deducing that Soji is an android (via her unconscious tilt of the head which is just like Data's); Soji works through some serious and understandable trust issues, finally coming clean to everyone about what happened on the cube between her and Narek; Kestra and Soji bond; Troi gives Picard a much-deserved dressing-down, reading him the riot act over Soji (by my count, this is the fourth time various characters have ripped Picard new ones. Maybe this time he'll listen?); and as everyone sits around the dinner table brainstorming what to do next, Kestra discovers where Soji's "homeworld" is.

All these scenes are well written and very well acted. For someone who reportedly hasn't acted in about a decade, Jonathan Frakes slips back into Will Riker's skin with admirable ease, holding his own with Sir Patrick Stewart, as does Marina Sirtis. (Although I'm slightly peeved that they still couldn't resist dressing her in a cleavage-displaying blouse.) The pleasant discovery here is Lulu Wilson as Kestra, playing a completely believable pre-teen who is still in mourning for her brother Thad, who has recently died to a rare disease. (There's a nice scene between Troi and Soji where Deanna describes Thad's disease and reveals that he wasn't cured because the cure to this "silicon-based virus" requires a culture in a positronic brain, which couldn't be done due to the ban on synth research. I'm thinking, huh? That's some major technobabbling handwavium. But the emotion from both actors in this scene carries it through.) Kestra's and Soji's interactions are a delight, and Kestra is really the one who gets through to Soji and allows her to begin to trust Picard. This episode takes the time needed for both Picard and Soji to process their changed circumstances and what has happened to them so far and adjust.

This doesn't mean we don't see a fair amount of action, however. The opening scene is a flashback to when Commodore Oh met Agnes and recruited her to infiltrate Picard's mission, and convinces her with a forced mind meld. (Yeah, Agnes says, "Okay, but," but it happens so fast this isn't really consent. This also establishes that Oh is Vulcan, since Romulans can't do mind melds.) Oh projects images of nuclear mushrooms, exploding planets and rampaging synths into Agnes mind--though I'm wondering if these are real or something made up to manipulate her--and Agnes agrees to swallow the tracker Oh gives her and serve as Starfleet's (really the Zhat Vash's) spy. This comes into play in this episode, as back on the La Sirena Rios is trying to break free of the Artifact and head off to the rendezvous at Nepenthe. Narissa lets them free because she is aware of Agnes' tracker, setting Narek up to follow them. Agnes, meanwhile, is being eaten alive by her guilt over Maddox, especially when Rios tells her he suspects Raffi has a Romulan tracker. Agnes almost blurts out that Raffi isn't the betrayer. While Raffi and Rios are trying to shake Narek off their tail, Agnes uses the replicator to generate an injection which will dissolve the tracker (and possibly kill her) and injects it. Our Emergency Medical Hologram, previously missing in action, appears as she slips into a coma. But the tracker is taken out of action and Narek loses them, and they are able to warp away to Nepenthe.

Now, I'm going to provide a spoiler space to discuss the remaining plot thread in the episode. Proceed at your own risk.

(Yeah, that's the Artifact, the dormant Borg cube. Still creepy as heck.)

I talked about "plot holes" earlier, and the biggest one is what seems to be a missing scene on the Artifact. Right at the end of "The Impossible Box," Elnor and Hugh are seen facing down the oncoming Romulans, with Elnor ordering Hugh to get behind him and warning his enemies with what appears to be the traditional Qowat Milat invocation: "Please, my friends, choose to live." But at the beginning of this episode, Narissa has Hugh lined up with his ex-Borg patients with no indication of how everybody got there. Narissa does spout off a line about how they found four dead guards, but where the hell is Elnor? And how did he and Hugh get separated? Elnor doesn't show up until after Narissa has threatened Hugh and killed all his XB's.

After this loss, Hugh is apparently determined to return to the Queen's chamber and reactivate the whole damn Artifact to take it away from the Romulans, which gives Narissa the excuse she is looking for to kill him. Narissa and Elnor begin to fight, but Narissa tricks Elnor into sheathing his sword and fighting without weapons--by returning her huge-ass blaster to its holster--and of course she then pulls out a knife and flicks it into Hugh's throat. Elnor pulls the knife out and throws it back at her, but she beams away and Hugh dies, after telling Elnor an XB is needed to activate the Queen's chamber (which is presumably why we see Seven of Nine again in the previews for next week's episode).

Well, shit. This seems totally unnecessary. Jonathan Del Alco played it well, but I got the sense that Hugh was fridged just to yank Elnor out of his Qowat Milat naivete. Sure, he's trained for years at the monastery on Vashti, but was he ever in a real battle before? One gets the impression not, as otherwise he'd know better than to trust anything coming out of a Tal Shiar/Zhat Vash mouth.

Also, after Hugh dies and Elnor is alone on the Artifact, he is hiding under the catwalk and just happens to find a dangling Fenris Ranger SOS signaller? Really? Maybe this is the same one Seven gave Picard, but if so we should have been shown Picard passing it along.

These things may be niggling compared to the excellence of the scenes on Nepenthe, but they were enough to leave a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I hope we get some justice for Hugh. If anyone can do it, Seven of Nine will.

Review: Shuri, Vol. 1: The Search For Black Panther

Shuri, Vol. 1: The Search For Black Panther Shuri, Vol. 1: The Search For Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With Nnedi Okorafor writing this, I expected it to be a little better than it was, although it turned out okay in the end. Shuri, of course, is one of the best characters in the movie Black Panther, and here she gets her own series. Her brother, King T'Challa, is off lost in space somewhere, and Shuri's attempts to find him....don't go well, shall we say.

There are quite a few crossovers and cameos here, including the X-Men's Storm, Guardians of the Galaxy's Rocket and Groot (the latter of whom Shuri lands in the mind of during her astral projection search for T'Challa), and Iron Man. I like that an attempt is made to differentiate Wakanda from other African countries, and emphasize that they don't always get along, although T'Challa is trying to reach out. Shuri is also given a little character arc of living up to other people's expectations, and whether she should or even wants to take up the mantle of Black Panther in T'Challa's absence. (Which has apparently happened before, leading her to die, be resurrected, and now....carry around spirits of her ancestors with her? Ah, comics.)

Some of the plot points were over the top, especially the space grasshopper who sucks up music and travels through wormholes, leaving black holes in its wake. I realize superhero physics is absurd and implausible physics, but this was a little much even so. Also, the art was not that great, especially the faces. (The cover and variant cover depictions of Shuri were much better than the actual issues.) So this was okay, and I liked some of it, but there's considerable room for improvement.

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March 7, 2020

Review: Blackbird, Vol. 1

Blackbird, Vol. 1 Blackbird, Vol. 1 by Sam Humphries
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I took a chance on this, and I'm glad I did. This is a very good comic with gorgeous art. The story may be a bit familiar--our protagonist is Nina Rodriguez, a messed-up young woman whose mother is dead and whose singular moment in life happened ten years ago during an earthquake when she saw, or thought she saw, a "Great Beast"--but for the most part the art carried me through. This is a hidden wizarding world, an L.A. underbelly of "Paragons" (instead of wizards) and their cabals fighting over territory. Nina, the stubborn, headstrong heroine who does not have any idea what she's doing but plunges ahead anyway, thrusts herself into the middle of this power struggle.

Of course, there's a lot more to this than meets the eye, and along the way Nina discovers the truth (or some of it, anyway) about herself and her family. This is accomplished with the help of her magical cat, Sharpie, her "Sharp Little Man" who talks and has a third eye in his forehead. She also falls in with a member of an opposing cabal, Clint, who is being set up as her love interest. This will presumably come later, as the thrust of this storyline is solving the mystery of her past and confronting the mother who abandoned her, supposedly for her own good.

What is outstanding about this comic is the art. Jen Bartel does an excellent job, with her bright, sharp colors (Nina has dyed blue hair throughout, for example), her well-drawn faces and bodies, and the well-thought-out placement of her characters, panels, word and thought balloons that make the story easy to follow. (There's quite the use of thought balloons in this story, which might seem redundant, but I didn't mind them.) The lettering also uses a readable, not-too-small font, which unfortunately is becoming more and more important for me as time goes on.

This volume, which collects the first six issues, ends on an exciting moment that promises a lot more to come. As soon as I finished this, I went looking for the next volume (or even issue), which I couldn't find a release date for. I hope this comic continues, as it's quickly become one of my favorites.

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Review: Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays

Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays by R. Eric Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never read any of R. Eric Thomas' work before, but this combination memoir/essay collection is both touching and laugh-out-loud funny, usually on the same page. Thomas writes about being a gay black man in America with a sly deadpan wit that makes you laugh and makes you think, and that's a winning combination no matter how you look at it. The final essay, the story of his marriage to his husband David Norse, is emotional and poignant, and "Molly, Urine Danger Girl," the tale of a teenage Eric who believes there's a monster in the enormous white people's mansion where he's babysitting, is hilarious. After reading this, I had to go catch up on his daily column at, "Eric Reads the News." (Shame on you, Elle, for not providing an RSS feed. Fortunately I was able to find an online feed generator and fetch one anyway.) I don't read a lot of nonfiction books, but this one hit the spot. 

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