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Star Trek: Voyager – Spirit Folk (Review)

The holodeck is horrifying.

This is nothing new. It has been this way since Star Trek: The Next Generation. The holodeck has been an unsettling concept from almost the very beginning, not least because of the kinds of stories that the holodeck suggests. From the moment that the Enterprise updated the holodeck in The Big Goodbye, there has been a creeping sense that the holographic creations are capable of comprehending the nature of their existence; in fact, that episode ends with the horrifying notion of McNary wondering what would happen to him when Picard turned off the program.

It’s the poster for the least exciting action movie of the late nineties.

This anxiety simmered in the background of the next few holodeck-centric episode, albeit less directly. Both Minuet in 11001001 and the Comic in The Outrageous Okona seemed to grasp their nature as computer constructs designed to serve specific purposes. They lacked the existential angst that McNary expressed in his final moments, but there was still something lurking just beneath the surface. If these entities were self-aware, could their creation and destruction be ethical? In Elementary, Dear Data, Moriarty brought the question to the fore; a hologram who wished to escape his captivity.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine largely stayed away from the holodeck (or the holosuite) for most of its run, barring small recurring gags about the crew’s recreational use of the facilities. Our Man Bashir cleverly side-stepped the issue of holographic self-awareness by casting the lead actors in the role of holographic supporting players. Nevertheless, the introduction of Vic Fontaine in His Way introduced yet another self-aware holographic character, his self-awareness taken for granted and only really articulated in episodes like It’s Only a Paper Moon.

A public (house) meeting.

In contrast, Star Trek: Voyager has only doubled-down on this idea that holographic characters are self-aware. This is most obvious with the EMH, the holographic doctor who struggled for recognition as a person in early episodes like Eye of the Needle and who made a long and gradual journey towards self-actualisation in episodes like Lifesigns and Real Life. However the show engaged with the idea of holographic self-awareness even outside of the EMH, with characters like Dejaran in Revulsion, Leonardo DaVinci in Concerning Flight, the aliens in Bride of Chaotica! and the town in Fair Haven.

To be fair, some of the arguments made by Voyager have been treated with the weight which they deserve. The EMH consciously asserts his personhood in Author, Author, a clumsy but well-intentioned final-season homage to The Measure of a Man. There is a sense that Voyager is capable of treating holograms with the same dignity that The Next Generation afforded Data on his own journey towards self-actualisation. There is something genuinely moving, for example, in the way that the degradation of his program in The Swarm is treated with the same gravity as the neurological decline of a flesh-and-blood character.

Mass appeal.

However, this also creates a strange dissonance in the episodes that don’t use the holodeck for high drama, and instead treat it as the setting for a romp or an adventure. Voyager seems to argue that every hologram is capable of reaching self-awareness, which means that every use of the holodeck to create new characters should be a momentous occasion. In the world of Voyager, every holodeck program, with the right combination of time and experience, can become a sentient being. This means that use of the holodeck should be something treated with weight and respect.

Fair Haven and Spirit Folk are nowhere near as charming as the production team seem to think that they are, but in the broader context of how Voyager approaches holographic characters, they are downright horrifying.

High spirits.

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The X-Files (Topps) #13 – One Player Only (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

After a twelve-issue opening mega-arc of interconnected stories about conspiracies-within-conspiracies and wheels-within-wheels, author Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard step back a little bit to close out their run with a series of standalone stories. The four issues (and three stories) that make up the rest of their run on Topps’ X-Files comic stand alone. They are connected by themes and subtext, but very clearly stand apart from what came before. Indeed, they play out almost like a postscript to the main body of work, a series of smaller bite-sized chunks.

In that light, it is interesting that One Player Only feels – superficially, at least – a lot more in step with the television show. The early issues of the comic had seen Petrucha and Adlard creating their own supporting cast and their own conspiracy, so as to avoid stepping on the toes of the production company. The Cigarette-Smoking Man was largely reduced to a number of cameos, with Skinner popping up once or twice along the way.

Ghosts in the machines?

Ghosts in the machines?

Not only does One Player Only feature a guest appearance from supporting characters like Mr. X or yhe Lone Gunmen, it also harks back to the structure and format of the first season of the show. On the most basic of levels, One Player Only feels like a more cyberpunk take on Ghost in the Machine, right down to the fact that Mulder is drawn into a murder at a tech company by an acquaintance from his days in the Violent Crimes Division. At one point, Mulder and Scully stumble on a ransacked house, for Mulder to deadpan, “Hm. Nothing new.”

However, if one peels back the layers, One Player Only is a fascinating piece that sets the tone for Petrucha and Adlard’s last three issues on the series, while infusing the comic with a host of fascinating cyberpunk stylings and body horror that seem to call forward to William Gibson’s future writing for the show.

Coding out...

Coding out…

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Non-Review Review: Transcendence

Transcendence is a passable b-movie suffocated by pretension and self-importance. What amounts to a conventional paint-by-numbers story about technology-gone-mad is suffocated by the weight it affords itself. The movie feels like it wants to be a meditation on technology and human independence, but instead feels like a re-heated fifties science-fiction horror lightly flavoured with millennial anxieties. There are good ideas here – the movie’s second act comes quite close to working, sandwiched between a fuzzy first act and a messy climax – but none of the fun that might excuse the sizeable flaws.

There's an app for that...

There’s an app for that…

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The X-Files – Ghost in the Machine (Review)

I like Ghost in the Machine more than I really should. I mean, I know it’s a mess. The plotting is uninspired. The characters are thin. There’s a last minute link to the show’s overall conspiracy arc thrown in to compensate for the fact that plugging a device into a USB socket is hardly the most thrilling of climaxes. And yet, despite that, I think there’s an endearing weirdness to Ghost in the Machine that appeals to me.

It’s an AI story that has clearly written by a team who (by their own admission) know nothing about computers, and so there’s an almost ethereal quality to the whole thing – Mark Snow’s looping electronic score, the sparse theatrical set design of the COS mainframe, and director Jerrold Freedman’s obvious affection for Dutch angles all contribute to the sense that something rather strange is happening at the very edge of the frame.

Watch out...

Watch out…

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