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Everything Wrong With Stephen R Donaldson’s Covenant Books in One Sentence

“In con­trast, the grass stains on her jeans had nev­er felt so fa­tal. They dragged at her steps like omens or ar­cane stig­ma­ta.”

Against All Things Ending

This probably isn’t the worst line in the book, people make lists of those, but it also captures the slow degradation of the Covenant novels until they reach this level of complete ridiculousness.

The grass stains on her jeans felt fatal? Seriously. The original three books for all their emotionalism still worked somewhat as high fantasy, and the next three books, aside from the ridiculous One Tree, worked on some level despite the extended therapy sessions. But the last three books are all One Tree. They’re not about anything except the characters agonizing and the characters are running out of things to agonize about.

Donaldson has gotten to the point where “the grass stains on her jeans had nev­er felt so fa­tal” makes sense to him as something you would want to put in a book instead of an emo song. The last three Covenant novels starring Linden are just completely indefensible. Maybe they were all hard to defend, but finally Donaldson took everything wrong with The One Tree and focused on getting it even more wrong. And there’s no point to it even.

The original books were somewhat compact, but here it takes an entire chapter for Covenant and Linden to go somewhere after he’s first summoned. Every character’s expression and interaction with other characters is described even when they don’t say anything every few pages. It’s like somebody describing a play to a blind guy and it’s so repetitive and irritating that there aren’t even words for it, except maybe carious frangible sequestery.

I’ve barely gotten three chapters into Against All Things Ending and I’m already sick and tired of it.

Exclusive Plans for Dragon Age 3 Revealed

Fans have been waiting for it by the dozens and ever since the smash success of Dragon Age II, EA and Bioware have been eager to reveal the work being done on the sequel.

dragon age“Dragon Age III will take the Dragon Age II experience to the next level,” Mark Laidlaw promised. “Everything you loved about that game will be even better here. Dragon Age II took place in a single city over ten years, but Dragon Age III will take place over twenty years… in one room.”

EA expects players to look forward to a return to the world of Thedas, or one room in it, to explore that room, to battle armies of enemies who suddenly appear in the room.

“We’ve made some challenging choices here,” Laidlaw said, “for example you can’t go left anymore, just right. And we feel that really expands the player’s horizons. Because it’s all about choice and telling people that they can’t go left challenges them, it makes them think about the nature of choice in their own lives.”

As before the player will take on the role of Hawke, a penniless refugee turned champion who is bound on an amazing adventure in a single room. Along with his companions, four of whom are gay, he will play a major role in shaping the future of the room, and romance his companions by clicking on options and then saying unpredictable, but sexually harassing things to them.

“This is about a story,” Laidlaw said, “that takes place over twenty years, that raises real world questions about terrorism, the environment and how tight my headband is. It will showcase a brand new engine that will make every corner of the room shine. And it will allow you to battle without even thinking about it. All you have to do is keep hitting a button and you will automatically win.”

Reviewers who are in no way beholden to EA have already given the game an average score of 94 before even seeing it and Bioware promises a special DLC expansion, The Unpantsed Prince, that ingame characters will constantly mention to you until you break down and buy it.

Warren Ellis Crecy Review

Often when you pick up a piece of historical fiction set in another time, there is an escapable educational quality to it, after all the author has done his research, leafed through encyclopedias, studied sketches of medieval armor and saddles, learned the terminology and is triply eager to disgorge his entire story of knowledge onto his readers. His readers though may not be nearly as eager to receive it as he is to give it.

Warren Ellis’ Crecy is unambiguously in the educational category without making any real pretense to be otherwise. An Avatar book, Crecy is a real change of pace for Warren Ellis, set not in the future but the past, inked with intricate black and white art by Raulo Caceres that often deliberately verges on medieval woodcuts. Crecy preserves Warren Ellis’ anarchic sense of humor as the soldier William of Stonham delivers obscenity laced tirades and lectures to the reader on the weapons and tactics and players in the war in between obscene exchanges with other soldiers.

But stripped of all the cursing, Crecy becomes what it really is, which is an educational walkthrough through a pivotal portion of English history. Subtract the language and the violence and you could easily have a useful text for schoolchildren and that is what keeps Crecy a long way from being Frank Miller’s 300. 300 was in the end about something more than a particular battle in a particular place and that is why it carried a greater resonance. Warren Ellis’ Crecy by contrast is a painstakingly explained and easily digestible blueprint for a particular battle demonstrating how it was won and why it was fought in terms easily relatable to the modern reader.

William of Stonham directly addresses the reader, providing him with maps and explaining things to someone he is aware comes from a more advanced time. There really is no pretense of a fourth wall even. The style reminds you of some children’s history cartoons. If you wanted to know the tactics the English used to defeat the French, or at least a simplistic version of them, Warren Ellis offers you that in Crecy. Indeed the actual title battle is abrupt and quickly over. The real focus is on the lead in to the fighting and the preparations for it. Of course William of Stonham knowing ahead of time everything that will happen and interacting with you eliminates any suspense. And Crecy does not offer an actual story so much as a technical summation of events embroidered with lots of cursing and ethnic stereotyping humor about the French, the Welsh, the Scottish and so on and so forth.

The question arises of why the reader should care about any of this. Granted at the end William Stonham informs us that this was a pivotal battle in history but historical events don’t make us necessarily care about characters. William of Stonham’s narrative is filled with gloating and justifications for what he and the army is doing and it is hard to distinguish to what extent Warren Ellis is speaking and to what extent William of Stonham. William of Stonham insists that this is another time and so the moral issues are different but again there is no real basis for saying that.

The back cover of Crecy attempts to fill things in with a rather strange modernistic formulation about shock and awe and invasions due to perceived threats to home security, in which it seems some attempt is made at an analogy with modern politics but this is never followed up.

Warren Ellis has William of Stonham insist that he and his men are ordinary farmers while the enemy’s ranks are filled with aristocrats. But in the end he and his men fight for an English King while the French fight for a French King. And the French villages that William of Stonham and his friends sack and burn are just as filled with French peasants, the aftermath of which one panel shows as burning houses, a murdered man and a half-naked and probably raped woman covering herself with her hair and cowering against the flames.

Warren Ellis means us to pick up on this as on the constant national slurs William of Stonham aims to all sides but in the comic book genre reveled in all the more by many British writers, characters who are “right bastards” are supposed to be appreciated for this. Yet even in that genre, the bastards win because of their determination and ruthless drive. William of Stonham can’t even claim that since as Crecy paints the picture, they won not because the English army was superior in courage or qualities of character but because of the incompetence of the French which they were successfully able to exploit. That sort of outcome is common enough in modern and not so modern warfare but it does not make for much of a history. If the Spartan warriors of 300 held fast because of their personal virtues, the English army had the longbow and a confused enemy. The results were devastating in the same way that a company of Redcoats firing on a Native-American village was devastating but not any kind of personal triumph, only the success of the mechanisms of warmaking tools.

By the end of Crecy, we have been successfully convinced that everyone on both sides was rather vicious and ugly and we have an understanding of how the English victory was achieved but what we don’t have is any meaning from any of it, only information and some entertainment as William of Stonham finds nasty names and stories for the Welsh, the French, the Normans, the Norse, the Scottish, kills wounded French soldiers on the field while his friends laugh, burns French villages to the ground in order to seize a part of France and finally brandishes those same two fingers proclaiming that he can kill us from 300 yards. Is Crecy meant to be ironic or some strange borderland between nationalistic chest pounding and a warning about the callousness of war. It is all but impossible to decide and in the probably not worth the effort. Crecy is briefly interesting, even more briefly entertaining but in the end not so much a story as a vicious outing attached to an encyclopedia.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Cease Fire

Summary: Archer attempts to mediate between a Vulcan and Andorian territorial dispute.

“Cease Fire” is a much stronger follow up to “The Andorian Incident” than the rather mediocre “Shadows of P’Jem,” which saw Enterprise’s star trek enterprise cease fire entire command crew blunder into getting captured and remaining outside observers to much of the action. “Cease Fire” by contrast sees Trip taking a strong command posture where in “Shadows” he was reduced to yelling ineffectually at the Vulcan commander. Archer and T’Pol again find themselves in hostile territory but Archer maintains control of the situation and does his best to find solutions. The Andorians and Vulcans are also far better developed here than they were in either “Andorian Incident” or “Shadows”. Though the Vulcans are still portrayed rather unsympathetically and the episode makes it clear the writers’ own sympathies lie more with the Andorians than the Vulcans, this is still the first time Ambassador Soval has been developed at all and portrayed as anything but an arrogant and bigoted martinet.

Between the special UPN promos, two major franchise guest stars and top notch production values in the planetside scenes, the action scenes and gorgeous CGI work on the Vulcan and Andorian ships, “Cease Fire” seems to have had the benefit of a special push from the producers and the network. More money has been spent on-screen and this time out it’s been combined with a fairly good script to make for the best Vulcan\Andorian episode to date. Like “Andorian Incident” and “Shadows of P’Jem,” “Cease Fire” does suffer from the outsider syndrome in which the crew are outsiders intervening between quarreling aliens. Where the previous two episodes both tried to resolve this dramatic problem by having Archer and T’Pol taken hostage, “Fire” avoids such obviously cheesy gimmicks in favor of more generalized ‘behind enemy lines’ sequences.

While it does end up deploying the hoary formula of the fanatical subordinate contrasted with the more sympathetic leader as the central dilemma whose resolution comes when the former is exposed to the latter, it’s still preferable to the fanatical leader contrasted with the more sympathetic subordinate, which Voyager’s latter seasons used almost non-stop. This formula is still a widely used television cliche and although Plakson’s part is woefully underwritten, the actors do what they can to give each line their own unique style and spin. It doesn’t always work and Plakson’s stylized film noir delivery, which worked quite well during her TNG appearances is often out of place, especially in her final scene, it still makes the material more interesting to watch and lifts the dialogue somewhat above its formulaic roots.

By contrast there are flashes of clever and off-beat dialogue such as the battlefield exchange between T’Pol and Ambassador Soval, which

star trek enterprise cease fire

“Cease Fire” could have used more of instead of the old standbys about war, negotiation and peace that marked Combs and Plakson’s repartee and any Star Trek viewer has already heard time and time again. There is just enough good dialogue in “Cease Fire” to cause one to wonder if Chris Black wasn’t being held back by the producers from being a little more adventurous with the lines in a few of the key scenes. Devoting some more time to developing Shran’s character with scenes that don’t necessarily directly advance the plot would also be a good idea. Combs’ Weyoun made quite an impression in a single episode mainly because time was dedicated to developing his race and his character even in an episode where he was doomed to be killed off by the end. By comparison we still know very little about the Andorians except that they are part of an Empire, are angry a lot of the time and don’t much like the Vulcans and that isn’t a lot to go on when building the identity of an entire species.

“Cease Fire,” though is a good place to start laying the ground work. Shran here develops more of a personality and thus an identity and even a sense of humor. Ambassador Soval gets a background and a history and a somewhat dry sense of humor of his own. Archer manages to go through most of the episode acting like an able and competent Starship Captain who can think on his feet without behaving foolishly and can act as a diplomat instead of ranting over the slightest insult. T’Pol manages to get more relevant character development in an episode not even centered around her, than she did in the T’Pol-centered “Stigma.” Phlox manages to steal another sickbay scene that doesn’t even center around him and Trip gets another moment in the sun.

Trip’s threat to fire on the two groups of ships is a bit on the irrational side considering the legal fact that Starfleet had been called to mediate the dispute and had no territorial status here and the practical fact that based on what we’ve seen up till now, any single one of the ships from either fleet could have taken Enterprise apart without breaking a sweat. Still, it harks back to proper TOS tradition and by playing it as much for comic value as suspense through Archer’s last minute message, it avoids the kind of overblown self-righteousness such scenes usually involve for Archer. The fact that Trineer is also a better actor and Trip a more likeable character than Archer undoubtedly helped as well.

All in all, “Cease Fire” could have used a more original plot but still has plenty of memorable character moments, snips of memorable dialogue, and noteworthy production values while effectively advancing the galactic drama of the Federation’s founding.

Next week: From Andorians and Vulcans to Suliban, Oh My.

Star Trek Voyager review – Inside Man

Summary: An Evil Barclay hologram stalks Seven of Nine, Good Barclay Human stalks Troi. Continuity stalks Voyager. Barclay is still oppressed by the man.

Ever since Reginald Barclay came to identify with Voyager’s isolation and loneliness in Pathfinder, he’s been obsessed with Voyager and with ending Voyager’s isolation

star trek voyager inside man

"So I'm just Barclay's sidekick now. Figures."

as a way of ending his own by proxy. Of course, Reg having a little trouble interacting with people, even Voyager crew people, he created a holodeck version of Voyager in which he’s suave, sophisticated and worshiped by all. In Inside Man he turns the tables by sending an enhanced holographic version of himself to the real Voyager. Where before Barclay was content to create holographic worlds for himself where he was all powerful, he has since come to realize that these worlds are actually fake. So of course now he’s turned to creating superior holographic versions of himself to interact with the real world.

The EHB (Enhanced or Evil Holographic Barclay) is everything that Barclay isn’t, or that Barclay thinks he isn’t and would like to be. Charming, a natural leader and the life of the party is what Barclay seems to have been aiming for, but when crossed with a Ferengi amoral con artist reprogramming job, what comes out the other end looks like a psychopath running for political office. The EHB sports a fixed demented grin and spews out ridiculous platitudes to the crew. He calls Voyager a “Miracle ship” and tells Neelix he has the most important job of them all and in a not so subtle in-joke tells Seven of Nine that she’s actually the most popular crew member of them all.

Properly directed and balanced with the scenes from the real Barclay’s life this might actually have been pretty funny and dark stuff as Mike Vejar managed to make it in the original Pathfinder. Unfortunately the direction is too aimless in the first half and by the time the strong Barclay storyline begins, the EHB’s storyline has almost ended. And the EHB scenes aren’t so much funny as confusing. Considering that the EHB does everything but hum melodies while sharpening a butcher knife, it’s hard to understand how the Voyager crew is stupid enough to fall for everything he says. As Tom Paris points out in a nice touch of continuity early on, Voyager’s attempts to get home have ended in disaster and the EHB’s routine is about as sophisticated as Quark’s.

Inside Man only becomes interesting when it snaps back to Barclay’s life, which ironically enough despite its supposed boredom is a lot more interesting and textured

star trek voyager inside man

"Of course I love him for himself."

than the “Voyager gets screwed once again but saved in time by a technogizmo factor.” Barclay’s plot isn’t that much more original than Voyager’s, but he is so screwed up, off balance and lost in a giant universe that it actually seems plausible that his story might not have a happy ending. And for all of Voyager’s travels, Barclay’s move from Starfleet to the beach and back seems to have more scale and scope than anything Voyager has done this season.

Maybe it’s the moody lighting, but even Barclay trying to do comedy is a whole lot darker than Imperfection or Unimatrix Zero. After all, Barclay doesn’t have to draw on Post-Borg angst or Half-Klingon angst or I’m-the-Commander-and-I-have-to-get-my-crew home-angst. He’s just the only imperfect, neurotic person in all of Starfleet and it and the few sets of the research labs and the beach are just so much more watchable than more filler from the Delta Quadrant follies. This is bad news for Voyager’s lackluster final season, but good news for any potential Starfleet HQ show or any version of Series V that will include more characters like Barclay and less characters like Janeway or 7 of 9.

One of the advantages of the Barclay side of the story is also the fact that Barclay is dealing with a conspiracy that might have plausibly gone unnoticed. The method of Barclay’s exploitation and how clueless he was about it is very plausible and ties in perfectly with Barclay’s backstory and character, while the method of the Voyager side of the conspiracy wouldn’t have fooled a child. Basically on the word of a hologram who’s really charming, Janeway nearly kills her entire crew without actually verifying the information with Starfleet itself. Janeway, who is usually paranoid and sensing conspiracies where there are none, is never remotely suspicious of the EHB until the EMH’s pettiness (in a plot point recycled so often it’s practically turned to mulch) raises her suspicions. Barclay is supposed to be gullible and easily taken advantage of, Janeway isn’t.

Still unlike the two previous Barclay episodes, Inside Man actually provides something useful for Troi to do. Where in Pathfinder she was just someone for Barclay to

star trek voyager inside man

"I am evil racial stereotype #3 Mugh mugh mugh"

talk to, here she actually takes a leading role in some of the events. The interrogation scenes are priceless with every single actor from Admiral Paris down shining in however much screentime they get. This is the only time IM successfully combines the dark and light touches that made Pathfinder so successful and it alone is worth the price of admission. As in Tinker Tailor, the humor works because it’s grounded in reality and in genuine human pain, while on the Voyager side the funniest bit is just the sight gag involving the Doctor’s golfing costume.

Of course the producers use Troi’s scenes to inject as many references to absent TNG crewmembers as possible. Troi vacations with Will on the beach but he isn’t due to arrive yet (possible reference to the TNG pilot), Barclay sings a duet with Data and discusses his holographic matrix with Geordi. These references fall somewhere between cute and grating. Considering Voyager’s current lackluster state, the reminders of a better show now deceased end up generating more nostalgia than annoyance at the painfully obvious tactics for trying to cash in on TNG’s popularity.

The final ending of the show is buried in technobabble but since it occupies little enough time and there’s not much suspense left by this point, it’s less of an issue than it might normally be. Best of all, by the end of the episode Voyager’s crew have not been clued in to all the events and are just as ignorant, meanwhile Barclay has produced an updated EHB that’s practically designed to terrify the Voyager crew as soon as it arrives. So despite a weak beginning and a not-really-there Voyager story, Inside Man has enough good moments, good humor and Barclay to make it pleasant and offbeat viewing.

Star Trek Voyager: Fair Haven review

Star Trek has never had any trouble doing drama. Death, destruction and misery have always been up the show’s alley whether it be the

star trek voyager fair haven

A backlot in sunny Dublin, Hollywood

original Star Trek, The Next Generation or any of the spinoffs. Comedy though has always been harder and Star Trek has an uneven history when it tries to go on the lighter side of things. The Original Series managed to work up a near perfect comedy routine with its three main characters but still many of the lighter episodes like “Shore Leave” or “A Piece of the Action” don’t work on anything like a rational level. The Next Generation, with a persistently ramrod and humorless ensemble, mostly turned out comedic classics best forgotten and DS9’s idea of humor seemed to involve singing holograms and little people with big ears involved in crime capers. Like TOS, Voyager has a less serious tone, a cast with great comedic timing and is more open to campy humor than its darker and more painfully serious cousin and uncle. Like TOS, Voyager also has no shortage of unintentionally funny episodes and “Fair Haven” comes close to qualifying.

“Fair Haven” is the third Voyager holodeck hideaway the crew have tried and the indecisiveness and the lack of originality weighs on the episode. From the start “Fair Haven” can’t seem to decide whether it’s going for laughs or trying to make some points about internal Voyager crew dynamics and

star trek voyager fair haven

Failte does have the word "Fail" in it

Janeway’s lack of a love life. Unable to choose any kind of path, it hugs a middle road that leads to a bland episode that doesn’t even seem to care about its main storyline. “Fair Haven” is a stereotypical cartoonish Irish village into which the Voyager crew blend while looking for fun. The stereotypes aren’t nearly as offensive as TNG’s “Up The Long Ladder” but the problem here is more the banality of the premise than any of the P.C. aspects of it. “Fair Haven” is just boring. We know just about everything about the place because it’s been reused so many times that it’s meaningless. Even Spock and the TOS cast would have gotten little out of this material and so Voyager’s crew is helplessly stranded, lost among cliches rendered seriously as if the inhabitants of “Fair Haven” actually mattered.

Well one of them does anyway, to Janeway at least. The issue of Janeway’s lack of a relationship has been around for as long as the show has, at least in part because of the double standard which says that every female character on a show either has to be in a relationship or on course towards one. Isolated from the Federation or any long term contacts, Janeway never had much in the way of an opportunity for a relationship outside her own crew. With the producers ruling out her

star trek voyager fair haven

The holodeck, a sexual outlet for captains with poor social skills on long voyages

crewmembers as a possibility while not wishing to offend those fans who still wants Janeway and Chakotay to get together, the only logical solution seems to be a hologram. Hence Janeway pays a visit to a lovely Irish village, meets a tall, dark and handsome bartender and spends some quality time with him.

What’s wrong here? Well for one thing he’s a hologram, a non-sentient lifeform which puts him somewhere between a computer program and a really smart ape. While “Fair Haven” is far more frank about sex with holograms than the prudish TNG it really doesn’t deal with the question of what to call a person who finds sexual and emotional intimacy with something below the human level. When the Doctor compares himself to the bartender this cleverly dodges the point that the Doctor is considered to be a sentient being as opposed to any of the millions of holograms that can be activated, deactivated and deleted with a word. In fact when the Doctor advises Janeway not to tamper with his programming he is not doing it for him but for her. It is not his rights that we are concerned with, but how best for Janeway to go about having a relationship with him.

“Fair Haven” does have its high points. Mulgrew seems more relaxed and loose than she’s ever been and at times seems practically human

star trek voyager fair haven

Next week this was used as the backdrop in an episode of Law and Order Dublin

herself. The rest of the crew though is reduced to diving for cheap laughs that never come because the gimmicks they’re based on are such cliches. There is a certain amount of cleverness behind some of the writing which makes the core stupidity of the entire thing so much more incomprehensible. Ultimately the success or failure of a ‘light’ episodes rests on the affinity of the audience for the characters. Star Trek fans are prepared to watch TOS episodes that would be embarrassing and painful with any other characters in them. Similarly, “Fair Haven” might actually work for those people as interested in the Voyager characters as Star Trek fans are interested in Kirk, Spock and McCoy. For the rest of us, the storm is preferable to the fair haven.

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