Discovery: not your mother’s Star Trek

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery is back on Netflix after a mid-season/Thanksgiving/Christmas Break (no idea) and continues to deliver something completely different from the Star Treks that boldly came before – and when I say “something different” then I really mean “everything is different”.

To begin with, there’s the characters. Okay, don’t get me wrong, I love the franchise, but up until now, everyone serving in Star Fleet has been the perfect hero or the perfect villain. Sure they all had their quirks (Spock’s way of using his eyebrows to tell you how inferior you are…), but in the end, you  knew that when push came to shove, everyone would knuckle down, dig deep, and save the day.

After one episode of Discovery, I wondered how any of these people had slipped past pysch eval and made it onto a starship. The crew is borderline dsysfunctional and the captain would happily jettison the lot of them into space if that’s what it took to complete the mission. We have a disgraced crew member who was responsible for the deaths of eight thousand fleet personnel. There’s an ensign who won’t let  Aspergers stop her from making captain (good for her), and the chief science officer is in a gay relationship with the ship’s doctor. (This really makes no sense because the chief scientist is a real dick, and so the doctor is punching way below his weight in my opinion).

So you don’t need me to tell you that this is the best Star Trek outing since Generations. Rather than the adventure-per-episode format that’s served them since the mid-sixties, Discovery has gone for a single mission – well … more of an interstellar war actually, and it’s not going well. The new format works because the writers can focus on filling out the characters, rather than spending twenty minutes getting the crew into a situation, then spending the next forty trying to get them out of it. It’s a new take, and for me it’s working.

And don’t get me started on the Klingons. They look different (what’s with the four nostrils?) and they’re as brutal as they come. They torture for sport and they eat their kill … Star Fleet officers included.

This is the Star Trek universe viewed through the darkness. The writers have gone back to the days before the star-spanning utopia enjoyed by Picard and co. (you remember that their Enterprise was basically a lounge and bar fitted with a warp drive), to a time when Star Fleet was an engine of war. No sacrifce too great, no deed too immoral to contemplate.

If you don’t have Netflix then Star Trek:Discovery is the best reason to get it. It’s bloody brilliant.




Book review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

This is quite an old one; published in 2001 I believe, and it completely passed me by. I probably would’ve carried on walking past it in the book shop if not for the fact that Peter Jackson has made it into a movie (set for a December 2018 release). Saw the trailer, bought the book … and read it in about a day.

Thousands of years after a war that lasted just sixty minutes, the survivors of humanity wander the plains of Europe and Asia in Traction Cities: remnants of the post-war metropolises mounted on massive (and I do mean MASSIVE) engines. The Traction Cities ‘hunt’ smaller towns, stripping them down for fuel and parts and enslaving their population. I’ve posted the film trailer, which’ll give you an idea of how it works.

Not only do I love the concept, I love the way the story is told. It’s aimed at young adults, but it’s told in a simple literary style that manages to focus heavily on the characters without losing the connection to the surrounding action. The scene setting is brilliant; in fact I was hooked when I read the first paragraph, and the quality of the piece runs through right to the last page.

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Playing with Scrivener 3

So the word’s out: Scrivener 3 hit the interweb on the 20th of November. Oceans will boil, grown men will weep, children will speak in tongues…
No seriously, that’s what’s going to happen.
It’s been a long time coming for most of the user base, but a lucky few of us have been given the opportunity(!) to beta test the latest version of what is arguably the greatest writing tool known to man.

I’ve been Scrivener fan since version 1.0 (a little before that actually) and so I like to think I shaped its evolution in some very small way – even if it was just to have some of my feature requests flatly refused. Keith Blount, the app’s main developer, has always maintained that Scrivener is primarily a composition tool: you write your stuff pretty much stripped of formatting, compile it into a finished document and then drop it into word for the final polish. It’s main selling point was organisation: you could write your piece as a hierarchy of folders and documents, move them about, chop and change them as much as you want, and then when the world was ready for your masterpiece, churn out a first draft.
Scrivener 2 built on this, reorganising the user interface and simplifying the compilation process so it was less daunting for beginners … but once again it fell short of the end-to-end solution. Still, as far as I was concerned, it was still the best way to get your first draft done.

And now, many seasons and four novels later, we arrive at Scrivener3, and this is definitely not your mama’s upgrade. To begin with, a lot of the internals have been rewritten to support the latest Apple technologies, and the UI has been completely revamped. It looks a lot better, a lot less distracting to the eye. The biggest change though, really represents a change in philosophy. Keith seems to have relaxed his “we’re a composition tool only” stance and has reimagined Scrivener as your complete long form development kit.

Now before we go any further, let’s be clear on two things:

  1. Scrivener will always be missing 30% of MS Word’s functionality
  2. No one actually uses that 30%

Okay, so what’s changed? Well let’s start with the biggie:

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