The Telling: Akan Story-Slip

Aka is one of the many worlds of the Hainish diaspora – a planet settled millions of years ago by human beings from Hain, original homeworld of humanity, only to culturally diverge after a general galaxy-wide technological collapse. Just over 70 years ago, Aka was recontacted by the Ekumen – the Hainish-spearheaded interstellar organisation of recontacted Hainish worlds. The local Akans were fascinated with the offworlders, and many came to believe that their future was among the stars; the first contact team left with high hopes for future interactions with the Akans.

When an Ekumen Observer team was sent as a followup, they discovered that Aka had undergone a disturbing social change. A monolithic Corporation now ruled the world, which had become addicted to rapid technological progress in a bid to be seen as equals to the offworlders. Moreover, their society had undergone a harsh backlash against traditional knowledge – including folk histories and medicine – regarded as superstitious, and had undertaken a massive purge of their literary and cultural history.

All this coincided with convulsions on Terra – the rise of the terrifying Unist government, a force which spliced the extremist Christian right with anti-Ekumen feeling and which undertook a campaign of violent persecution on Earth. The Ekumen suspected that somehow the Unists had attempted to tamper with Aka, perhaps to convert them to their way of seeing things, only for this tampering to backfire catastrophically, prompting the Corporation to ramp up its anti-religious campaign and to mistrust offworlders.

Tong Ov, the head of the Ekumen mission on Aka, has struggled to get permission for any of his people to explore Aka beyond the strictly-controlled capital city; now he finally has the opportunity to send one of his aides on a trip to a rural town to get a picture of life there. He chooses Sutty, a Terran member of the team whose bitter memories of the Unists may be a burden to her mission, or might perhaps be the key to her reaching an rapproachment with the locals. Indeed, Sutty is eventually able to make contact with the network of traditional teachers and storytellers who maintain the Telling – the framework of traditional knowledge which was formerly the underpinning of Akan culture.

However, a Monitor for the Corporation has been trying to keep tabs on Sutty’s movements, fearful of the consequences if the Ekumen should make contact with this subculture. If Sutty is to get her report back to Tong Ov, get to the root of the Telling, and perhaps exert a positive influence on the future of Aka, she will sooner or later have to understand not just the stories of the Telling, not just her own story, but the story of the Monitor as well…

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Le Guin Grasps the Nettle

Perhaps the trickiest subject for any American author to attempt to write about is slavery, since it’s a subject which shaped the history of the United States so profoundly and whose echoes are still heard so loud and clear today that it’s near-impossible for any American reader (or any reader exposed to American culture) to avoid having strong emotions about it. Nonetheless, Ursula Le Guin decided to tackle the subject directly in a sequence of novellas based in the twin worlds of Werel and Yeowe, part of the Hainish universe that was the backdrop of her early science fiction novels (including The Left Hand of Darkness, the book which put her on the map when it came to serious, literary science fiction for grown ups).

These tales were written as part of Le Guin’s 1990s process of re-examining her early fictional settings (as well as returning to the Hainish universe at this time, she also made her long-awaited return to Earthsea). This return to a cosmos she’d otherwise let lie fallow since the 1970s would also yield a clutch of short stories and a full novel, The Telling; the Werel and Yeowe stories represent a halfway point between these two.

For those new to Le Guin’s galaxy: the Hainish stories take place in a universe where once upon a time humanity arose on the world of Hain, colonised the stars some two million years ago, and then interstellar contact was lost and the colonies (including Earth!) were left to go their own way. Eventually, contact was re-established, helped in part by the invention of the ansible which allows for faster-than-light communication (but faster than light travel is, for much of the Hainish series, unknown), leading to the eventual establishment of the Ekumen, a sort of benign interstellar community which helps encourage best practice in inter-world relations and promotes a progressive set of values but is not overly interventionist.

Four of the five Werel and Yeowe stories were penned in rapid succession from 1994-1995, and were published in the collection Four Ways To Forgiveness. In 1999, Le Guin decided that the story cycle needed a fifth tale to round it out; this last tale was initially published in the collection The Birthday of the World and would later be republished with the others as part of the retitled Five Ways To Forgiveness by the Library of America, at first as part of their second hardcover omnibus of Le Guin’s Hainish works and also as a standalone ebook.

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Gore By Hooper, Woo By Wilson

The HMS Churchill, an advanced space shuttle with a fancy new propulsion system, is flying a joint British-American space mission to visit Halley’s Comet as it flies on its closest approach to Earth. Commanded by Colonel Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), the ship makes the shocking discovery of a clearly alien craft travelling alongside the comet and concealed in its coma. A party boards the craft, and discovers it contains a morass of alien bodies with batlike forms – and three bodies which appear exactly like humans, enclosed in crystalline coffins. One of the bat creatures and the three crystal sarcophagi containing the apparent humans are taken aboard the Churchill and the ship prepares to head home.

Later, the Churchill returns to Earth orbit, but does not respond to radio messages. The space shuttle Columbia is launched to intercept, and finds that the Churchill has sustained a hideous internal fire, its escape pod is missing, but the three crystal sarcophagi and their human-like contents remain intact. Taken to London for study, the terrible truth of what the occupants are becomes all too apparent when the female awakens and kills a security guard by consuming all of his life energy… or does she? In fact, the alien energy vampire is a trickier creature than that. Anyone she “kills” by fully draining their life energy is reduced to a desiccated husk, but then reanimates in two hours, with a furious desire to feed on the life energy of others in turn. They must do this every two hours or so, or be reduced to their desiccated state and die outright. Moreover, the alien’s powers are not limited to this – it can partially drain others and establish mental links to them, to the extent of being able to hide outright in their minds.

With the female alien escaping, crack SAS investigator Colonel Colin Caine (Peter Firth) is put on the case, assisted by Dr. Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay), an expert for the Space Research Centre with a personal specialism in thanatology. Eventually, the two are joined by Colonel Carlsen, who lands in the Churchill escape pod and is able to offer some answers on what went down on the ship. Thanks to Carlsen’s interactions with the alien female aboard ship, he now has a mental link to her, which Caine and Fallada hope to use to track down the entity. But is it too late to stop the alien vampires from causing a mass plague to harvest the world’s Lifeforce?

Released in 1985, Lifeforce is a Golan-Globus production; more often than not, when you see their names and/or the Cannon Group logo on a film from this period you know you are in for a big dose of epic cheese, and if you go in with those expectations rather than hoping for a serious SF-horror movie you’ll probably enjoy yourself more. It was a massive flop on release, both critically and commercially, in part because the theatrical release hacks back a fair chunk of material, including a lot of the stuff necessary to coherently keep track of what is going on.

The movie hails from that era in the mid-1980s when Golan and Globus were trying to class up the Cannon portfolio by undertaking productions with bigger names than their usual mid-tier-at-best casts and crews – another product being the ludicrous Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cobra. For this one, they brought in Tobe Hooper to direct, fresh from the mega-hit of Poltergeist; this would be the first of a three-movie deal which would also see him knocking out the 1950s remake Invaders From Mars and the bizarre Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in short order. Dan O’Bannon was brought in to write the screenplay, his Alien work lending the production some science fiction credibility, and he brought along his co-writer Don Jakoby, with whom he’d written the 1983 action thriller Blue Thunder; the duo would stick with Hooper to write the script for the Invaders From Mars remake.

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A Lupine Calendar

Things are rarely simple with Gene Wolfe. Take his Castle of Days – there’s not one castle, there’s two of them. The first castle is a physical book – a compilation which reprints his second major short story collection (Gene Wolfe’s Book of Days), a rare pamphlet he put out about his process of writing The Book of the New Sun (The Castle of the Otter), and the second Castle of Days, this being a brace of essays on other topics.

What you get here, then, is a triptych, comprising one short story collection and two essay collections, each of which is a shade over half the length of the short story collection. It’s the sort of edifice you’d want a floorplan to navigate – so here goes…

Gene Wolfe’s Book of Days

As the title implies, this has a calendrical theme, with each short story being associated with a particular holiday, anniversary, or other annual occasion. There’s even a bit of microfiction in the introduction – a cautionary tale about the danger of misusing libraries – to mark “Date Due”, and to reward people who don’t skip author’s introductions.

Our first full story marks Lincoln’s birthday with How the Whip Came Back, a scathing bit of social commentary about a near-future UN conference which plans to reinstate slavery – specifically in the form of penal reform, so that convicted prisoners could be “leased” to paying members of the public. Originally published in 1970, this would have hailed from when Wolfe regarded himself as more of a doctrinaire libertarian, so there’s some cracks about how Church and charity have withered away because people have been happy for the state to take on those roles instead, though equally Wolfe doesn’t take the usual libertarian route of arguing that charity can step into the compassion gap – indeed, the main character is a woman who works for the charity sector for social clout, not because she sincerely cares about the causes in question.

The story can seem incongruous, because the US prison-industrial complex is an infamous Constitutional loophole which keeps a form of modern-day slavery going anyway – but on reading up on this I found out that prison labour in the US expanded massively after 1979 legislation created lots more opportunities to use it, and in particular removed restrictions on prison-manufactured products crossing state lines. To that extent, it’s hard to disagree with the central pillar of Wolfe’s position here – something not unlike what he was afraid of has in fact come to pass.

That said, I am not sure that the background details like expansive government welfare programs or the decline of religion necessarily point to the root cause of this evil; private corporations, a force notably absent in the story, seem to be the main beneficiaries of the US prison-industrial complex, and many hard-right US leaders have been able to resolve the contradiction between avowed Christian values and support for harsh treatment of convicts.

The depiction of a shabby, declining Catholic Church – where the last nun recently died, the priests have given up all their traditional trappings, and the Pope knocks about in a cheap suit smoking cheap cigarettes while trying to wake up people’s consciences – is perhaps something Wolfe legitimately worried about at the time (he strikes me as someone who’d have felt it was a shame that Vatican II gave up on the Latin Mass because Latin is pretty), but also incongruous given the Church’s apparent ability to keep the lights on and the bills paid despite an entire half-century of fiscal corruption and mass rape elapsing between the story’s composition and now. If that can’t crash the popularity of Rome, what can?

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Chaosium’s Comeback?

As I’ve mentioned, one of the last fruits of Chaosium’s old fiction line was Cassilda’s Song, a collection of stories by female writers all riffing on Chambers’ The King In Yellow. Although it was published under the new regime at Chaosium, after the internal restructuring necessitated by former head honcho Charlie Krank’s botching of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter, that project was signed off on by Joseph Pulver, its editor, before the boardroom coup took place.

Chaosium 1.0 may have had the odd production quality issue with their fiction line, but I thought it was a genuinely valuable presence on the scene. Though it wasn’t exclusively dedicated to Call of Cthulhu-related fiction – it gave us a small number of intriguing bits of Arthurian fiction to tie in with the Pendragon RPG, and it even featured the sole edition of Penelope Love’s enigmatic, Peake-influenced Castle of Eyes – the Mythos fiction line was definitely the crown jewel of Chaosium’s fiction offerings, just as Call of Cthulhu was the biggest hit among their RPGs.

Part of the strength of the old line was that it thought outside the box – rather than settling into a rut and sticking to it, it presented books of a range of different types. You had, as you might expect, all-original anthologies of new Cthulhu Mythos fiction like Cthulhu’s Heirs, but you also had reprints of classic Mythos anthologies such as The Disciples of Cthulhu, you had collections focusing on the work of particular Mythos authors (including Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, and Lin Carter) or authors who influenced Lovecraft (like Robert Chambers or Arthur Machen), you had tribute anthologies in which a range of writers paid tribute to Mythos writers like Ramsey Campbell or Brian Lumley, you had collections where all the stories revolved around a particular Mythos entity or principle like The Hastur Cycle, and you even had a foray of non-fiction in the form of The Book of Dzyan.

Unfortunately, Chaosium’s fiction line was affected – as was many other aspects of their business – by the slipshot management practices which eventually made that boardroom coup necessary in the first place. Though Chaosium 2.0 would bring in James Lowder to shepherd the fiction line, the pace of releases has slowed to a crawl – I suspect because before Lowder could prioritise bringing out new stuff, he needed to right the ship with respect to the old, since the blog post announcing his appointment alludes to the old regime leaving behind a serious mess when it came to contractual snarl-ups and unpaid contributors, and he and the rest of Chaosium management wanted to rebuild bridges and heal old wounds before making new commitments.

Recently, though, two new fiction products have emerged to try and get the Call of Cthulhu fiction line going again – but are they up to the old standards? Only way to find out is to crack them open and take a look…


Edited by Nate Pedersen, this follows up on the success of Cassilda’s Song by offering another collection of stories by an all-woman slate of writers. This time around, the thematic focus is much looser – the criteria seems to be “horror, Mythos-related or not, with the stories set at any time and place in Earth history you elect”, with the narratives all being presented in chronological order, so we beign in ancient history and conclude in the present day.

The Wine of Men is a poem by Ann K. Schwader, a reasonable imitation of ancient Greek poetry (or, rather, the styles in which said poetry tends to be rendered in English). Usually I am down on poetry in this sort of collection, but in this case I am more tolerant; Schwader is a more competent poet than many who try to write horror poems, and the format she has chosen is an appropriate format to write a hymn of the Maenads – the murderous, riotous women who worship Dionysus through acts of bloody chaos.

By contrast the other poem in the collection – Jane, Jamestown, the Starving Time by Sun Yung Shin left me cold; the structure isn’t appropriate to the 17th Century setting, and the story told is fairly lightweight.

The first prose story in the collection, Monica Valeninelli’s From an Honest Sister, To a Neglected Daughter nearly made me ragequit. The concept is that a coven of witches from 1st Century Wales are trying to make contact across time with Lavinia Whateley from The Dunwich Horror to try and change the outcome of that situation. Unfortunately, the coven don’t really sound like residents of 1st Century Wales, or indeed of any place or culture more ancient than a 20th Century neopagan feminist meetup group, and Lavinia only identifies herself right at the end of the story, despite the fact that we’ve almost certainly guessed her identity already.

Between this and an awkward structural experiment, it just feels a bit third-rate. There’s ways and means to express the ideas it tries to get across in ways more appropriate to the alleged historical setting, but there’s little evidence of Valentinelli even trying. Even if you are willing to forgive this, the story is nothing more than a needless embellishment of an existing tale, which is the sort of thing Mythos anthologies are rife with and which I really wish Chaosium would stop encouraging. If your story relies entirely on another tale for its effectiveness, it probably isn’t a good story, and if you can’t think of an original story to tell with your characters, they probably aren’t very interesting characters.

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Star Trek: the Original Slash

You could make an argument that Star Trek wasn’t quite Star Trek in the early stretches of its first season. So many of the features we now regard as essential to the franchise – including ideas as central as the Prime Directive and the Federation – hadn’t really been worked out early on in the series, and only really coalesced quite late in that season. It wasn’t a bad start to the show, but it had its bumpier moments, because the series was still trying to figure out what it actually was.

By contrast, the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series was made with the benefit of hindsight, written by a team of writers who now knew that this was a universe where the Federation, Prime Directive, Klingons, Romulans, and whatnot were all part of the picture, and they were writing for a cast who now had a solid grasp of their characters and their mutual chemistry. It’s got some of the most memorable episodes of the series, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? The only way to find out is to watch.

First off is the episode that launched a thousand ships – in the slash fiction sense – Amok Time. It’s the one where Spock is horny due to Vulcan hormonal cycles, and there’s this Vulcan gal called T’Pring (Arlene Martel) who’s trying to get with Spock, and Spock doesn’t like it and Kirk’s not comfortable with it so Kirk and Spock do this ritual combat by hitting each other with big ornate club-axe thingies and tying each other up with little ropes until they’re all tired out and Spock feels enough of an emotional release to soothe his condition.

Yes, this is the episode which establishes the Vulcan condition of horny jail pon farr, where Vulcan dudes get an urge to bone down with someone they are psychologically bonded to so intensely that if they don’t resolve it they get a “blood fever” which causes them to die. It’s also the first time in the franchise we visit Vulcan itself, and the first time we really get an insight into Vulcan culture beyond Spock himself – it’s also where we first see the Vulcan salute and hear the “live long and prosper” catchphrase.

It was inevitable, given what a breakout character Spock was, that we’d get this sooner or later, but it’s still wild that it was arrived at in such an unabashedly horny on main way. An interesting aspect of the pon farr thing it’s that a hitherto-unknown feature of the Vulcan species which is a disadvantage for once. Season 1 kept going back to the “Spock has a secret Vulcan ability we haven’t found out about yet” well often enough to risk making him superhuman, so this is a welcome redressing of the balance.

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The Inauthentic Art of Murder

Philip Marlowe is the archetypal hard-boiled private detective. Hired by the fabulously rich General Sternwood, Marlowe’s commission is to deal with a nasty bit of blackmail being exerted against Sternwood by Geiger, a peddler of pornographic material who’s obtained dirt on Carmen, his erratic younger daughter. As Marlowe digs into the matter, everyone assumes that he’s actually trying to track down Rusty Regan – an ex-bootlegger gone semi-respectable who married Carmen’s elder sister Vivian, who disappeared recently.

Marlowe just wants to deal with the Geiger thing, that being what Sternwood hired him to do in the first place… but when Geiger is shot dead and more bodies start piling up, Marlowe finds the question of Regan just keeps coming up. Is Regan still alive, or is he dead? And if he is dead, just where is he sleeping The Big Sleep?

So I reread The Big Sleep for the first time in a good long while lately, and whilst Raymond Chandler’s stylish prose and atmospheric depictions of the mean streets of LA are still enjoyable, I find myself increasingly less keen on the big picture. In discussing the distinctions between the pulp crime authors and the golden age Agatha Christie-style detective writers, Chandler would note how the latter were writing puzzlebox mysteries where everything really hinges on the final explanation, and all that preceded to that was just a means to that end, whilst the better pulp writers were trying to turn out stuff which was entertaining in the moment, and would still be entertaining even if you were missing the last pages.

There’s an extent to which The Big Sleep is an attempt to do both – cannibalising multiple Chandler short stories, it finds Marlowe only being explicitly hired to track down Regan right towards the end, and then he solves it quickly by putting together the information he’s uncovered so far. However, I don’t think it’s too uncontroversial to say that he succeeded better at establishing a great moment-to-moment atmosphere than he did at tying the whole thing together in a satisfying package.

Infamously, Chandler not only never worked out who committed one of the murders in the book, but when the classic 1946 film adaptation was underway the filmmakers reached out to him to ask about it, and he had no idea who could have done it. (None of the key figures in the mystery really seem like a good fit for it by the end.) Some might argue that this is excused by Chandler’s dedication to gritty realism over narrative conceit – after all, sometimes people just get killed arbitrary for reasons nothing to do with the murder they were involved in earlier in the same evening, especially if they move in dangerous circles. Sometimes murders go entirely unsolved. To that extent, sure, it’s realistic.

However, you know what isn’t realistic? Murders committed by nobody. If someone has indeed been murdered, then the realistic thing is for there to be a murderer behind it. Realistic stories, particularly in the school of realism which presents an essentially materialistic world where nothing supernatural is admitted, exist in a world of cause and effect. It’s fine in that sort of thing to say “Oh, that character got murdered by a random mugger he got into an altercation with who’s nothing to do with the core story”; it’s not necessarily narratively satisfying, but it is at least a realistic thing that might happen.

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The Fading Genius of Jack Vance

Hilyer and Althea Fath are humanities professors from the world of Thanet, part of the sprawling interstellar society that has come to be known as the Gaean Reach. Every year, husband and wife embark on off-world fieldwork forays, usually returning with copious notes, field recordings of folk music, and the candelabra that Althea collects as souvenirs. One year, however, they return with something very unexpected – a new son, little Jaro, who the Faths discovered being brutally beaten by a group of surly youths in a rural backwater of an obscure little world.

At first, of course, the Faths did whatever they could to figure out where Jaro had come from – but he had endured some sort of horrendous experience even prior to getting dogpiled by those older kids, and was so traumatised by it that his psyche is entirely shattered to the point where he ends up having screaming, self-destructive fits whenever he regains consciousness, and only by deleting significant chunks of his memory are the medics able to bring him out of sedation. Further investigation fails to find any sign of his true parentage; eventually, the local authorities permit the Faths to adopt him and return to Thanet.

Jaro grows to adulthood on the world of Thanet. He chafes against the local culture, rooted as it is in constant striving for rank in a vast network of interlinked social clubs, but that’s a sort of rebellion the Faths understand; they are non-participants, or “nimps”, in this social game themeselves. What worries them more is his declared intent to discover the truth of his parentage – which would entail heading out into space, when the Faths would rather he live a tranquil life in academia like they have enjoyed. The Faths, though, may not have a choice in the matter forever – when they die in a mysterious bombing, Jaro is freed up to pursue his answers.

To uncover them he’ll have to fall back on a limited set of true friends. Skirl Hutsenreiter is an old schoolmate of his; although born into the elite Clam Muffin society which is among those at the pinnacle of society, she has had a more adventurous and unstable life than typical due to her father frittering away much of his money at gambling, and has decided to embark on a career as an “effectuator” – effectively a private eye. Maihac and Gaing are former IPCC agents and interstellar adventurers who each in their own way has taken Jaro under their wing, and who may know more of what’s going on than they have yet told.

Together, Jaro, Skirl, Maihac, and Gaing will discover the true fate of Jaro’s mother, and then embark on a quest to bring justice to the brutal criminal responsible for her death. But to do that, they will need to go to the mysterious world of Fader… a place settled by humans intent on breaking certain taboos and legal measures around eugenics and slavery that apply within the Gaean Reach, a world orbiting a star that is outside of the main body of the galaxy altogether… a lonely star given the picturesque name of Night Lamp

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Strange Attractor’s Strange Revival

Way back when I started on this wild blogging journey, when I was just starting out writing stuff for Ferretbrain, I mentioned my enjoyment of Strange Attractor, Mark Pilkington’s journal focusing on erudite articles about off-beat subjects, with the centre of gravity being equally shared between the arts and esoterica. For a good long while, the series has been dormant, with Pilkington concentrating on making a success of its publishing arm, Strange Attractor Press, which would put out books largely within the same general spheres as Strange Attractor explored – just on here I’ve covered releases like England’s Hidden Reverse, Of Kings and Things, Days of the Underground, The Moons At Your Door, There Is A Graveyard That Dwells In Man, and Gef!, and all of those have been enjoyable and enriching in their own way.

After a long absence, though, a fifth Strange Attractor Journal has emerged from the darkness. The new Strange Attractor is edited by Mark Pilkington and Jamie Sutcliffe, whereas the previous issues were edited by Pilkington solo (note that I’ve not read Journal 4, so Sutcliffe may have been involved there). Pilkington and Sutcliffe are coy about why there’s been this long gap between issues, but to be honest it’s completely understandable: Strange Attractor Press has been undertaking ambitious projects in the intervening years and after the journal put them on the map initially, it had arguably already served its purpose. Still, it’s nice to see the old project back on track, and if Sutcliffe’s assistance can get things back on track that will be all to the good.

So, what do we get in this issue? First off is William Fowler’s Fact Or Crucifixion, a look at the infamous Hampstead Heath consensual crucifixion of the late 1960s, the legal storm and brief media flutter it inspired, and the occult and performance art motivations behind it. It’s a deep dive into an otherwise forgotten pop culture incident, and sits squarely in the Strange Attractor wheelhouse as a result. Just as appropriate is E.H. Wormwood’s The Green Crucible, offering an overview of claims of psychoactive substances being derivable from toads, and speculating about the use of toads in folk magic and alchemy.

In Tree Spirits & Celestial Brothers, Phil Legard offers a glimpse of the work of “Charubel”, an obscure working-class Welsh mystic and occult author of the 19th Century whose eccentric philosophy offered a distinctly different flavour of magic and esotericism than that propagated by the middle and upper-class Masons, Theosophists, and Golden Dawn types of the era. Humans With Animal Faces finds Jeremy Harte exploring British folklore surrounding shapeshifting ghosts and spirits, particularly spirits of humans who end up in animal form after death.

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Star Trek: the Original Sins (and Virtues)

Star Trek: The Original Series has an odd relationship to the rest of the franchise. On the one hand, there’s a constituency of viewers who simply choose to skip over it (and the Animated Series), and it’s not hard to see why; its aesthetic is much more rudimentary than the movie series, or The Next Generation and subsequent TV shows, for one thing. For another, the run of television from TNG to Deep Space Nine to Voyager to Enterprise is much closer to how we experience TV these days (in part because it played a big role in shaping that), with long-term storylines creating more of an expectation that you’d watch each episode in order.

In addition, those four shows also constitute a substantial block of TV which ran more or less continuously for far, far longer than The Original Series never did – even if you account for nobody watching Enterprise because it was a bit rubbish for most of its run, and in the course of this they have more or less burned themselves into the culture as firmly and deeply as The Original Series has. There was a time when Star Trek called to mind the bright colours of The Original Series, and there’s certainly a generation for whom it primarily still does, but there’s others for whom the 24th Century-based series is what they immediately think of, and that may be a big reason why Lower Decks is set in proximity to them.

The upshot of all this is that whilst The Original Series is the foundation the rest of Star Trek is based on, the subsequent franchise doesn’t use all those foundations. Some have dated poorly enough that they’ve been gently retired; some have been considered to be too goofy to be used outside of Lower Decks jokes; some are used extensively to this day. What I didn’t realise, until I decided to actually watch The Original Series systematically, is that this process of chopping and changing what Star Trek actually us was ongoing right from the start of the show.

See, I’ve never watched the original series all the way through previously. Back in the day, when I still watched broadcast television, I’d catch a random epsiode here and there if it happened to be repeated at a time I was watching, but I hadn’t actively sought it out. For this article, I’m going to take a look at season 1 of The Original Series, in the original transmission order, to revisit how the franchise introduced itself to audiences and established the parameters of what it was doing from the start.

Although The Cage, the original pilot episode, is now pretty famous, the way Star Trek was originally introduced to the world was via The Man Trap, not the first of the series to be filmed but selected to be the first episode to air. It’s the “salt vampire” episode, and is the first of many instances of the “sexy illusion disguises lethal danger” trope the series would wheel out over and over again, so it’s about as archetypal as Trek gets; its opening also puts the soap opera and science fiction elements of the show front and centre, since we’re introduced to Nancy Crater (Jeanne Bal) as an old flame from Dr. McCoy’s past, and within seconds of her appearing it’s effectively communicated to us that everyone perceives her slightly differently. There’s no coyness about the fact that she’s responsible for the deaths of crew members (two blueshirts and a yellowshirt) – the enigma here is what her deal is, and how the crew will end up sorting her out.

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