Review: “They All Say I’ve Met a Ghost”

The protagonist of They All Say I’ve Met a Ghost, a grad student in Ideological and Political Communication, is a staunch materialist who refuses to believe he’s entered an urban fantasy plot. Shen Jianguo has had it with these motherfucking ghosts on this motherfucking mortal plane. The only spectre he acknowledges is haunting Europe, and the real monster is being told you’re simultaneously both under and overqualified for all the job postings you apply for. 

Shen Jianguo offers us exactly the vibe of Iida Tenya from BNHA serving a tour of duty as the protagonist of an urban fantasy danmei, and not realising that’s happening. The joke, for a good chunk of the novel, is that this Scully-ass bitch refuses to take the paranormal hint. It’s the same joke every time, and it’s a good jokeevery time. Shen Jianguo’s well-intentioned, absolutely unembarrassed Hall Monitor energy is consistently as fun as it is lame (and it is terminally lame). Shen Jianguo’s In Defence of Virgins (Of Which, I Am One) speech, “while you were getting laid I studied the blade/Marxism, and I THINK YOU’LL FIND—”, is unparalleled:

“So what if I am?” I was very angry. I hated these kinds of personal attacks. “During school, I was focused on my studies, I wasn’t about to pick a partner at random based on physiological impulses. I wouldn’t play with people’s feelings that way. It would be irresponsible towards myself and others. What’s wrong with being a virgin? Do I have to have gone through hundreds of partners to be a man? Even though I’m a virgin, my spirit is still indomitable, and my conscience is clear.”

Mr. Saw must not have expected that I wouldn’t be humiliated like some self-important guys, but instead would forthrightly defend myself. He was struck dumb by my words and could only stare at me.”

Shen Jianguo. Sweetie. This ghost just tried to chainsaw your legs clean off: I don’t think you owe him this kind of explanation? 

The poor ghost’s introductory intimidation started off badly—basically, “My name is MR SAW!!!” “Huh. Unusual! Are you a member of an ethnic minority?”—and the situation has not greatly improved since: 

“Truthfully, I hoped Mr. Saw wasn’t a chainsaw-wielding maniac who had injured people. He was short and lacked self-confidence. His life was hard to begin with. If he really had committed a crime and had to go to prison, his future would be even more difficult.”

I mentioned BNHA because the book does have an intensely anime-inflected or light novel adjacent energy. It feels like it’s coming from much the same place as Mob Psycho. Desperate jobseeker Shen Jianguo reads a terrible, haunted-ass ‘graphic design is my passion!1’ email (the visual equivalent of Reagan’s psychic website in the aforesaid anime). He then trips and falls into a position as a teacher and social worker, does not understand he’s actually been hired to do exorcisms, but is great at them nonetheless. 

At this point, I understood what kind of students this training institute was tasked with teaching.

It seemed to be people on the edge of society, like Mr. Saw, who suffered from mental illness due to his short stature, or like Li Yuanyuan, who had special hobbies and problems communicating with others.

For these people, the most important thing was to acquire the skills to integrate into society and to receive psychological counseling. Some subjects that appeared on exams weren’t so important.

And it was no wonder that Principal Zhang had said that I could just say anything. She’d probably hired me because she’d liked my ideological and political education credentials and hoped I could help these students establish a correct world view.

To think of the establishment of such a training school, Principal Zhang really must have been a kind-hearted person. While Teacher Liu, patiently teaching these students to communicate with ordinary people, must also be very kind. I had really wronged him before.

When he’d warned me not to meddle in their business, he must have been worried that I didn’t understand the significance of hurting these sensitive people unintentionally.

I grasped Liu Sishun’s hand, brimming with apology and sincerity. I said, “I misunderstood you before. Teacher Liu is a moral teacher who cares for his students, an example that I should learn from. This is my first job. I’m really lucky to meet a teacher like Teacher Liu.”

Liu Sishun trembled and said, “If-if you have something to say, just say it, don’t paw at me.”

He must have been frightened by my earlier public announcement of my sexual orientation. Teacher Liu looked like he was in his 40s. I supposed it would be hard for him to accept that my sexual orientation was different from other people’s. It was a matter of course that he would be afraid of physical contact.

I let go of Teacher Liu, bowed to him, and said in a loud voice, “I apologize for my rude behavior before.”

Teacher Liu trembled again when he heard my operatic intonations.

Labouring under this misapprehension, Shen Jianguo commits to the bit with relentless earnestness. “I spent an afternoon preparing. I consulted an introduction dealing with the psychology of special groups, to make appropriate changes to the curriculum.” I mean, they’re murderous ghosts, so. God bless. 

Apparently, this sort of shit has been going on for a while. Shen Jianguo reminisces about a time in university career where a building was ‘haunted’. His peers did not handle their brush with the beyond with conspicuous grace:

Asked what he saw, my roommate said that he saw a pair of blood red eyes. Then he and his girlfriend held each other and wailed, like a pair mandarin ducks fallen on hard times.

Shen Jianguo was pure gay frustration, FDA certified, at his classmates’ irrational and unscientific conduct, and so went to yell at the not ghost (absolutely a ghost) himself about dorm etiquette. In the course of the novel, Shen Jianguo gets fired from a part time gig for helping unearth evidence that his boss murdered his girlfriend (thus having proved himself too honest, and an inconvenient liability), and then delivers a passionate speech on the necessity of income tax. Like. What a lad.

Either it’s a little opaque to me, or we never actually learn exactly why Shen Jianguo is so filled with yang, and thus amazing at exorcising ghosts? He’s got an auspicious birthday and he’s very upright, but the actual cultivation sect leader he deals with hints that something more is going on him, which we never end up being told. (Is it just his Holy Fool energy?) I wish the balance of the novel had been shifted somewhat to prioritise more long term teaching or mentor relationships between Shen Jianguo and the students of his ghost class. This wouldn’t have been a hard rewrite, and would have fleshed out the project, rendering the texture of it somewhat less procedural. I was, however, rather surprised and impressed that the writer gave Shen Jianguo a decent personal reason to be so insistent ghosts aren’t a thing, and so attached to the quasi-parental role ideology plays in his life.

The book’s love interest, Ning Tiance, is the actual exorcist called in to deal with this school full of ghosts, who Shen Jianguo unwittingly displaced. Ning Tiance has no idea how Shen Jianguo is getting results and is incandescently annoyed both by Shen Jianguo’s skepticism in the face of blatant supernatural activity and Shen Jianguo’s complete, stubborn ignorance of the mortal peril he exposes himself to on the daily. He is, however, eventually won over by Shen Jianguo’s relentless Niceness (and similarly relentless gay thirst). 

Ning Tiance could be slightly better characterised. I know his job and background, but that’s about it. His narration in the extras uses at least two chengyu in a very short space of time (which means he’s probably employing more I didn’t spot, because I only know maybe thirty total, and translation will also shake some chengyu into unfamiliar formulations). This might be a shorthand way for the author to convey that Ning Tiance is quite classically educated, which would fit with what we know of his upbringing. Beyond that, Ning Tiance is overly serious, genuinely nice and hot. I can’t say a lot more about him. 

As I believe Mari said, you wouldn’t read this book for the romance, exactly. It’s cute, but it’s hardly the stuff of acrylic charms and standees. So why was this marketed as danmei rather than as a light adult urban fantasy novel with a gay lead? What marketing considerations and readerships led to that call?

The most entertaining element of the romance plot is without a doubt Shen Jianguo’s enthusiasm to get down. Due to picking up a part-time job temping for his friend with a real job, Xia Jin, who helps manage a mall, Shen Jianguo and Ning Tiance run into one another in a mundane setting after a couple of a confusing mid-exorcism clashes. Unfortunately Shen Jianguo is wearing a promotional mascot bear suit at the time, and Ning Tiance attempts to exorcise this hideous beast. But Shen Jianguo is an active, dauntless protagonist: not even this level of humiliation can slow his mighty and inexorable roll:

 I looked at Ning Tiance with my head to one side. He looked much better in these [modern] clothes. His legs were very long. Why did he have be on the path of feudal superstition?

At first Shen Jianguo characterises his interest as a mission of mercy—an attempt to save a fine specimen from the grip of the Four Olds (and presumably, to substitute his own grip):

I had to guide him to the right path and make him a young man who believed in science and worked for the benefit of the country and society.

When I had sworn this, another strip fell off my clothing. I picked it up awkwardly and blushed in the night with no one to see.

Shen Jianguo starts his missionary effort, as it were, with a will:

“How about we add each other on WeChat, and I’ll send you any information about breaking free of feudal superstition I come across in the future. Of course, if you believe you can persuade me, you can also send me videos about evil spirits and ghosts.”

I’m incandescently mad this works for him. As Mari says, this is MLM as in Moron Loving Moron.

It’s hilarious how thoroughly Shen Jianguo’s friend Xia Jin has his number regarding his thirst for the ghostbuster, and how little he credits Shen Jianguo’s claims that he’s simply trying to convince the man that supernatural creatures aren’t real. ‘And if that involves sacrificing my virginity on the altar of Maoist thought, it is a sacrifice I—’

Xia Jin shops Shen Jianguo to his crush at absolutely the first opportunity going. ‘My home boy wants you to bust his ghosts, if you know what I mean. Now, I may be a heterosexual in an long term relationship, but I hear busting makes you feel good, so you know, consider it!’

Shen Jianguo and Xia Jin’s dynamic is generally fun, and it’s refreshing to see a danmei lead who has good relationships with straight dude friends. One of the book’s more affecting, funny ‘slice of life’ moments arises from their homiehood:

“When I was in university, I’d [had] a crush on a very handsome senior who played basketball. At the time, I wasn’t very physically fit. In order to get close to him, I spent every day on the basketball court. Later, I led my basketball team to defeat the senior’s team. He took some people to help him corner me at the school’s back gate to beat me up, and instead they got beaten up by me. From then on there was an irreconcilable feud between myself and that senior I’d had a crush on. The only time my heart had been moved, that had been the outcome.

After that, Xia Jin drank with me every night for around a month to relieve my wounded feelings. I had been poor even since university, so at that time it was Xia Jin buying 2 yuan a bag Baijiu, which tasted very bad, was very difficult to drink and gave you a headache the next day. I had never forgotten this demonstration of brotherly feeling.”

At one point, Xia Jin gets briefly possessed by a succubus: Shen Jianguo has to free him by wrestling him to the ground and delivering “a fist full of Socialist friendship.” 

Copying out individual lines of this book doesn’t give you a good impression of how funny they are in situ. A lot of the comedy is highly situational, and it’s hard to encapsulate what about the book is so winning without sounding banal. They All Say is so solid, in terms of both quality and a kind of groundedness, and that really works for it.

They All Say I’ve Met a Ghost is, like SVSSS, to a degree about genre fiction as a mode, ideological disillusionment, the millennial job market, purposiveness and class in modern urban China. The appeal of the books’ treatments of these themes resonates outside that particular social positionally, the sympathetic vibrations travelling along the lines of anxieties held in common. To a degree, middle-class millennials face the same problems the world over. Romance is often a fantasy about personal fulfilment and a stable future, in this financial and sexual elements commingle. After the decline of the serial novel romance as a genre remained deeply interested in economics, but via a grammar of fetishised inadmissibility. Here, the protagonist’s unashamed economic anxiety and his ‘bitch better have my money’ pragmatism are frank, funny and not incompatible with his moral focus:

Xiao Ning said solemnly, “As the Sect Leader’s Chief Disciple and the future Sect Leader of the Maoshan Sect, I have always been deeply concerned for the political literacy of the Maoshan Sect’s disciples. Young people these days are too flighty. Sometimes when they see a ghost, they scream even louder than the victims of the haunting. Taking them out really is a little humiliating. We urgently need a political teacher who knows the internal situation, isn’t afraid of ghosts, has excellent theoretical knowledge, and has a postgraduate degree or better, to teach them to arm themselves with thoughts in line with the current of the times, and foster a heart that is just and firm, fearing neither ghosts nor gods.”

Eh? Somehow it seemed that the requirements Xiao Ning had mentioned… fit me perfectly!

“How much is the monthly salary?” I asked immediately.

They All Say is interested in illustrating less middle-class economic anxieties, but perhaps less capable of reconciling them via the mechanics of its narrative structure. It does give time to the mother of a rural girl who came to the city for work and was murdered there, but perhaps misses a trick with the elevator ghost. Essentially, the mall Xia Jin helps manage is haunted by the disgruntled spirit of a construction worker who died building this shiny capitalist temple to a neoliberal New China. 

The three of us left the restroom and walked to the elevator. Ning Tiance stopped us in front of the elevator door. He said with a serious face, “The Yin energy is very dense. Was there an accident during the installation of this elevator?”

“There was,” said Xia Jin, “I started investigating as soon as I got to work today, and indeed I found that when the elevators were being installed in this building, the equipment broke down and a worker fell and died. The family members came to make trouble, but the developers ran out on their debts, leaving the window and orphan without a pension. It’s a sad story.”

“So that’s how it is.” Ning Tiance took out an old wooden disc engraved with symbols. “He became a demon out of concern for his family. His resentment is very strong. It will be hard to deal with.”

The problem this presents illuminates the clash between Shen Jianguo’s political ideology training as to how a communist country ought to work and a reality that logistically can’t accommodate him (either by bearing out his education, in a world haunted by both ‘feudal superstition’ and modern greed, or on anyone’s payroll: what is a communist worker who’s not given the opportunity to work?). Shen Jianguo and Ning Tiance exorcise the ghost, but honestly, the ghost didn’t need banished, he needed restitution. The issue might have been resolved more satisfyingly by their working to obtain a pension for his survivors, and then assuring the ghost that they’d done so. It’d be one thing if the story acknowledged why that route is closed off to them and let this be a source of live tension in the plot, but instead the necromancers employ a quite traditional, dehumanising response. It sits oddly with Shen Jianguo’s gentler treatment of his pupils, which is predicated on seeing their issues as first and foremost human social problems. 

This is very likely down to my limited perspective as much as anything, and what gets translated, but I’ve never heard of any webnovels that are even metaphorically interested in rural China (except as a fantastic xianxia setting), migrant workers or ethnic minorities. The novels I’ve heard of that touch the latter aren’t—offering a Good Touch. So while there’s a certain economic focus to this text and some of its contemporaries, and of course an interest in currently quasi-criminalised urban middle class male homosexuality (almost certainly as a quasi-proxy for female queerness), there are also limits to the problems these books are interested in and the solutions they’re willing to propose.

A lack of mediation from formal publishers has allowed web novels toreach audiences in immediate, intimate, responsive ways; you might struggle to interest a traditional UK or US publishing house in quite this sort of novel. That said, big webnovel publishing sites are vertical integration nightmares. While they offer authors very different working conditions, I don’t want to promote the web novel as it exists now a as read-made, ideal solution to Anglophone publishing’s severe labour and content moderation issues: ideologically-laden western capitalism is often a more effective censor than government intervention could ever dream of being. I do wonder how much urban fantasy gets published in Chinese SFF—it’s not something I’ve heard much about. Does my lack of knowledge represent anything about the shape of their market, though, or only the interests of the translated media circles I run in? 

At times, my lack of subject knowledge regarding Chinese folklore strained my reading. I expect I missed out on a central pleasure of the book by not knowing anything about what types of ghosts these characters were, not clueing into that where the protagonist’s worldview doesn’t allow him to, and not appreciating the authorial cleverness with which the ghosts’ particular threats were unwittingly countered. I was unable to anticipate the form of danger the protagonist was in in a given scene, and I expect the pantomime ‘he’s behind you!’ is an effect the text is structured around. 

This lack of familiarity also led me to more mundane comprehension issues. The ghost Tan Xiaoming, for example, is carrying a damp ‘bed plate’ on his back. Oblique references from other Chinese texts make this seem as though it might be a platform for a mattress, but I’m not sure of that. (Helena says “You sleep directly on the bedplate, maybe with a little cushion — this is basically a poor person’s bed.”) At one point the lead couple discusses ‘invisible yang shoulder lamps’, and mention that turning quickly might extinguish these. At least in this book, logistically negotiating these small flames seems to be a key part of attack and defence in a night hunt. I suspect that if I was more familiar with the genre as a whole, I’d be nodding along. As it was, I never grasped this element. At one point, Ning Tiance also says “you nearly knocked out one of my mortal forms.” What does that mean? (Helena says it’s a reference to the seven parts of the po.) Is he talking about the lamps again? (And how do you even say ‘Tiance’? Is it like ‘Beyonce’, or like ‘affiance’? (Helena says the latter, but not entirely.)) 

The final extra, Spa Day of Evil, made a very sound end point for the story. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a Diana Wynne Jones SFF vibe, Mob Psycho, or School of Rock style inspirational teacher narratives. You can read the book in English here. This site also has a lot of good information about how to find the book in the original Chinese. I’m very grateful for E Danglars work: they’re one of the best fan translators I’ve seen working in the field. (As a quite minor point, the translated pdf is set up in such a way that the text can’t be resized on my ipad at all. The pages, styled like those of a word document rather than those of a book, meant that I had to zoom in and out on every page to read the book. This was somewhat annoying, and I wished the font was bigger. Helena advises me that if you use the DW version of the translation, you can reskin it more easily.)

Stray thoughts:

– Teacher Liu is wearing a ‘Zhongshan’ suit, which apparently is this.

– “He really was a paper tiger, fierce on the outside but weak on the inside. He had just been imposing, but as soon as I struck the wall with my fist he turned cowardly.” Stop accidentally kabedoning ghosts, please sir!

Deep Space 9 Livetweet, S2, Episodes 22-26

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DS9 S2 Ep 22, “The Wire”

– I love learning anything salient about the art of these cultures. The Never Ending Sacrifice sounds like a dynastic webnovel affair, or like the play “A Dream Like A Dream”: 

“Inspired by Buddhis[t] principles, the drama unveils its stories by exploring the recurring cycle of life. The entire play is like a grand journey, starting from the end of life, and observes possibilities for people’s liberation from suffering[.]

The play has many unusual aspects. Consisting of two parts, it lasts about eight hours long, which is a big challenge for both the crew and the audience. It’s also an integration of stories happen[ing] in various places and times, with time ranging from the early Republic of China to modern times, place ranging from Taipei, Paris, Shanghai, Beijing and Normandie.” (https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d514f7859444e31457a6333566d54/share_p.html)

– “We’ll go to my quarters to drink—” Garak finally making his move, eh?

– Odo monitors all Quark’s communications. It’s not legal. Bashir is cool with it, though, because it’s “in the interests of Station Security.” DS9 would let the police state fuck it until it passed out from dehydration. DS9 wants to gag on the police stat’s cock like this is a Taxianjun flashback. 

– Odo: Ah, the Obsidian Order. You’ve got to hand it to them—

You do not, under any circumstances—

– Garak has a BDSM ‘pain2pleasure’ machine in his brain.

Katy: Just say ‘sex implant’. Surely the plot is that Bashir has to bang Garak to generate natural endorphins. (She also did fake sniffling for Bashir when Garak suggested they weren’t friends.)

– At last we’re enjoying some confirmation of Garak’s stupid “is he or is he?!” spy status.

– Katy: This replicator looks like a cat face. Maybe Garak just likes cats. 

Me: His dad has the same model. I guess this was like, a “you love cats, right son?!” birthday present Garak couldn’t bring himself to get rid of.

– Drug withdrawal!Garak is being a bitch.

– We’re doing some very recycled Brechtian/Malaparte World War II trauma monologuing, but it’s more effective than anything has been for hours and hours of programming. “Reptilian Chalk Circle”. Garak is rather effectively gay; Bashir seems a bit bored.

– Garak and Bashir smarm at each other. Garak tells Bashir about his ex boyfriend and how they betrayed each other, blah blah. It is a fucking weird method of hitting on someone. The true complicating factor, however, is that Bashir is a shiny-leafed houseplant. How can you romance a houseplant? He is a peace lily that successfully cultivated a human form: the most unfuckable creature on this station, Morn included.

– Me: Why does Bashir get to use an official runabout to go bother Garak’s dad?

Katy: Sisko’s very tired. He just let him have it.

– Garak’s hateful dad takes a moment to be a cunt. Also Garak never had an ex boyfriend, ‘Elim’ was always himself; I guess Garak’s been keeping company with Miss Rosy Palm for some years.

– Garak says some dumb shit about how his fake backstories are all true, especially the lies! I don’t know exactly what that’s ripped off from, but it’s absolutely from something else. I can taste imported ham on the wind. Mm. Gabagool.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 23, “Crossover”

– Kira deals with Bashir’s inability to shut the fuck up; Bashir is absolutely unendurable this week. If he were suddenly replaced in every scene by Arnold Rimmer, everyone watching and in the show would praise the great improvement in the ambiance.

– What a relief that the Mirrorverse has opened is yawning space yoni, putting an end to this fucking conversation.

– Mirror Kira: I’m gaaaaay! Can you tell by my loopy louche walk? Only a homoseeeeexual walks in this maaaaaanner!! And I have a tinfoil headband!

Katy: Kira’s found someone she dislikes even more than Bashir: the evil gay version of herself.

– What is that evil headband? What in June Hudson’s holy name??

– Evil Odo hates jokes, which is identical to regular Odo. Both are cops. I see little, if any, difference.

– Evil Kira is super fucking smarmy, but she’s fun.

– Kirk headfucked goatee!Spock into being real good, which is hella cute.

– Evil Kira is so, so into Good Kira—fine. The BingGe/BingMei vibe intensifies, and Regular Kira rides the whirlwind (and herself, probably).

– Kira: who the fuck is ‘Kirk’?? Do you know?

Bashir: Uuuuuh yeah, I fucking. Yes.

– Bashir to O’Brien: Actually [in my world] we’re best friends—

Katy: No you’re not.

– Evil Pirate Sisko has chaotic energy. Idk, it works!

– Evil Kira offers us the most characterisation anyone on this show has yet. Why is the best written episode episode so far???

– Ol’ turtle face Odo almost managing a smile, here.

– House of Duras mentioned!! Ayyyy, the girls and their girls.

– ‘You’re not accustomed to this workload are you?!’ No Chodo, he’s fuckin clarified that already.

– Sisko doin’ a ‘bellion with Smiley. How are these two particular parallel universes so fucking linked and close?? This is like Time 3??

– Katy: I think Kira was LEAST happy to discover that some version of her was fucking Sisko.

– Regular Sisko: Where the fuck have you two been?!

Bashir, in greasy rags: 

Kira, in party dress: …well I discovered I’m bisexual?

Sisko: Fucking WHERE, at an avant-garde production of “Rent” in the Delta quadrant??

Bashir, weakly: How we gonna pay…

Dax, clenching fist: Last year’s rent?

– To echo fandom, where the fuck is Mirror Dukat at while Kira sits in his chair? Like, is he a farmer? Are he and Kira finally the Nazi power couple of his dreams? …omfg is he her step dad? Does she call him, Dad? Is that why she’s Like This????

– Katy: I’m watching this whole show so we can get to Trouble with Tribbles II

Me: I’m still on step-dad Dukat making Evil Kira play catch. 

Dukat, Nazily: Are ya winning, son??’

Evil Kira: Papa: I am.

– Back in the proper universe, what if Dukat’s five-year strong campaign to bang Kira just ends in Kira/Ziyal? Like, the Justice this has.

– Also I’m sure, just S U R E there’s shitty Ferengi-produced bondage porn about a certain notable Klingon House called “Under Durass”.

– So in retrospect, Crazy Lesbian Week has been the best episode of the whole series so far. It’s also the only episode so far that’s been even a little camp. Like, they suddenly remember that Camp existed, that they were fucking Star Trek, and that they could thus Access the Golden Camp Register, no problem.

– Another thing is, as Star Trek goes on and becomes more interested in its own fandom, it features more and more Really Insufferable Men. TNG lets Barclay creep in, but in Voyager he’s a big old character. DS9 opens the door to Bashir, who’s Arnold Rimmer but it’s not a joke, to Smarmlord Garak, Dukat: the Fun Nazi!, Odo: Boring Gooman, Quark: Small-Time War Crime, O’Brien: Full-Time Racist, the series of processed string cheeses Kira dates (she also nearly dates the Fun Nazi, and does date Boring Gooman, who’s also going steady with: fascism) and Sisko: Forever Mad. After that, it’s just a parade of wankeries. Tom ‘Fuckboi’ Paris, whatever Nelix has going on, the bitchy EMH, Q Is Straight Now. I didn’t like Early Riker, but that beard changed him. Half this cast needs a beard.

– No one on DS9 has a fucking cat, a la Data. Would not happen. On the gritty! frontier!!, no cats. They have Cardassian space rats, and no cats to catch those. And no one’s been like “hey, I want one of those space rats as a pet,” or “I will make these space rats fight, for money.” Wasted opportunity. 

Surely weird-ass Dax looks at these things and is like, “they’re so cute!!” as everyone around her winces. 

Or Kira’s like, “oh don’t knock ‘em, they’re good eating.” O’Brien whimpering “what do we do about the rats?!” as Kira slides over a selection of pertinent chutneys. 

———

DS9 S2 Ep 24, “The Collaborator”

– Katy: Does q ever come back?

Me: …yes.

Katy: Is it… not good?

Me: No. It is not.

Katy: Surprised he could be bothered. Picard’s not here, what’s the point?

– Kira has great bedroom hair this episode. Vedic Barreil, meanwhile, only has a substandard orb experience.

– Kai Winn is here to smarm her way through yet another horrible conversation with Kira, who fuckin sees her.

– Sometimes I remember how good Odo’s actor was in that one scene in Legend, playing an evil swamp monster. What happened to you, Rene?

– Interesting that this collaborator who wants to live out his twilight years on Bajor didn’t come in a better disguise. Or indeed, in any disguise.

– This bitch is gonna finger—yeah I knew it would be Barreil. Whenever Kai Winn says ‘my child’ you just—hurt your jaw with the clenching.

– Kira’s white top with a cut out neck is excellent. I think she’s always wearing it under the uniform top, but it’s no less good for that.

– We get a decent hint regarding Odo’s thing for Kira, here. If I were physically capable of caring about Fash Gordon, that would be nice.

– To make a big public corruption case, I think Kira should seek official authorisation to get this locked data? It would take time, but this is going to be reviewed and subject to considerable scrutiny, and therefore has to be seen to be aboveboard. I don’t think anyone ever gets data appropriately in DS9. There’s some big ‘fuck the rules!!’ energy about how they approach procedure that feels immature and kind of hostile to Star Trek as such. (And if you say “but you can’t make procedure interesting!”, I will print out “Nirvana in Fire” and smother you with its million pages.)

– I can’t remember this episode at all, but Vedek Barreil will have done some shady shit to cover up for Kai Opaka for the good of Bajor in a tense time.

– Barreil has gotten high on the orb, just licking it 4x a week.

– Barreil apparently didn’t Wars Crime to protect Opaka, but rather some villages. It’s not something that can ever look good, even if it made sense at the time. And now Kai Winn will be in charge. And she’s politically the worst. Cool cool cool.

– Kai FUCKING Winn. ‘Feeling the pagh’ like she’s gonna yank Kira’s ear clean off. Israeli-coded Dolores Umbridge is one of DS9’s best contributions to culture.

– Yeah, Barrel was indeed acting to protect Opaka’s reputation, he was just blowing smoke about the villages. Smelled it on the wind. This episode was very good on a plot level but like. It had the nutrients, but no flavour? It was like a Terry Nation script draft before Chris Boucher got to it. No one on this writing staff can plate a dish. What is wrong with these people?

———

DS9 S2 Ep 25, “Tribunal”

– Treated Katy to my ‘screaming cat’ rendition of the DS9 theme; she loved it.

– This next week brought us an actually-decent character interaction between the team members. O’Brien is fussy about the station: I now know something salient about O’Brien.  Characterisation occurred. This is a stunning development, for DS9.

– Katy: I hope O’Brien has a nice holiday.

The Cardassians: *board the shuttle*

Katy: …so not a great holiday, then.

– The Cardassian interrogators are making O’Brien strip. Katy agrees, because his shirt is terrible. 

– In case you’re wondering, Cardassian prisons, aka Four Lights Hotel, have not gotten more fun since last we saw them. They have not installed better lighting or anything.

– Odo is officially a Cardassian court Nestor, but doesn’t count as a collaborator at any point in the show thus far, because that would be narratively inconvenient, I guess. 

– Really glad we’re going further with shit Garak said about Cardassian trials as a social system, doing more world building for this species.

– Why not coerce Garak into helping you understand Cardassian trials? Probably need to lampshade why they’re not asking.

– Odo decent this week. Actually a strong episode. 

– Katy and I both think this court set up is a lot like the one in the first episode of Blakes 7.

– This episode sets up nice semantic layering regarding this trial as a public viewing experience, and the show trial as a show (and in so doing, generates some meta-commentary on DS9 as visual entertainment).  

– Interesting that the Maquis are slinking in to disclaim ownership of the guy who set O’Brien up.

– Oh my god I love this awful Dickensian lawyer. Great fucking job being the worst.

– Katy is infuriated that the Federation isn’t doing anything about the attempted framing.

– Once again this show doesn’t give a shit about trauma. The last thing I want after torture and near execution is to pretend everything is cool on a spa get away? I want fucking therapy, stat.

– Katy: All kinds of bad stuff has happened to Miles this season!

Me: Is it just that he’s the kind of guy shit happens to?

———

DS9 S2 Ep 26, “The Jem’Hadar”

– The week after O’Brien got kidnapped and tortured on his family vacation, Sisko decides to take a working family vacation. Combination scheduling guys and writer’s room: stagger your episodes, I am begging you.

– Quark is attempting to squirrel his way onto the trip. Sisko is in hell.

Katy: I think he sees the black humour in it.

– Sisko knows Quark is trying to hard sell his billboard scheme.

– Katy hates Sisko’s shirt for being too tight.

– Nog is actually decent at science class.

– “I don’t think I remember you, me and mom ever having more fun together!” 

And now, Quark is your new mom!

– Quark camps like the would-be stepmom in Parent Trap.

Sisko is flirting with Quark. It’s weird.

– Why is this Weyoun being tracked by the Jem Hadar?

Sorry a Vorta, not a Weyoun exactly. Or perhaps she’s just Vorta-looking? Very much so.

– Yeahhhh, bring back the Tulaberry wineeee!

– The Dominion soldiers are mad they’ve only captured a human and a Ferengi, rather than members of a sexier race, like the Klingons.

– Super weird that the Jem Hadar are talking about the Bajorans pejoratively as a Spiritual People? Uuuuuh, your Brand, guys.

The writers’ room has evidently not decided what the Dominion is yet.

– It’s wild that Quark claims the Ferengi didn’t have slavery. Frankly I just don’t believe it? It’s racial capitalism, not racial fapitalism. 

It’s possible that at some point Ferenginar executed economic reforms curtailing slavery to feel up mobile labour, end duties of care, create more economically solvent customers and keep the market flowing. Such reforms would probably be aimed at preserving capitalism as such rather than individual capitalists, and undertaken bc slaves aren’t optimal labourers and consumers. 

Quark’s speech here is highly lauded and oft-quoted, but nonsensical in world-building terms and totally unearned in the moment. It’s like, Peak collective nostalgia re: the intellectual heft of DS9.

– Nog is wearing cute blue green nail polish.

– Dax is fucking some captain. They hate each other, but it’s a sexy hate.

– Everyone’s off rescuing Sisko. Who the fuck is staying to watch the station??

– Bashir and Kira are back in a shuttle together, but he’s not sexually harassing her anymore. That’s Growth.

– The writing team hasn’t yet decided that Nog is gonna be a good engineer, like his dad. Some of these scenes would have been an optimal time to show the beginnings of that (and retrospectively, it feels actively weird in a Watsonian sense that Nog would be completely at sea in this scene at this age).

– The also-imprisoned ‘not Vorta’ extra of the week is surely marked for death.

– This episode makes great use of the production team’s having the models, graphics and sets for the Enterprise. The lensing is tight to prevent clear 1:1 identification of the two bridges. Excellent capitalising on extant materiel.

– The also-imprisoned girl ‘not Vorta’ is a fucking Vorta! I knewwwwwww.

– Are Vorta usually telekinetic? I don’t remember that coming up in the subsequent presentations.

– Interestingly, this girl doesn’t react to Odo at all. Again, probably the writing team hadn’t yet decided on these elements of the world building. Honestly, script your whole show before shooting. If that sounds crazy from a Western tv production perspective, that’s because Western tv production sets itself up for failures like this. You just wouldn’t see this shit with a 50 episode block-shot Asian drama.

– An entire 500 person ship got totalled in this rescue mission! Hot damn. Okay I checked, it was Galaxy Class, which means a crew compliment of 1,000 to 6,000. Fuck? I hope they mostly disembarked while at DS9, leaving only combat-necessary personnel.

– We’ve now survived season 2! Soon the writing staff will return from TNG/the War.

One more season, and then Worf returns to us. Come, Worf! Come, and make Odo look still blander by standing next to you and having roughly the same Brand (but more noir) (and more fash) (and the same backstory angst, but less nuanced honestly and staler for going second and all-around less fun).

Notes on Georgette Heyer’s “Venetia”

– Heyer’s Venetia: your older brother owns a nice farm outside York, but has been off in the army for literal years. This has prevented you from settling key decisions re: your dead dad’s affairs and making any arrangements for your own life; this fucker simply will not text you back.

Two guys want to marry you, and both of them are highly Not It. One is a baby, who likes Byron too much. The other is a well-meaning blowhard who cannot be in the same room as your disabled little brother without patronising him halfway to murder (his own, by said brother). Neither of these guys want Venetia, and she knows it. They want a woman-shaped object to project on or use, and she’s good looking and Around.

– Omg, fuck this dog: 

“in general enacting the rôle of a dog rarely released from his chain, he would dash off, deaf to all remonstrance, and reappear only at intervals, with his tongue hanging out, and an air of having snatched a moment from urgent private affairs to assure himself that all was well with her.”

– Selina Trimmer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Trimmer daughter of Sarah

– “years and years ago Lady Eleanor Butler and her dear friend, Miss Sarah Ponsonby, had done it, but in the teeth of opposition. They had fled to a cottage somewhere in Walesrenouncing the world just as if they had been nuns; and since they were still living there and had never, so far as anyone knew, stirred from their retreat, it was to be inferred that they were content.”

…does Heyer know about lesbians? Does Venetia know about lesbians?

– “the horrid dread of making a great cake of himself”

Who among us?

– “guests were not indulging in vulgar rompings, such as playing Hunt the Squirrel”

My cousin Vene: what the fuck? (I looked it up, see Terms post 1.)

– Here’s a pertinent academic book, “Georgette Heyer, History and Historical Fiction”:

– I don’t need to look up quotes for the most part because I’ve found an annotation guide (https://t.co/zX4RRK6vyH?amp=1), but it’s interesting that the Othello reference requires you to know the whole line to get the joke

– “Oh, yes! your land marches with mine, doesn’t it?”

What a nice way of putting ‘adjoins’.

– This quotation scene is cheap. It’s cheap every time I do it, as well: smug and stupid, a really brutish shortcut to illustrating characters’ erudition and enacting their connection. Very embarrassing to read. Must remember to do it concisely, if I can’t think of anything better

– Omfg, Baby Byron went on one (1) overseas trip to Jamaica and he thinks he’s cool forever. This little gap year-ass bitch.

– “Much more bottom than sense!”

Bring this back into usage, world.

– Local fuckboi’s seduction plan entirely derailed by the chill girl going ‘it’s good that we’re friends now, because I’ve never had a friend before.’

Evil boner: *wilts*

– Fuckboi’s all “I promise not to corrupt your nerd little brother!”

Venetia: I don’t think you could, honestly. He’s a classics major. He’d just be like, ‘you call this an orgy? Nero’s were better. You’re afraid of half the shit I’ve read about, don’t waste my time. I’m having a nap.’

-Oh that’s interesting, we’ve come back around and rediscovered this sense of ‘roasting’: 

“Are you roasting me?”

“I shouldn’t dare! I am begging your pardon for having had the curst presumption to scold you.”

– Venetia vs. the Reply Fellows: “You absurd creature, go home, and try if you can be interested in roots, or cattle, or anything you please as long as it is not me!”

– Omfg, this clown: “The vision thus conjured up of winning Venetia’s admiration was agreeable enough to make him abandon any immediate intention of becoming a misogynist”.

– Damerel surprised to discover he doesn’t want to put his friend/love-interest Venetia in a compromising position (she’s inexperienced, it’s her reputation on the line). This was very obvious to anyone else.

“But I thought I was a pure fuckboi, despite never having actually gotten into it with anyone who wasn’t a professional sex-worker who knew the score!”

Venetia is right to be Unimpressed with his fuckboi credentials

– I’m really on the fence about whether Damerel would quote “Tamburlaine”. Something can be extant in the tradition but not en vogue enough to be staged or legible as a quotation, and Marlowe has a sort of twilight visibility at this point Have I ever even heard of Victorian stagings of it? I don’t think so? The evidence in favour is that he’s a Oxbridge boy, and chamber recitals were a thing.

Aisha draws our attention to this text: https://t.co/5eW1ZHyc7E?amp=1

Me: So if this is generally saying that high art circles managed to make Marlowe more of a Thing by the end of the Regency, what feels slightly off to me is that he’s specifically quoting “Tamburlaine” and expecting anyone to get him. Also it’s 1818 and he’s 38. He’s been out of intelligentsia for a bit, and would have been at Cambridge like, circa 1798. The window feels off.

A: He’s also a tragic nerd, though. But yeah, expecting other people to get it seems particularly unlikely.

Me: Yeah he is, and “Tamburlaine” of all titles? That’s next-level.

A: Consider: ALL Damerel’s speech is literary reference because he’s putting himself out there, trying to find a friend.

– The characters’ dense but narrow referential frame’s an interesting contrast to Chinese historical fiction, where the narration and characters are conversant with much older work. You don’t see this fuckboi hitting Beowulf, but if he were Chinese he’d think nothing of employing contemporary-to-Beowulf Song material, or even quoting the far-older shi jing.

– This point about Scottish Enlightenment work being relatively ‘less serious’ than classics makes sense for the characters, but is interesting because it’s so not how I’d think of it.

– “Besides, your papa liked him!”

“No, no, ma’am, how can you do Papa such an injustice?” protested Venetia. “When you must know he liked no one!”

– A partly annotated guide: https://rmdavi.people.wm.edu/Venetia.html 

– E-texts of the book: https://booksvooks.com/fullbook/venetia-georgette-heyer-classic-heroines-pdf.html?page=3 ; https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.126132/2015.126132.Venetia_djvu.txt

– The book isn’t interested in stressing it, but the childrens’ mom died when Aubrey was about one and Venetia about ten. There was no other meaningful parental care in the house. Effectively, Venetia is Aubrey’s mom.

– Also no one says this but surely Aubrey is selfish because he is: 17. Individual character is part of the issue, but have you ever so much a heard of a seventeen year old boy who wasn’t up himself? Do not tell me if you claim to, I’ve no interest in being brought along on a conversational unicorn safari.

– So older brother ‘did you get my text? Well you DIDN’T text me back—’ sent a new wife he’s picked up in Europe back ahead of him, with 

1. no warning, and 

2. a bonus vexing mother in law, who no sooner claps eyes on Aubrey than she starts in with ‘uwu it’s the poor little crippled brother!!’

Aubrey is immediately like “aaaand that’s me, lol, it’s been real, catch you on the flip—“

– As happens very often in fiction, for the sake of dramatic pace the scale of people’s interactions feels rather unrealistically sped up. I’m not sure Mrs Scorrier would come in so hot on day one when the inhabitants have had no time at all to adjust to she and her daughter’s presence? We’re given a quite immediate conflict that seems reliant on condensing the friction of days or weeks for effect. While some people certainly simply unable to be chill, one often awkwardly manoeuvres one’s way into the serious conflicts of private life without such announced objectives.

– Venetia keeps having estate management issues with the MIL. At every pass, Aubrey’s suggestion is “hmm, we could just kill them? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Who would know? We know the area better. How are they gonna find the bodies, who’s gonna look?”

– Mrs. Scorrier “told me that Charlotte has a horror of deformity, which makes her wish that just now, when she is in a delicate situation, it might have been possible for Aubrey to visit friends. She did not phrase it as plainly as that, and perhaps I have allowed myself to be stupidly apprehensive.”

Omfg???

– “Mr. Hendred was said to be worth every penny of £20,000 a year.”

How does this square with Austen math?

– Venetia: Yeah, my mom has been dead for 15 years.

Everyone around her: Uuuh, yeeeeah…

To be real though, wouldn’t Venetia have needed to perform mourning? Why did where the mom was buried never come up?

– Venetia and her Not Dead mom both are really Cool Girl about the whole ‘men around us lied and said you were/I was dead’ thing. It’s awkwardly distancing—difficult to really enter into the character’s sentiments when she’s not having any.

– It’s especially jarring because famous long 19th century texts like Anna Karenina and The Awakening stage the prospect of abandoning one’s children to achieve self-fulfilment as such issues. Ergo, you’re reading this casual treatementagainst quite an odd background. 

Heyer’s interest is always with the Ton set, etc. This limits characters’ real risks, but perhaps this flatness of affect is also part of how fundamentally Tory Heyer is? No one has big feelings because Heyer has never been able to conceptualise others as actually feeling beings: sentiment, in Heyer, is the province of Uncool Girls (even to the point of experiencing no mental upset whatever upon learning that one’s mother is not dead and that literally everyone you’ve ever trusted lied to you about this, when it materially concerns how people perceive you and your own prospects). I’m not set on this, but I can’t remember a time in any of the 3.5 Heyer’s I’ve read when anyone—any single character—experienced an authentic feeling that was a source of serious narrative concern. In? Romances?? (Possibly this is actively one reason why people dig Heyer’s romances: they’re really not being asked to process much on this axis.)

It’s hard to be that invested in the romantic relationship herein. While the people really like each other, it’s literally been a month. When Venetia is trying to guess how her boyfriend will react to a scandal and whether she can overcome his scruples and engineer a marriage between them, she’s working with so little data. (Danmei would never do me like this.)

Maybe Heyer is like Sayers: they’re both good writers working in genre fiction, but actually not great at the providing the signature narrative satisfactions the genres they’re defining offer. Sayers’ mysteries as such largely suck—you’re there for setting and character. While Heyer can have quite decent character observations, she cares way more about the Regency than the Romance, and is far more attentive to what I’ll call the social novel aspect of her project than to the particularity of given interpersonal relationships.

‘Social novel’ feels an ill-fitting term, really. Heyer’s never going to give you the critique you expect of that genre. And the risk is often so low in Heyer’s work, even compared to Austen. The threat of the Bad Match is never Great Expectations or Dombey and Son BAD bad. Which is not to say that the stakes in a novel ought to be abuse!! et al. My point is more that Heyer chooses, over and again, to make the stakes quite constrained for most of the characters. What does that do?

Also, is it weird to retrospectively say “this is not It, in terms of women writing Romance for women” when the traditions I’m more familiar with derive from 70ish yrs of technological development and are a precipitate of a trajectory that, at least in the West, really includes Heyer?

– I don’t think Heyer is using orgies in exactly the contemporary sense.

– Terrible Aubrey is planning the couple’s honeymoon around his own desire to hang out in Greece and do Greek Shit. Typical.

– Well-structured ending.

– Tell you what though, if a guy tried to literally marry me without telling me that my mom who had been “dead for 15 years” was just in France and he knew her without endeavouring to find why particularly that was even a secret from me, I’d flip my shit??

– At some point in this sort of novel, a Tory Dad comes to tell the heroine she’s Sensible. There’s a lot of Gender afoot, in these affirmations. It does feel good, is the thing, to have this refracted approbation, even as I’m like… fuck this man? It’s a really cringe strategy once you notice it, but it does offer a kind of intellectually disgusting ill-founded consolation, like eating a whole bag of Hersey kisses and becoming quite ill. 

– Are these books fairly hostile to any unfuckable older or unattractive women? When are they not figures of fun?

– The charm of Heyer’s heavy use of slang (almost totally unglossed) is twofold. If you know it or look it up, you’re joining an elite club. The knowledge’s rarity and the terms’ posh associations construct one’s status as an initiate of the Mysteries as exclusive, which has its own appeal. If, like most readers, you’re baffled by the language, that very bafflement lends authority to Heyer’s world building. Also it is, as Laplanche might put it, a transmission of indecipherable encysted authorial Otherness, and in an “On Narcissism” sense we often find work that seems to need us not at all appealing. 

Review: “Every Day the Protagonist Wants to Capture Me”

When you’re reading a book you like in a genre you don’t know well, you never really know whether something is good or inventive considered within its generic context. You only have access to your personal naive reading, which is valid, but simultaneously incomplete. Every Day the Protagonist Wants to Capture Me (a novel that asks nothing whatever of me) is a lot like Scum Villain. It functions as a screaming recommendation for that slightly-earlier book, which hits many (so many) of the same beats but is better-built on every level.

Every Day‘s System is an inconsistent narrative presence. The humour is, comparatively, poor. It’s not very engaged with genre parody or criticism; the book largely reiterates a scrambled version of the OG plot, minus the harem. Its treatment of xianxia is very face-value, and goes a bit like this:

Every Day: ah, an action scene. But first, a run down of the specific core-stage of everyone involved in this fight—wait, where are you going, don’t you love nascent souls?! 

Which sounds like:

Some Guy: *leaning into mic* Hi, we’re Late Stage and the Nascent Souls, welcome to the children’s play area of the Pella, Nebraska Burger King—

The book is fat with good cultivation technology. It’s probably lifted from other books (it certainly feels like it is), but should thus in turn be portable for fic, et al? This, in a way I’ve not seen discussed before, made me consider that MDZS’s reception also hugely benefits from the book’s being most of its Western audience’s first and often only exposure to xianxia. Naive readers take genre tropes at face value, absolutely investing in staples like talismans and demonic cultivation as fresh and meaningful inventions and questions. The lack of (over)familiarity with xianxia changes the naive reader’s relation to a singular example’s stakes. They don’t feel the story’s problems can all easily be resolved with the familiar infrastructure borrowed from other pieces within the same genre. A sense of over-riding generic logic does not render individual plots contingent and tenuous. This isn’t to suggest that the naive readers don’t hugely miss out on the intellectual and phenomenological pleasures of intertextuality, but rather to suggest that there are some discrete benefits to the misconceptions and context-deficits colouring Western impressions of MDZS (which lead to a misleading experience of CQL as having almost ‘invented’ its genre).  

In terms of genre, Chu Yu, the transmigrator protagonist of Every Day, occupies an abusive shixiong of the golden child protagonist whose actions mark him for death. In the absence of the original Chu Yu, a new, replacement pointless canon fodder shixiong-shaped villain (Song Jingyi) hoves into view. There’s no deconstruction of the mechanics of this. Nothing about the actual personality of the original Chu Yu, who our transmigrator replaces, is that relevant. Nominally the plot needs someone with this character’s connection to the Chu family, but you could edit that thread clean out inside a quarter of an hour.

To be honest, the New Chu Yu’s personality isn’t particularly important either. I’d find it hard even to describe him as a person without simply winding up describing his situation as we see it. I know little about both he and the original main character/current love-interest, Xie Xi, As People, in terms of their backgrounds, in-narrative personalities or psychological hangups. Poor Chu Yu bumps his head on the ceramic pillow so many times that the brainmeats within can no longer be right, and the chiefest thing I learned about his original life in modern China is that the Chicken Soup for the Soul series is huge over there, and taking the piss out of it equally so. We get, in the penultimate chapter, an insight into Xie Xi’s abandonment issues, but honestly that could have come very early and then inflected the whole text rather than being reserved, as though character development is some kind of Easter Egg.  

I’m not here to do a big dump on Every Day, the melon seed hulls and/or popcorn husks of which are still stuck between my teeth. You learn neat little details, just via further immersion. ‘You even went “ah.” Is this the start of a lyric poetry session?’  I guess that’s a thing! EDTPWTCM is not even bad, exactly. I flipped pages. But rather than serving as methadone, Every Day ended up being quite ‘look at your man, now back to me’ reading experience. Granted, I’d have been sad if SVSSS didn’t show up well against its background, and might even have felt silly for so esteeming it (though really reception is always a moving target, and I don’t intellectually think I ought to have felt ‘duped’ even if the contrast had turned out to be unfavourable). They tell you to watch novilladas (sloppy apprentice bullfights) to grasp good matador technique, and boy has this meh danmei made me think about how similar and more successful texts generate their impacts. 

For one thing, I’m left mulling over the role of big publicly staged emotional crowd scenes and social surveillance in the danmei. Add that to the way MXTX uses a Greek chorus/Peter Shaffer whisper effect/theatricality, and you have a mediocre paper called, like, ‘Watchtowers and Panopticons: Foucault, Jin Guangyao, Performance and State Control’. Essentially, at one point in Every Day the entire cultivation world descends on the transmigrated protagonist Chu Yu’s house like ‘we heard you had this random former big bad interred in your basement, hoss?’ This is mostly due to rumours of impropriety surrounding the Chu family’s succession, grudges against that powerful clan, and rubber-necks wanting to watch some action, even as the novel commenters do. (A lot more could have been done to play with these layers of aucience, here.)

Let me stress that this plot development, like most of the novel’s thinly-substantiated and thematically-vacuous turns, comes absolutely out of nowhere. This whole big bad feels as though he was invented ten minutes before the time of posting, exclusively for this scene and for another fucking thing to occur. This development will hopefully distract you from the three previous dropped plot threads that the writer’s gotten bored with. 

That’s how this book works. Things happen, and (startlingly few) people have names, but for the most part I wouldn’t call these a plot or characters. At the novel’s big Crisis (significantly before the actual ending), the writer tried to do a sweeping thing with the scattered bits of earlier elements and a big Sacrifice. It is pretty good that killing off the Chus was actually what fucked the original novel’s plot over. I kind of respect it? There Was An Attempt (and I want to know more about Abysses in xianxia now). The writer seems to improve over the course of the novel. But the fact remains that you can’t make dinner with some piddling carrot sticks, even if you’ve saved up five of them. And why is she plating up the Five Carrot Sticks of Narrative Engagement and Satisfaction here at the bitter end? I’m pleased she has some, but why weren’t they doled out throughout the novel? I was hungry?

With the romantic or the plot conflicts largely wrapped up (such as they are: the less said about why they were at war with the demonic cultivators, the better), the novel’s actual ending leaves one with a feeling of, ‘oh.’ The writer improves at setting up romantic scenarios, but never at character or the interplay thereof: who are these people, why are they in love? The extras allow us to ride along with the original Chu Yu for some important prequel plot moments, and to enter into his feelings. This simple frame and the access it affords us to OG Chu Yu’s investment in this world rapidly renders him more interesting than the main cast. This novel is worse for being transmigration; the extras, with PoVs from characters for whom this is the only universe, work better than the core text. Only in these extras does the writer approach the level of characterisation we should have had from the beginning. This is by no means endemic to transmigration as a genre, though it’s always a risk thereof: it’s about the narrative’s lack of embodied investment in New Chu Yu’s perspective. Throughout this book, why didn’t we have any sense of the shape of the novel as Fishstick knew it and the standing issues this raised for his efforts to survive in his new role? 

At one point we didn’t know why Chu Yu’s xianxia father was behaving oddly. We only knew that in some complex way, it involved his Evil Twin (I know). I started to think that it could really enliven the plot if whatever was happening with the twins was actually the Chu family’s own fault: if, via cultivation technology, they’d somehow split their son into two people (a good heir and a disposable wastrel) and it had not worked out. Then perhaps Chu Yu’s embodied memories, which he seemed to carry due to the body he transmigrated into, could actually the result of a similar split and subsequent banishment to ‘another world’. All Chu Yu’s glib knowledge from being a transmigrator would thus actually be incorrect, and his easy detachment shaken, because unbeknownst to him, he would actually have been This Chu Yu all alone, or at least a form or version of him. His ‘transmigration’ would thus have been the same traumatic ‘rejoining’ process it seemed his dad was enduring in these chapters. That, of course, wasn’t where the plot was going, and I knew it even then. I was just hungry for some development to spike the complacency of this engagement with genre, and/or to force all the character relationships into something more brittle, something capable of carrying more investment.

The book’s psychological realism is wonky throughout. Nothing about the original Chu Yu’s mother’s death is given due breathing room, and it’s an instance wherein the sheer idiocy of the yandere gong drove me a bit nuts. There they were, in a life or death situation. The woman Xie Xi believed to be his lover’s mother had just died. And nevertheless, Xie Xi was whinging about why they weren’t seizing that moment to fuck. Hold it together, kid, sheesh! Though I could almost understand his frustration, given that a book this long and romance-centric chooses to repeatedly fade to black. Really? 

This evident self-censorship (which must be encouraged by generic expectations or production conditions) just leads to weirder presentations of sublimated sexuality. Two chapters were given over entirely to the author or the audience’s (presumed) Thumbelina kink. Third Shidi is impressed that his boyfriend, who he hates and who’s just made him mouse-sized, brought him a luxurious box. Bro, he kidnapped you and made you mouse-sized? The well-constructedness of the prison box is not the fucking issue, here? It was especially wild because the book finally had to grudgingly assign a real name to Third Shidi, who for 1,400 pages was just ‘dude three’. There was a real air of ‘sigh, I guess we can’t wrap this up without fucking naming this one too, euuuugh.’

The three martial brothers’ Elder Gay shizun, Lu Qingan, was a good addition. I do like that he evidently just plucked the gays out of the disciple masses. ‘Guess I have to train these ones up and make real queers out of this sad raw material.’ Quite early on, we heard rumours that some of the demonic cultivators were hella gay. Admittedly, I did not expect these rumours to come back in the form of ‘and one of them was our Master’s ex boyfriend’. Is the book doing a Tesco’s Own brand Wangxian with Lu Qingan and his special friend, or are they just roughly similar Types? The timing isn’t wrong for it to be the former, especially if the whole novel is slightly ‘I heard SVSSS sold decently’, but I can’t really make an educated guess, here. I wish I knew more about what might be attributable to shared influences from previous and extant tropes versus what could be down to successful texts hitting the market and shaping trends. I don’t want to over-attribute causality, but neither do I think that, for example, YA wasn’t shaped by Hunger Games’ reception in the years directly following its publication. 

YA is an interesting frame to consider xianxia via, given the Bildungsroman elements of many of these texts. To what extent does xianxia cross over with school stories, not just in terms of settings, but in terms of the texts’ energy and concerns? Yet xianxia also has a lot of room to centre older protagonists and their problems (which are, admittedly, of greater interest to me). In a strange Venn diagram intersection of these approaches, every xianxia training years montage is weirdly reminiscent of a a bad graduate school experience (so just ‘grad school’, then). A promising student gets Accepted by somebody prestigious, which just means they’re stuck on top of a mountain while this illusive, unreadable master zooms off god knows where. The student is left to meditate with only a shitty manual to guide them, or to fall off a cliff or qi-deviate from stress. Appealing to upper management is largely impossible or useless. Some harried older abuse victims/Senior Disciples/adjuncts are vaguely around. They might beat you up for no reason, but they’re probably just Tired and leave you to perish each alone. I hypothesise that grad students are into xianxia because we’ve all seen the Time Knife. ‘Ah yes, the Conference, where you go to be stabbed by a peer from the posher institution due to embedded classism. Of course, carry on.’

“Wait, if they can’t all become Peak Lords, what’s everybody’s job after this? Where does money come from in this universe?”

*crickets*

One of the problems of the novel’s conclusion is that Chu Yu’s older brother’s position as Clan Hair has made him feel he can’t go be gay like his baby brother, because people will say he sucks and stuff. But they have cadet branch cousins who can inherit, and the last time people came to their house to say Chu Sheng sucked and stuff, they accidentally awoke Satan, so why care about their takes? Surely, surely when you get used as a patsy in a Rez Satan plot, tons of people die because of your Oopsie, and the very family you were bitching about has to fix the problem you just created themselves: s u r e l y your shitposting rights have fallen in battle and no1cur, forever. 

Then, finally, it occurs to someone that their parents and grandparents will live for centuries and centuries. Thus they can possibly solve the gay no heirs issue via additional babymaking higher up the supply chain. Why do all these cultivator couples go, ‘woah there buddy, two kids is enough for me!’ Even if cultivational birth control methods are off the chain, these people are stupid rich. Why do they not try having, I don’t know, four kids? They can absolutely support them! It’s been 1000 years and evidently these people only had birthday sex wherein they got a little crazy and forgot about their traditional Chinese medicine birth control on two of them? Really? Really, though. Also, the kids are always five years apart or something. There’s never a case wherein someone cannot stand the little sister their parents had 260 years after them, with her fucking Han dynasty memes. She keeps trying to send her elders information on paper; what, is she too good for turtle shells now? Yesterday they caught her cultivating with hot weaponry, can she get disowned for that? Asking for a me (signed, jiejie).

Near the end of the book, there’s an English translation of a Chinese translation of a Japanese phrase that I’d render in English as ‘doth protest too much’. If the last round of translators know that English idiom, they’ve chose to avoid it because Shakespeare is too culturally located. But honestly, in such a case, maybe skip to the localisation? If you’re going to get into the origin and texture of the OG loan phrase, ok, sure. But if you’re rendering the English in awkward mush just to avoid Shakespeare, you’re not getting a good enough deal in trade. 

I found these end notes consistently interesting. One for chapter 27 suggests that the same character can be translated as either ‘demonic’ or ‘charming’. (Someone on twitter suggested it was https://t.co/mRXFZfe6l4?amp=1 ‘a beautiful, enchanting ghost or demon’.) Oddly sometimes translators will mention that they use Grammarly, which I think of as almost a kind of scam because of how crap it is at language processing if compared to any half decent editor. I guess if you’re not comfortable with the target language, you might find it useful. Perhaps these translators are pointing out that they don’t have an editor either to manage expectations or to solicit one. Strange, that beta systems and connections haven’t cohered to correct such lacuna? Perhaps it happens because of the quasi fannish, quasi paid work nature of the set-up. If you’re editing for someone who has a tip jar out, and doing so for free, does that make you a patsy? Could you get a collaborative arrangement going? How does BC novels work, in re this? And what all happened to cause someone to translate into a language they’re not comfortable with? I guess I don’t want anyone’s life story or even a deep dive into the social dynamics that have resulted in fan translation variability, because I don’t want to get too distracted by this mechanics question. There’s a lot to think about just in terms of texts, and that’s my primary focus at present; there’s not much percentage in starting to worry about this part of sausage making.

Ultimately I read well-nigh 1,500 pages of this book, a full Gormenghast unit, only to give it two stars. It was valuable, but also the sheer extent to which I played myself here is incredible. However: piece on the Victorian serial novel and Asian web novel publishing when? One thing I’ve been thinking about in terms of serialisation is that I don’t necessarily get the sense that particular single chapters, or even books (in, for example, Langya List with its five or so), are supposed to function as discrete artistic units. So am I supposed to be engaging with the web novel as a traditional novel, as something more like a television show (where the narrative units are episodes and/or seasons), or via the experiential flow of the weekly chapters (also rather like television, but considered differently)? Where is my gaze supposed to rest? 

***

My favourite translator’s note sparked some SVSSS jokes:

‘The poet Pan Yue 潘岳 was said to be so handsome that whenever he went out, the number of admirers surrounding him was so large that many people were unable to approach him. Therefore, they would throw fruits into his carriage as a token of their admiration and when he got back home his carriage would be full of fruit. What I’m saying is that some people in ancient people in China would go completely bonkers whenever they saw someone extraordinarily good-looking.’ 

Mari: Imagine you’re so hot that someone just chucks an apple at your head, and that’s how you die.

Me: We have failed to ask the right questions as to how food killed Shen Yuan. …oh no, what if he’s been obliviously leading on guy number 159, and then pulls an ‘As A Straight Man’? In bewildered fury, the self-actualised gay throws a rotting apple at his head and it kills him. The self-actualised gay is horror-struck.

Priest at the funeral: It’s not your fault—we all wanted to do that, sometimes. I myself grew up with Yuan ge, and once on a school trip I pelted him with seashells for a quarter of an hour for attempting to claim he was ‘a boobs man, probably?’ after holding my hand for the whole day—*cough* but that was before I took orders. I was a different man, then. Anyway! 

Mari: Luo Binghe is the first man who served Shen Yuan food instead of angrily throwing it at his face in frustration

Me: The sheer number of people who honestly believed they were dating Shen Yuan—

Mari: You can’t even call him a fuckboy with a straight face and yet his technique! is perfect!

Me: The No Fuck Boy. The rotten apple was only in this guy’s hand because they were out apple picking. Surely that’s a date? Come on— 

Deep Space 9 Livetweet, S2, Episodes 16-21

DS9 S2 Ep 16, “Shadowplay”

– Kira says she despises Quark, and lists some good reasons. It’d be nice if that attitude was palpable during her interactions with him in previous episodes. As it stands, this feels inconsistent with her slightly-amused tolerance. 

– Katy wants it on record that Sisko’s pyjamas are good.

– Katy: I love the Star Trek a-plot, b-plot format. It’s so comfortingly the same, every time.

– Sisko: Vedek Bareil is visiting—

Kira: And I’m out, booty calls!

– Katy: Kira’s gotten a bit awkward, now that the sacred orb told her she was destined to fuck this guy. She can’t even look him in the face any more.

– This script is actually very good. Vedek Bareil still can’t make facial expressions, but the lines he’s failing to emote along with are much better!

– Bareil thought he was gonna get laid, but is thwarted when Kira realises this was all Quark’s long-game plot to distract her with bussy. She then gived Quark a thousand middle fingers, throws his sticky-fingered cousin in jail and runs off to fuck her boyfriend. A Victory for Uppish. 

– The prophets somehow neglected to depict Quark’s vital role in getting Kira and Vedek Bareil together. Curious.

– Meanwhile in the A Plot, everybody in a town Odo and Dax visit is a holographic projection created by an elderly, now- dying man. There’s some heavily isekai bullshit wherein the holograms all decide they don’t care who created them, because it’s their shared lived reality that matters. (If the programs have run for years, they may well be sentient? Like they are pushing up against new forms of life, here.)

– Odo becomes a spinning top for a little (holo)girl, and it’s successfully cute. That’s right, for once Odo is not a leaden burden on the narrative. Cherish this precious moment, Odo fans. 

———

DS9 S2 Ep 17, “Playing God”

– We’re told that Dax is, historically, a scary Trill symbiote-candidate assassin. (A la Reviewer 2, rather than ‘a murderer’.) To be honest, it’d have worked for me if she was still terrifying in this aspect of her life/work.

– The Cardassian vole is the worst thing I’ve ever seen, so good job, prop guy.

– Every time we go to the Klingon restaurant run by this opera-loving proprietor, it is pretty good. That guy is all right by me.

– Why does this little nerd wanna be a joined Trill? His dad I guess, but he doesn’t want to be here, so.

– ‘You got the station: you’ve got the voles! You could always withdraw—’ Random bitchy Cardassian, you are my favourite.

– This week’s ‘proto-universe!!’ technobabble is w i l d. They’re saying it very seriously, but it’s pretty ?? I think this could have worked better if they’d trusted the audience to hook into the scifi a bit more and played out the explanation, letting it have more narrative focus.

– Quark, a life-ruiner, is here with some ‘life sucks, and then you die!’ advice that comforts no one. This Trill child should have consulted the voles.

– You get the vague suspicion that Trill candidates are raised in a quasi-monastic setting, focused on clean living and high academic achievement. A few sentences to confirm and clarify this would have contextualised Jadzia’s job-shadow kid, and given a shape to his prissiness. (It’s weird that she calls him arrogant early on, when he’s not really done anything yet.) In general it might have worked to retain him for several episodes, giving him a growth arc and Jadzia a relationship with him that meant something.

– I do like that this frustrated child calls Jadzia a ho and stuff!!, and she just doesn’t give a single shit. Nothing a kid could say is going to touch this centuries-old life form’s self-esteem .

———

DS9 S2 Ep 18, “Profit and Loss”

– We’re doing Casablanca this week. Quark’s ex girlfriend has an AMAZING dress and excellent hair, she looks great. She’s a fun character, conceptually.

– An anti-militarist Cardassian student rebel White Rose league is a rich idea.

– Garak: *rips clothing to make a point*

Me: why would he do that, now he has to repair it—

Katy: Sometimes I get the feeling that Garak does not care about his tailoring business.

– You can’t do these one-off, weighty, big romance plots for the same character and never have those relationships have any lingering consequences. The ‘stacking’ effect cheapens every iteration. Eighties BBC scifi (and, arguably, some earlier Star Trek) got around this by just being very light on romance. In part, this was a structural choice motivated by an impetus to avoid this sort of ‘stakes’ conflict. There’s also something to be said about how DS9 finds ‘gross’ Quark’s sexuality inherently surprising and funny, again and again. By Time Three or whatever, is it really much of a surprise?

– Quark’s girlfriend accidentally shoots him and then freaks out about it.

– While I like the idea of her fine, Quark’s Girlfriend does suffer a bit from hetero writing disease. Their whole romance seems to consist of Quark saying ‘remember that time we did stereotypical romantic activities?’ Homie, that’s not a compelling character interaction, that’s a Hallmark card. What are you doing?

– Space Nie Huaisang dobs the White Rose League in, suggests a prisoner exchange for Bajoran nationals (which is accepted) and is then stuck getting asked to paint the roses red instead. Gul Fuckwidget is obviously going to take the credit for this assassination if it works, so Garak would be a patsy to agree. Evidently, this week Garak is a huge patsy, entertaining this phenomenally dumb idea. 

– Garak enjoys a line stolen pretty directly from Avon, along the lines of ‘that alone makes it all worth it’. (Gambit’s version was “yes, well, that makes it all worthwhile.”) I wish that when people tried to rewrite Avon, they understood why that was good writing and how it worked. Instead you get this shit: the plotting equivalent of someone standing next to a painting of a car going ‘vroom vroom’.

– The Star Fleet and Friends cast is very down on the Bajoran provisional government’s commitment to a prisoner exchange: these people we’ve seen, who will suffer if given over to Cardassian custody, are more important that the people we haven’t seen, who are suffering! Granted, giving innocent prisoners over to the Cardassians isn’t cool, but it is a decent enough bet for the Bajoran government, whose primary responsibility is (and this is fair enough!) liberating their nationals from a racist regime that routinely employs torture. Perhaps, in the long term, it would be in Bajor’s best interests to prioritise fostering anti-militarism on Cardassia. But why should Bajor put its money on this movement? Cardassia’s internal affairs are not their business; Bajor’s citizens are being held. Whatever they did (and it was probably political crimes, given the primary vector of contact between these civilisations), the Cardassians aren’t exactly Geneva Convention-compliant jailers.

– Odo’s interference may mean some possibly equally innocent Bajorans remain in custody. He disobeyed a political consensus reached by duly elected officials. Will there be consequences for that?

– Odo is DS9’s answer to Spock and Data; what does that mean for DS9? What does he do for plots?

– A thing that frustrates me about this show’s writing is that I never quite feel comfortable engaging with plot and character problems from a position of knowledge. The genre and logic of this universe aren’t very internally consistent: I’m never sure whether anything out of shot is real. I thought Gul Stealyourcredit would fuck Garak over; he did. But that might just as easily not have been how this universe worked this week. In episode one of this season, we had to believe that, post-occupation, both Bajor and the Federation had established nothing like a protocol for prison camp recovery. More than that, they seemed never to have experienced it before. Do institutions and previous experiences exist in this universe, or don’t they?

This episode, Odo fucks over a prisoner exchange. Will he be fired for that? He won’t, because in this moment we’re in a heroic space opera. However, Bajor made a legitimate political decision Odo disagreed with. This is Bejor’s station. How will Odo’s actions affect future prisoner exchanges? Will Cardassian willingness to carry them out dry up? This show is super willing to say ‘politics’, and to use it as set dressing. It seems less willing to believe in politics as a real thing that exists, with attendant institutional apparatuses and consequences. The terms of the show’s political technobabble are irritating because you can’t co-think with characters, weighing the stakes and choices. The world works exactly as it needs to in order to make the episode work, so engaging with them is ephemeral and unsatisfying. It strongly reminds me of Richard Sennett’s point in The Craftsman regarding the value of material resistance.

Relatedly, I feel like DS9 isn’t consistently presenting or interrogating Odo’s relationship with or fixation on justice. Justice is and isn’t law, and conflicting systems of law are in play. This is especially awkward given that this show is in large part about a just-ended and entirely legal pseudo-Nazi occupation. A friend on Twitter suggested that Odo’s commitment was not to law or justice, but to “bureaucracy. Regulation as engine of actions.” This seems a plausible reading, and Odo’s characterisation, if that’s the case, could be both intriguing and psychologically tenable (if not necessarily sympathetic). But such a characterisation would have to be both consistent and afforded space for development. These seasons are so long and still, nothing about the characters or the world is given adequate time to develop?

The same person (@HooklandGuide) called the show’s handling of Odo tepid. “So often he is reduced to deus ex machina or straight man. There is a failure to make him a lens for the big questions, for the show’s values. Such a missed opportunity. DS9 is a collection of outsider perspectives (Sisko as Federation, but outsider as a mystic; O’Brien as ranks not officer; Kira as Bajoran working with Federation; Garak as exile etc.) and yet the one who should be the Spock/Data level outsider is almost entirely lost.”

———

DS9 S2 Ep 19, “Blood Oath”

– This Musketeer is drunk as fuck. This other Klingon is painstakingly slicing a kugel. Together, these three ancient Klingons and Dax will hunt an albino (an albino what??) who wronged them.

– Quark says a battle happened a hundred years ago, and then Odo calls it ancient. Even if it’s a casual usage, homie, aren’t there several Federation species for whom that length of time is easily inside an average lifespan, like Vulcans? That’s got to alter your cultural concept of time.

– The gifs are right, Klingons are cool with transition. 

– Awkwardly, out of nowhere, Dax asks Kira how many bitches she killed as a resistance soldier. 

Kira: Uuuuuuh, homie?

– I think Dax called the guy they’re after a depredator. Odd choice. 

– Weirdly, Kira is not huge on revenge. I sort of felt like she would be down with this.

– The bat’leth remains a really cool weapon.

– The Klingons all low-key want to die in battle. They’re not keen on Dax coming, now that they realise she’s transitioned and has an entire life before her (are Trill supposed to undertake active combat, given that doing so might kill their multi-lived hosts?).

– Sisko reviewing Dax’s leave request like ’uuuuuh I see you’ve taken a Leave of Absence to… kill people?’

– Katy: It’s very obliging of this Depredator to just stand here and get killed.

Me: I think the back way out of the building has been cut off?

– Nice architecture this week on the besieged building.

– These characters are so inconsistent in their attitude towards murder. They take it extremely seriously, in this kind of cartoony way that isn’t really cognisant of the entire scope of death they regularly participate in. Many Star Fleet officers fairly often kill in the line of duty. Kira has also been an active terrorist. The man they’re after this week poisoned and killed three children, and has gone on to commit further lethal crime for decades: it’s death sentence material if anything is. The show’s creators glibly construct boundaries for viewers between legitimate, state-authorised violence staged onscreen and the possibility of illegitimate violence, which even Kira’s terrorism is constructed as. That’s wild given that Kira’s violence is blatantly self-defence in the face of genocide, and this Klingon affair is in accord with the recognised law of another major culture in the region.  Thus to the extent possible outside of Federation norms, both forms of violence are even state-authorised. 

———

DS9 S2 Ep 20, “The Maquis, Part I”

-Yep, it’s time for this whole plotline to be a thing.

– A persistent prop shortage that also crops up in the TNG films (less coherently: they’re all on the Enterprise) is here being passed off as a Fleet versus Station uniform difference, which I’m down with.

– Sisko and his mentor talk shit about whether Sisko is fucking Jadzia before discussing how they’ve both been recently widowed. Weird.

– Sisko’s mentor is really well-characterised. I love how their first conversation plays out, opening up disagreements within Star Fleet as to how this treaty works in the world and laying out a distrust of the Cardassians that’s more institutionally-located than O’Brien’s lingering racism.

– This Vulcan terrorist has a great dress.

– Dukat: omg, why are you mad I’m in your house?! 😦 I can’t believe you distrust meeeee, your friendly local Nazi pal!!

– Apparently Jake and Nog are ‘watching the women coming off the Bajoran transport vessel’.

1. Bleeeeugh.

2. Yeah an activity Dukat can absolutely vibe with, sure.

– Katy: Field trip with Dukat!! I bet Sisko fucking hates his job right now.

– Dukat says Sisko is joyless, which is fair because Dukat always seems to be Loving Life.

– Quark attempts to fuck this Vulcan five seconds after he Casablanca’d that Cardassian lady and ten minutes after he had a big Thing with a Ferengi girl in dead. Love affairs don’t stack.

– Dukat super cross that he tried to call the Cardassian ship involved in the fracas and no one listened to how important he was? Him! Dukat! The protagonist of reality!

– This discussion of the Cardassians’ hostile policing and how disposable Federation Central Command thinks settlers are is staged between two black men, and feels loaded with histories of racist American policing and government neglect or outright hostility. The Federation is nominally post-racial, but the Maquis are so heavily Native American. If they were white, would the Federation have cared more?

– A colleague reads the Maquis, in light of Bajor’s position as a post-war Israel analogue, less as Native Americans and more as intrusive and then recalcitrant colonists, a la West Bank settlers. In terms of the show’s vocabulary I see her point, but the planets the Maquis settled were Federation. or unclaimed, and uninhabited. The existence of a Virgin Planet is itself an imperial fantasy, but as it stands, the Maquis settled and worked uninhabited land, then the Cardassians came. I think this destabilises readings of the Maquis as actively colonial in a ‘West Bank settlement’ sense. I don’t think we can ignore the Native American semiotic layer, even if it doesn’t feel entirely cogent: it’s clearly a major part of what Star Trek wants to work with here. It is, however, consistently a problem that we don’t really know what about Earth makes people want to go colonise other planets, beyond some vague ‘spirit of Adventure’. Is everyone entitled to live on Earth? Is scarcity being resolved via colonisation? 

– Kira is back on the terrorism chain gang this week. This is wild given that just last week, Kira was uncharacteristically gunshy. Again—an over-arching script editor might have been useful in smoothing over these contradictions, if the team lacked fine control over episode airing order.

– Dukat gets kidnapped by some civilians: embarrassing. Honestly, Sisko&co could let him get killed? No one has ever deserved a revenge killing more that Dukat: Lizard Mussolini. Snakey McChuckles is fair game.

– Odo comes over high-key fash about station security. Fuck? off??

– Ben’s mentor was clearly sympathetic to the Maquis, and now it’s official. (They say several things that make them seem like they’re supposed to be peers actually, but this guy looks and feels considerably older than Sisko.)

———

DS9 S2 Ep 21, “The Maquis, Part II”

-A random member of the Maquis holds Kira at gunpoint. She probably wishes Bashir weren’t here so she could give this newbie some tips.

– Dukat, guilty of both warcrimes and phwoarcrimes, is probably going to get a little tortured around the edges. Am I supposed to feel sorry for this guy? I don’t. 

– The five pounds dripping wet blonde admiral from TNG who fucking hates Picard and vibes with Lwaxana is here to tell Sisko to get his shit together. Having her and her terrible attitude crop up in both shows feels nice from a world building PoV.

– Kira comes in to drop off a Space File and Sisko yells at her about the DMZ. Kira looks thrilled at the prospect they’re gonna bond by doing a terrorism.

– Quark hooked this Vulcan girl up with a ton of weapons. It’s not cute anymore? Quark should get like–thrown in jail and/or off the station for all his many, MANY crimes? Like, does nothing mean anything in this show?

– Odo wants to join the urgent Rescue Gul Dukat mission. Here for a gooed time, not a long time.

– Central Command of course is gonna Central Command. They throw Dukat under the bus, claiming he was supplying the weapons. Dukat is obviously politically expendable in the eyes of Prime.

Dukat: Can’t believe I’ve been kidnapped and I’m the fall guy. What a week, huh?

Sisko: Dukat. It’s Wednesday.

– The Vulcan girl tries combat telepathy. That seems really invasive, for a Vulcan? Maybe culture’s changed since TOS. I say that, but the actual answer is that the show has grown very casual about Vulcan abilities and weaponising them over the years. The mystification has evaporated, leaving a Racial Skill Set.

– Dukat’s boss: DS9 has lost its charm–

Like, since they turned off the occupation-era ambient smoke machines, or?

– Dukat tries hard to escalate the fight between the Maquis and him and then the three-way conflict between him, the Maquis and the Federation and get people killed in that cave; he’s war-hornee. I’d suggest a political motive (wanting to spark a conflagration), but ultimately the episode doesn’t commit to this and so it’s just ambient weird writing. 

– Dukat gets invited to DS9’s staff meeting. It is awkward. As a viewer, this is kind of funny, but in-show, Dukat is persona non grata with the Cardassians, of limited utility to the Federation, and anathema to them. Why is he their freelance consultant? Can they condone and bear responsibility for his methods and actions? Because they’re inviting that, without even trying to resolve it without him. Relatedly, Sisko lets Dukat take the lead on a couple command decisions in a way I don’t think is a good idea in script terms? I wonder if it’s supposed to say anything about Sisko’s character arc. I don’t know that it is, if so. This willingness to fuck with Dukat weakens Sisko and the Federation, and the way it does so doesn’t quite make sense. It’s not offering a challenging alternate perspective, it’s the Federation’s having an early-stages crisis business meeting and they’ve invited a member of the local mob to sit in.

– Katy and I disagree about whether Quark’s speech made a lot of sense.

– The plotting is decent on these episodes, but the dialogue scripting is still sitting, painfully, at the Terry Nation level. ‘You have a shrewdness that sometimes surprises me!!’ type shit.

– Earlier on we had a whole conversation to establish that Dukat knows where the runabout’s button to fire on another ship is. There’s a final confrontation with the Maquis wherein Dukat’s console is on (earlier in the story, it wasn’t), which we know because of something that occurred a minute ago in the plot, and he wants to fire on the Maquis. Pavel Chekov’s photon torpedo just sits there, unfired. This was the pay off? Surely this was supposed to be the pay off, and a commentary on Doing Business With Dukat, who believes in keeping the peace not because he’s filled with compassion for all life blah blah, but because the treaty is in Cardassia’s best interests. Come on. It was right there! It was just right there!!

–  Katy: It’s so unfair that Sisko has to deal with huge diplomatic problems. He’s only the same rank as Riker, who’s off happily playing his trombone!

– DS9 tries to tell me it’s gritty on the frontier as though the Enterprise crews didn’t almost die every other episode of the previous two series because exploration and diplomacy are tough and shit. DS9 is thus trying to establish a dichotomy with a Safe Star Trek that doesn’t quite exist. It’s bizarre this taste-change based retcon can happen even as TNG is still running, contradicting it? Because of this grittiness, DS9 ‘needs’ to conceptually fuck about with Section 31 and ‘wild and crazy’ morally grey tactics and bad actors (putting up with Quark and Dukat on the regular, working with an unapologetically fash-inclined Odo), because—well, because what, exactly? On a plot and in-world level, what’s changed, really, other than a wish for grit and a lack of confidence in non-martial conflict resolution? 

This is part of the problem the show keeps having with Dukat. This episode, the Nazi Analogue plays the role of the Bad Boi team member who can make threats Sisko in order to resolve a conflict. (So what, you need the Nazis now? Are you NASA?) The show acts as though he’s bringing something the team needs and lacks, but it can’t even sustain that conceit within the internal logics of a single episode. Dukat only helps temporarily resolve a problem that Dukat’s side and logic started. All DS9’s playing footsie with ‘little a police state, as a treat’ in the Federated worlds doesn’t resolve the Maquis conflict: the Dominion War does (possibly after Cardassia wholesale kills opponents within its sphere of influence), and the ensuing collapse of Cardassian-Dominion relations. 

It’s only series two, and I want to give DS9: the Rewatchening more of a chance. But sometimes I feel like rather than ‘problematising Star Trek’, Ds9 is actually doing something really cheap, and that it failed to understand the assignment. I may just eat this as I continue to watch, and indeed I hope I do. But I sort of think people confused ‘acknowledging the Real-Politik Necessity (?) of military-industrialism’/Better Things aren’t Possible with Maturity, and that the show also hit people at a Time (both in their own lives and in the zeitgeist: this coinciding with Blairism and its international equivalents). Again, the problem might be series two and own current awful mood, but while I’ve liked moments of DS9 so far, overall, on rewatch, I’m not enjoying it. A lot of the elements I liked as a kid, including Kira’s political positioning and the fact that Dukat is fun (but at what cost??), I have a totally different relationship with twenty years on. It reminds me of when everyone still thought Xander was the ❤ of the group!!, and I was at a loss because Xander is an asshole I can’t vibe with. That’s how I feel about Odo. He may give some people the Raymond Chandler horn and have occasional Moments with Quark, but overall he doesn’t come off as ‘a bad person, who is fun’, he’s just the worst.

A lot of DS9’s attempts to do bigger character and plot shit are commitments it doesn’t know how to do justice to. ‘Oh I’ll do a big Thing with Bashir, with Dukat’s arc, Quark Does Crimes!’ This is indeed ambitious, compared with TNG! But it’s also an opening to stab right into. The basic causality of the show falters. DS9 wants to do Commentary on the previous iterations’ worldbuilding and moral universe, but that commentary so far feels less cogent and thoughtful, more like a gleefully bleak assertion that neoliberalism is not a historical contingency we find ourselves immeshed in, but intevitable and forever (which flies in the teeth of actual history, but).

Why did American creators and viewers so easily read periphery/’frontier’ as a viable excuse for Federation representatives to circumnavigate ordinary, democratically-arrived at forms of justice and consequences in favour of an expansion of force coded as necessary? It doesn’t feel like these characters need more support, ask for it, don’t receive it and so turn to other problem-solving strategies, it feels like the whole conceit is an excuse to do more violent space opera because it’s cool. I kind of can’t believe this caving to American neoliberal logics is almost universally presented as a strong critique of Star Trek’s pre-existing neoliberalism? Like, is the Emperor naked? Do the next seasons gut this bad start like a fish? What the fuck is happening here? 

A lot of professional opportunities are bound up in this, but this is why I really don’t want to be a Star Trek Person, Professionally, or A Doctor Who Person, etc. By working in that vein you’re tied forever to these things that are important to you, but tethered to a certain point in your relation to them. Star Trek will always be a big part of my experience and thinking. Precisely because of that, I hate the idea of being a Marketing Tool for whatever shitty new IP content is coming out—of not having a fluid relation to something I think and care about Because Capitalist Fandom. To love Doctor Who, I need to be able to fucking hate Doctor Who sometimes. Not in a jokey one off way but vitally, without that being a Farewell to my Livelihood and Networks and Construction of Self. You can’t be in a meaningful marriage if you don’t have the real option to leave. 

The distributed, networking-based and ephemeral nature of freelance media work renders a lot of people are unpaid company handmaidens who live and speak Professionally against the chance of work. You can’t give up that kind of labour for free, especially with so little work going and with so many dodgy actors in these scenes. This position is not difficult for me to assume because I am cantankerous, so the necessary lifestyle diplomacy was always going to be challenging for me to execute. Also I don’t have dependents to support, and I’m not swimming in opportunities. No one is, granted, but I’m not facing some Faustian Temptation here. One can do trade eternally being a soft attache for an IP for access, and that’s not nothing. A lot of jobs ask similar invasive shit of you; this is by no means unique to pro-fandom. But it’s never like, Cool? 

Deep Space 9 Livetweet, S2, Episodes 11-15

A yet-unsaddened himbo, and his cult-leader mum.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 11, “The Rivals”

– Apologies to Sheridan or nah, bruv?

– This episode has a weird, fun concept involving probability, neutrino manipulation and gambling. TI’s very space fantasy, but it’s got some legs, and is more interested in SF than DS9 has yet shown itself to be.

– Julian enrages Miles by being unbearably Arnold Rimmer—just the fucking worst. Miles ‘dad bod’ O’Brien hates Bashir out of lingering Irish patriotism, probably. And because Bashir is a ponce.

– Quark, discomfited, consolingly coos t.o himself about a profitable racquet ball tournament.

– Keiko is still more attractive than Miles has ever deserved.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 12, “The Alternate”

– Odo’s evil Bajoran scientist/zookeeper dad, who Odo has evidently shaped his face to look somewhat like, is here. Katy observes that these Bajorans don’t wear religious earnings. To have had a lab during the occupation, they must have been collaborating to some degree. We also know, from Odo’s comments about having been made to practice a ‘Cardassian neck trick’, that they actively appeased and flattered their overseers.

– Sisko trolls Jake by making him turn his outing with Nog into a Klingon opera study date. Jake hates this shit.

– Painful awkward family dynamics between Odo and his ‘experimenting on him’ quasi-dad.

– Sisko talks about his own father like he’s dead. Go back to New Orleans and say that shit to his very-much-alive face, Benny boy.

– Why not just take a photo of this column? Why rob it?

– The Cardassians have left Sisko some amazing stained glass. I don’t think he even thanked those Nazis.

– Are we sure this is Dax and not a copy of Dax? Like. Can we be? (Some strange flags were raised, but that was not where the episode ultimately went.)

– Julian has a little incel conversation with himself re Dax teasing him. This is based on nothing. She did absolutely nothing. Just said, ‘have time to get coffee?’ That was it. I wish Julian a very happy ‘why didn’t you die instead of the main character who does?’

– Odo’s dad: I begin to think that the scientific method and criminal investigation have a lot in common—

I mean they’re both often tools of imperialism, so yeah buddy, I guess?

– Odo’s BadDad gives him a psychotic break, and Odo becomes goo about it. It is pretty well-executed both as physical prop-work and as a character moment. Though the technobabble at the end regarding why it happened could have been stronger, it feels like this show is growing up a bit.

– They’re talking about how to get a feral Odo out of the conduits. Just have Quark do some dumb shit at the entrance? If Odo walks around going ‘doin’ a fraud! Doooooin’ a fraaaaaud—’ I guaranteed you no more than a ten minute wait.

– Sisko gives a ‘shoot to kill if necessary’ order on Odo out of nowhere. Why? Odo attacked but didn’t seriously hurt anyone. The worst he did is bitchslap Bashir. We all want to do that.

– Why would this Bajoran scientist say ‘dear god’ when he’s from a polytheistic background, even if he’s not observant? I know expressions like that sneak into writing all the time, but a script editor should catch them, for the sake of world building.

– Everything the show does to seed the Dominion is good. We see them operating as a political force at one remove, via intermediaries affected by their actions (like the refugees whose conquerers were themselves conquered by the unseen Dominion, or the traders who know that the Dominion has the capacity to produce a vast volume of goods).

———

DS9 S2 Ep 13, “Armageddon Game

– This ‘destroy the bio-weapon’ plot feels really Skaro.

Katy: Unfortunately Quark’s already sold the WMD to some Cardassians! Ruh roh-

– Weirdly it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Bashir or O’Brien that they could have been targeted for elimination, because they know too much about the harvesters.

– Bashir is once again being awful to O’Brien. I don’t know why O’Brien doesn’t fucking nerf him.

– Bashir whines that a Career Officer shouldn’t marry, because it’s unking to make a wife worry about you (to a married man). b i t c h your wife could also be an Officer? What in the sam hell? What year is Bashir from?

– Now Bashir is talking some shit about how parties must mean nothing to Miles, because Miles is married and thus can’t have hook-ups. Buddy, unless you’re angling to find out whether this is an open marriage or something you could get in on, I wish you a very happy ‘this is none of your business’. Also, Bashir is a reasonably attractive dude. If he wants a hook-up, can he not just go to Quarks and find someone interested? I’ve no idea why we’re pretending he can’t get laid by many interesting and attractive women who know the replicator pattern for a ball gag to render him bearable. He yammers on about it like he’s a hyper sexual seventeen year old. You’re at work, man. (Talking about his hot ballerina ex with beautiful feet and great arches—listen buddy, I don’t want to know your FetLife deets? And all I can think of is SHOES FILLED WTH BLOOOOOOOD, beat-up ass ‘en pointe’ feet.)

– Sisko yells at Kira for being upset that O’Brien and Bashir are dead, which I’m sure is very helpful. Thanks, Sisko.

– Bashir is bearable, even a decent person, when he’s doing Doctor Shit, and at no other time. What a fuckboi.

– Julian lent Dax his ‘medical school diaries’ like a ponce. Dax didn’t read them, like an adult.

– Keiko’s Coffee Theory is one of my fav things about Keiko.

– O’Brien takes the piss out of Bashir’s accent. Excellent.

– Bashir has one of those weird faces that looks cute from a lot of angles, but sometimes he’s a sideways mess of lip meat.

– I never know whether I like that Keiko is ‘wrong’ about the coffee. It’s funny if she’s wrong, but it’s super cute and clever if she’s right.

– Tragically, it seems that O’Brien has come into a hideous ‘friend’. Pour one out for Miles.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 14, “Whispers”

– Keiko has found she and her husband a really good Japanese silk embroidered bedcover. Excellent work, Keiko.

– It’s hard not to like a character when they’re homies with Data, and after you’ve seen them have to deliver a baby… with Worf. That is, intrinsically, a bonding experience. For Keiko and Worf, for us and Keiki and Worf and this Unlikely Baby. It’s like that time Brian Blessed delivered a baby in a park and bit through the umbilical cord with his teeth. I feel connected as fuck to that baby, and I didn’t even see it happen.

– O’Brien worried this is a false Keiko: a fakeo. I guess we don’t know whether people on the station have been replaced or whether O’Brien has gone paranoid. ‘Just O’Brien’ feels more likely, on the numbers.

– Why not just replicate separate meals, according to your divergent preferences? The true miracle of replication is that you no longer need to suffer through or never eat stuff one of you hates!

– The whole ‘actually this O’Brien was a clone’ thing is well-conceived, but the mounting paranoia is executed somewhat flatly. This is both a script problem internal to the episode and an issue of broader emotional resonance, attributable to the fact that the show has yet to make me really care about the cast. I don’t think we can say ‘well, it’s early days.’ This would be the end of series three of a British television show: the Liberator would have just blown up, by this point in Blakes 7.

We’ve yet to be given slow-paced, single character-focused eps that open on to solid connection or pathos. The show talks as though, and relies on, a group camaraderie the characters have yet to actually build. It’s still hard to imagine any of these people choosing to spend time with one another wholly outside of work. Even Dax and Sisko, who have a pre-existing relationship, don’t seem to, and while Dax and Kira have good chemistry sometimes, I’m still not sure what they get up to beyond occasionally talking about the plot with space-coffee on a table between them. 

In a way, this recalls how ineffective it was when the MCU tried to just speak ‘band of brothers’ into existence and work out its storylines from there. To make ensemble relationships affecting, you have to show that closeness, ease and intra (and thus also extra) textual connectivity at work. That’s a bit fiddly to do, but well-executed, it should actually take up very little page-space. You’ve just got to pound-for-pound infuse scenes that are otherwise deadweight plot conveyance methods with character, and then with interplay. That makes flat dialogue memorable. (And so far, DS9’s dialogue is pancake. Crepe, even.)

This example lacks the ‘sports anime’ warmth I’m looking for from a Star Trek ensemble cast, but right now this feels like Terry Nation DS9. I’m looking for the Chris Boucher edit. Honestly, they should have contracted Boucher to edit these. A lot of the mechanics and logistics are shite in a way he’s good at tightening up. And not fun, blousy shite, just ‘somehow there were ten people in a writers room, and basic if-then causality occurred to none of them’ style gaffs.

I wonder, actually, whether the whole set-up of the writers room, which would seem to make that sort of catch more likely, is, via either its constitution or as a premise, actually making these scripts muddy? Is it resulting in compromise formations? In a writer’s room, there’s a risk of personalities dominating the discussion in ways that don’t result in the best work, and of mutual overly-personal investment in the script that the clear responsibilities of defined roles and process layers might help a team avoid. Ideally, I’d expect a writer’s room to enable every script to access the skills of people involved, and to generate a collaborative synergy But does it play out like that? What do good and bad examples look like, both as workplaces and in terms of their process-flow and output? Can you effectively combine the writers room with a script editor role? Script editing can be enormously effective, and the absence of it can be hugely damaging.

I’m not actually interested in getting too deep into production, because sometimes it can overtake and even prevent criticism; production-first analysis risks becoming something like embedded journalism. I value production history, but it can overwhelm analysis of the resultant art. Ultimately, that output is what people see, and the foremost analytic object.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 15, “Paradise

– O’Brien and Sisko get embarrassingly mugged by Robin Hood.

– ‘Oh noooo, all our tech doesn’t work on this planet—‘

That is absolutely on purpose. This girl did it. The talky one, with the hair net. Alixus? It was her.

– Alixus coos to her gay, interested son about ‘two more strong, healthy men’ like she made a really successful run to the grocery story. 

– Dax laments that Sisko is bad at bluffing in poker. This amazes me, because he doesn’t emote the rest of the year. Just poker, I guess.

– Y e p, Alixus started the cult. It’s a pity, because she’s hot. Couldn’t she have found some people who really wanted to be in a non-religious Amish cult?

– Ah, a torture box. Great, cool. Sure. Everyone loves a torture box—

– Alixus’s tremulous voice makes it sound as though she’s always about to cry, which is interesting as an acting decision. It’s also intense, rendering it a good choice for a cult leader.

– The cult leader has deputised a hot girl to hit on Sisko, which is a neat move.

– I feel like this script doesn’t allow for quite enough in-story time for the conflict Sisko and Alixus are coming into regarding Sisko and O’Brien’s resistance to integrating into the community. Possibly Alixus is trying to induct them fast, for the sake of community cohesion? If so, it would be good to see that reasoning playing out more clearly. 

– Kira and Dax share a well-executed scene of problem-solving. Dax fondly reminisces about rope bondage with a Native American partner. Ah, Dax. 

– The episode’s field-labour in the hot sun and container punishment give it an especially disquieting plantation vibe.

– Miles has made a neat compass out of some absolute bullshit he found, like a fucking gourd.

– Himbo SAD. 

– Alixus’s ‘community’ isn’t based on trust, though? Sooooo.

– Again, does the Federation not have psychology experts to send out to people who’ve been in a cult for ten years? They’re not going to bounce right back and make immediate, permanent decisions regarding leaving. They’ll have to process what they’ve been through.

–  This episode might have been stronger for having the Star Fleet characters ever seriously question whether everyone is or can be happy in the Federation, rather than having the cultists’ argument be vaguely Luddite and Communitarian. You needn’t necessarily invite the viewer to interrogate their own relationship with satisfaction, or with technology, but it could be done. 

What lack of community are these characters struggling with on Earth? In this vast, post-scarcity meritocracy, everyone competes for the meaningful labour/vanity posts given to the Federation’s abundant geniuses. So how do people fall out of that system, or find its successes bittersweet? Why were these people leaving Earth to begin with? What about leaving will tempt the Maquis later this season? I don’t think you can do Utopia and its Discontents without committing to interrogating the ways a good system can’t necessarily accommodate everyone. At the very least the cult leader herself felt driven to extreme action, even if her motivation was simply that she wanted the opportunity to be an egomaniac and lacked the skill to be the blowhard terraformer featured earlier this season.

– Another interesting way of handling this material might have been a PoV flip, shifting the main focus to a given castaway. You’d either condense the action of the last decade or start the story with the Incursion of Star Fleet, positioning the main cast as dubiously-trustworthy interlopers. That’s a bit too Twilight Zone for Star Trek in terms of its extreme investment in a short-term PoV, but occasionally you have to shake up the terms of viewers’ engagement with the narrative framework and the cast.

I guess the main problem with that would be that the show hasn’t built up a core cast that can sustain that kind of play. But at this point, it’s been three UK seasons. They’ve really run out of excuses for fucking about. I should be able to pretty easily write dialogue for the core cast by now, and I think I comfortably could do—Quark and Nog. Possibly Garak. And let me stress that I can only do Garak because he’s written like Discount Avon.

– How did I immediately know the technology problem was being faked? Was that familiarity wth this plot shape, or memory of the episode itself? I watched all of these at least once, as they came out. There are beats I remember when we see them, but I don’t really know what I know. My memory of the episodes will get better as we go, because of course I was eight when S2 aired. 

At some point daddy got a VHS recorder, and we started to be able to watch episodes again. So some episodes I might have seen multiple times, and possibly significantly later than they aired. I remember that I was freaked out about falling asleep during the TNG finale at nine (like I wept), so we must not have had the recorder yet. There are TNG episodes on the tapes, however, and I guess those must have been out of order reruns. Ergo, what of DS9 I’ve seen more than once will really depend on what we caught on rerun and recorded. (Due to VHS recordings of PBS’s nth generation tape reruns, I did see fuzzy, out of order bits of the first two series of Blakes 7 while in high school, as well. I read synopses online for the later episodes, and to figure out what happened when.)

Deep Space 9 Livetweet, S2, Episodes 6-10

A mug Katy would not allow in the house.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 6, “Melora”

– This episode is about a Shirty Disabled Woman, and it’s kind of uncomfortable. Once again, this script makes this seem like the first and only time anyone has ever been disabled, or a non-humanoid species, in the whole Federation.

– I take it back, this episode is so fucking uncomfortable. Bashir is now teaching a woman not to have workplace disputes about her accessibility arrangements and Starfleet’s apparent lack of structural support.

– Julian tells a weird story about how he watched a child die when he was ten. He then thought about being a doctor, but instead tried to be a tennis player, and wasn’t good enough.

Katy: She could do better. I enjoy how rubbish Julian is, but that doesn’t mean I think anyone should be with him.

– Dax: I have fucked everyone. And I’d do it again!

– Katy: Wow. Bashir is such a good doctor that no one on DS9 is disabled. Look, he’s already fixed her need for a wheelchair. Yaaaay. :/

– In normal, official medical circumstances, the person doing massive experimental surgery on you should not be fucking you. Just a thought that apparently has not occurred to Star Fleet, despite that already being an understanding that exists in the real world.

– Klingon opera occurs. The Klingon bloke who owns this restaurant should be this character of the week’s boyfriend, honestly. 

– A very awkward ending. There was a ham fisted bit that kind of worked? Then we finished with something no one likes: being sung at. Potentially the worst of all human experiences.

– A lot of early DS9 episodes creak because the world needs to feel more lived in. Even if we’re on a ‘frontier’, people arriving there will bring their preconceptions and experience to problems. The consistent editorial note that should have been raised with these scripts is ‘this has happened before’. Either infrastructure should exist regarding the problems they’re encountering, or there should be specific reasons it doesn’t.

– Also, Quark’s fucked about with illegal trades that could specifically get Federation people killed three episodes in a row. You have to stagger these, so we’re not stuck wondering why Quark isn’t in jail. If you lack fine control over the episodes’ airing order, then you have to do more individually distinct episodes!

———

DS9 S2 Ep 7, “Rules of Acquisition”

– The Grand Nagus offers Bajor some fertiliser. Why can’t Bajor just replicate this fertiliser, or indeed, food? If they can’t, why can’t or won’t the Federation? There could well be reasons, but it’d be valuable to explicate those for a couple of sentences.

– Ferengi foot fetishism is going strong this week.

– Quark thinks he’s gay for profits, but it’s a case of Shakespearean cross-dressing.

– My new catch phrase is absolutely ‘now I may have the weak lobes of a woman, but—’

– Looking forward to the plot development where the Grand Nagus fucks Quark’s mom. What a Concept.

– This profit4profit Quark/waitress romance is the realest thing in two seasons of DS9.

– Dax: Oh, you’re into Quark.

Waitress: Yeah, and I’m secretly a woman.

Dax: Oh and it’s het? Wow, wild.

– Ferengi latinum dildos are real, I’m just letting you know that. 

– Nog: I have dirt on the interloper! He’s been using EAR enhancers, for his naturally shitty lobes!

– There was only one bed, in spaaaaace.

Katy: only one bed, cross-dressing—DS9’s coming back strong with this episode.

– Nog desperately wants to tell Quark that Quark can put off coming to terms with his sexuality for another year.

– What does the story vs teleplay distinction mean in US 90s script writing? 

Like the fuck is this:

Story by : Hilary J. Bader

Teleplay by : Ira Steven Behr

– Rene helpfully informs me:

“I believe anyone who has the idea for a story gets the story credit. The teleplay credit goes to the person who writes the actual script that is shot. Often story credits go to people who pitched ideas or sent in spec scripts, even if many details are changed in the final version.

Like here, Hilary originally pitched it as a TNG story.

A bit of discussion of the writing history at 1:50 here.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 8, “Necessary Evil”

– We begin with a truly amazing cape jumpsuit dress, just fucking ace. Thank you, space Frederick’s of Hollywood.

– The dialogue so far is crisp, like someone gave a shit, or like they finally found the paddles last week and rez’d a gasping script editor.

– Do people make strange and charm Quark jokes? I hope they do.

– Dukat’s OG DS9 lighting scheme is very blue-cool, I’m not keen.

– How did Dukat figure out that Odo could have the horn for justice? Dukat tried to fuck Kira and her mom, he has the emotional intelligence of a lemon.

– Dukat’s not nice, but he’s decent at his job. Which is good writing.

– Kira’s flashback !long hair is super cute. Labour camp chic

– Odo is now additionally hornt for the dictaphone he was previously a little bitch about, and doing his best noir narration. Fuck off, Odo.

– ‘I would have been executed’. Kira, you’re hot and Dukat was the boss at that point. I really don’t think Execution is the key threat, here.

– Cardassians have some fucking great interior design: like Vienna Succession, but evil. It interestingly and oddly overlaps with the palate of Bajoran influences.

– Why is Odo telling people about who he’s gonna arrest in an open bar, what the fuck?

– Interestingly they framed this shot so that Dukat didn’t see Kira’s face full on when they met.

– The flowers this assassin brought Quark look great. 

– Rom’s got an amazing scream attack, like a shitty Jigglypuff.

– The Bajoran woman’s initial ‘say what you will about the Cardassians, they kept the power on’ comment makes a lot more sense now that we know she’s a fascist collaborator’s wife, as does the couple’s private room on the station during the occupation. But why did the wife say Kira was having an affair with her husband? How did she know Kira, or that Kira might be the culprit? Why wasn’t she upset about her husband’s death, if we’re supposed to have taken Odo’s shite deduction there seriously?

———

DS9 S2 Ep 9, “Second Sight”

– Sisko remembers his wife’s super dead and stuff (thanks, Jean-Luc).

– I never know what age Jake is supposed to be. Neither, I suspect, do the writers.

– Sisko meets a really hot woman in an excellent dress. Wow, damn, hello.

– Oh no, it’s a jumpsuit and cape combination with an excellent neckline. Sisko, your wife has only been dead for two years, but consider it, my friend. Contemplate the opportunity before you.

– Sisko, typically a bitch, is super cheerful now that he’s spent ten minutes with a hot lady. This suggests that if only Sisko was regularly getting laid, he wouldn’t be such a pest. Thanks Jean-Luc!

– Sisko now deals with an annoying man who has such terrible womb envy he has turned to terraforming, and gotten very Mumsnet about it. Sad scenes, here in the science lab.

– Katy hates the triangular space mugs. “They must be so heavy!”

– Sisko looks at the hot lady like she’s a sandwich he’s confused by. It’s a performance Choice.

– Kira wants to escape dinner with this blowhard. Julian thinks the guy is fine! Kira is like, fucking of course you do. Kiraaaaa.

– Dax, horrified: Do you think that because I’m a woman now you can no longer tell me about your hookups?! B e n j a m i n the BETRAYAL, I—

– Julian was named for Julian Assange, which explains a lot. Not everyone knows that.

– Oh wow a psychic ‘mate for life’ trope that goes badly and causes huge backlash. And this woman kind of has Vulcan ears. It’s like a weird side K/S fic.

– This terraformer is the fucking worst. At least he knows he’s a fuckboi and erases himself from the narrative, as it were.

– The Netflix loading screen for S2 DS9 also suggests Next Generation, TOS and Enterprise, in case you’d prefer your Star Trek either better or a lot worse.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 10, “Sanctuary”

– A random Star Fleet woman is so Moved by Bajoran beats that she feels compelled to hug Morn about it.

– Sisko yells at Kira for being Too Online while at work, shitposting furiously and getting no real tasks done. Kira sighs and admits that is fair.

– Any time you have to show people really appreciating art in art, just being blown away, it looks garbage.

– Kira is Uncomfortable with some random refugees feeling more at ease with her than with other people. The last time she did Emotional Labour, it was in a Cardassian camp—

– Everyone from Star Fleet is just baffled by what looks like a matriarchy. A nigh-universal failure to grok something really obvious, for the hurr-hurrs. Mediocre.

– Interestingly, I don’t think we’ve ever done the universal translators learning a new language family like this before.

– This ‘from a matriarchy’ lady seems to feel Kira is specially worth speaking to. More so than men. In a personal capacity. If you know what I’m—

– Quark is actually a fabulous uncle sometimes. He’s shown up to flirt with Odo and get Nog off the hook for petty crime.

– I rather like how all the women of this week’s alien race style their hair in a mantilla shape.

– I love that Quark and Nog hiss defensively.

– This Bajoran minister has excellent braids, they’re so good. I can’t be certain, but DS9 sometimes seems to do a good job of casting Jewish women as Bajorans, which provides a kind of internal consistency to Bajor’s status as a figuration of post-Shoah diaspora and Israeli Jewishness.

– Kira and her girlfriend of the week have a fight over the girlfriend’s refugee people’s desire to settle on Bajor. A quite well-written series of accidents causes a catastrophe that ought to have been avoidable, but happened nonetheless.

– There’s a recurring thread of a famine on Bajor. I need that better explicated, in terms of replicator technology. 

Deep Space 9 Livetweet, S2, Episodes 1-5

DS9 S2 Ep 1, “The Homecoming”

– I’m so glad everyone’s anti-cop now, because maybe that means they’ll start finding Odo as boring as he is. They got a whole character out of ‘beige’. Amazing.

– ‘O no there’s a Bajoran group that wants the Federation out… after decades of occupation by another foreign power…’  like. I’m not surprised. ?

– Man, this random Cardassian guard is unbelievably stupid-horny. Kira and O’Brien are really going to leave their Federation phaser in the hands of people staying behind in this prison camp to hold off the guards, who will no doubt be immediately discovered and searched? Why did you bring Federation materiel on this secret mission? Why is O’Brien even here—he’s got a wife, and a small child?

– This whole escape attempt seems stage-managed and fake as fuck, not just Dukat’s ‘sowwy!!’

– I cannot fucking believe the Federation seemingly has no protocol for people coming out of prison camps beyond ‘immediately throw them to the wolves, I guess?’

– The scripting this week is feeble.

– Sisko: ‘Silence, hate crime victim Quark!!’ (I have never Vibed with Sisko.)

– Why do you think this guy who’s been in a prison camp for a decade would be ready to just bounce into a leadership position? Why would anyone think that? Who script-edited this?

– This episode was written by children. This prison camp guy, Li Nalas, doesn’t know who the live factions on the planet are: he cannot serve as the liaison officer to the occupying foreign power that Bajor depends on for military aid. The post is simply too important for someone without these core competencies, even given that they’re using him and want him out of the way.

– From a truly bad review of an itself-bad episode: “Additionally, the show further solidifies my hatred of the Bajorans- -one of the most annoying, aggressive and xenophobic people in the Trek universe–which is made worse since they are an omnipresent force on the show!”

Wow, it’s so weird that these recently-colonised people are suspicious of outsiders? Tell me you’re American without telling me you’re American…

———

DS9 S2 Ep 2, “The Circle”

– DS9 is not nearly as consistently politically intelligent as people who prefer it to the other series tend to claim. It sometimes bites off more than TNG, and ends up mumbling edgy buzz words. 

– Now Odo is here to make Kira do emotional labour about how he’s upset that she got de facto demoted. Get in the bin/bucket, Odo.

– Kira’s uniform is still really good, imo. Her red leather ankle boots are fucking great.

– Sisko’s saying like ‘we’ll get you back, Kira!’ lands like ‘don’t you worry, once this quarantine is over, we’ll go to Nando’s again!!’

– Vedek Bareil needs to learn vocal intonation. Like, any change of pitch. Kickstarter to help Vedek Bareil unlock ‘expression’. Who the fuck cast this guy? Every scene he’s in, just replace him with a package of luncheon meat. Subtitle lines.

– Bajoran architecture remains excellent. This moon door, the art nouveau lines—the script isn’t working, but the design team sure is!

– To be fair, Ep 2 is much, much better-written than Ep 1. Every time Kai Wenn talks, you want to brain her with an orb. Fair!

-And we do all like an Odo, Deputy Quark buddy-cop team up. Quark is proving more useful than three other characters put together. 

– Li Nalas, character of the week, is so fucking destined for death. The flags on this one.

– Me: Of course you shouldn’t get involved in an internal Bajoran conflict Sisko, you CIA precipitate? Listen, the station moved to the worm hole, I need you to fly it back out of Bajoran air space to execute the complete materiel evacuation you’re positing—

Katy: He can’t hear you.

– It’s not that Sisko is annoying me, it’s that I feel like he’s (somehow!) not even trying not to?

– Sisko’s actor sometimes feels like he’s trying something Shatnerian, but predicated on an odd reading thereof, decades later, and without that underlying theatrical tradition. His line deliveries often feel rather, ‘that was the take you went with? Well, Okay.’

– I don’t know the names of any actors on this show except for Michael Dorn, by the way, and I hope that never changes. I have been actively un-knowing this information for over a decade now, so please do not tell me.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 3, “The Siege” 

– Keiko telling the truth about Miles O’Brien’s o’fucked priorities.

– Dax/Kira, Jake/Nog and Odo/Quark are all making some good showings this week, here in part 3 of a story that honestly didn’t deserve the real estate.

– You really have to give it up to Kai Winn for finding new ways to be the fucking worst every season. I would never even have forseen the possibility of how shit she is by the end of the show; I lacked the douche vision.

– Odo: I’m a wAaaLl!

– *a hint of bad PR* Wait where did Kai Winn go??

– Every patsy who Kai Winn leaves the hot second things look iffy: “It truly be your own hos that do it to you—”

———

DS9 S2 Ep 4, “Invasive Procedures”

– They shouldn’t have aired these two episodes wherein ‘the station has to be evacuated and is left with a skeleton crew, plus Quark, who is fucking about with a Scheme’ back to back.

– Katy points out that Trill are a cool concept, functioning like Time Lords’ regeneration. I wonder if that’s where the Next Generation writers got it from?

– Quark makes hideous keening sex noises to sell this fake injury, and if any benighted soul out there is writing Quark/anyone, these had better feature large.

– This week a random sex worker kicked Kira’s ass, just annihilated her.

———

DS9 S2 Ep 5, “Cardassians”

– Here in a rather stupidly-named episode, Space Nie Huaisang makes a mixed race child uncomfortable.

Katy: To be fair to him, Garak’s primarily narrative role is to make everyone uncomfortable.

– A hot tip from me: don’t proprietarily touch random unknown children? If they bite you that is what it is.

– Katy: Anytime Dukat is on the space phone, I flashback to having to talk to a sales rep who’s just lying right to my face.

– Garak gets maximally ‘oh dooooooes he’ regarding Dukat’s ‘I have Legitimate Concerns  regarding war orphan repatriation’ spiel.

– Dukat hasn’t bothered learning Bashir’s name. Classique. God I wish that were me.

– Sisko is evidently feeling Feisty about Bashir: asking a reasonable question.

– O’Brien is still very racist against Cardassians; I would not have boarded this kid with them. Even Keiko, who is normally excellent, is being awkward with the child. Again, does Star Fleet not have any form of standard protocol for child welfare issues?

– Garak is here to lisp his way into Bashir’s bedroom and the A-Plot.

– The thing is, I don’t have nearly the time for Garak/Bashir that every other lesbian seems to. Yes, Garak is immensely gay, and yes, that is A Unit of Twink, but Garak could go to any corner shop, they sell them in pairs. So: Nie Huaisang and Arnold Rimmer are on a field trip. Garak steals tens of thousands of records on children with no regard for data protection, and is then nearly forced to have a feeling (for children). Disgusting.

– Someone bothered to write decent lines for Budget Kerr Avon this week, but mostly just for Garak.

– ‘I couldn’t even stay on Bajor, continuing to commit war crimes—too many feelings!!’ – A Cardassian I Am Supposed To Feel Sorry For, I Guess?

– The problem with Dukat—a Nazi—is that this unghostbusted slimer is simply a more compelling actor than the ones portraying most of the main cast. I don’t enjoy that, but here we are.

– Garak is smiling benignly, oozing around the room like a sand worm with a human face. So his Plan is Gelling, I guess.

– O’Brien: I can only imagine how bad this child’s biodad must feel to be told he’s shitty, after doing all those war crimes—

Okay, Miles, thanks for your input.

— Oh my god, Sisko is sending this Bajoran-raised child back to Cardassia? Is he high? What the fuck? This kid’s eventual suicide is on ‘forget about it like the world forgot Sisko’s’ hands, I’m just saying. 

———

The Game, Diana Wynne Jones (Review)

I read Diana Wynne Jones’ novella The Game in a day, which was a pleasant surprise directly after my much bumpier reading experience with Dark Lord of Derkholm. I’d been told Game was quite like Eight Days of Luke in both the reading level it’s pitched at and its subject matter, and found that comparison very fair. 

I think perhaps, in part, my own mood caused me to not really vibe with the book’s insistent referentiality. It felt a little too Ready Player One. That’s a far ruder comparison than this perfectly decent novella warrants, but while I’d happily engage with some writing on the works Game cites, Jones largely just touches on mythological topics rather than either making them integral to this story or using her references to comment on the myths themselves. In that context, chasing after dropped hints hardly seems worth the effort. Oh look, a brief cameo of sex-pest Zeus ruining swans for everyone. Just making a whole new situation terrible, as is his way. Whelp, there we are, then. 

The thing is, I’m tired. Not ‘it’s three am’ tired (though that too), like, lifestyle tired. I can’t be fucked. Perhaps this aspect of the book works better for children. When I was younger, I suspect I might have enjoyed shuffling through my then-fresh knowledge to trace every line of influence, and thought quite well of myself for each success. I can no longer muster the requisite energy and naïveté to believe that sort of cleverness matters. Ultimately, it’s just slightly embarrassing. 

This does mark, so far as I’m aware, Jones’ second major referential use of Doctor Who (the time and space box in the sci-fi mythosphere strand). The Chrestomanci series contains a police-box passage in Caprona, and elements of Charmed Life, such as Christopher’s essential dimension-hopping manifold-mortality (not to mention the long, multicoloured scarf knitted for him in Oxbridge), establish a Who-inflected general framework for the series. Some things about Time City are a bit War Games (traitors from within the time-traveling culture, the SIDRAT-style room of boxes and the time-coloniality of the set-up), but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that one.

As the racial composition of the UK changed, Jones’ work, often addressed first and foremost to child-readers, did seem to take into account that the children she was addressing might no longer be demographically identical to the wartime children she (b. 1934) grew up among. Sometimes, as with Aiden Cane in Enchanted Glass, there’s a vagueness to Jones’ handling of her characters’ race that feels more ‘outside looking in’ than people actually understand themselves as (I remember from Dogsbody, et al, that Jones can be comparatively clearer regarding what flavour of Celtic everyone involved in a story is). Initially when the protagonist Hayley contemplated a picture of her father, who has dark skin and who evidently gave Hayley her difficult to manage dark, curly hair, I assumed Jones was rather ambiguously telling me that Hayley was, like many children in modern London, BAME. It later transpired that instead, Hayley’s parents are Greek demigods. Was I supposed to have been led astray, there? Character race in childrens’ books, with their often poor rates of representation, feels like somewhat too charged a subject to play with readers’ knowledge-levels about in that way. But perhaps writing in 2007, near the end of her life (2011), Jones wasn’t involved in those then more nascent conversations. 

Why, then, are all these Mediterranean gods living in the UK now? In-world, it’s not really explained. In a Doylist sense it’s because, via the construct of a shared Western Heritage, the Anglosphere thinks that Greek mythology is an un-raced common property that belongs almost as much to England as to Greece. It’s easier for Jones to set this in the UK than for her to figure out how to set it in modern Greece and then sell the resultant book to English-speaking children. This pretty significant transposition doesn’t quite register as weird because England ‘owns’ world herritage in the way Jones’ Time City owns it, via the transitive property of imperial logic. It might twig people as stranger to involve the modern nation of Greece. The British Museum can just take better care of the Parthenon friezes, uwu! Actually, isn’t classical antiquity more the property of Oxford than, you know, Greeks? 

At the book’s end, Hayley’s parents blithely decide not to return to Greece because ‘it’s changed’. Anything that happened to Greece after antiquity, and indeed the contemporary degree to which Greek people are racially and culturally included in the Anglosphere’s conceptions of Europe, is far murkier in the Anglosphere imagination than this sense of ‘shared’ ownership of antiquity. This model of communal (?) Western Heritage is extractive and fundamentally unconcerned with Greeks, who figure largely as an unsightly imposition on amber-preserved Classical Greece. This is a conceit I think children’s literature does a lot to uncomplicatedly embed in the name of acculturation, which should be interrogated at the source.

Jones makes a point of saying that Zeus’s power now comes as much from money as from myth. While I wonder where Hades is in that equation (seeing as wealth is properly his domain), as usual, Jones demonstrates a strong awareness of power structures and how they play out. Class in a British sense is layered throughout this novel. Hayley’s father is tortured in an industrial estate. This choice emphasises the growing importance of the uncountable, mysterious and malevolent movements of international capital (without any of the antisemitism some comparable depictions of finance rely on or easily invoke—I’m thing of Chesterton’s reading of the Veneerings in Our Mutual Friend). Jones is absolutely right: there is nothing more sus in modern Britain than a ‘Joylon’. The really tragic thing is that Electra and Aster (which is how two of the Pleiades are styling themselves, these days) are pitch-perfect bullshit UK Posh People names, as well. Just spot on.

I wanted to close by discussing the element of the book that, for me, is absolutely going to linger. As I said, I struggled somewhat with The Game’s ‘gameification’ of its references, finding Jones’ engagements with myth more generative and rewarding when sustained. The several-page scene wherein we encounter the Maenads, for example, is viscerally scary. My whole idea of the Bacchae was flat, like a 2-D painting of Sexy Bad Women executed from a male PoV. The sheer sensual grotesquerie and violence of Jones’ treatment has probably altered my idea of these figures forever, curiously moving them from a more pictorial, Mythic idea to something experiential: something weeping, reeking, blood-coated, screaming-raw. It was the best scene I’d read in ages, and justified the whole fucking book. The scene wherein Hayley’s mother rescues her father is also powerful, and I dug everything involving Yaga. 

Ultimately, I’d have liked another couple of paragraphs on this version of Zeus’s whole Deal. Why is he so keen on control in small things seemingly unrelated to himself? What does he perceive the stakes to be, beyond the threat Hayley presents to him? Has he always been like this? That doesn’t quite fit with Classical Zeus As I Know Him. Were all the characters who were drawn to him in mythology, and thus in this book, drawn to this unpleasant personality? Has he changed? Has the altering of mores over time, or the changing nature of Zeus’s fame, changed him? 

(Also, my friend Marita’s edition had illustrations and shit which mine, sadly, did not.)

Review of Miraculous Ladybug

“Based off Chat Noir’s costume design (a leather catsuit with a bell collar and a mop of blonde hair), my partner initially assumed this was a YA-marketed cartoon about a young lesbian couple. We were thus disappointed to discover that Chat Noir was a boy, and that the show (especially initially) was aimed at much younger audiences. Over the course of its first season, however, Miraculous Ladybug & Cat Noir went from pleasant to deeply enjoyable. Its world and plot complexity increased, its ensemble cast grew and developed and, most importantly, its core “love-square” romance blossomed. Even though it is sadly not centrally focused on teen lesbians (we’ll get to Rose and Juleka), Miraculous is still one of the best-made and most thoroughly enjoyable shows running, full-stop, no caveats. The fourth season of twenty-six episodes has just begun airing, the exact date varying by country.”

Read the rest here.