Rogue One: Cassian Andor is Really Lando Calrissian (No, not really.)

Long ago (the 1970s/80s) in a place far, far away (Hollywood, CA) a space opera fairy tale named Star Wars was created. The character names clued you in right away that even though they had blasters and space ships and stuff, this was mythology. Many character names held a key to that character’s destiny. Luke Skywalker wanted to be a pilot. Darth Vader was death, and an invader. There was grumpy loner smuggler named Solo. And there was a princess with a pretty fantasy name.

In the sequels we got characters whose names evolved only slightly. You could probably tell before you knew anything else about him that someone named Jabba the Hutt was going to be a) big, and b) a criminal. Lando Calrissian was probably going to be a little flashy, a little smooth, and a little less than trustworthy.

Decades went by and the stories went on, and new people came in, and no one ever went out of their way to consider the names. Because, really, in some ways, names don’t matter here. Sometimes, though, the names are just bad enough that they can’t be ignored, and as much as I enjoyed Rogue One, those names… really? The franchise needs to do better.

Cassian Andor. I do appreciate the franchise’s commitment to recycling though, as we’ll see with one of the leads in Rogue One, a hardened Alliance captain named Cassian Andor. The Star Wars script developers can always repurpose a group of letters, even if that group is nearly forty years old. I don’t need to say much. The letter in bold are the letters “Cassian Andor” and “Lando Calrissian” share:

Lando Calrissian
Cassian Andor

I’m being needlessly picky, you say. There are only 24 letters; certain phonemes get reused. Yes, I agree. I mean, look at how many letters the names “Luke Skywalker” and “Admiral Ahkbar” share. Right? And “Leia Organa” and “Padme Amidala.” Well, not quite so many, really, and in the case of the women, mostly vowels.

Face it. Lando Calrissian/Cassian Andor? It’s almost the same name.

Unless his name is meant to evoke the Ewok moon of Endor. That would be very different, and highly unlikely. Or a prince of Naria, which is equally unlikely. (Prince Caspian of Endor?)

Saw Gerrera.  What an interesting last name for a grizzled, bad-tempered old warrior, since is very close to guerrero, the Spanish world for warrior. And Gerrera gets called by his first name only once, I think, when Jyn’s mother contacts him and calls him “Saw.” Everyone else rattles off his entire name. I spent a good part of the movie thinking his first name was Saul –or Sol – actually, which I would have liked, because Sol Gerrera would nearly translate as Warrior Sun. And that would be cool.

Bodhi Rook is the Imperial pilot. Okay, I think this name is ridiculous in terms of the world-building of the Star Wars universe, but I’m going to go with it, because Bodhi means “awakened” in the Buddhist tradition. Yes, this story takes place long, long ago and far away where there are no Buddhists, but to the extent that this story has always been a fairy tale, or mythology, I’ll let them get away with it. Why won’t I let them get away with it for Gerrera? Because “Saul Gerrera” sounds like a contemporary person who would sell you a timeshare and that irritated me. As for Rook… well, you’re barely coming in under the wire of “trickster-bird, kinda like Crow or Raven,” and it sounds good with Bodhi. So, I’ll let you go with a warning. This time.

Jyn Erso. Our main character is named Jyn Erso, which sounds cool when you say it out loud; as in, “My name… is Jyn Erso,” or, “You know who I am. I… am Jyn Erso.” Jyn is short for Jynessa, which is a pretty, and pretty vanilla, fantasy name. I can’t help wondering, though, if she ended up getting this name because they didn’t have a name for her at first and conjured up “gyn” as a shortcut for “female.

K-2SO, the battle droid. There is nothing wrong with that name. It works just fine (even for mountain climbing fans who probably snickered over “K2”). Just fine. Carry on.

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Rogue One; It’s a War Movie and it Satisfies

I saw Rogue One with my friends Greg and Mary. We were pretty late to the party but finally we are current (Greg has been enforcing a spoiler-embargo on family and friends which is now lifted).

Bearing in mind that I haven’t seen all of the so-called “second” chapter and only five minutes of the “third” (and that was by accident), but I have seen The Force Awakens, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to follow all of Rogue One, but it was no problem. This  film bridged the prequels and transits nicely to “A New Hope” (the movie that used to be Star Wars).

(Yes, I do have an attitude.)

Jyn Erso

Jyn Erso

"Jyn, you never call, you never text, you never write..." Forest Whitaker as bad-attitude rebel Gerrera.

“Jyn, you never call, you never text, you never write…” Forest Whitaker as bad-attitude rebel Gerrera.

Rogue One takes place shortly before the events in A New Hope… in fact, the final scene happens moments before the opening sequence in that film. First though, we get the back-story of our main character, Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, who is the daughter of a disillusioned Imperial scientist and his warrior wife. When the Empire comes calling, intent on bringing Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) back to work for them, Jyn hides and is raised by a rebel named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Later, out on her own, she is rescued/abducted from an Imperial work detail by the Alliance, who want her to contact Gerrera and validate a secret message allegedly from her father. Escorting her to the rebel base on Jedha is Captain Cassian Andor, (Diego Luna) a ruthless fighter, and along the way they pick up a blind martial-arts monk, Chirrut (who is not a Jedi but who believes in the Force) and his partner Baze. Pretty soon, Jyn knows the whereabouts to the plans for the Death Star planet-killer weapon, complete with the deliberate flaw her father built into it, only the Alliance is too fearful to go after the plans.

"I really am ruggedly handsome!" Oh, wait, different series. Diego Luna as Captain Cassian Andor.

“I really am ruggedly handsome!” Oh, wait, different series. Diego Luna as Captain Cassian Andor.

The story is tense, action-packed and beautiful, with lots of grace-notes and nods to beloved Star Wars characters (and in the final space battle sequence, some cameos). There is plenty of mutual suspicion as the film opens; Jyn, left on her own, is not a rebel at first and is bargaining for her freedom; Andor has been given secret assignment that will not make Jyn happy if she uncovers it; and the reprogrammed battle droid that helps Andor is suspicious of her from the start. When they pick up the imperial cargo pilot who has changed sides to help Erso, everyone suspects him too. This makes for nice dynamics in between huge CGI-fueled battle scenes and creates rich, intimate scenes when they are needed.

One of the best of the not-action sequences is when Jyn listens to her father’s secret message, the one smuggled out by the pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed). The camera stays on Felicity Jones’s face as she hears the first words from her father in over ten years. There is another small, tense scene between Andor and Jyn when she realizes what Andor’s original assignment was.

I need action figures of these two, stat! Baze, left and Chirrut, right (Wen Chiang and Donnie Yen.)

I need action figures of these two, stat! Baze, left and Chirrut, right (Wen Chiang and Donnie Yen.)

Everything the Star Wars franchise does well, it does well here; blending CGI with live action; sets; costumes; action; banter; humor, suspense and timing. This series has, in the past, faltered badly when it came to story, and with Rogue One, like The Force Awakens, they seem to have cleared that hurdle with little difficulty. SPOILER ALERT: The story here is a specific type of war story, and it goes exactly the way that type of war story goes. That said, it’s a good take on the story, with charismatic actors who create just enough character to make us care. (While Jyn has a backstory, Diego Luna is solely responsible for making Captain Andor engaging since we know nothing about what he’s lost, given up, etc in the rebellion.) Felicity Jones made Jyn work when I had my doubts.

I liked it, I’m glad I finally saw it and I can recommend it to any Star Wars fan.

(Fair warning: in a later post I am going to make fun of this franchises’s terrible character name choices.)

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Ashildr; the Immortal with a TARDIS

Ashildr, the girl who died and the woman who lived.

Ashildr, the girl who died and the woman who lived.

(Warning; Spoilers if you have not seen/heard/talked/read about the 2015 Doctor Who season.)

There is one other human woman with a TARDIS, and she is immortal, courtesy of the Doctor. Her name is Ashildr, and she entered the Doctor’s storyline in 2015 (our time). She is, in one sense, his creation; once a friend, once an enemy (like so many of the Doctor’s acquaintances) and, like Jenny Who, a character who has a place in the ongoing Doctor Who television world if the Writers-That-Be desire it.

Fans met Ashildr in “The Girl Who Died.” Ashildr , played perfectly by Maisie Williams, is a young Nordic woman in a village that survives by viking – going on raids. The Doctor and Clara get stranded there just as the Mire, a warrior race, show up and challenge the village to a battle. The Mire plan to harvest adrenaline and testosterone from the male warriors; it’s a performance-enhancing-drug for them. Clara nearly persuades them to leave, but Ashildr, enraged by the shameful slaughter of many of the warriors, challenges the Mire and the fight is on.

Ashildr is a skald, a gifted storyteller who creates and manipulates puppets to enhance her stories. The Doctor comes up with a way to use the electricity generated by captive electric eels, and Ashildr’s storytelling, to overload the Mires’  high-tech battle helmets. The “battle” is a rout and Clara films it all on her phone –the universe’s most savage warriors running from puppets. The doctor threatens to release the footage universe-wide and make a laughingstock of the Mire unless they leave Earth forever. Unfortunately, Ashildr has died in the battle, killed by the helmet she wore to augment her stories.

The Doctor uses nano-tech from the Mire to bring her back to life. It seems like a gift; but the Doctor tells Clara that Ashildr may now be immortal, and that is more of a curse.

Lady Me, aka The Knightmare, and the Doctor

Lady Me, aka The Knightmare, and the Doctor

In the next episode, “The Woman Who Lived” we see Ashildr, who now goes by Lady Me, in early 19th century England. Ashildr has an immortal lifespan, but the memory of a human, so she has filled her house with hundreds of journals she has kept. She is angry with the Doctor because, knowing what he had done, he abandoned her and never came back for her. It turns out it’s worse; the Doctor stopped several times to see how she was doing, but never revealed himself to her or offered to take her with him. In her current lifetime, Me is a highway robber. The Doctor muses that the last time he checked, she’d run a colony for lepers. He seems to be treating her like a broken toy, not like a person. By the end of the episode, Me has regained some human compassion and a conscience, and the Doctor has slightly acknowledged his failing.

Lady Me

Lady Me

Ashildr appears twice more during the season, and in “Face the Raven” she is clearly the Doctor’s adversary, engaging in actions that lead, indirectly, to the death of Clara Oswald. The Doctor wants to blame Ashildr. He really wants to blame her. He tells her the next time she sees him, the universe may become a very small place.

Ashildr’s role in “Face the Raven” is that of a headwoman or mayor of a secret community of “others” hidden in London. Powerful forces threatened her community, and betraying the Doctor is the only way she could protect the people she had adopted. And Clara’s death was brought about by Clara’s own actions, based on her experience that the Doctor would always save her.

The Mayor of Trap Street

The Mayor of Trap Street

Ashildr is a character of community. We see her two strengths, (although very little of one of them); she is a community leader, and an artist. As a storyteller, she is the type of artist whose work most immediately involves others; the audience, the community. As the mayor of Trap Street, we see Ashildr doing what she was probably destined to do before the Doctor interfered. A person whose purpose is to serve a community, Ashildr is antithetical to the Doctor, the essential loner. Yes, the Doctor always wants an assistant or a “companion,” but he does not function well in groups and he flees them. He has fled the length and breadth of reality, and time itself, to escape community (even if the Time Lords were a hideous community, which is how it seems,) while Ashildr draws strength from them and lends her strength to them. She is a true “community organizer.” I loved Trap Street and I loved this aspect of Ashildr, although I want to see more of the skald and the puppeteer.

By the end of 2015 season, the Doctor has come around, somewhat, and he and Ashildr are cautious allies. And (more spoilers) at the very end of the season, Ashildr and Clara (yes, I know she’s dead, just go with it) are tooling around the universe in a TARDIS they liberated from Gallifrey. Ashildr doesn’t need a TARDIS, though. She is interesting enough just as she is.

Clara Oswald’s story is fully wrapped up, now, but there is a place for Ashildr, if not in Doctor Who, then in the upcoming spinoff Class. The gifted children of Coal Hill School, who apparently can get some tutoring from The Doctor, could probably use the knowledge acquired by an immortal now and then. In fact, she may even have donated her journals to them. Or, maybe not, and maybe there’s a field trip to ask to see her journals. I don’t want Ashildr to become one of those annoying, convenient immortal characters who exist only to provide info-dumps; but her real-world experience might come in handy. Even better, the people she has gathered around her in Trap Street; Ood, Cybermen, and other recognizable races from this universe, may have knowledge the school needs. Ashildr, a smart, prickly protector of the vulnerable who, over nearly one thousand years, may not have drifted so far from her “viking” roots, would be a fun intermittent character for the faculty and students to have to navigate.

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A Tale of Two Coffee Houses

Greeting you as you walk into Taylor Maid Farms roastery and coffee house.

Greeting you as you walk into Taylor Maid Farms roastery and coffee house.

Brandy Mow and I try very hard to get together each Monday for a writing session. When it isn’t raining, we each walk from our homes down to Taylor Maid Coffee in the Barlow, which is one block northeast of downtown Sebastopol. We get a tea (Brandy) or a coffee drink (me) or sometimes hot chocolate (either of us). We get some kind of pastry or treat that is loaded with butter and refined sugar. The treats are displayed beneath the counter at the front. The first hour or two is usually spent talking about books, episodic television, and our lives. Brandy’s is far more interesting than mine. The second two hours are spent writing. We don’t use computers; we sit with our spiral-bound notebooks, which often have softened and creased corners, and our pens. Sometimes a pen runs out and we have to borrow from one another.

Couch and comfy chairs at Coffee Catz

Couch and comfy chairs at Coffee Catz

The last quarter of 2016, I was able to schedule writing get-togethers with my friends Beth and Michelle. Beth and Michelle came from the Atlas Coffee writing group, which met the first Saturday of each month. Michelle founded the Atlas Coffee group. The group is on open group on Meet-Up, and the scheduling and the open nature meant it didn’t work well as a critique group for me, even though I liked the people. Michelle has since left the group. Beth continues to attend it. With their work schedules, it isn’t as easy to set up writing dates for the three of us, but we managed to get together twice with a goal of writing.

The first time we met was at Coffee Catz. Coffee Catz is at the east end of town, almost to the laguna, in a complex that includes a train car converted to a barbecue restaurant. The Sebastopol Inn is directly behind Coffee Catz, and they have, to some extent, coopted it, mentioning” their” Victorian-style coffee house in their ad copy. Coffee Catz predates the Inn if I remember correctly. We liked it enough that we’ve met there two times since, during the holiday breaks, to write. Beth and Michelle use laptops. I used pen and paper the first time, and brought my baby laptop the second time. Outlets are elusive.

Coffee Catz has a better menu than Taylor Maid, which is to say it has a menu. They have entrees; salads, sandwiches, soup, and wraps. (Are wraps sandwiches?) Taylor Maid, living in the Barlow and surrounded with restaurants, is not about a meal; it’s about coffee. Coffee Catz is about meals.

Taylor Maid Coffee House. Industrial and Proud.

Industrial and Proud

Taylor Maid is industrial. The coffee house is the front end of their roasting facility and warehouse. They used to be closer to the center of town, and their “tasting room” was a tiny office with an espresso machine and a couple of hot-pots. They are thriving in the Barlow. The coffee house has a loft up a flight of wooden stairs. The bar in the loft is studded with electrical outlets, and one of the barista there told me that during the work week, most of the people up there are treating the space as their office; making work calls and working on their laptops. There are two community tables upstairs that will hold six each, a couple of smaller tables and one overstuffed chair in the corner with a floor lamp next to it. A window at the back overlooks the warehouse and if you’re lucky, some days you can stand there and watch a person at one machine fill cans with coffee beans and seal the can.

Downstairs, the bar is a long narrow U-shape; distressed wood and metal, functional, clean. There are a couple of community tables downstairs, a few small tables, a bar at the front that runs along two window walls, and a short bar at the back. Part of the space downstairs is taken up with a display table, which I think is poorly placed because it drives the coffee line straight back into the door. And this place nearly always has a line to order and a line to pick up. It’s very popular. We can’t always get a table at Taylor Maid, at least not right away.

The front has a regular door and a garage style door that, during warm weather, someone walks out and hauls up in the early afternoon, pushing and waiting, arms up-stretched, until the door hits its equilibrium spot and doesn’t start rolling back down. There are also tables outside. There is no table service at Taylor Maid. The art on the walls is coffee-bean-production themed, photographic, professional and impersonal.

The place can get very noisy.

Coffee Catz comprises two longish rooms and a cramped kitchen/order counter. On the high counter, in transparent plastic displays cases, sit various pastries. A very full double menu high on the wall gives you your choice of beverages and food. They sell T-shirts, Hawaiian-themed mostly (I have no idea what that’s about). As you might expect, some of the tchotchkes on the wall are cat-based. In the main room, padded benches run along two walls, and there are several small round tables that comfortably hold two, or three if you are willing to crowd in. The padded benches are augmented with pillow of various colors. Near the entrance to the counter is a low sofa and a couple of overstuffed chairs with a low table. Electrical outlets exist but it’s a search to find them sometimes. When you order “for here” at Coffee Catz, you get a plastic token with a number, and someone brings your order to your table.

The place can get very noisy.

The back room can be reserved, but that’s not as easy as it might seem. The back room has larger tables that easily seat four and if you are looking for a place to do writing, it’s your best bet. The second time we met there, I had tried to reserve a table in that room. I contacted the manager, as the barista told me to, and gave her our specifics. She noted them down, she said. She asked me to call the staff the day of the reservation and remind them. I did. Before I finished saying what times I wanted the table for, the person on the call said, “Oh, yes, we’ve got you.” They didn’t. When we got there all the tables were taken, and there was a sticky-note pinned to the velvety curtain in the door that said someone had the room from 1:00 pm to 4:00, which actually overlapped with my reservation. When I asked about this, the counter person said that the person I’d spoken to must have thought I was from that group. We managed to find a table and it was fine, but it didn’t reassure me about reserving a room.

The next time we met I tried again, at the counter. The barista wrote down my information on a yellow sticky-note (which seemed promising). When we got there, our table was safely and accurately reserved for us. So right now, they are fifty-percent on the reservation thing. My take-away was this; it is best to go there in person if you want to reserve a table, or the room.

The piano and Janis Joplin at Coffee Catz.

The piano and Janis Joplin

The art on the walls is largely impressionistic or school-of-impressionism, including a brushstroke-heavy portrait of Janis Joplin next to the piano. Because, yes, piano. A sign asks that customers hold back on their urge to play the piano until after 10:30 am, but after that, it’s there for anyone, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.

The style of Coffee Catz is fabric and chintz and warm, bright colors, shawls and drapes (the piano has a fringed shawl); I doubt it’s very “Victorian” but it attempts to capture what some Victorians thought the “theater set” or “gypsies” lived like –a shabby romantic look.

Based on experience and statistics, I’m more likely to see someone I know at Taylor Maid than I am at Coffee Catz.

Both places are good writing environments, even with the noise. In terms of beverages, Taylor Maid edges out Coffee Catz for me, mainly because I like their hot chocolate better. Coffee Catz has an unintended secret weapon, though; a chocolatier opened up in the space next to them. That’s a draw. I can’t dispute it.


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The Book We Got for Christmas; an Annual Report

Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Spouse got Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. Unfortunately, Lin-Manuel Miranda will not come to the house and sing parts of the musical for us as Spouse reads, but still, it’s a good book. The bonus is that I get to read it when he’s done!

Altas Obscura

Altas Obscura

Atlas Obscura. This beautifully produced, expensive and heavy tome puts into print many of the geographical and historical oddities this website collects. The book is gorgeous and it’s a perfect book to browse on a wintery holiday evening. The book is organized by continents and contains beautiful maps of each geographical section. As you would expect if you’ve checked the website, each summary of each section contains clearly communicated facts tinged with dry wit.

How words change meaning; The Accidental Dictionary.

How words change meaning; The Accidental Dictionary.

The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony Jones, who blogs and tweets as Haggard Hawks. Jones pulled together a number of English words whose meanings changed completely. Some are not that much of a stretch, maybe (“buxom” which now means having big breasts, used to mean “in good health,”). Others are wonders of human inventiveness and the mysteries of language. This book, printed by a British small press, was difficult to get. I felt kind of like the heroine in Beauty and the Beast; it seemed like such a simple request (“Dad, bring me back a flower, would’ja?”) and sent both of us a quest that led to Amazon UK.

The African American women

The African American women “computers” who helped put a man in space.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shatterly. This was a gift card book I treated myself to. The movie comes out in January; Shatterly’s nonfiction work details the lives and achievements of the African American women mathematicians (and engineers) who computed the math needed to support John Glenn’s trip into orbit. Without these women, America would not have a man into space, yet I grew up during the space race with no knowledge of how important women were to this project. And the women themselves, while they worked at NASA, lived daily lived in a segregated south. I can’t wait to delve into this one.

The Book of Phoenix, by Nnedi Ikorafor. Again, a gift card book. I’ve only just started it. I had to do a movie-scene-like thing where I

The Book of Phoenix

The Book of Phoenix

pried the book from my hand with my other hand and had to force myself not to pick it up again, because I had too much to do and from the first chapter I was completely hooked. This is a New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day book, when then is nothing else on tap and I can devour it in one, or at most two, sittings.

Words are my Matter is a collection of the writings of Ursula K.

Collected writing of a giant. Words Are My Matter

Collected writing of a giant.

LeGuin. They are likely to be ones I haven’t read since this collection spans 2000 – 2016. It does have a couple of her famous speeches. Now more than even I need the insight, analysis and inspiration of one of the giants of the speculative fiction, or literature, field.

Police Procedural with a compelling main character. A Voice From The Field.

Police Procedural with a compelling main character.

A Voice From the Field by Neal Griffin. Writing friend JC gave me this police procedural that features a woman cop main character in Milwaukee. Tia Suarez is a compelling character from the first chapter. JC met Griffin at a Book Passage mystery writers conference, where he was a consultant (he has twenty years experience in law enforcement). I am looking forward to this one.

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Almost Seven Hundred Dollars

cashBefore 2016 closed out, I earned, and got checks for, $696.38 worth of payment for short fiction. That’s almost seven hundred dollars.

I could certainly spend some time here discussing all the things that almost $700 won’t buy. I get it. I do get it.

On the other hand, it would buy a really nice weekend at a fairly expensive hotel if we wanted it to. It would put new tires on the car if I needed them… well, maybe, almost. I’d have to do the math there.

And I don’t care. I’m jazzed.

In 2016 I earned almost $700 from writing. In 2015, I earned $50. The needle is moving in the right direction.

Again, the point here is not the money. I mean, yes, of course it’s the money, but not just the money. It’s the sense of validation. It means (I think it means) that my storytelling skills are getting better; that I wrote stories that interested people and gave them characters they cared about; that I created an interesting world or idea and that my words are good. I’m progressing. And a couple of editors have seen fit to acknowledge that.

And –and this is an important part — that I sent stuff out. I had lots of stories, including the three that sold, (well, two of them, anyway), sorry, wandering, my point is, I had lots of stories rejected in 2015 and 2016 too. You have to send your work out.  I know it seems obvious, and yet.

Send it out. Keep sending it out. If an editor gives you a personal rejection, pay attention to it. If the editor is on Twitter and tweets about things they like/don’t like/want to see right now, pay attention to it. And while you’re doing that, keep writing new stuff and trying to be even better. And do not bother sending a zombie story, no matter how original, clever, insightful and brilliant, to Clarkesworld because their editor doesn’t like zombie stories. That is not from personal experience, but I did hear him say that myself, so I’m passing it on.

What did I do with all my money? I put it in the bank.

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The Many Tales of River Song

This is my second post about female time lords in the Doctor Who universe.

River Song and the Eleventh Doctor

River Song and the Eleventh Doctor

River Song, the Human Time Lord:

River Song is a time lord. She is also fully human, proving that becoming a time lord is more about exposure to the time vortex (apparently even in utero) than what planet you come from. Take that, you snobby Gallifreyans!

River Song (born Melody Pond) is the daughter of Amy Pond and Rory Williams. She was conceived on the TARDIS. It’s hard to make a strong argument for the “background radiation” effect of the time vortex on River, since at some point early in her pregnancy Amy was snatched by the Silence, and a clone put in her place, but somehow, River’s singular beginning gives her time lord abilities because the “void stuff” that fills the time vortex changed her DNA.

(If no words except the articles and prepositions made sense to you in that paragraph, you can read up on River Song here.)

Unlike Jenny Who, River can time-travel because she has a vortex manipulator that doubles as a bracelet, and she uses the Doctor’s TARDIS now and then (usually without him knowing). It’s okay, though; she and the Doctor were/are married and she still has a key.

I like a lot of things about River Song; her smarts, her confidence and her irreverence, her risk-taking and her devotion to the Doctor. I especially like the actor who plays her. Alex Kingston is a top-drawer actor and she makes River funny, sexy and dangerous. River is a character who exudes sex appeal and would also make a fun friend… the crazy kind who would say, “I can top that! Here, hold my drink.” I think it’s Kingston’s voice as much as anything that makes River Song come to life.

Hands; River Song holding her TARIS colored diary.

Since the Doctor’s timeline and River’s run in opposite directions (his future is in her past) periodically they get together and update their diaries.

River Song’s story is wrapped up in the television Who-verse, and I don’t think Alex Kingston is free for another series even if anyone were interested in creating a spinoff. River is a character who draws fire from a vocal group of fans for many reasons. For many it’s simply that she is the equal of the Doctor. There are whole sites devoted to hating River Song; and lots of them throw around phrases like, “I hate her attitude,” and, “She thinks she’s the most special girl in the universe.” (No, she does not. That’s Clara Oswald.) Many fans ground their teeth when River delivered one of the funniest lines on Doctor Who ever… telling the Doctor that the TARDIS is not supposed to make its famous wheezing/grinding sound; it does that because he left the brake on. Another fan whined, “River says she knows the Doctor’s name! Why is she so special?” As the UK Guardian put it, “Some fans find River too smug and theatrical.”

For the people who wonder why “River Song is so special” one reason might be that the Doctor married her. The story-arc of the Doctor and River Song is a tragic love story, and for all her quirks, her flippancy and her amorality, there is no doubt that River Song loves the Doctor. She sacrificed her regenerative energy to save his life after she tried to kill him (it’s a long story) and let herself be sentenced to the infamous prison known as the Storm Cage for killing him a second time (it’s a long story) even though he wasn’t dead, (it’s a… yeah, you get it). If mere actions weren’t enough to convince you, you should watch Kingston’s face in several of the River/Doctor episodes, most recently in the 2015 Christmas special “The Husbands of River Song.”

River Song is the only other person we've seen with her own sonic screwdriver. Journal with sonic screwdriver on top.

River Song is the only other person we’ve seen with her own sonic screwdriver.

All that said, River’s story on Doctor Who has been brought to a satisfactory close. Plot-wise, we knew the ending of her story from the first episode we saw her in “Silence in the Library.” The emotional arc of the story played out fully in the last ten minutes of “The Husbands of River Song.”

There is quite a bit of River Song fanfic. Most of it includes the Doctor and some of it’s erotic. They are, after all, married.

I wonder what stories about River solo would be like. River is an archaeologist (we are first introduced to her as Professor Song). She is a mercenary at times; stealing artifacts to sell the highest bidder, but then it also seems like she always has an agenda beneath that, and that she is, although she would laugh at the idea, a chaotic force for good. Or do I mean a force for chaotic good? She is a little bit like Indiana Jones with her skill-set and her disdain for the rules that govern common folks. And River is a character of relationships, so a series of stories where she lone-rangered it, unless it was part of a long con, would probably not be satisfactory.

River needs a team and a purpose, but her stories could be caper stories, like the TV show Leverage. River could use her smarts, cunning and courage to get justice for people who have it denied to them any other way. But… who would she have as a partner? If only there were some other 51st century person who shared her moral code and could understand her history; a character who started as a scam artist, became a hero, and then became a broken hero –someone like, oh, I don’t know, maybe Jack Harkness.

Captain Jack Harkness

Captain Jack Harkness

Harkness (played by John Barrowman) was the team lead, a daring, irreverent hero on the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood. When we first met him on Doctor Who, though, in “The Hollow Child” he was a con artist. His contact with the Doctor changed him, and eventually he took over Torchwood. In “Children of Earth,” Jack is forced to make a terrible decision in order to save Earth. Confronted with this choice, and grieving over the loss of lover and partner Ianto, Jack leaves Torchwood.  Harkness is, I think, forbidden from traveling in time (he can only teleport geographically) but River Song isn’t. There’s no reason she can’t time-flip back to join him, or even grab hubby’s TARDIS, nip back to the 21st century to pick up Jack and pull him forward into the 51st again.

River and Jack are a little too much alike, so this team would need a serious, grounded person to act as 1) a conscience, 2) a voice of reason and 3) a viewpoint for the audience. Who might this be? An earnest young 51st century social worker? An out-of-time social reformer from the 19th century, or the 20th, or a passionate social justice warrior from the 21st? A scholar from the 30th century, from some completely different star system? The possibilities go on for days.

I’d even enjoy reading or watching a story where River confronts, or is confronted by, a group of Gallifreyan Time Lords, angry and fearful that their monopoly on “time-lordness” is being challenged by a human woman. She’d set them straight, and probably get a TARDIS out of the deal, even if she did have to “borrow” it.

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Jenny Who; A Time Lord without a TARDIS

Like many Doctor Who fans I periodically grouse about the absence of female time lords. I don’t have any need to see the Doctor morph into a woman during one of his regenerations, but I would enjoy some stories about time lords who are women. Fortunately, in the New Who-verse, there are several already available, created in-world, as they say. I’m not talking about Missy/the Master, who is great, but has her/his own deal. I’m talking about other characters created in the show. I’m going to devote a few posts to ideas for women time lords, straight out of New Who.

David Tennant and Georgia Moffett in the Doctor's Daughter

The Doctor’s Daughter; David Tennant and Georgia Moffett

Jenny Who; the Doctor’s Daughter

In Season Four in an episode called “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the military humans in a subterranean complex forced the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, to provide DNA so they could clone him. (It’s a long story.) The army humans tweaked a couple of chromosomes and created a young female clone of the Doctor, basically, a Gallifreyan teenaged girl. The Doctor repudiated her,  calling her a generated anomaly. He also said she would be unable to regenerate, but one thing we know about the Doctor is that the Doctor lies.

Donna Noble named the young woman Jenny. As the story progressed and peace was on the verge of breaking out, Jenny sacrificed herself to save the Doctor from an angry general who didn’t want to give up war. Jenny died. Everyone was sad and then they flew off in the TARDIS, but of course Jenny wasn’t dead. She came back to life (it wasn’t a regeneration; it seems more likely that only one of her hearts was damaged), stole a ship and went off to explore the universe.

While the Doctor’s initial negative reaction to Jenny might have looked like squeamishness with a touch of bigtory about cloning, the truth comes out later in the episode; Jenny is a solder, reminding the Doctor of his time as one himself, and what he did as the War Doctor (which we didn’t even know when this story aired). For this reason, he says, the Doctor refuses to consider bringing Jenny on board the TARDIS and taking her with them. In retrospect, it seems as likely that the Doctor is frightened by the possibility of giving this clone of himself access to a TARDIS, or at least, his TARDIS.

I’m not completely familiar with Doctor Who lore, and even for people who are, the stories are slippery and they change. In original Who, the Doctor was said to come from a “race of time lords,” but there are billions of Gallifreyans (over five two billion children alone on Gallifrey when it was destroyed, we are told in “Day of the Doctor”), and they don’t seem to all be time lords. In “Listen,” the Doctor as a boy is sleeping in a barn, and the adults who are discussing him sound like Cockney farmers. Jenny is one hundred percent Gallifreyan, but she may not be a time lord yet. She doesn’t have a sonic screwdriver, and she doesn’t have a TARDIS.

Jenny is a soldier, so she wouldn’t necessarily build herself a screwdriver. On the other hand, the doctor didn’t build himself a sonic scalpel. I think Jenny’s experience would nudge her toward something more weapon-like; an augmented gun, knife or sword. It is a totally ridiculous weapon, but I would love it if she carried a sword.

Is this what Jenny Who would look like? Woman in combat gear with gun sits on sand

Is this what Jenny Who would look like?

Jenny’s deficit as a person, and the thing that makes her interesting as a character, is that she has no history, no childhood. When she stepped in front of the Doctor to take a bullet for him, died, came back to life and stole a space ship, she was two days old. If she has memories beyond those of the battles she fought in her brief early life, they would be the Doctor’s memories, which would be confusing. Is Jenny curious about family life? Does she gravitate to families, in between assignments? Does she join an army, because that’s the life she knows? I hope she doesn’t. I want her to be not a mercenary but a paladin, traveling from planet to planet to help the powerless in the mode of The Seven Samurai, Shane or Jack Reacher in the Reacher books. What does Jenny think about wars between families? Does she take that for granted? Does it baffle her? Does it form her core understanding of the family dynamic?

However brilliant, intuitive and strong Jenny is, she won’t really be a time lord until she has a TARDIS. Okay, so let’s get her one!

What does Jenny want? A TARDIS! Picture of the TARDIS

What does Jenny want? A TARDIS!

TARDISes are built — or grown– on Gallifrey, and if they are not sentient, they are at least semi-sentient. If we believe what the Doctor’s TARDIS tells him in the episode called “The Doctor’s Wife” (and I do), she chose him as much as he chose her, or at least that is the way she remembers it.

All the TARDISes were destroyed in the Time War, either that or they are trapped in the time-bubble where Gallifrey is hiding. Like anything in the Who-verse, they are gone, until they aren’t. Maybe something is calling to Jenny. Maybe she’s having strange dreams. Maybe it’s like a voice she can barely hear, speaking words she doesn’t understand but thinks she knows. Maybe something pinches just below her solar plexus, tugging at her. Maybe military-tactical Jenny interprets this as a signal. She follows the signal because she is curious. And somewhere, maybe on a deserted planet… maybe one that was the site of a cataclysmic battle, in a narrow chasm carved deep into rock, she finds a ship unlike any she’s seen before.

It would be easy for Jenny if the TARDIS that calls her is experienced, seasoned and battle-hardened, becoming her mentor. It might be more interesting, though, if the TARDIS that finds Jenny is young, untried — a teenager. A lonely, rebellious teenager. This would not, exactly, be a case of two teenagers, because Jenny has no childhood. But it would put two inexperienced, powerful beings out in the universe. They would screw up, and that would make things interesting.

Jenny’s TARDIS probably won’t have quite the features that the Doctor’s does. There might not be a swimming pool, the vast wardrobe of period clothing, and an organo-techno carousel in the living room, but it would express her. Would it be more like a tank or a battleship? Or a war room? Or something surprising?

I doubt BBC has any interest in spinning off this character. They have their hands full with Coal Hill, a show with military trappings would expensive… and Jenny is a minor character. This is where fiction, or fanfic at least, comes in. I would love to read stories of Jenny. I only found one fanfic story online at wattpad. I’d like to read more.

I’d like to hear someone ask, “Jenny Who?”

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What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris

What Angels Fear by C. S. Harris

What Angels Fear by C. S. Harris

The first Sebastian St. Cyr novel, What Angels Fear, was published in 2005. We meet  St Cyr in Chapter One as he is preparing to fight a duel. Before that, though, we see the beginning of a brutal murder in the prologue. And all too soon, St. Cyr is the city of London’s primary suspect, with the need to arrest him—and hang him, preferably—for the murder being driven behind the scenes by Prince George’s confidant Charles, Lord Jarvis, who is stage-managing everything to ensure that the Prince’s installation as Regent goes through without a hitch.

Prince George’s regency brackets the action in this book and sets an important tone for the rest of the series. C. S. Harris does not care much for Prinny, and she delights in describing him as petulant and “feminine,” which presumably she means as an insult. He works well enough as a self-involved, weak-willed ruler who is being manipulated by a power behind the throne, in this case, Lord Jarvis.

Rachel York is an ambitious young actress who is murdered in a church in a vile and bloody way. At first, Sebastian St. Cyr seems like the only suspect, and when the police come to arrest him, things quickly get worse. Sebastian escapes into the London slums and soon is investigating the murder himself, because that is the only way to clear his name. He captures and then befriends Tom, a young pickpocket who becomes his able assistant, and is forced to call upon Kat Boleyn, a successful actress who was the love of his life, for additional help.

Harris sets up a good mystery, using a time-honored genre tradition, the time of death, as an important plot point. She also uses her time well to show us the St. Cyr family; Amanda, the bitter resentful oldest child, and Herndon, Sebastian’s emotionally cold father. Along the way there are fisticuffs, sword fights and chase scenes, ending in a dramatic extended scene at a waterfront warehouse. Harris’s action sequences are good, and she brings this period of British history to life in every aspect except the language.

I liked the mystery and I enjoyed the action sequences. The coldness and nastiness of the St. Cyr clan in general confused me a little, but I suspect that they have to be that way for series reasons. I was right that reading a book out of sequence means a measure of suspense was lost for me, and that is unavoidable.

The spoken language veers from quasi-Regency style to 20th century American, but Harris clearly has done her homework and shares a lot of interesting information about the period. I don’t understand why this series, which comprises, I think, ten books, isn’t a costume drama on BBC America or some Canadian studio. It has the political, personal and sexual complexity of TV dramas like Game of Thrones and Ripper Street, with the same degree of modern sensibility. These books would make the jump easily. If BBC America felt comfortable with a show as anachronistic as The Musketeers, the language glitches here should be no problem for them.

In What Angels Fear, a couple of copy-edit errors bounced me right out of the book. Yes, Harris should have caught both of these, but more importantly, her publisher should have. This is what copy-editors are for. The best one, early in the book, is a reference to, “St Stephens and St. Andrews, St Pancreas, and the Spitalfield’s church.” While the pancreas, an organ involved in the regulation of insulin the human body, is very important, it’s not saintly. This should be St. Pancras. (This is funny because of course confusing Pancras with Pancreas is a joke that has shown up in many other books.)

In the second case, Sebastian strikes a padlock with a heavy implement, and the padlock “sheers away.” This should be shear, as to break along a fault line. These tiny errors are jarring and Harris’s work deserves better editorial support.

Overall, though, I enjoyed both this book and the later one. These are good vacation or trip books; the characters are engaging, the mystery engrossing and there is quite a bit of adventure and derring-do. Sebastian’s rekindled romance with Kat is steamy and sweet. You will learn some things about Britain in the period shortly after it lost the American colonies, and during its long war with France.

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What Darkness Brings

What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris

What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris

On a whim I picked up a history-mystery last week. What Darkness Brings, by C.S. Harris, is the ninth book in the Sebastiann St. Cyr series, so it’s probably not the place to start. While I had no trouble following the storyline in this book, or figuring out the relationships, at least in broad strokes (Harris does a good job of giving a new reader summaries), I’m sure I’ve ruined the suspense for myself if I go back to read earlier books.

I enjoyed the story, and I had problems with the language. I’ll try to address both here.

Sebastian St. Cyr (I’m sure that’s pronounced “Sant Seer” or “Son-seer;” oh, the hell with it, let’s just call him Sebastian) is a gentleman in 1812 London. He was in the Army and fought in the Peninsular War; he has since sold out and married an “unconventional” wife named Hero. Hero is the daughter of a man who is Sebastian’s greatest adversary. Sebastian isn’t on very good terms with his own father either, though, and there is some mystery about his presumed-dead mother that has yet to be revealed. There is also a quirk in Sebastian’s earlier relationship with Kat. A time or two I did feel like I needed flow-chart software to help me keep the relationships straight.

Sebastian investigates crimes. Here’s what I don’t know that is probably explained in earlier books; what does Sebastian live on? He is his father’s heir even though they don’t get along, is there an allowance provided? Is he wealthy through his mother’s side of the family? I don’t know.

This book has Sebastian investigating the murder of a very unpleasant diamond dealer. The authorities have arrested someone for the murder; Russell Yates is the new husband of the former love of Sebastian’s life, the stage actress Kat Boleyn. (I will confess I completely bought in when I discovered Kat’s stage-name.) Yates was also in the war; he is now best known as a “gentleman smuggler.” But there is another secret to Yates, one much more intimate, and one that would cost him his life if it came to light.

The deeper Sebastian delves into the events surrounding the death of the diamond dealer, the more potential suspects he uncovers. The diamond merchant engaged in a particularly nasty type of blackmail and extortion. He also practiced black magic, and grimoires and spells get quite a bit of attention here.

At the heart of the story is a blue diamond, once owned by the Hope family. Yep, it’s that diamond – and the mystery touches on the theft of the French crown jewels during the revolution. This is great stuff! There are shootouts in noisome alleys, chase scenes with carriages and on foot; verbal sparring matches in public houses and drawing rooms, as Sebastian and Hero struggle with an abundance of clues.

Harris has a good grasp of the complex nature of the times; people who loved Ireland, for instance, saw no problem with spying on England for France.

Hero is a social reformer, scholar and writer with a variety of unconventional friends; a woman scholar, an elderly man who speaks and reads Hebrew, but I don’t know what he does otherwise. She is engaged in interviewing the poor youngsters who make a few cents a day by sweeping the streets and sidewalks at the crossings. Several things make Hero engaging and one of them is that she actively assists with the investigation. When she brings home a key witness, it isn’t by coincidence or mistake. It’s because she took the investigation to the streets herself.

When it comes to describing our gentleman action-hero’s clothing and accouterments, the book feels lifelike, as it does when we get wardrobe descriptions of Hero and Kat. The action is exciting. Plainly, when it comes to the theft of the French jewels, Harris did her homework. The spoken dialogue, however, is jarring, ringing mostly like 21st century—or at best 20th century—American. Hero’s scholar friend says that she acts out the rituals she finds in the 16th century tomes she studies so she can “wrap her head around” what the writers were thinking. Hunh? Excuse me? Sebastian frequently shouts, “Son of a bitch!” in the heat of the moment. That expression might have been in use—certainly “bitch” as an epithet for woman was – but it just sounds wrong. It made me feel like I was watching a series on the CW or Fox, allegedly set in the 19th century, rather than following a real 19th-century couple through 19th-century London.

In spite of this, which really did pitch me out of the book a few times, I liked the action and the mystery. I wonder if in the early books, Harris tried to make the dialogue more authentic, and it was an editorial decision to “dumb it down” for the audience. I plan to order the first two books at least, to see if that’s the case.

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