Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 17 – A Piece of the Action

Another comedic episode!  The Enterprise travels to a world that was visited a century earlier by an early human space vessel that never returned to Earth.  And since the world is almost a hundred light years from Earth, the radio messages from the original flight have just reached Earth.  Now Kirk must determine whether the earlier contact has had any detrimental impact on the inhabitants.

They contact the planet and are instructed by a local leader named Bela Oxmyx where to transport for a meeting.  When Kirk, Spock and McCoy arrive they are taken prisoner by Oxmyx’s men who are dressed as prohibition-era gangsters and armed with Thompson machine guns.  While traveling to Oxmyx’s office they are waylaid by a carload of rival gangsters who spray machine gun fire at them.  We are shown that this world is a replica of 1920’s America and organized as a constant war of gangs fighting it out for supremacy.  When they get to Oxmyx’s headquarters we find out that the earlier ship had left a book on 1920’s gang history and the inhabitants of this world have adopted it as a textbook on how to organize their society.  Oxmyx demands that Kirk provide him with a supply of phasers to allow him to conquer all his enemies and take over the whole planet.  Kirk refuses and the three of them are taken prisoner.

After that the story is a series of escapes and captures by Kirk, Spock and McCoy from Oxmyx and his rival, Jojo Krako, as they attempt to figure out a plan to repair the damage done to this world’s culture.  Eventually by using a show of force with the Enterprise’s phaser weapon set on a wide area stun setting Kirk convinces the mob bosses that they are outmatched and must knuckle under to the Federation.  He sets up Oxmyx as the head boss with Krako as his lieutenant and ends the violence between the gangs.  And to make it seems legitimate to these criminals he demands 40% of the “action” from the mobsters that will be collected annually by a Starfleet vessel.

Alright so that’s the plot but it’s just an excuse for a costume farce.  And as that it’s enjoyable and somewhat funny.  Once Kirk figures out that he’ll have to deal with the gangsters on their own terms he adopts an awful New York accent and starts using the gangster slang.  “We’ll put the bag on Krako;” “put him on ice;” “we won’t give you the heaters;” and “we’ll give you a piece of the action.”   Once he adopts this persona, even stealing some clothes from the mobsters for himself and Spock, Kirk (Shatner) hams it up and even attempts to get Spock to talk the slang with limited success.  And, of course, these slips by Spock are for laughs which actually work.  Later on, we get Spock critiquing Kirk’s lack of skill driving a manual transmission automobile, which is also kind of funny.  And the other bit is Kirk trying to convey instructions to Scotty over the communicator in this patois.  Inevitably he has to translate it into normal English for Scotty.  But when Scotty finally has one of the mob bosses on the Enterprise, he attempts to use some computer-based research into the period slang by threatening the boss with a pair of concrete galoshes.  The mob boss looks contemptuous and asks him if he means cement overshoes.  Scotty looks crestfallen but gives him his Scottish “aye.”

As I’ve made clear previously, I consider any Star Trek episode that plays it for laughs as a welcome change.  When the characters are actually allowed to make their characters somewhat three-dimensional it provides something to keep our interest.  Nimoy playing Spock playing a gangster is probably as good as Spock is going to get.  Even the very end of the episode goes for laughs.  Back on the ship McCoy admits that he lost his communicator on the planet.  Kirk acts alarmed and says based on this race’s cleverness at reverse engineering things eventually they would come after the Federation and “want a piece of our action!”  There is a fair amount of “Bowery Boys” style fight scenes that give Shatner a chance to embarrass himself but this episode is basically rated based on the success of the comedy.

I’ll call this an 8 // 4.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 16 – The Gamesters of Triskelion

Another iconic episode.  Alright let’s get it out of the way right at the beginning.  Ratings must have been fading so they hired a Las Vegas burlesque queen in a very revealing costume to give the show a boost.  And as I remember my adolescent self was not opposed to this aspect of the show at all.  Honestly, she was probably the best-looking babe they ever had on the show.  In terms of acting, well it was Star Trek so really, who cares?

Kirk, Chekov and Uhura (boy that’s an odd combination) are in the transporter getting ready to beam down to planet XYZ123 when suddenly they vanish without the transporter even being energized.  Scotty, Spock and McCoy jabber at each other trying to figure out what happened.

Meanwhile we see Kirk, Chekov and Uhura on a distant planet called Triskelion being assaulted by mismatched gladiators with silly weapons.  The hot looking warrior woman named Shahna is dressed in an aluminum foil bikini and armed with a giant-sized bottle opener.  A caveman in a Fred Flintstone suit is armed with a whip and a net.  A relatively ordinary looking guy in hose and doublet named Lars has a letter opener as his weapon and then there’s this really small old woman who doesn’t do very much and maybe also had a giant bottle opener but since I was watching Shahna most of the time I’m not really sure what the other woman had.

Once the Enterprise crew is subdued by the “thralls,” a weird skinny, bald headed guy in a black robe tells them what’s what.  He is the Master Thrall named Galt.  He runs the gladiatorial games for the “Providers.”  The Providers are disembodied brains living in a cavern a thousand meters below the surface of Triskelion and they spend their pathetic lives capturing beings throughout the galaxy with their powerful transporter beam and betting a currency called quatloos on the fights they organize between the captives.  But since they are disembodied brains that live in a cave what they would do with the quatloos they win is completely meaningless.

Meanwhile back on the Enterprise Spock confirms that the landing party is not on the planet below and finding an energy signature in a cloud decides to head twelve light years in that direction to find the captain and company.  McCoy and Scotty whine and complain about this decision and finally Spock has the best non-Shahna moment in the show when he tells them that since he is in command that he will do as he pleases unless (and hear he lowers his voice so that only the two of them can hear him) McCoy and Scotty intend to start a mutiny.  The two complainers immediately started hemming hawing and denying they had any such idea and fall in line with the plan.

Kirk and company learn the hard way that Galt and the Providers use collars on the necks of the thralls to train and punish disobedience.  They seem to learn that there is no escape and no way to resist.  So, Kirk quickly gets down to business and seduces Shahna with his Shatnerly charms.  He hugs and kisses her and tells her about the stars and Earth and how much he likes her.  But in the next scene he kisses her and then socks her in the jaw to get her key to his cell and make a break with Chekov and Uhura.  And since Providers are omniscient, they are quickly subdued and sentenced to die.

Kirk is now doomed to die but first he asks to meet the Providers face to face.  He is transported into the crappy cave that the Providers live in and berates them for their pathetic existence.  At this point the Enterprise reaches Triskelion and is immediately immobilized by the Providers.  Kirk appeals to the Providers’ gaming blood and proposes a wager.  If he defeats a thrall in single combat, he and his people will go free and the Providers will give freedom and training to the thralls to become independent beings on Triskelion.  If he loses then the whole crew of the Enterprise will become thralls.  The Providers decide instead that he’ll have to fight three thralls.  Take that Kirk!  Kirk dispatches the caveman and Lars but the third guy is only injured so he is replaced by Shahna who is still mad about the sucker punch Kirk gave her earlier.  Finally, Kirk takes away her bottle opener and with Lars’ letter opener at her throat she surrenders.  The Providers turn out to be good sports and keep their word and let the Enterprise go free and agree to turn the thralls into people.

There is a maudlin scene between Kirk and Shahna and after the landing party beams up Shahna gets a short monologue where she talks to the sky and thanks Jim Kirk for showing her the road to female empowerment and possibly less-revealing clothes.

So much to say.  Besides Spock’s mutiny game I think the other stand out comedy was Chekov being cornered in his cage by his selected mate, the old short weird looking woman thrall.  She’s smitten with him and he tries to be civil but he’s obviously weirded out by her appearance and overeager attentions.  It’s very creepy.

This show is just overflowing with Shatner doing his thing.  His shirt has been taken away and has been replaced with a harness that reveals his noticeable weight gain.  He’s leaping around kicking and punching everything in sight.  And of course, his amorous moments with Shahna highlight some of the very corniest acting Bill Shatner ever committed.  But I think what I like best is when Kirk is dismissing the idea of the Providers betting “trifles like quatloos” when human lives were so much more meaningful.  There we see Kirk the negotiator, Kirk the gambler.

So, all in all the girl is very attractive, although her eye makeup looked to be about an inch thick.  The plot was amusing and reasonably clever.  The Shatner mockery value was almost off the scale.  I’ll give this an 8 // 10.

 

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 15 – The Trouble with Tribbles

Ah, so much to say, so much to say.  The Trouble with Tribbles is a comic episode.  It allows Shatner and the rest of the regulars to ham it up outrageously.  And as it turns out that is the highest and best use of the series.  Uhura, Chekov, Scotty, McCoy, Spock and of course Kirk are provided dialog and space to flesh out their characters with some comic verve.  Finally, something to enjoy.

The plot has the Enterprise summoned by an emergency distress call to Deep Space Station blah blah blah  where they find that there is no emergency but that a space bureaucrat is worried that his space wheat seeds will be sabotaged before it can be delivered to a planet in dispute between Klingons and the Federation.  Kirk is outraged by this high-handed use of a distress call and insults the Under-Secretary of Wheat.  Then Kirk is called up by his boss and told to do what the bureaucrat tells him to do.  Kirk obeys with bad grace and assigns guards to protect the wheat from the Klingons who are on board the space station for rest and relaxation.  The Klingon commander is played by the actor who showed up on the episode, “The Squire of Gothos” as the titular character Trelane.  So Kirk uses the opportunity of the stay at the space station to allow his whole crew to take shore leave on the space station.  Scotty is the only crewman who doesn’t want to take leave but Kirk forces him to go and keep an eye on the rest of the crew and avoid trouble with the Klingons.

A space trader named Cyrano Jones shows up at the space station and among the things he is selling are tribbles.  These are fur balls that purr around humans and hate Klingons.  Jones gives one to Uhura while she is seated at the bar in the space station lounge.  She takes it back to the ship and we find out that tribbles are prolific breeders and within a few days the Enterprise and the space station are both becoming overrun with the fuzzy creatures.

Meanwhile, Scotty, Chekov and some red shirts are having drinks in the lounge when one of the Klingons starts insulting Kirk.  Chekov is incensed and wants to start a brawl with the Klingons but Scotty restrains him explaining that it isn’t important and everyone is entitled to his opinion.  But when the Klingon starts insulting the Enterprise as a ship Scotty punches him in the head and a huge brawl breaks out.  The fight alarms the Under-Secretary of Space Wheat and he rants and raves at Kirk about dangerous Klingons and rowdy Federation spacemen and tribbles.  Kirk is annoyed and promises to discipline his crew.

At this point the tribble infestation on the Enterprise becomes a catastrophe.  The tribbles have managed to infiltrate the food production systems and we see the spectacle of Kirk staring at his lunch tray covered with tribbles muttering “my chicken sandwich and coffee” to anyone who will listen.  When Scotty explains that the tribbles have managed to get into the air ducts, Kirk immediately realizes that the space wheat storage bins have air ducts too.  Kirk, Spock and McCoy rush over to the space station and when the storage bins doors don’t open easily Kirk fiddles with it and the overhead bin opens up and pours down hundreds of tribbles onto Kirk.  They’ve eaten all the space wheat and the Under-Secretary of Space Wheat, who was there to witness this debacle, blows a space-gasket and starts heaping abuse and threats on Kirk.  Meanwhile Spock, after first estimating the number of tribbles as something north of a million, observes that many of the tribbles are dead.  Bones then diagnoses the cause of death as a poison that the wheat contains.  A virus has been added to the wheat which renders the eater unable to ingest nutrition and therefore subject to death by starvation.

Using the tribbles’ hatred of Klingons Kirk is able to discover that the  Under-Under-Secretary of Space Wheat is a disguised Klingon and poisoned the space wheat.  This of course shuts up the Under-Secretary of Space Wheat and allows Kirk to walk away as the hero.

Finally Kirk returns to the ship and finds it cleared of tribbles and after a lot of hemming and hawing we find out that with the approval of Spock and McCoy, Scotty beamed all the tribbles onto the Klingon battleship just as it was about to warp out of orbit.  His words were, “I beamed them into the engineering section where they’ll be no tribble at all.”

Other than the fact that writer David Gerrold stole the concept of the tribble from Heinlein’s martian flat cats as they appeared in the novel “The Rolling Stones” I wholly approve of this episode.  It is obvious that a comical take on the adventures of the crew of the Enterprise is the only good purpose the show can be put to.

Kirk spends the whole episode outraged about everything.  The Under-Secretary is a truly annoying character.  For once you actually sympathize with Kirk.  The Klingons mock Kirk in front of his crew describing him as a strutting autocrat.  When Scotty tells Kirk about it and further admits that he didn’t bother to defend Kirk from the insults but did become enraged when the ship was insulted Kirk is cut to the quick.  And when the tribbles start discomfiting Kirk at every turn he is irritable and petulant.  This was indeed Shatner’s finest hour on Star Trek.

And Uhura, Scotty, Chekov get much more screen time than on any other episode I can remember.  Uhura gets to play with the tribble and converse with the rest of the crew.  Scotty and Chekov get a barroom brawl scene.  Even Spock gets to ham it up a little.

I won’t quibble about the tribbles.  I’m just going to give this episode a 10  //  10.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 14 – Wolf in the Fold

This is Star Trek in all its cheesy glory.  It starts with Kirk, McCoy and Scotty sitting in a bar leering at a belly dancer.  Apparently, the Enterprise is in orbit around an interstellar red-light district.  Kirk and McCoy are slobbering over each other talking about other dives they want to visit.  Scotty goes for a walk in the foggy night with the belly dancer.

Anyway, the plot, such as it is, revolves around Scotty being found several different times with a woman with a knife sticking in her.  In each case Scotty claims to have amnesia at the moment of the murder.  The police administrator is played by John Fiedler, the little bald mousey character actor known for his work in the movie “Twelve Angry Men” and as the voice of Winnie the Pooh’s friend Piglet.  In order to get to the bottom of the murders the leader of the planet has his wife perform a séance.  She starts moaning and whining about some monstrous deathless evil that kills women and lives off their fear.  But suddenly the lights go out and she screams.  When the lights come back up Scotty is, of course, holding the woman with a knife in her back and her blood on Scotty’s hands.

Eventually we find out that the evil entity was Jack the Ripper and he travelled out into the galaxy as humanity expanded out from Earth.  Based on the clues it is determined that the police administrator is the monster and when discovered he attempts to stab Kirk.  Kirk flips him and disarms him and then punches him in the jaw.  McCoy checks the killer and declares, “He’s dead Jim!”  But the entity leaves the human body and invades the ship computer.  Once in the computer the entity attempts to frighten the crew prior to murdering them.  But Spock sets the computer to figuring the exact value of pi.  Since pi is a transcendental number apparently the futuristic computer can’t handle the chore and malfunctions.  This drives the entity out of the computer and back into his body.  Spock injects the creature with a tranquilizer and then transports him into open space with a wide dispersion thus rendering it harmless.

This episode is wonderfully tacky and even the small touches add to its hokey atmosphere.  When the crew is being tranquilized to avoid feeding the creature on their fear Sulu gets this drunken expression that makes you think he’s about to drool on himself.  And I think the episode set a record for McCoy saying, He’s/She’s dead Jim!”  I counted three.  By the third one he should just have said, “Ditto.”  But above all, Kirk and McCoy in the belly dancing den of iniquity, slavering over the depravity they plan at the next dive they intend to visit is the high point.

I give this a score of   6 // 10.  Shatner’s bad acting lifts this episode to new heights of awful.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 13 – Obsession

Kirk, Spock and some red-shirts are on a planet searching for unobtanium.  Suddenly Kirk starts smelling gas.  Apparently, he recognizes a sickly-sweet smell from eleven years earlier when he was on the USS Farragut and it was attacked by a hemoglobin drinking gas cloud.  During this present mission the cloud kills off all the red-shirts.

This smelly gas cloud is Kirk’s white whale.  He is feeling guilt over having hesitated firing a phaser that might have saved his Captain’s life back eleven years ago.  By coincidence, the son of the late captain, Ensign Garrovick, is in the Enterprise’s crew and Kirk takes this young man down to the planet’s surface for another chance to kill the cloud.  Garrovick hesitates for two seconds when surprised by the cloud and more red-shirts are killed.  Kirk blames Ensign Garrovick for the death of the men.  Now the creature flees the planet and the Enterprise pursues at Warp 8.  Eventually the creature turns to fight.  Phasers and photon torpedoes do nothing and the creature manages to enter the Enterprise where it kills a few more men.  The creature attacks Spock but his copper-based globin is inedible.  Suddenly the creature leaves and heads off at Warp speed.  Kirk figures it’s going back to where it attacked the Farragut and that it’s going to spawn a multitude of offspring.  Spock tells Kirk to use an “ounce of anti-matter” to destroy the creature.  Kirk and Garrovick become bait for the creature and at the last second, they are transported away and the anti-matter is unleashed.  The blast interferes with the transporter and Spock and Scotty barely get the two men to rematerialize.

This episode features Kirk obsessed with destroying the creature that killed the captain that he admired coming out of the Academy.  Bones and Spock get to question Kirk’s judgement but eventually understand the danger of this creature.  There is a scene where Ensign Garrovick and Kirk fight over who would stay last while the creature is lured to the anti-matter.  Several times in the episode Kirk loses his temper.  This is a so-so episode.  Let’s call it a 5  //  4.

Warbound – Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles – by Larry Correia – A Science Fiction-Fantasy Book Review

Warbound is the third and the (currently) final volume of Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series.  And as such it ties together the threads from the earlier volumes, Hard Magic and Spellbound and provides the resolution of the story lines for the main characters Jake Sullivan and Faye Vierra.  These two are powerful “actives,” possessors of magic abilities in one or several categories working for the Grimnoir Society.  Jake is a Gravity Spiker with the ability to alter gravity at will while Faye is a Traveler, someone who can teleport from one location to another.  Both have been tested during the crises in the earlier books when they faced off first against the Iron Guard actives of the Japanese Imperium and afterward against rogue actives in the US intelligence agencies that were attempting to blame the Grimnoir Society for magical attacks by other forces.

But now the whole planet is threatened by an alien creature that preys on the entity that produces the magic.  The knowledge of what is at stake produces some strange alliances that alter the dynamic that the earlier books portrayed.  And despite the war footing that the book details Correia is able to mix just enough humor and other character driven interest to allow the pleasant juggling of a large number of characters.  One of the features of this historical fantasy world is the introduction of historical figures often possessing magic themselves.  Blackjack Pershing, J. Edgar Hoover, Buckminster Fuller, even FDR make longer or shorter appearances in the books.

I won’t go into a detailed plot summary because I don’t want to spoil the story.  Suffice it to say I’m giving it a very good rating.  And I’ll finish off by saying a few things about Correia’s story writing.  Without a doubt Correia is one of the best sf&f authors around today.  Going beyond that I’ll say he compares well with the older authors back in the heyday of the genres.  He writes good heroes and good villains.  He has a good ear for dialog and he can even inject humor into the story in a natural way.  One of his favorite types is a variant of the competent man but instead of Heinlein’s omnicompetent type Correia’s hero is usually a working- or middle-class guy who is good with his fists and guns and adheres to a code of conventional morality.  And as an added bonus his heroes are actually likable.  Even his villains are interesting.

And there’s one final bonus with Correia that is refreshing to see in today’s social justice infused entertainment industry.  There won’t be a single character thrown in just to earn intersectional social justice brownie points from the pink science fiction crowd.  Just regular people with super powers fighting super villains without having to worry if any of them is being oppressed by the really evil cis-het white man.

So far, I’ve read all Correia’s Monster Hunter books and now the Grimmoir books.  I’ve also enjoyed his comical Tom Stranger audiobooks and I follow his website for his take on the latest outrages by the pink science fiction scolds.  Next, I’ll start his epic fantasy series “Saga of the Forgotten Warrior” without bothering to check reviews because I’m already sure it’ll be excellent.  And in today’s science fiction and fantasy environment that’s pretty rare.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 12 – The Deadly Years

The setup, such as it is, has Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Chekov and some female red shirt beam down to Gamma Hydra IV to perform routine physicals on a colony of typical victims.  They find all but two of the colonists dead of old age and the two remaining ones already extremely elderly, this despite the fact that chronologically, they were all under thirty years of age.

When they get back to the ship the last two colonists expire and the landing party, except for Chekov begin aging at the rate of thirty years per day.  This is discovered when Kirk feels a back ache and instead of it being a muscle pull McCoy diagnoses advanced arthritis.  Next, we see Scotty walk into the sick bay completely gray haired and covered in wrinkles.  Kirk’s hairline starts receding and McCoy is soon sporting an enormous gray-haired wig that’s obviously plastered on top of his real hair.  At first, they barely give Spock a few gray hairs because Vulcans are more long-lived but by the end Spock gets a good set of facial wrinkles and some decent gray coverage.  And all of this make-up is hilarious but it’s the acting that makes this episode so great.  There is another of a long series of Commodores who is being transported to Star Base blah blah blah and is impatient to get there.  And once he witnesses Kirk forgetting the password for the bridge screen Twitter feed Commodore Busybody convinces Spock that it’s his duty to convene a competency hearing.  Of course, Kirk embarrasses himself and is packed off to assisted living or sick bay anyway.  The Commodore takes command and decides to cut across the Romulan neutral zone in order to get Kirk and the others to medical attention as quickly as possible.  He assumed the Romulans would be impressed with the humanitarian aspects of the mission.  Hah!  Now while the ship is being attacked by a dozen Romulan birds of prey, Kirk is berating Spock and calling him a traitor.  But in order to save the ship they pool their dementia-riddled brains and try to figure out how to reverse the aging disease.  They remember that Chekov was frightened down on the planet and McCoy remembers that adrenaline is present in the bloodstream during an acute fear reaction and that it is effective against certain radiation sicknesses which was the cause of the disease they are suffering from.  Miraculously they formulate a medicine and use it to reverse Kirk’s condition in time for him to boot the Commodore out of the Captain’s Chair and use the corbomite bluff (again!) to escape the Romulans.

I love this episode.  The titanic awfulness of the acting, the cheesy plot devices and the emotional interactions are highly entertaining.  Kirk and McCoy are just so wonderfully bad and they are at the very maximum of Kirkness and McCoyness so that a true fan of Star Trek could not ask for better.  At one point when Spock goes to the Kirk’s cabin to tell him he’s been relieved of duty Kirk calls him a traitor and accuses him of stabbing him in the back the first chance he got.  His whiny geriatric petulance is truly a Star Trek high point.  Shatner embodies in that scene the full limited emotional range that the series affords.  This is his “you broke my heart Fredo” moment.  It’s wondrous to behold.

At another point when Spock goes to McCoy complaining of hypersensitivity to cold and asks for a treatment, McCoy says, “I’m not a magician Spock, I’m just an old country doctor.” And Spock says, “Indeed, as I always suspected.”  This is the essence of the Spock/McCoy relationship.  And finally, when McCoy drags up the word adrenaline from his failing memory, as the name of the sought-after cure, he sounds like he might have expectorated in the face of anyone within range.  At each of these moments you know that this is the most fully realized that Star Trek ever was.

There are other touches.  Chekov gripes to Sulu about all the testing and blood samples they subject him to.  Kirk somehow has an old girlfriend on the ship who by some amazing coincidence is an endocrinologist and still has the hots even for geriatric Kirk.  I will say that even old Kirk looks like he could have done better.  Sulu questions a couple of Kirk’s repeated helm commands which sets Kirk off on a rant about questioning his orders.  And even the cute blonde yeoman (played by Carolyn Nelson) lets Kirk know he is asking to review a report he already signed a few minutes before.  Uhura has a larger than usual part.  She gets to testify against Kirk that he forgot that the Romulans had cracked the Federation Message Encryption Code 2.  And later on, while the Romulans are pummeling the ship with photon torpedoes, and the Commodore questions her why the Romulans aren’t answering his message to them she reminds the Commodore that Romulans are notorious for ignoring explanations.

Ah, it’s a fabulously ripe second season episode.  Kirk’s angry, confused portrayal falls perfectly into Shatner’s wheelhouse.  There isn’t any Shatner physicality but his angry blustering attacks on Spock gives this a very high Shatner mockery score.  Highly recommended for the connoisseur.    9 // 8

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 11 – Friday’s Child

This is the quintessential second season episode.  It has so many kitschy tics going on that it’s a little overwhelming.  So first the plot.

The Enterprise is attempting to get a treaty with a tribal world that has some make-believe mineral that’s really important.  The natives are allegedly seven-foot-tall Visigoths that are very honest but very combative and warlike.  McCoy has spent time on the planet and is an expert on their customs.  He, Kirk and Spock beam down along with a redshirt who is immediately killed by the natives when he draws his phaser at an unexpected Klingon with the natives.  Scotty is left in charge of the Enterprise and has been warned that the Klingons may be lurking around.

The Klingon plots with one of the natives and eventually this tribesman kills the tribal leader and takes over the task of deciding whether the Federation or the Klingons will get the mining treaty.

Now the deceased tribal leader’s pregnant wife (played by tv’s Cat woman Julie Newmar) is about to be slaughtered by the new leader but Kirk intervenes and the Enterprise landing party and the woman are placed under armed guard until it is decided how they are to be killed.

Meanwhile the Enterprise is decoyed out of orbit by a Klingon ship masquerading as a Federation freighter in distress.  So, while the landing party is unable to call for help in their peril.  By means of a subterfuge Kirk and Spock manage to overpower the guards and headed for the Los Angeles hills where they find a cave where McCoy can deliver the woman’s unwanted child.  As the widow of the leader she is honor bound to kill herself and the child with her.  McCoy convinces her to want the child but somehow, she decides the child is now McCoy’s.

Kirk and Spock make bows and arrows and cause an avalanche in the cliffs of southern California and hold the tribesman at bay while the baby is delivered but eventually the Klingon kills the new chief for no apparent reason and then is killed by the tribe.  Just then Scotty and a landing party arrives and the Cat woman is made the regent for her son who will be the next tribal leader.  Back on the ship we find out the baby is named Leonard James Akaar after McCoy and Kirk and Spock acts annoyed.  Hilarity ensues.

Okay, now let’s review the horror.  The supposedly seven-foot-tall natives are barely average height.  The uniforms of the warriors look like they were designed for Liberace or Elton John.  Next, we have the classic McCoyism.  When he is trying to drag the Cat woman up an arroyo he complains “I’m a doctor not an escalator.”  And while Scotty is commanding the Enterprise he comes up with such gems as, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!” and, “Let’s charge right at him and see if he has the belly for a fight!”  Kirk and Spock up in the hills with their bows and arrows was pretty ridiculous looking.

All the little mannerisms have been built up over the season and a half are now in place.  Kirk has an established manner with each of the cast members.  You can almost predict what he will say to Spock, McCoy, Scotty or Uhura.  Even Spock and McCoy have their little routines that they banter at each other.  So, from the point of view of a second season Star Trek episode this is average.  Average in every way.  I’ll give it an average rating 7 with a low Shatner mockery rating so let’s call it a 7 // 4.

The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem – A Science Fiction Book Review

Many years ago, I read some short stories by the Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem.  I remember they had futuristic elements like interstellar travel but they also included a certain amount of communist doublespeak about socialist this and soviet that.  And that seemed really odd.

But recently War Dog mentioned favorably the “The Cyberiad” collection of stories and its mathematical love poem so I decided to give Lem another whirl.

The stories in this book are the adventures of two robot inventors, or as they are called in their world Constructors, named Trurl and Klapaucius.  And when I say robot inventors I mean to say that they are inventors who are themselves robots.  They are friends and rivals and from time to time enemies.  They go on assignments together or separately taking on contracts to build just about anything imaginable.  And sometimes they build things for themselves that don’t always seem to be very sensible.  For instance, one- time Trurl constructed a machine that could create anything starting with the letter n.  It could make needles, negligees, nepenthe, narcotics, nimbuses, noodles, nuclei, neutrons, naphtha, noses, nymphs, naiads but not natrium.  And why not?  Because natrium is Latin for sodium and in English sodium starts with s!  Later on, being told to make nothing almost puts an end to the universe but luckily Trurl stops the machine just in time.

So as you can see this is comic science fiction. It’s something sort of in the same vein as Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” but what it also reminds me of is Lewis Carroll and his Wonderland stories.  There is an enormous amount of wordplay and punning going on in the stories.  The interesting thing is that a lot of the word play is specific to English and these stories were written in Polish which makes me wonder if the translator had to find English equivalents for Polish puns.

The Constructors become involved in adventures that take them all through the cosmos fulfilling contracts for kings and emperors and pirates and sometimes for common people who just really need help.  They build monsters and demons and story telling machines and even machines that know everything about the whole universe.  Interestingly it seems most of the universe is populated by robots and other cybernetic beings.  Organic beings exist and seem to be pretty generally looked down upon by the robots.  But the robots are very human in their foibles and behavior and none more so than our heroes Trurl and Klapaucius.

Mixed in with the zaniness of each of their adventures is a good dose of irony about the human condition.  The selfishness and cruelty of many of their employers and the vanity and greed of the Constructors themselves is often the point of the stories and the fantasy setting is there to add humor and interest to the tale.  And also Lem is enjoying the poetic aspect of the words.  Sure, we can’t hear the Polish words to know it’s poetical but based on the English words you can see that Stanislaw Lem is like a “drunken lord of language” always using twenty words for effect where one is needed for meaning.  Here’s an example:

“Multitudinous are you?”

“We are!”  they shouted, bursting with pride.  “We are innumerable.”

And others cried:

“We are like fish in the sea.”

“Like pebbles on the beach.”

“Like stars in the sky.  Like atoms!”

You get the idea.  Lem is a poet.  And his stories are parables.  And because of this I find that it needs to be broken up and digested in small chunks.  Each of the chapters is a separate story and should be approached as such.  With all of the word play and digressions you can lose track of the nub of the story if you’re tired and not paying attention so I wouldn’t suggest reading them at night before going to bed.  This happened to me once or twice and I realized this wasn’t the kind of material that can be enjoyed at high speed like an adventure novel.  But if you give each story some time and attention it will reward you with a smile and a chuckle.  I’m glad now I was made aware of The Cyberiad.  I will enjoy returning to the adventures of the two intrepid Constructors Trurl and Klapaucius on some cold night in January when my world needs something lighthearted and clever to get me through the short days and long nights of winter.  But if you don’t like an airy, poetical style of writing this might not be for you.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 12 – The Merchant of Venice – Olivier’s 1973 Version

The Merchant of Venice is an odd play.  The romance plot line with Portia and Bassanio is decidedly comic but the Shylock story is a revenge story that verges on the bizarre.  Olivier is Shylock, a Jewish moneylender in Venice.  The story revolves around Antonio, a prosperous merchant whose friend Bassanio is in love with the rich heiress Portia.  Bassanio begs a loan of 3,000 ducats to woo Portia as a nobleman.  Shylock gives Bassanio the money but because of his hatred of Antonio he demands that if the money is not repaid on time Shylock will remove a pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast closest to his heart.  Antonio treats this lightly because he has many merchant ships in route for home that should enrich him many times the 3,000 ducats in cargo value.  But when all his ships are reported lost then the default clause is no longer a joke but a promise of torture and death.

Another subplot has Shylock’s daughter run away from her father and elope with one of Bassanio’s friends, Lorenzo and also convert to Christianity.  It is this insult from his daughter that unhinges Shylock and turns him into a merciless fiend dead set on exacting his pound of flesh.  Luckily for Antonio, Bassanio’s courtship of Portia is successful and when she hears of Antonio’s peril, she tells her new husband that all the funds needed will be available to pay off Antonio’s debt.  But Shylock refuses even thrice the delinquent 3,000 ducats, standing on his contract to extract the pound of flesh he is owed.  Finally, a trial before the Duke of Venice is scheduled.  Portia comes disguised as a learned doctor of the law from Padua with a recommendation to the Duke from Bellario, her lawyer cousin in Padua.  Acting as the judge Portia concedes that the letter of the law allows Shylock to demand his pound of flesh but in a stirring speech she expounds on the “quality of mercy.”  But none of this phases Shylock in the least.  Over and over he refuses the 9,000 ducats and demands his barbaric payment.  Then Portia plays her trump card.  She declares that Shylock can have his pound of flesh.  But not a hair’s weight more or less and without spilling a drop of Antonio’s blood lest Shylock be put to death for it.  Knowing that he is beaten Shylock then asks for the 9,000 ducats but Portia tells him he has already refused that.  Then he asks for his principal back and is equally denied that.  And finally, he is informed that his attempt on the life of a Venetian citizen forfeits his own life and all his fortune.  By an act of mercy, the Duke spares his life and half his fortune with the proviso that Shylock must convert to Christianity and leave his remaining fortune to his daughter and her husband upon Shylock’s death.

After this happy ending there is the usual sexual politics with the disguised Portia demanding as payment from Bassanio for her legal help a ring that she had given him earlier as herself and which he had sworn never to remove.  And when back in her normal appearance she demands to see Bassanio’s ring.  He sadly admits to having given it away.  She produces it and teases him with having spent the night with the doctor of law.  And then there’s a tiff about it that is quickly straightened out when she reveals that she was the doctor of law.  And hilarity ensues.

This is a good production.  It is a good cast and the production values are equally good.  The scenery and costumes are of a Victorian England.  I don’t think this was a particularly good idea but it certainly didn’t harm the story much.  Joan Plowright looked a little too old to be Portia but her acting was everything you’d want for the part.  Jeremy Brett was a good Bassanio and the rest of the supporting cast was very able.  Olivier was very good.  But I was a little let down.  Shylock just isn’t that great a character.  He’s certainly not Hamlet or even Henry V.  He’s doesn’t even have the great villainous lines like Richard III.  A lot of his dialog is odd and melodramatic.  So, for once Olivier is not the main reason for watching this recording.

Plowright has the shining moment.  She gets to recite the quality of mercy speech.  And that alone is worth watching this play.  It is one of the best things Shakespeare ever wrote.  It’s uplifting even for an old deplorable like me.  It almost makes me want to show mercy to my political enemies.  Almost, but not quite.  My conclusion, this is a good version of The Merchant of Venice.

I’ll end with the text of that wonderful speech.

 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.