Review: Star Trek Beyond meets expectations

Jaylah_and_scott

SPOILER POLICY FOR THIS REVIEW: Most of the plot details I mention in this review are things we knew from the trailers (casting, fate of Enterprise, name of villain, etc.) I plan to talk a bit about the specifics of the Enterprise sequence, but I’ll avoid some details about the villain. The basics of Jaylah are discussed, as well as some of the cast pairings that happen in the middle section of the movie. If you’re spoiler sensitive, avoid this post until you’ve seen the movie. If you want a sense of what’s cool, what could have been done better, and whether you should go see this movie (you should), then read on.

Right from the first trailer and the announcement of this film’s director a lot of fans were worried that we were getting Star Trek: The Fast and the Furious, a generic action movie instead of true trek spirit we’ve come to know and love. Simon Pegg’s script and a lot of sly references do what they can to challenge that expectation and there are bits and pieces of something greater, but most of the middle section is exactly what we expected from Justin Lin. But the movie is still eminently watchable.

The fate of the Enterprise: There’s a real “oh sh-t!” moment early on in the sequence that my wife actually caught a few seconds before the rest of the audience. The design of the Enterprise throughout the decades has often been criticized for putting the nacelles on long delicate arms. And in Beyond we see the consequences of that choice. It actually takes a good ten or so minutes from initial battle till everything comes crashing down as the Enterprise is picked apart by a swarm of ships unlike anything they’ve ever encountered. Most Trek battles are naval engagements, two heavy cruisers duking it out until one is victorious. The swarm of enemy ships in this movie is a force of nature, one that will be next to impossible to defeat. Everyone gets a good moment, from Scotty’s clever escape, to Uhura’s battle with the baddie, to Kirk saying a last goodbye to the bridge. Everything up through this moment is the Trek we love.

Let’s wander around on a planet for a while: There was a lot of potential in the middle act of this movie, and we get glimpses of it through some character beats. Most of the crew is picked off by Krall and huddled together in cells pretty early, but a few are able to escape on their own or with a buddy. We see some traditional and unexpected pairings here: Kirk and Chekov, Spock and McCoy, Scotty and Jaylah. There’s some real potential for interaction and character development in these sequences, but the best we get (as expected) is Spock and McCoy. Their grudging respect for each other is explored, as well as Spock dealing with a big loss. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s McCoy and feel like he’s been underused until this movie. The Kirk and Chekov stuff is all action, and Scotty and Jaylah are mostly played for laughs. Uhura, Sulu, and rest of crew in Krall’s camp is less compelling, though Uhura’s one-on-one’s against the villain aren’t bad.

New life-forms: Jaylah’s a nice character. She’s got a cool character design. Her outfit’s not exploitative. She’s shown as being a capable engineering novice and a fighter. She calls Kirk “James T.” Overall, not a bad effort. Simon Pegg mentioned on Late Night with Seth Meyers that her name comes from her script designation (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone) and I don’t know if we would have made more of a connection with this character if it was actually Jay Law. Her development is a little lacking, but I look forward to seeing how potential future movies use her (or at least the comic books).

Ordering off the menu: Idris Elba on the other hand, is buried in the makeup and that voice he put on for this movie. Whatever you think of Cumberbatch’s Khan, you were getting everything that actor had to offer as a sympathetic villain. There’s so much we could have gotten from Idris, even just from his voice, that his slow, spittle-spewing performance didn’t give us. On Fallon, Idris remarked that you didn’t really have to act when you looked like his character, which makes me wonder why they used someone as talented as him for the role. If you hadn’t told me it was Idris, I wouldn’t have known for much of the movie.

Callbacks: The trek references in this movie were largely from one of the least popular series: Star Trek: Enterprise. There were a lot of good TOS refs as well. The Enterprise callbacks make sense, since technically the prime and Abrams (Kelvin) timelines share that common ancestry. There was one choice of music in a sequence toward the end of the movie that came off as very hokey, especially considering what it was being used to do. That was probably the most Fast and Furious the movie got. Yes, I know that First Contact used “Magic Carpet Ride” in a sequence, but it made way more sense in context than the moment in Beyond. The best moments are the movie’s tribute to Leonard Nimoy, which is handled with more than just a title card. There’s a moment at the end that really connects with Trek’s 50 year legacy.

Raise the stakes: Star Trek (2009) destroyed Vulcan mid-movie. It’d be hard for any movie to rise to that level without repeating itself. Into Darkness did it with a personal character death, Pike being killed by Khan early on. Beyond does shock us early on with the Enterprise attack, but the actual threat of the movie seems relatively minor. Most of our villain’s violence, and the devastating power of his weapon, is implied not shown. The thing to protect is largely significant because it looks cool and has a lot of people on it (oh and Sulu’s husband and daughter who we’ve never seen before, and never talk to). I’m not sure how you correct this point, but since there was less connection with earlier movies or Trek lore, it seemed more generic in a building-smashy way than the previous films.

Bottom-line: The movie is fun. There’s a lot of laugh lines. The space action sequences are superb. The planet stuff is more generic, but still fun. We’re back to the curse of the odd numbers, but if you think about it, only 1 and 5 are real stinkers. 3, 7 and 9 are all very watchable. I think Beyond actually most resembles 9 though without the romantical time-freezing bits. It’s definitely still in the top third of Trek movies. I doubt you’ll hate it, and you definitely will want to see it in the theater.

Just maybe go for the matinée.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Why “Threshold” is not the worst, but is in fact the best Star Trek Episode

Transwarp_humans

Threshold” is the most notorious episode of Voyager, possibly of all of Star Trek television. Its writers have called it a “royal steaming stinker.” There have been arguments about whether or not it is canon. At best its been called “that silly warp 10 episode.” Over the years I’ve been one of those voices who have piled on this episode, but much like my newfound appreciation for Star Trek V, I now believe that “Threshold” is not only canon, but is in fact the best episode of any Star Trek series*.

Quick recap of the plot. Paris breaks warp 10, is everywhere at once in the universe, turns into a lizard, abducts the captain, has babies with the captain, then is restored to humanity by the doctor who shoots him full of anti-protons to eliminate the bad DNA while keeping the good. Janeway makes a crack about possibly initiating the mating. The end.

To get where I’m coming from you have to consider the two Star Treks. There’s what we think Star Trek is, and there’s the actual show. In an EHG canon pitch for the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror” Adam Grosswirth said that Star Trek manages to be “both good and so bad it’s good at the same time.” I think that’s dead on. Star Trek does raise some interesting social and scientific commentary, even the original series, but it’s also pretty silly. It’s okay to like Star Trek for both those reasons. It’s why I insist on watching TOS episodes with the original special effects instead of the remastered.The silliness is part of the charm, and this episode is no different.

“Threshold” is funny

For starters, I forgot how funny the Doctor is in this episode. There’s a dry wit and delivery to everything he says, which is good since we spend a lot of time in sickbay.

Some examples (all quotes are from Memory Alpha):

Janeway: “Can you wake him?”
Doctor: “I don’t see why not. WAKE UP LIEUTENANT!'”

Doctor: “What did he ingest?”
Torres: “Just a cup of Neelix’s coffee.”
Doctor: “It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”

Paris: “I lost my virginity in that room. Seventeen. Parents were away for the weekend.”
Doctor: “I’ll note that in your medical file.”

Even Tuvok gets in on the fun. Upon finding lizard Janeway and Paris, Chakotay is more than a little flummoxed, but Tuvok displays his trademark Vulcan calm:

Chakotay: “I’m picking up traces of Human DNA… it’s them. Although, I have to admit, I’m not sure which one is the captain.”
Tuvok: “The female, obviously.”

Chakotay: “I don’t know how I’m going to enter this into the log.”
Tuvok: “I look forward to reading it.”

“Threshold” is award-winning

Did you know this episode won an Emmy? It beat DS9’s “The Visitor” for “Outstanding Makeup for a Series.” That should make it worthy of some serious consideration, right? I mean, it takes a lot of work to make pulling out your own tongue believable.

I was going to add a picture but I still like you guys more than that.

The premise is sound

I know a lot of people have argued that the original series went faster than warp 10 on many occasions, but it was established by Gene Roddenberry sometime toward the beginning of TNG (though not before “Where No One Has Gone Before” apparently) that warp 10 is the top barrier. It has something to do with different scales of measurement between the two warp drive numbering systems, but truthfully it’s because TOS threw those numbers out pretty willy-nilly and TNG decided to be a little more consistent.

This is the first of several engineering project episodes for Paris and it really establishes him not only as a good helmsman but as a test pilot as well, in the tradition of Chuck Yeager and Zefram Cochrane. There’s even a reference to Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier breaking flight (he had close the cockpit door with a broom handle because of two broken ribs). Paris is almost scrubbed from the flight because of health concerns, but insists on flying anyway. Working on stuff like this is what brought us the Delta Flyer a few years later. It takes him from being just one of the vaguely handsome people on the bridge and makes him interesting, and it establishes his working and personal relationship with Torres early on.

That warp 10 would have some unforeseen physiological effects is pretty consistent with the way Star Trek handles these sorts of technological advances. The exact direction is weird to be sure, but no more weird than the virus that devolved everybody on TNG and made Worf into some kind of werewolf-snake thing.

And Voyager could have gotten home using this technology. The doctor did develop a treatment. Two people recovered from it. If they’d known the weird evolution thing was coming they could have flown at warp 10, gotten treatment, and been home in time to avoid the Borg. Sure maybe one or two would have stayed lizards but that’s a small price to pay.

Star Trek is pretty weird

So leaving TOS out of it let’s take the show that a lot of people think is the best trek, TNG. You remember that episode with the flying space pirogi?

GalaxysChild

Or how about eating Deanna Troi cake?

Deanna_Troi_cake

And okay let’s pick on TOS a little. A dog is an alien?

SpaceDog

Lizard’s looking pretty good now, right?

Threshold is high-concept

Though most of these beats were removed from the script, “Threshold” does challenge some assumptions about human evolution. Most of Star Trek, and other sci-fi, assume that a higher form of life means something either basically human, or maybe pure energy. This episode actually flips the script, saying that we might have a deeper understanding of the universe as a simpler form of life. Sure it looks pretty alien to us now, but in a few million years who knows?

This is actually an interesting idea, and one that Star Trek or some other show could do more to tackle. At the very least it seems logical to assume that we won’t fully understand the benefits of our next stage of evolution as a species until we encounter them, and we might not know where the human race is really going. That’s an exciting notion.

Why “Threshold” is the best

So if I haven’t convinced you that “Threshold” is the best or even a good episode of Star Trek, try this on for size.

The evolved form of humanity might be “The Doctor”

When Paris is revived from an initial brush with death, he has two hearts. As we know, another Doctor whose name we do not know also has two hearts, and can go anywhere in time or space. Tom Paris just brought Tardis technology to Voyager, and without the annoying grinding sound.

What

Have a pleasant weekend.

*Somehow I managed to finish this without various internal organs trying to leap up and beat my brain to death. Weirdly, I leave this at least convinced it’s not the worst episode of Star Trek. I mean there was that other Voyager episode with the giant flying bacteria. Bleagh.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Review: Starfleet Academy – Adorable Tellarite Edition

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

StarTrekStarfleetAcademy

Ratio on cover is exact opposite of how much the story revolves around these groups of characters (thankfully so).

Writers – Mike Johnson & Ryan Parrot, Artist – Derek Charm

Starfleet Academy is a pitch-perfect addition to the Abrams (Kelvin *ugh*) -verse, much in the same way an earlier Marvel series (of the same name) added to the DS9-verse. The five issue story takes place in 2258 and 2261, following the adventures of the main Trek crew just prior to the events of the 2009 movie, and a group of new recruits competing in the Academy’s centennial celebration contest. The two stories are told roughly concurrently, though more weight is given to the 2261 era crew, and the comic is better for it.

The 2258 arc centers mainly on Uhura, with cameos by Spock, Kirk, Chekov and Robocop from Into Darkness (Admiral Marcus I want to say…?). Uhura and Spock’s relationship is a bit bumpy (all Spock’s fault BTW) and Uhura decides to turn her feelings toward investigating a faint signal she picked up from a lost ship, which turns out to have been lost more than 100 years ago. After she discovers that information about the ship and transmission is classified she enlists the help of first Chekov and then Pine-Kirk to break into the Starfleet Archives for more information. She’s caught, chewed out, and Spock saves the day (and their relationship), but we don’t really know what happened to the lost ship.

The problem with comics about the main crew (especially prequels) is we know where they will end up. The stakes are lower. This was one of the reasons the original Marvel Starfleet Academy was so groundbreaking. Aside from Nog, all of these characters were original to the comic and anything could happen to them (including being killed off in the 5th issue)…

LoveBetrayalAndDeath

And this is before the Knightfall-esque cover where a cadet’s back is broken by a Jem Hadar.

The 2261 story centers around T’Laan, a Vulcan cadet struggling with whether to remain in the Academy, or rejoin the rest of her people in establishing a new Vulcan colony. She’s convinced to stay through the Academy’s 100 year celebration competition by the most adorable Tellarite instructor in the history of the series in return for him expediting her withdrawal from the Academy should she still decide to leave after the contest.

Isn't he the cutest thing?

Isn’t he the cutest thing?

Lets take a minute to admire Derek Charm’s artwork which is dare I say … Charm-ing.

For those of you still left after the horrendous pun, Derek Charm does manage to inject a lighter tone to this story without taking away from some of the real conflict going on with T’Laan. This a brighter and more cartoonish interpretation of these characters, but never in a way that feels like a cartoon. It’ll probably be more engaging to a younger audience, but still with a lot to offer older readers like me. The ship design work melds well with some of Beyond’s new effects we see from the trailer.

T’Laan’s teammates are the usual mix, a haughty Andorian, a girl who built her own exo-rig, a brainy human, and a Monchezkin who is only just now learning to use spoken communication.

LuciaIsExplaining

This character is played largely for humor, sometimes more effectively than others. We’ve seen literal characters like this before (one of the reasons I love Anya from Buffy), but this plays a little differently. Overall, he’s a nice one to throw into the mix of all these misfit cadets.

LuciaWon

The comic has a good mix of ups and downs for our little crew, playing a lot better than some of the challenges Wesley faced in his Academy testing episodes in Season 1 of TNG. It ties the two storylines together in the final issue quite well and leaves things open for us to spend more time with these characters again.

My only quibble is I don’t think we really needed the main crew storyline. All of the discovery and risk parts of the storyline could have been taken on by T’Laan and her group, who could have been plausibly kicked out of the Academy unlike Uhura. The Spock/Uhura relationship stuff doesn’t add much to their story that we didn’t already get from the 2009 movie. And Uhura doesn’t get to solve the mystery and has to wait till this new group comes along, so it’s not particularly satisfying for her either.

But overall this is a fun tale, which is one of the best characteristics of the new movies. It integrates more serious events like the destruction of Vulcan without being morbid. Definitely a good comic to read in advance of seeing the movie. Hope there are more tales to be told with T’Laan (and the lovable Tellarite).

(5 stars | Some of IDW’s best Trek work with the new universe)

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Plenty of letters left in the alphabet

SPOILER WARNING… I GUESS?

The trailers for Star Trek Beyond have given a pretty strong indication that Pine-Kirk’s Enterprise kicks the bucket in this new movie, until the latest trailer just comes out and says it. The Enterprise has been destroyed.

As fans of the series know, this isn’t something new. Pretty much every iteration of Star Trek has an episode in which the ship blows up and everyone dies. Actually, if you’re a fan of The Physics of Star Trek, you can add any episode to the list that utters the phrase “Inertial dampers are offline”, because at the speeds they are usually traveling everyone would be a spot on the back bridge wall.

EnterpriseExplodes

Today I will attempt (and likely fail) to provide an exhaustive list of episodes in which the Enterprise (or the main ship/station for DS9 and Voyager) is destroyed.

TOS (none): Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but aside from “The City on the Edge of Forever“, in which the Enterprise just disappears because of an alternate timeline, we never see it blow up until Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, still one of the best explosion scenes of the series. Several Constitution class ships are destroyed in the TOS run, but never our main girl.

TNG:

  • Cause and Effect” – Ship blows up at the teaser and at every commercial break. We see Frasier as captain of a ship from the 23rd century.
  • Time Squared” – Seen through future Captain Picard’s log fragments. Especially love the effect of the ship being sucked backwards into a wormhole.
  • Parallels” – Worf keeps on slipping into alternate timelines including one in which he is married to Troi. Provides the impetus for their brief romance. Enterprise that blows up is one from an alternate timeline where the Borg have assimilated the alpha quadrant.
  • Yesterday’s Enterprise” – Technically we don’t see either C or D blow up, but C is being sent to its doom, and D is about to be destroyed with Picard at a flaming tactical.
  • All Good Things” – Several Enterprises are destroyed when trying to seal the breach in the universe, in the wrong order to prevent a time paradox (past, present, future *BOOM*).
  • Star Trek VII: Generations – Lursa and B’Etor are the ones who destroy the Enterprise, at the cost of their own lives. Not exactly what we expected of these characters. We get a saucer crash similar to what we’re seeing from Beyond, though a smoother descent. Data says “Oh, sh-t!” and Picard says the title of this post. Oh yeah, and Kirk dies (as the old joke goes with a bridge on him, instead of him on the bridge). If you read the old technical manual, this exact procedure for saving the saucer was detailed long before the movie came out.

DS9:

  • Visonary” – O’Brien is able to make jumps about five hours into the future because of… radiation poisoning? One of his future jumps shows the destruction of DS9 by an unknown (*cough* ROMULAN *cough*) attack. Past O’Brien dies, future O’Brien instead of winking out of existence jumps to the past and assumes past O’Brien’s life. All’s well…?
  • The Changing Face of Evil” – The Defiant is destroyed in battle with the Breen and Dominion ships. This event is fixed and the Defiant only reappears as the renamed USS Sao Paulo a few episodes later. A bold choice for bold Trek.

VOY:

  • The Year of Hell: Part 2” – My personal favorite. Voyager is attacked and battered over a long period. Janeway becomes increasingly driven and prone to taking unnecessary risks. Tuvok loses his sight. 7 of 9 becomes Tuvok’s caretaker and friend. In the final battle there’s a gaping hole in the front of the ship held only by a force-field before Janeway rams Voyager into a timeship to correct the timeline.
  • Deadlock” – A duplicate Voyager is created through … methods. Harry Kim dies when sucked out a hull breach. Harry Kim prime takes his place, along with baby Naomi Wildman. Duplicate Voyager blows up and somehow doesn’t destroy other Voyager occupying the same space.
  • Timeless” – Voyager crash lands on an ice planet after being thrown out of a quantum slipstream. 15 years in the future Harry Kim tries to save them by using Borg technology and a retrieved EMH. Cameo by Levar Burton. Another surprising Voyager highlight.
  • Course: Oblivion” – A duplicate Voyager created by their encounter with the demon planet eventually dissolves into nothing.

ENT:

  • Twilight” – In an alternate timeline (catching the trend?) the future NX-01 Enteprise is crippled (the bridge is ripped off which is kind of a cool effect) and later destroyed while simultaneously curing Archer of a brain disease caused by time-parasites. Archer is able to restore his memory and the past. Woohoo.

I’m sure there are more so please share in the comments.

1 Comment

Filed under Round-Ups

Your Essential Star Trek Beyond Comics Checklist

Star Trek Beyond comes out later this week, and all this week on the blog I will be celebrating my life-long love of Star Trek (as if I really needed the excuse).

Did you know that Star Trek comics are canon? To be specific, we’re talking about the Star Trek Ongoing and Countdown related series which are supervised by Roberto Orci. Gone are the days of having to ret-con a recovered Spock off his own ship back to mind-melded confusion (re: the effect of Star Trek III and IV on DC’s Star Trek Volume 1). We even occasionally get a mention in the new movies of events in the comics. Did you hear that throwaway line about “The Mudd Incident” in Into Darkness? That was for the comics nerds. All one of us.

Who knows if any of this stuff is going to affect Beyond. Probably not, but here are some comics that should at least get you in the mood for the new movie.

The Legacy of Spock (Star Trek Ongoing Issues 55-58): This is a fitting elegy to Leonard Nimoy, bridging the gap between the end of the 2009 Star Trek movie and the establishment of the new Vulcan colony. Turns out the Vulcans want to colonize Seti Alpha V, which prime Spock knows is a bad idea because it’s going to become a hellish wasteland when Seti Alpha VI explodes (see TWOK). But the Vulcans aren’t too eager to listen to Spock as there are more than a few who blame him for failing to stop Nero and the destruction of their home. Spock becomes an exile and is forced to rely on unlikely allies to save the last of his people from themselves, and from two remaining members of Nero’s crew who get their hands on the last few drops of red matter. There are some great cameos from characters from both TOS and TNG and the last few pages of 58 might even bring a tear to your eye. (The latest issue, 59, has new Quinto Spock waking up in Nichelle Nichols Uhura’s bed. Scandal.)

385127._SX640_QL80_TTD_

Star Trek Manifest Destiny: A limited series similar to the two countdown series that preceded the prior two movies. The events of this will probably have little affect on the plot, but the tone appears similar with a vicious enemy taking over the ship. You can read my review from a few weeks ago here. Read 53-54 on Ongoing as well to get a lead-up story to the Kai character.

Star Trek Starfleet Academy: I’ll probably review this later this week, but this series bridges two timelines, the early academy days of Uhura, Spock, and Kirk and a crew of new recruits competing in the academy’s 100 year celebration a few years later. In the past Uhura stumbles across a transmission from a lost NX class ship and risks her academy career to find out the truth about a possible mutiny. In the present a Vulcan student is torn between her desire to join the rest of her people to preserve her race, and her wish to continue a career in Starfleet. She’s teamed up with a diverse set of students, including a race that is just learning verbal communication which leads to some great comedy. The new team stumbles upon Uhura’s research and possibly even the lost ship. The series explores the early ups and downs of the Spock/Uhura relationship, and does a nice job of integrating NX ships and Star Trek: Enterprise into the Ongoing series (both these elements look to be explored in Beyond as well).

Star Trek/Green Lantern – The Spectrum War: Hear me out on this one. Even though the reviews of Beyond are turning out to be favorable, it’s probably wise to not let your expectations get too high. If the movie is only so-so, at least you’ll be able to say it was better than this sin against nature. Sadly at some point I still need to review this for NetGalley.

368779._SX640_QL80_TTD_

Star Trek Vol 9: The Q Gambit: Another run I’ve previously reviewed. The high-water mark of the whole Ongoing series. Much better than their frankly disappointing attempts at Mirror-Mirror. Check out my review here.

If you have time for only one, read Starfleet Academy. It’s tonally the most fun, and serves as a nice bridge between all parts of the current new Trek Trilogy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Snap Judgment: Way Down In Poke-Go

YessssPikachu

By now you’ve either been playing or at least heard of Pokemon-Go, an augmented reality app released last week that has people wandering around the real world looking to “catch ’em all.” I do not have a smart-phone, so my impression of this development is largely from observation of others and catching up on the news, but here are some thoughts in no particular order:

  • It seems oddly perfect to me that this property from the 90’s is what made augmented reality popular, or at least part of the conversation. There have been other games, including one by the same company, that have had a huge player base, but nothing has captured the imagination of people (or the media) quite like this.
  • There needs to be a better mechanism for non-players to verify public locations are gyms or Poke-Stops and give them the option to opt out. In the meantime our pastor has asked a member of the congregation who is playing the game to win our church’s gym so it doesn’t get renamed to something we wouldn’t like.
  • In that vein, there is a part of me that is tickled that someone won the Westboro Gym and renamed it “Love Is Love.”
  • There are privacy concerns, but my suspicion is this app isn’t really more intrusive than what other apps are doing, it’s just getting us to pay more attention, which is a good thing. Keeping the camera on all the time raises some obvious concerns, but ones we’ve needed to address for a while.
  • People need to use their phones more like a tricorder and less like eyes. You don’t see Spock staring into his black box without looking up around him. Otherwise you’ll end up like a red-shirt.
  • I do kind of wish I had the app so I could set a lure, then shoot people with Super-Soakers while yelling “Squirtle!” This would make up for the fact that capturing a Pokemon doesn’t involve fighting it, which seems wrong to me.
  • A video game that encourages exercise is not a bad thing, as long as people look where they are going.
  • I have yet to see people in the wild actually playing this game, though I see a lot of traffic about it on Facebook and Twitter, and I know a few people who’ve installed it, including one of them who told me it works while driving which seems … unwise.
  • It’s a bummer this is limited to smartphones and doesn’t work on my Kindle. Then again, I need to actually get work done and trying to capture a Charizard isn’t how I’m going to do it.

Over all, neat game though I imagine the novelty will wear off. But I am interested in the conversation it starts, and the next generation of games like this.

** Bonus points to the reader who gets the Gendo reference.

Leave a comment

Filed under Trube On Tech

Sharing someone else’s culture

I spent part of the weekend reading about creation myths and fables of the Chokwe, an ethnic group that lives roughly in Angola. This is part of my research for the new book, which is expanding to have an extensive “Ethno-mathematics” section (i.e. Math and Fractal Drawings from around the world), specifically the Chokwe tradition of Sona. Sona are drawings made in the sand while telling a story or riddle. It’s one of the ways in which Chokwe elders impart knowledge and fables, though from what I’m reading the Sona tradition is dying out. They bear a resemblance to the Kolam of the Tamil-Nadu community in India, and even to traditional Celtic knots.

ChokweCreationMyth

Math from other cultures is becoming really intriguing to me, and it’s an area I don’t think is covered enough in public education. Colonial era westerners often made the assumption that these “primitive” peoples didn’t understand some of the higher concepts of technology and mathematics, but if my studies have taught me anything it’s that we westerners were a little behind the curve (so to speak). At the very least, learning about how other cultures look at math and art can help us to see connections between ideas from new perspectives.

But one of the things I am wondering about is how to tell these stories respectfully. Some fables and tales are very private, specific to a culture, and not something that is intended to be shared with outsiders. Now obviously, since I don’t have the resources to travel to Angola myself, I’m getting these stories from people who’ve already spread them around. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. But it’s still important to consider their meaning, rather than to just include them as a pretty picture.

A lot of Adult Coloring Books have mandalas, in fact mandalas seem to be the stand-in term for most circular patterns in coloring books. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying these patterns, or designing new ones, and coloring them as a loose form of meditation. But at the same time I think it is also important to be respectful and understanding of the tradition. We want to learn and educate ourselves about a type of drawing, not just appropriate it.

Sometimes meanings for things change. The Kolam tradition seems to have had religious significance in the past, but now it is more a form of artistic expression by women in the Tamil community. Celtic knot constructions have a triune grid which reflects the triune nature of God, but also look really good on leather bound notebooks.

I’m a guy who wants to spread art and cool designs for their own sake, while also trying to explore some of the deeper meaning these traditions have to the cultures that created them. And I want to do that in a way that honors those traditions, without sharing them merely because they are exotic or different. The best way, at least for me, is showing the connections between some of the more abstract concepts of fractals, and their origins before they really came into their own (the days of computers and Mandelbrot). I’ve been thinking about fractals as something that is a new concept in math, but their origins may be much older.

I’m still working this stuff out, but I hope my intentions if nothing else can shape the writing in a good direction.

1 Comment

Filed under Writing, Writing Goals