Friday, 18 August 2017

Reviewing Roddenberry's Andromeda

"Andromeda" is a TV Series that began airing in October of 2000. Initially based on notes left behind by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, it was developed for television by Robert Hewitt Wolfe (a writer for Deep Space Nine), and starred Kevin Sorbo (of Hercules fame). Somewhat incredibly, it ran for five seasons, despite jettisoning a lot of it's original premise (Robert Hewitt Wolfe's writing was deemed "too intelligent", and he was let go in mid-Season Two).

In 2017, the Space channel in Canada started re-airing the old episodes. I'd remembered seeing a number of them back in the day (along with reading Jammer's Reviews), so I thought I'd partake again.

After a few months of this, I realized two things. First, courtesy of reading the comments section on Jammer's site, there were no reviewers out there who actually stuck through an episode-by-episode analysis to the end. So that's a void on the internet. Second, somehow, I found I'd ended up seeing more than 4 seasons worth of the thing by the time Space had cycled back to the start of the series.

So, what the hell. I watched some of the episodes I missed as they came up again, tracked down later ones on the Internet to fill in all the gaps, located a transcript site to refresh my memory as needed, and assembled this post. I now present to you, a ranking of all 110 "Andromeda" episodes.


First, to be clear, my system won't look at each episode in a stand-alone sort of way. If you want that, Baron Samedi did a decent job in the comments of the aforementioned Jammer's Reviews, and I'll link to some other review sites below.

Instead, this will look at each episode in terms of the series as a cohesive whole. Which episodes you can toss out, versus which ones you can keep, versus which ones you can enjoy, so that when you finally reach the end, you're not completely lost. (Sorry, you will still be a little confused. The series goes downhill, and the ending doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm either braver than most, or crazier, for attempting this.) With that said,

My scale:
FORGETTABLE. Might be better to think that this episode never happened.
NECESSARY. Not good, but by skipping this, you’d miss something interesting and/or relevant.
ADEQUATE. Average fare. Worth taking the time to watch, but (in my opinion) that's about it.
SUPERIOR. More than worth watching, here certain things are being done well.
MEMORABLE. Has the potential to stick with you on some deeper level.

I'll keep a running total at the end of every season. Let's get to it.

SEASON ONE (2000-2001)

001. “Under the Night”. ADEQUATE.
 Sets the stage, introducing the characters and the situation. No harm, no foul.

002. “An Affirming Flame”. SUPERIOR.
 More like the second of a two parter, finishes the setup on a strong note.

003. “To Loose the Fateful Lightning”. NECESSARY.
 Rommie gets her body, the ship gets a Nova Bomb, but it’s pretty weak.

004. “D Minus Zero”. SUPERIOR.
 Might be ranked generously, but some good character work here, which is interesting since it’s first in production order. The device to fool ship sensors is plot relevant later.

005. “Double Helix”. SUPERIOR.
 Some weak acting and plot conveniences pull down an otherwise fascinating look at Nietzscheans. Key long term plot points drop here too.

006. “Angel Dark, Demon Bright”. MEMORABLE.
 Even with my time travel bias, others rank this outing highly as well. Very well done, and written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who knows the big picture.

007. “The Ties That Blind”. FORGETTABLE.
 Harsh? Yes, it has Beka’s brother, our first real look at Wayism, and introduces the Restors, but none of it means much of anything, and for once you can get these necessary plot points elsewhere. I also want to forget Beka talking to herself in a dorky way.

008. “The Banks of the Lethe”. NECESSARY.
 The clever time travel has some plot relevance (including 030), but it’s more the teleporter that bumps this up from ‘forgettable’ (except you’ll need to wait long for the payoff). Still, nothing of real consequence.

009. “A Rose in the Ashes”. FORGETTABLE.
 Well. That was a thing on a prison planet.

010. “All Great Neptune’s Ocean”. NECESSARY.
 Ranked as such because it has details like force lance mechanics, it uses personality quirks, and it provides context for all the dumb fish puns that will not die after this episode.

011. “The Pearls That Were His Eyes”. NECESSARY.
 Needed for the “Flash” drug connection, while John de Lancie’s also good in his role, but otherwise forgettable.

012. “The Mathematics of Tears”. FORGETTABLE.
 Another harsh rank, but it didn’t grab me, and like 007 above, rogue AIs doesn’t add anything that we won’t get elsewhere. (Another similarity with 007? We get ‘teleplay’ along with ‘story’ credits, implying the script wasn’t done by the people who came up with the ideas. Could be coincidence.)

013. “Music of a Distant Drum”. ADEQUATE.
 It’s definitely necessary for the Nietzschean angle, and either Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s writing or Keith Hamilton Cobb’s acting as Tyr (or both) elevates it past that.

014. “Harper 2.0”. ADEQUATE.
 It’s even more necessary than the last episode (hi Abyss), and again there’s enough in here to elevate it to being worth taking the time to watch.

015. “Forced Perspective”. NECESSARY.
 The actual plot’s a bit forgettable, but it’s the first good look at what Trance can (and cannot) do, done in the context of key elements from Dylan’s past. So it’s needed for those who like that big picture.

016. “The Sum of Its Parts”. NECESSARY.
 More necessary in terms of “what could have been”, in that the Consensus was destined for a larger role. If you don’t care about that original plan, it’s forgettable. (And you can swap this rank with 012 if you want tech fluff done better.)

017. “Fear and Loathing in the Milky Way”. FORGETTABLE.
 The Tarn-Vedra diary appears, so literally anything else would make this necessary, but no, we didn’t need to see Gerentex posturing, so who cares where the diary came from.

018. “The Devil Take the Hindmost”. SUPERIOR.
 An entry I might have ranked generously (the acting’s weak), but we finally get a better look at Wayism (compared to 007), and Rev Bem, and the Magog, and see there’s down sides to fighting for a cause. Definitely adequate?

019. “The Honey Offering”. SUPERIOR.
 Good Nietzschean maneuvering (along with Dylan himself) and it sets their factions up for the broader picture too. Even if that whip breaks physics.

020. “Star-Crossed”. ADEQUATE.
 Another key episode in the overall tapestry, and better done than 012. If only Michael Shanks hadn’t (presumably) been asked to act without emotion, this could have been even higher.

021. “It Makes a Lovely Light”. ADEQUATE.
 The “Flash” and “Tarn-Vedra” threads entwine here in what is finally a watchable episode for Beka’s character.

022. “It’s Hour Come Round at Last”. ADEQUATE.
 I might be elevating this one due to it’s pivotal role in the whole series (the plot’s a bit contrived), but there’s things to enjoy here too, including Andromeda’s conversations with herselves.

Season One Tally:
Forgettable: 4   Necessary: 6   Adequate or Above: 12

SEASON TWO (2001-2002)

023. “The Widening Gyre”. SUPERIOR.
 It is almost a reinvention of the series, with some good character work. Works much like 002 was a better follow-up at the start of the show, in how the peril is resolved in a satisfactory way.

024. “Exit Strategies”. NECESSARY.
 Has follow-ups to Harper’s issues, Rev’s character, and Tyr’s bones plot, but not much more than that.

025. “A Heart for Falsehood Framed”. NECESSARY.
 A better look at Beka’s past than 007, with some interesting twists en route, but cheesy. All it amounts to overall is a map, a plot which is swept aside after 038.

026. “Pitiless as the Sun”. NECESSARY.
 Necessary to see some character work for Trance and a decent guest star in William B. Davis (of X-Files fame), along with introducing the Pyrians. Not really necessary for any other reason.

027. “Last Call at the Broken Hammer”. NECESSARY.
 That is, kind of necessary? I’d say it’s forgettable, except Trance gets her tail shot off, we meet the Kalderan race for the first time... and the story WAS by Robert Hewitt Wolfe so the Ortiz stuff must have once meant something. Damned if I know what.

028. “All Too Human”. MEMORABLE.
 Yes, I’m putting this top shelf. It’s got some fascinating interplay between Tyr and Rev Bem regarding Harper and his issues. It’s got an interesting setup with the AI issues in the main plot, with plot consequences to match, and good guest stars in both Bruce Harwood (of Lone Gunmen fame) and Roger Cross (of 24 & First Wave). Beka even name drops Mobius (from 015) if you’re paying attention. All helps me overlook minor issues.

029. “Una Salus Victus”. SUPERIOR.
 Doesn’t feel like it hooks into the main plot as much as the prior episode (where they got a ship), but still has a lot to like in terms of character work on three fronts - with the sad exception of Rev Bem, who is referenced but doesn’t appear. Also, oooh, that ending. (Alas, goes downhill from here.)

030. “Home Fires”. NECESSARY.
 Absolutely necessary for the overall plot (Rhade returns later), and interesting in and of itself, yet upon taking a step back, it somehow feels like wasted time.

031. “Into the Labyrinth”. ADEQUATE.
 Gordon Michael Woolvett as Harper singlehandedly pulls this episode out of the forgettable category, tesseracting plot or not, then guest star James Marsters pushes it higher. Helps remind us that Harper’s not as goofy as he acts.

032. “The Prince”. FORGETTABLE.
 I want the contrasting Dylan/Tyr perspectives to mean something, but really, do they? Not in the new direction the show will go.

033. “Bunker Hill”. NECESSARY.
 At least here Harper’s Earth origins DO mean something (even in context, given how the show ends), and the Nietzschean tactics lead to Beka doing her thing. So it’s skippable, but good if you like the overall experience.

034. “Ouroboros”. NECESSARY.
 The very *definition* of the necessary category. You need this episode to know why Rev Bem’s no longer around, how Harper’s cured, why Trace suddenly becomes gold, why tesseracts become a thing in later callbacks, and yet it is such a waste otherwise. The last episode by Robert Hewitt Wolfe.

035. “Lava and Rockets”. FORGETTABLE.
 Tourism! This one doesn’t even have interesting Dylan/Tyr perspectives (Rommie/Tyr is no substitute).

036. “Be All My Sins Remembered”. NECESSARY.
 Mostly necessary for the backstory it weaves in, if you’re a completist (or if you like redhead Beka). There’s also Harper foreshadowing that never comes to fruition, because the series was already taking that new direction.

037. “Dance of the Mayflies”. FORGETTABLE.
 Zombies! Trance may be dead, yo! Wait, we knew that.

038. “In Heaven Now Are Three”. NECESSARY.
 Ugh, it’s ALMOST adequate. We’ve got Trance meeting another of her kind, more foreshadowing that stalls in place (with the Engine of Creation)... and the rest feels like a rehash. Can’t give that an average ranking.

039. “The Things We Cannot Change”. FORGETTABLE.
 That’s sure one way to do a clip show.

040. “The Fair Unknown”. NECESSARY.
 There’s a Vedran going toe-to-toe with Dylan, and they’re kind of important to the overall mythos (along with Tarn Vedra), so that’s something.

041. “Belly of the Beast”. NECESSARY.
 Less necessary for mythos, more for having some fun with the characters. The show also takes pride in making decent use of Physics here.

042. “The Knight, Death, and the Devil”. ADEQUATE.
 Some interesting discussion about the sentience of Artificial Intelligences (beats 012), and actually connects to the ‘new’ Andromeda mythos, with the guest appearance of Christopher Judge as a ship.

043. “Immaculate Perception”. ADEQUATE.
 It almost ranks as superior, given Tyr’s bones plot comes to fruition, with echoes throughout the series, but the Knights of Genetic Purity thing is very eeeeehhh.

044. “Tunnel at the End of the Light”. NECESSARY.
 Almost forgettable, except now there’s a Commonwealth Charter, and its saboteur angle is junked in favour of a bizarre attack being the reason for Gold Trance. I suppose it also has to be seen to be believed.

Season Two Tally:
Forgettable: 4   Necessary: 12   Adequate or Above: 6
Forgettable: 8   Necessary: 18   Adequate or Above: 18

SEASON THREE (2002-2003)

045. “If the Wheel is Fixed”. NECESSARY.
 Necessary only because we need to see Beka and Tyr return from The Tunnel. With a kitten. Welcome to Andromeda making no sense. Includes some bizarre split screening effects that would persist for a while (see the first few minutes post-intro), Rommie changing her hair colour, and Tyr removing his arm braces (very end).

046. “The Shards of Rimni”. FORGETTABLE.
 Dylan’s on the run, because of a vase, in a plot likely retooled from the ‘Engine of Creation’ in the old mythos. Harper will get a medal, there, saved you 40 minutes.

047. “Mad to be Saved”. FORGETTABLE.
 Insane people take over the Andromeda and kidnap Tyr. It’s just that easy.

048. “Cui Bono”. NECESSARY.
 Necessary if you want to see what happened to John de Lancie’s character from 011, but if you forgot that one, forget this.

049. “The Lone and Level Sands”. ADEQUATE.
 There’s actually some interesting interplay here between the characters and those on the lost Earth ship. Also more info on slipstream. Didn’t feel like a waste.

050. “Slipfighter the Dogs of War”. NECESSARY.
 Trance’s mystic origins connect to nova bombs, as Tyr has confidence issues. Not very sensible, but not terrible, having elements from the big picture. Also, fun music.

051. “The Leper’s Kiss”. FORGETTABLE.
 Assassins. With a cute twist at the end. The twist doesn’t help.

052. “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. NECESSARY.
 Rev Bem gets quoted at the start. And the ghost plot is, while not adequate, at least interesting, showing what’s typical these days.

053. “And Your Heart Will Fly Away”. ADEQUATE.
 A second “average” episode this season, we get more on Tyr (including mention of the loss of those bone spurs on his arms), and there’s even some plot twists that work. Kinda. It’s better than 050.

054. “The Unconquerable Man”. ADEQUATE.
 And a third! Ranked adequate for how it uses the tesseracting and revisits the Memorable Episode 006 in a fascinating way. It’s superior for how it portrays Rhade, except it’s also a clip show, so I can’t in good conscience boost the ranking more.

055. “Delenda Est”. FORGETTABLE.
 Cats are extinct, meaning that whole thing at the start of the season makes even less sense now. That shouldn’t have been possible. (At least the dimension guys leave for good.)

056. “The Dark Backward”. SUPERIOR.
 A rather fascinating look at Trance, and her connection to Harper, and how to fight an enemy who always sees you coming. I’m nudging this one above the ‘Adequate’ line to make it the first “above average” for the season.

057. “The Risk All Point”. FORGETTABLE.
 Nietzschean Errin Shohashi is easy on the eyes, and the escape pod linking visual is neat too, but that’s not enough. That new ship fits into the big picture not at all.

058. “The Right Horse”. FORGETTABLE.
 Forgot I’d seen this one until I checked a summary. Why must they make Beka look brash and stupid? There’s a twist at the end, yet again, about who lives/dies.

059. “What Happens to a Rev Deferred?”. NECESSARY.
 Necessary solely to see what becomes of Rev Bem’s character amid the clips. Though he’ll come back once more in a marginally better outing next season.

060. “Point of the Spear”. ADEQUATE.
 The presence of the Pyrians (and Trance’s reaction) makes this necessary to the overall universe. The look at some of the individual pilots, seen though Beka, elevates it.

061. “Vault of the Heavens”. FORGETTABLE.
 Written by Gordon Michael Woolvett (Harper), showing he understands the series vibe of “women want to sleep with Dylan Hunt”. Alas, there being a twist doesn’t make it good.

062. “Deep Midnight’s Voice”. NECESSARY.
 This sets up the “Route of Ages” for next season, while calling in the plot patrol for what Tyr’s been doing. Otherwise, meh.

063. “The Illusion of Majesty”. FORGETTABLE.
 Out-conning the con artist, or something like that.

064. “Twilight of the Idols”. NECESSARY.
 Sets up the Patriarch (Michael Ironside), who will return later. He runs the Genites, those Knights of Genetic Purity from the end of last season. Gee, good thing we brought those guys back.

065. “Day of Judgement, Day of Wrath”. SUPERIOR.
 In a fascinating development, Michael Shanks and Christopher Judge return as ship AIs (from near the end of Seasons 1 and 2, respectively). Meanwhile, Tyr’s plot heats up in the B-Story. It starts the season end on a high note (the highest of any season, in fact).

066. “Shadows Cast by a Final Salute”. ADEQUATE.
 Nietzscheans attack Andromeda, which is part of Tyr’s plan - or is it? The final showdown between Dylan and Tyr, as everything gets revealed between them, and around them.

Season Three Tally:
Forgettable: 8      Necessary: 7    Adequate or Above: 7
Forgettable: 16    Necessary: 25  Adequate or Above: 25

SEASON FOUR (2003-2004)

067. “Answers Given to Questions Never Asked”. NECESSARY.
 The Commonwealth is doomed? Or not? Sets up ‘The Collectors’ as being a secret group hoping to seize power, ‘the Abyss’ as being able to take over people, and ends right before a speech by Dylan which might have explained whatever just happened.

068. “Pieces of Eight”. FORGETTABLE.
 A new Abyss minion uses a fortune teller to go after Dylan.

069. “Waking the Tyrant’s Device”. NECESSARY.
 The guy who built the Magog worldship is making another one? It uses plot points (such as a detachable Maru cockpit) and is ludicrous enough to not be forgettable.

070. “Double or Nothingness”. ADEQUATE.
 It’s... weird. Goofy. Unpredictable. Sure, why not, if Collectors and Nietzscheans really ARE working together, it might explain the Abyss in the end. Plus we get Harper’s fate and Peaches’ mom.

071. “Harper/Delete”. ADEQUATE.
 Nietzschean politics, as Harper tries to defuse something called “File D”. I’ll give it extra latitude for making me smile and clock it in as another average outing.

072. “Soon the Nearing Vortex”. SUPERIOR.
 Tyr escapes captivity and resumes his games, luring Beka in. Rhade (from 030) also returns, becoming a series regular from this point. The Route of Ages is sought, and ties into Trance’s origins. Lots going on here - and it’s done well.

073. “The World Turns All Around Her”. ADEQUATE.
 Tyr’s fate, and the Abyss appears as more than mere background noise. Pity that doesn’t elevate a main character’s arc conclusion any higher.

074. “Conduit to Destiny”. FORGETTABLE.
 It’s kind of clever, and Sebastian Spence does his best with a guest role, but I can’t recommend it at all.

075. “Machinery of the Mind”. NECESSARY.
 Sets up “radical isotopes” as a way to identify Abyss minions while reminding us of the Magog issue. Grace Park appears briefly.

076. “Exalted Reason, Resplendent Daughter”. FORGETTABLE.
 Missed the first part of this episode. Felt like I didn’t miss much.

077. “The Torment, the Release”. FORGETTABLE.
 Dylan’s arrested by Collectors and sentenced to a clip show, oh nuuuu. Farewell Tri-Lorn, the twist at the end is overall inconsequential.

078. “The Spider’s Stratagem”. FORGETTABLE.
 The ultimate power of living armour. But even sillier than that sounds, because they try to explain it.

079. “The Warmth of an Invisible Light”. NECESSARY.
 Much like 041, less necessary for mythos (unless you count Trance), more for having some fun with alternate universe characters. Though Harper is actually cybernetic, shout-out to original mythos?

080. “The Others”. FORGETTABLE.
 The degree of lampshading before the credits is impressive. Then it’s less funny, with a disease, and a wall, and people squabbling.

081. “Fear Burns Down to Ashes”. NECESSARY.
 Shockingly, Rev Bem is BACK! And it’s a “Collectors” story that doesn’t suck! And Harper’s useful! I wish all that was enough to make it good (or at least average).

082. “Lost in a Space that isn’t There”. FORGETTABLE.
 The plot we just did with Dylan and Rev Bem we do with Dylan and Beka instead. But worse. Why? (A callback to the equally forgettable 078, I suppose.)

083. “Abridging the Devil’s Divide”. SUPERIOR.
 Gordon Michael Woolvett’s second writing outing is MUCH better. The Patriarch returns, Harper gets a lot to reflect on, and temporal causality comes into play. (FYI, the last time we see this ranking.)

084. “Trusting the Gordian Maze”. FORGETTABLE.
 Out-conning the con artist like 063, this time from the inside, not the outside.

085. “A Symmetry of Imperfection”. FORGETTABLE.
 Kind of an interesting Rommie Versus Herself outing? But it’s been done better.

086. “Time Out of Mind”. NECESSARY.
 They get a weapon against the Abyss, out of Beka’s past. That we’ll never see again, boooo. Not forgettable though, and not merely because Erica Durance is a decent guest spot.

087. “The Dissonant Interval, Part One”. NECESSARY.
 An attempt to negotiate with Magog goes badly. Dylan learns he’s a Paradine. The deadly World Ship arrives. This should be more exciting, but somehow isn’t.

088. “The Dissonant Interval, Part Two”. NECESSARY.
 Rhade hits on someone who’s not his wife. Rommie’s blown up. Beka pulls a Han Solo. Harper comes face to face with his choices. Trance destroys her bonsai tree. Dylan escapes. Cue expressions of dull surprise.

Season Four Tally:
Forgettable: 9    Necessary: 8    Adequate or Above: 5
Forgettable: 25  Necessary: 33  Adequate or Above: 30

SEASON FIVE (2004-2005)

089. “The Weight, Part One”. NECESSARY.
 Dylan is now on Seefra-1, where he finds Rhade who arrived months earlier, and he learns this world is Tarn Vedra. (His home. But we know Dylan’s a heavy worlder, and the plot never explains this.) Well, there’s your context for this season.

090. “The Weight, Part Two”. NECESSARY.
 We add Beka and Trance back into the cast. There’s also a shady trading guy whose maneuvering isn’t totally forgettable.

091. “Phear Phactor Phenom”. NECESSARY.
 We add Harper and ‘Doyle’ back in, learning Rommie’s fate. Gordon Michael Woolvett makes this ALMOST adequate. Note: If you don’t see the episode, you might think everyone rags on Harper for the rest of the season because of something he did here. That’s not it, near as I can tell they’re simply jerks (he was stuck here the longest).

092. “Decay of the Angel”. NECESSARY.
 The combination of Doyle’s backstory and some interesting re-use of tesseracts helps elevate the monotonous to above forgettable. Despite the sword gag, har har.

093. “The Eschatology of Our Present”. FORGETTABLE.
 It tries to matter to the plot, but no. Guest star Don S. Davis (of Stargate fame) is the only thing to recommend in this episode.

094. “When Goes Around..." FORGETTABLE.
 The time loop makes no sense, the tech makes no sense, the ending makes no sense.

095. “Attempting Screed”. FORGETTABLE.
 Attempting plot. But nothing here has lasting consequences.

096. “So Burn the Untamed Lands”. FORGETTABLE.
 Harper’s affected by a crystal, but eventually we hit the reset button.

097. “What Will be Was Not”. NECESSARY.
 Infighting! Trance runs off and meets Orlund, “Chosen by the Vedrans”. Rhade reaches a crossroads, and Andromeda gets some power. We’d better tag it required. It’s not terrible.

098. “The Test”. FORGETTABLE.
 Oh no, Prieus is dead! Wait, who? Where did the background go? From the future what? We just did the infighting episode. Trance herself says this feels pointless.

099. “Through a Glass Darkly”. ADEQUATE.
 To really get it, I feel you had to see 034 and 008 (told you it was a wait for the payoff). But this is the first really decent outing for the season, where you kind of care about the fates of the characters. There’s even Paradine talk, if you like that big picture stuff.

100. “Pride Before the Fall”. NECESSARY.
 Tyr gets a name drop in this episode, and Beka learns she has some power over the Nietzscheans. Alas, like the Abyss Bell, that’s never put to good use (otherwise this might be adequate), but it is interesting. Episode 100 could easily have been worse. Also, gag reel.

101. “Moonlight Becomes You”. NECESSARY.
 This outing is kind of stupid (moon avatars?), but you need it to begin the plot of Trance’s sun returning, connected to Tarn Vedra issues. Well, and I guess Harper’s scenes with Doyle weren’t terrible.

102. “Past is Prolix”. FORGETTABLE.
 Orlund returns, and his worship of Dylan is funny, and there’s negative consequences, but it’s all pretty much by the numbers.

103. “The Opposites of Attraction”. FORGETTABLE.
 Black holes now have avatars, just like suns and moons. But they’re mentally deranged.

104. “Saving Light from a Black Sun”. NECESSARY.
 This ep is needed for the Broken Artificial Sun plot to wrap and the Pick-A-Trance plot to start, but Harper’s reaction when he thinks the others died is almost worth the bump up from forgettable by itself.

105. “Totaled Recall”. FORGETTABLE.
 As Gordon Michael Woolvett’s third written effort, I want this to rank higher, but while some alternate reality scenarios are interesting, they’re ultimately meaningless.

106. “Quantum Tractate Delirium”. ADEQUATE.
 Rommie returns, and it’s kind of badass. Enough to make this more than merely a plot requirement for the inevitable Doyle clash.

107. “One More Day’s Light”. FORGETTABLE.
 Despite this being the first of a two parter, in the big picture, it’s largely setup. Add the inexplicable reappearance of Nietzscheans, lampshaded by Dylan, and flushing this episode away might help continuity more than hurt it.

108. “Chaos and the Stillness of It”. NECESSARY.
 The Abyss was behind the last ep, and Pick-A-Trance concludes (mostly). The Seefra System is saved. Harper’s passcode is revealed. Ends the season’s arcs, though not the series’.

109. “The Heart of the Journey, Part One”. NECESSARY.
 Ugh, it’s ALMOST forgettable like 107, except this is the episode that gets them out of the Seefra System. By making a deal with Trance’s other sun identities. Owing to all the Paradine being dead. They leave behind a refugee mess (unresolved), learn the Magog World Ship survived (bad writing), reunite Rhade with his wife (out of nowhere), and botch an attempt by Harper to leave the crew (I WANTED to feel sad), all things I’d rather forget.

110. “The Heart of the Journey, Part Two”. NECESSARY.
 Earth blows up. The Commonwealth doesn’t. The Abyss being behind the Nietzscheans attacking is never clear. The Abyss being behind Trance’s suns is clear but makes no sense. The only part that feels real is Doyle deciding this isn’t her fight, and wanting to leave, only to stick around for Harper’s sake. The crew finally win using the logic from episode 056. I think. At least, they say they win, why would they lie?

Season Five Tally:
Forgettable: 9   Necessary: 11   Adequate or Above: 2
Forgettable: 34  Necessary: 44   Adequate or Above: 32

CODA: The written fanfic by Robert Hewitt Wolfe himself. I’ll label it SUPERIOR, and note it explains why a couple items were tagged the way they are (like “Broken Hammer”), based on what could have been. It’s not a long read.


And that's it! Even if we add in "Coda", the Forgettables outnumber the Adequate+. What am I doing with my life. (Well, I'm also running Series Scans on anime, like Erased, if you want to see my take on something that's done better.)

For some opinions of others on "Andromeda", that are much more in depth, and more individually ranked (put out as the series originally aired):
-Cynic's Corner got as far as Episode 40.
-Get Critical got as far as Episode 53.
-Jammer's Reviews got as far as Episode 44, but if you go into the comments section for his Season Two Recap you can find the remarks by Baron Samedi, who offers rankings on later seasons.
-Here's the site I used for transcripts.

You're also welcome to leave your own comments here, on things you agree with, or are opposed to, or perhaps there's items that you feel I left out. I mean, I'm not the only person to have seen some of this stuff, right? ... Oh well. Have a good day!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Series Scan: Erased

I am a SLOW binge-watcher (and reader). Two hours is about my limit, after which I need processing time. I also enjoy watching online reviewers, and reactions to things that I’ve previously watched, so why not take the time during a slow binge to chronicle my own reactions and speculations?

I’ll be coming at this one a little differently than my prior Scans. I watched the anime “Erased” (it’s only 12 eps) with my wife over the span of 2-3 weeks in July. I didn’t jot down any reactions as I was watching it, or even record anything between viewings, though I more or less remember my feelings. So I’ll mention those in passing as we run episode by episode, along with a larger look at the temporal implications. My reason?

In brief: “Erased” is the best time travel anime that botches the time travel. In part due to “Fridge Logic” problems. (That’s when something doesn’t bother you during the show, but half an hour later you go “wait, what??”) Don’t get me wrong, the anime is great, and aspects are VERY clever, but I’m sorry, a big piece doesn’t hold up. I’ll get to that.

Credit my wife for this viewing, by the way. I was first introduced to “Erased” shortly after it came out in 2016, when the first Episode was played by the Anime Club at my school. This anime holds the bizarre distinction of being played there twice (that wasn’t usually a thing) because attendance was down on a later day and most of those there hadn’t seen the first ep yet (we’re talking 12 people on average, that day maybe there was 3?).

I looked it up at the time, heard that the time travel wasn’t really a central part, heard that some had issues with the end, and rarely have time to keep up with this stuff. Flash forward a full year, to May 2017, and my wife seeing an episode at Anime North. She’s more into mystery than me, so that aspect appealed to her, and she suggested we watch together. This seemed like a great idea. Quality time!

So, let’s get to it. SPOILERS, obviously, and bear in mind that this is a review in retrospect, largely with an eye to the time travel.

01 Flashing Before My Eyes

Thoughts and Theories:
 They set up that Satoru experiences “Revival”, a “mind leap” form of time travel where he’s supposed to prevent an issue. Also, Airi as his coworker, the unresolved issue in his past, his mother, and in the end, the return to 1988. It’s extremely well done, packing all the key elements in, yet it doesn’t feel rushed. My main issue with it was, it felt like setting up the “future” (present), only to allow the rest of the story to play out in the “present” (past). I’ve read “Outlander”. It’s not really my thing.

02 Palm of the Hand

Thoughts and Theories:
 We focus in on Kayo, the first victim, and there’s a nice bookending of her being first and Satoru’s mother being last, both with ties to Satoru. The interplay of a 29-year-old mind and 10-year-old body is interesting. The hint of Airi (via the quote) is important, echoing her presence in the OP, hinting that we will get out of the “past”. (I actually knew we would here, based on what my wife had already seen, but still.) Again, there is a lot to admire about the show. Can’t shake the feeling that the time travel is merely a way to set the plot up though... I have been burned before.

03 Birthmark

Thoughts and Theories:
 The Christmas Tree episode. I wonder about the bit with the foxes, how he “saw them alone” in the first timeline - why was he trekking out there? We also get Kayo’s mother (who seems heartless but not serial killer evil), Yashiro-sensei (who spills plot info because I guess someone had to) and “Yuuki” (sympathetic lip service to the one who will be blamed). Also, the girl framing Kayo for theft and Kenya feeling like he’s somehow a piece of this (he’s in the OP too) but they’re catalysts, not killers. So that’s the mystery angle. Sharing the same birthday is nice in a dual friendship/plot point way.

04 Accomplishment

Thoughts and Theories:
 It’s Satoru time delaying the Kayo problem. Again, nice hint that things aren’t so easy with the trip to the Science Center being an echo of what happened anyway... though for a time travel viewer that’s NOT a hint, it’s a HUGE red flag waving in the air with streamers. You know it’s not going to be enough to avoid the day, you have to avoid the cause, so with Satoru’s fixation on X-Day, it’s waiting for the other shoe. Which only drops at the very end, after their “happy memories”. Telegraphed emotional manipulation. (The scene with Kayo’s mother was well done, I grant, not telegraphed.)

05 Getaway

Thoughts and Theories:
 This is the first ep my wife saw. (She appreciated it with the added context now.) Kayo’s toast, and we go back to the “present”. Which, yeah, kind of had to return to it that way, even though it messes with the definition of “Revival” as initially presented. This is the point that a “time travel” watcher (or me, anyway) may start to get frustrated. On the one hand, staying in the past, time travel is used as a portal only. On the other hand, well, digression time.

 Time travel is a problem. If you give a character control over time, they’re ridiculously overpowered. The only solutions are to put limitations on their use of such power (“Back to the Future”’s 1.21 gigawatts) or, as is done here, don’t have them be the one in control (“Quantum Leap” does that well). We KNOW Satoru’s going back again, Kayo’s too sympathetic a character. The only question is how. Does he figure out what’s behind “Revival”? Does he find a way of “reviving” into someone else, like Kenya? I read a theory from someone watching at this point that maybe the serial killer ALSO has a “revival”, that would be fascinating. (It would also explain the ‘nearly-too-perfect’ framing of Satoru for his mom’s murder.)
 But no. This ep doesn’t feel like a setup to any of that.
 It’s a by-the-numbers, “you changed the past a little bit, not enough, please play again”. Because the focus is placed, not on the circumstances, but on the mystery and the killer (who we see with Pizza Manager, but not his face). Not that there’s anything wrong with that decision, just, it feels frustrating, temporally. Thank goodness for Airi, who breathes life and backstory into what could otherwise feel pedestrian. Satoru making poor choices (lying to Pizza Manager) also feels like a theme, I like how the girls in his life question whether he’s an idiot.

06 Grim Reaper

Thoughts and Theories:
 It’s worth a moment to grant the series a pat on the back for not being predictable. Mom dies, he flashes back. Girls still die, he flashes forwards. Airi dies, he... oh. OH. Okay then. (And I loved the bit where it’s not Airi in her hospital bed later, nice.) So, we’re tracking down the killer in the present, and we get more about Satoru’s manga idea. The ending raises questions, namely whether the obviously arrogant killer watching Satoru is directly connected to the police, the time travel, or something more. Yeah, that never exactly gets answered.

06.5 1-6 Digest
 It had been almost a week since we’d watched the first six eps (and even those were over a couple days), so we watched this. It’s a decent recap.

07 Out of Control

Thoughts and Theories:
 Satoru’s back in 1988 because... willpower? It might have been better for Airi to fall in the river or something, to provide a better motivation. He also says it will be his “final” revival, and I believe it, because now the time travel aspect feels completely at the mercy of the plot. Know what might have been fascinating? Two 29-year olds in his head at once. “You’re going to screw up, let me take the lead”, and there’s finite amount of his own brain he can take at once. Nope. The overlap is never a thing. Time travel is a vehicle, not a plot point.
 Nothing makes that more definitive to me than the continued efforts to hide the identity of the killer (after teasing at the end of 06 that we’d ID him, and start a new arc of catching him), except there’s a SLIM list of suspects. There’s Kayo’s Dad Figure, who we’ve only seen in the background of one shot. There’s “Yuuki”’s father, also seen in passing here. And there’s Yashiro-sensei, who seems to have ALL the info, and has been played up as a confidant - more emotional manipulation for later? Money’s on the latter, in no small part due to him being seen with Kenya before (also in the thick of it now), and the lack of screen time on anyone else.
 The killer busting into the bus at the end, and us STILL not knowing who it is, implies that they’re hanging onto that mystery thread for dear life. Kayo will escape, still not knowing, or be otherwise unable to speak. Which of those, is the question.

08 Spiral

Thoughts and Theories:
 You do have to hand it to the series for not playing to expectations (Kayo didn’t escape, in fact she didn’t get noticed). In retrospect, this is kind of a filler episode, plot wise. Which is, again, symptomatic of time travel not being a factor beyond what we’ve already seen. Otherwise surely by NOW Kenya would have revealed he’s been trying to fix this for years, only to find he’s somehow unable, hence the decision to recruit Satoru in the past leading to this entire story in his future. Or Satoru would have tried “reviving” back a day to try tailing the mystery man.
 The show instead zones in on it’s emotional core, which I again grant is excellent, and I haven’t mentioned the child abuse angle (because that’s not the focus of this post), but it IS done well. Also, there’s the “we’ve walked into the killer’s den” angle, which is motivating. I’m not saying it’s a bad anime (and I haven’t read the manga, though I know it’s a bit different in the time travel too).

09 Closure

Thoughts and Theories:
 Save all the girls! (And the guy who resembles a girl!) We close off Kayo’s storyline, with an interesting appearance by Kayo’s grandmother (she exists!), which is meant to put a sympathetic light on everything and/or show that abuse is a cycle. (I felt like that would speak to the killer’s motivations. In retrospect, not sure.) Moving on, there’s attempts to deflect from Yashiro (and the candy angle was nicely thought out), except who else is there to be the killer. We also set up someone outside Satoru’s sights (as history’s changed), I like that it’s the girl from 03, brilliant callback/setup.

10 Joy

Thoughts and Theories:
 The revelation was decent. I’m not sure I buy the WHOLE setup that Yashiro did, it feels a bit too much like checkmarking boxes marked ‘thread ties here’. (Like, sensei not only steals a car that looks like his, he also fiddled with the seat belt earlier?) When Satoru talks about “knowing Yashiro’s future” at the end, I felt certain that it would be the ticket that leads to Satoru being saved. With Yashiro having to know. Then somehow they catch Yashiro next ep, and last part is seeing what’s better or worse in the future. That’s not what happens.

11 Future

Thoughts and Theories:
 See what they did there? They didn’t call this episode “present”. They called it “future”. Because what happens with the plot here is simultaneously brilliant, and completely self-defeating: Satoru’s in a coma for the whole intervening time (which at one point is what I suspected of Kayo to end ep 07). Returning us to future/present.

 The reason it’s brilliant partly goes to the original title, “Boku Dake ga Inai Machi”, or “The Town Where Only I Am Missing” (sure, that translates to “Erased”). It can be read as Kayo missing up to when she’s saved, but now we see it’s Satoru missing. It allows ten year old Satoru to be in the head of 29 year old Satoru, a clever reversal. It parallels the first episode of waking up in hospital after saving an act of saving lives. And it pulls us back into the “future” without the head scratching of what he’d have been doing with that major shift to his past.

 It also completely wipes out all his previous “Revival” experiences. That kid in Ep 1? Guess he got hit by the truck. Along with whatever other “Revival”s Satoru affected before the story began. That’s why it’s self-defeating.

 It’s also what I meant by “botching” the time travel.

 I can’t help but compare this show to the video game “Life is Strange”, because apparently there’s something about blue butterflies that enables time travel? I’ll try not to massively spoil said game, but suffice to say, there’s a path there which renders all of your previous choices completely moot. “Erased” doesn’t QUITE get there, but it makes all but the last of Satoru’s trips completely moot. The implication being that the town goes along just fine without him.

 Except it DIDN’T get along just fine without him, that’s why he got “Revival” powers. Wasn’t that the point? A protagonist who can change peoples' lives?

 There’s only two possibilities I can see here. Either “Revival” was granted to Satoru because of the childhood trauma of losing Kayo, and all of his previous “Revival”s were somehow also linked to his actions. Meaning the bad events wouldn’t even happen in a timeline without him. Meaning the guy is a horrible jinx, implying people are better off without him! Or possibly that Yashiro’s influence was so far reaching as to affect truck drivers around Satoru. (Which wouldn’t have been a bad direction, actually.)

 The other possibility is that “Revival” is some free-floating god-given gift. Satoru was being tested, and... well, actually, he botched that last test, he had to get his Mom to figure it out... but, close enough, so this was his exam? Except this scenario implies that (presumably) others are similarly tested, meaning our entire timeline could be rewritten out from under us, and so the fact that Satoru was in a coma could later be changed by someone else. Weakening the impact.

 Neither option feels palatable. Granted, there’s a third possibility, but I’ll save it for the end. (Do you see it?)

 Back to the anime. This episode itself was good, if you completely ignore that time travel aspect of the whole storyline. (Including how the hell did Satoru NOT drown, another plot thread with no answer, okay, sorry, sorry.) It was good to see Satoru’s friends again (or at least the two most connected to him), and Kayo, and I agree with what another reviewer said, he at least seems happy with his life here, versus the original timeline.
 Also, the OP shift was damn clever, completely removing him, and yet everything continues on as it did before. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before. As to the last scene, confessing to having your memories when you’re in seemingly the weaker position isn’t in character (not after all his effort to walk, etc). So there’s an ace. Somewhere. What’s the ace?

12 Treasure

Thoughts and Theories:
 In the end, it was a story of point and counterpoint between Satoru and Yashiro. A chess match between “Revival” and the one who can see “Threads”. And the final nail in the coffin of the time travel element is the following: Satoru had no way of knowing that Yashiro wouldn’t take him to the basement and drop crates on him. Why did he plan for the roof?

 I guess we could say they’re just that connected. I guess we could say there were backup plans, and enough was heard on Satoru’s cell phone for the others to go with this plan. (Which apparently also required a faulty gate latch.) And I've heard the manga's different. But it sure feels like “I can see your future” happens WITHOUT any revival in this scene. Implying that maybe, time travel wasn’t in the original draft, the initial pitch was ‘what if someone knew how a serial killer would strike’ not ‘time travel rewrite’? That came later.

 Again, suffering from “Fridge Logic” doesn’t make this bad. The part where Yashiro reaches out to Satoru’s wheelchair is powerful. They really ARE entwined, to the point of not looking at the outside world, and it’s Satoru reaching out to those friends (in the PRIOR episode, offscreen, bit of a cheat) that snaps them out of their stalemate. And then we’re fast forwarding again, to where Satoru has the job he wants in the present, and is revisiting people from the past with happiness too.

 I admit, I was a little worried that we wouldn’t get Airi again. I thought, they couldn’t do that, could they? She was so pivotal. But no, of course, they did in the closing shot, with the blue butterfly, and here’s where I bring up that third possibility. The path seemingly not taken, the “Revival” aspect that was a mere plot vehicle, which could suddenly have been blown into full colour.

 If that butterfly wasn’t Satoru’s. It was Airi’s.

 AIRI is now the one who has been experiencing “Revival”. With Satoru out of the picture, SHE’S the one who saved the boy from the truck in Episode One, who saved everyone that Satoru had once saved, possibly even saved her parents’ marriage somehow, when she was young. She’s been helping people in his place, helping preserve the timeline without him. That’s why she feels a connection to him when they meet in the end.

 Tell me you don’t get chills.

 Granted, there is nothing to DENY that this isn’t, in fact, the reality of what was occurring at the end. We fade to black. But I feel like, the way this anime is SO meticulous in setting things up, and ultimately tying off all it’s loose ends (except the damn time travel), that they wouldn’t have passed up an opportunity to allude to it if it were, in fact, the case. (I DO feel like, if there’s a sequel, it should totally be Airi’s, not their kid son or something.)

 That’s why I had to call “Erased” the best time travel anime that botches the time travel.

 Incidentally, I have heard that the manga actually kills Kayo more than once, resulting in more “revivals” as Satoru tries to figure it out. (And that there were more “revivals” with the truck driver from ep 1, and the final showdown is on a bridge.) On the one hand, getting out of a “trapped loop” helps empathize more with Satoru, but I feel this only makes the time travel aspect worse. It shows time is even harder to change, meaning losing all Satoru’s changes to the coma would be MORE acutely felt within his “town”, not less. But I haven’t read it.

 Anyway, that’s it for this “Series Scan”! If you preferred seeing the reactions of someone as the tale unfolded (because I can’t pretend that my opinions weren’t coloured by knowing the end), check out Setsuken on “Anime Evo” at this link here. There are also other opinions like “Erased is the Perfect Melding of Time Travel and Murder”, or “Nefarious Reviews” which like me sees some flaws. “Mother’s Basement” also did this excellent analysis of the Erased OP visuals. As of this point, the anime’s still streaming on Crunchyroll.

 Thanks for reading! A previous “Series Scan” of mine looked at Steins;Gate, which does time travel better, and is coming out with a sequel soon (if you want more). Consider dropping me a comment if you agree, disagree, or have other thoughts.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Now Teaching: Week -3

I will be coming back after a year away from teaching. Presently, there are nine weeks until the start of school (which is right after labour day) but any teacher who doesn’t come in at least once in the week prior to that (to figure out classroom setup, make photocopies, et cetera, all at no pay) is crazy. So if that’s “Week 0”, we’re at “Week -3”.

I’ve been scrambling to do any and all things not related to teaching, from becoming active on the comic site “Tapas” (Tapastic), to working out remaining Series Scans, to pulling out old writing projects. Some of which I’ve begun tossing onto my FB page for writing, since why not. I’ve also been catching up on serials I read. And I got caught in a Twitter thread about Cdn Math Teachers, so seeing 20+ notifications one day was a surprise. Oh, and there was my 9th anniversary to my wonderful wife.

This was also the week my Ink & Insights results came in for “The Girl Who Speaks With Algebra” (first 10k words). Four judges, with a huge breakdown, and for three of them I was in the top 90% of possible scores. It was the one judge who had me a bit lower than that who seemed to GET it, nailing a key problem - it’s two stories. It’s Sine’s story with statistics, and Rose’s story with her sexuality, and that’s awkward. (The highest score I got, they saw Sine as entering Rose’s unconscious mind.) I’m actually bad for plot mashups (it’s literally happening again in “Epsilon” RIGHT NOW) which may explain why I have trouble finding an audience. Nice that I can apparently pull off first person with an 18 year old lesbian girl though?

So, LOTS on the creativity, NOTHING on the computer science, to the point of deciding today, screw it, doing that next week. My future self may regret this, but at least others might like that I’ve been dropping comments out into the web, and right now, there needs to be more happiness in the world.

Item counts run Sunday (Aug 6) to Saturday (Aug 12).

Step Count 2016: About 50,700.
STEP COUNT 2017: Over 60,200. 26 stars.
Ran with Anne-Lise again, saw a local bunny, but no camera.

-Shelved the Math Comic after seeing Analytic tag results (returned Oct 31st).
-Experienced engagement with T&T Serial site, while writing new Book 4 passages.
-Caught up with “Sailor Moon Crystal” and met financial advisor.

School Email Count: 9 New (0 sent)
(There’s a local math workshop Aug 29th.)

 -No. Must I? Dammit. -. .-

 -Drew, inked and coloured strip for Monday.
 -Wrote “Series Scan” for Erased.
 -Thursday StArt Faire Comic Chat.
 -Wrote an “Epsilon Project” serial entry.
 -Completed T&T edits for RRL (parts 88-96).
 -Started an RWBY Vol 1 series scan.

 -Mowed lawn and related care.
 -Medical appointment Tuesday.
 -Yoga Tuesday.
 -Medical appointment Wednesday (TLC).
 -Went out for Anniversary dinner. (Fraser’s Cafe.)
 -Massage for shoulder Thursday.

 -Programming stuff. Sigh.

 -Recap for ConBravo 2017
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -French Citizenship project
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk
 -Complete old fusion fanfic
 -Do an entire (illustrated?) series on “Bias”

RH Stress Level: 1 (Evasion, Flier Fin)

Monday, 7 August 2017

CanCon 2016: Math + SciFi

Can*Con 2016, the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts & Literature took place from September 9-11th in Ottawa, Ontario. I’m finally doing the writeup 11 months later... well, that’s how long it took me to get to it in 2015 too. I also blogged about 2014 and about 2013, if you’re a completist.

These posts are recaps, with very little colour commentary on my part. Some are near word-for-word recaps, others are a summary. This is the former, as I figured some people in my feeds might only be interested in the panel “Can Mathematics be the Basis of Hard Science Fiction?” that occurred Sunday at 1pm.

I want to mention that my own time travel story does try to use some underlying mathematics in the design of how the device works, even though actual time travel isn’t possible and I hand wave on components more than Steins;Gate, so I was particularly interested. The panelists were Eric Choi (Science Guest of Honour), James Alan Gardner, Derek Kunsken, Suzanne Church, and was moderated by Sheila Williams (Editor Guest of Honour).

Panel: Eric, Sheila, James, Derek, Suzanne

Sheila: Thank you all, This is ‘Can math be the basis of Hard SciFi’. I’m the moderator, the editor of Asimov’s. Hard SciFi can come from all branches of science - math, combined with others like philosophy. Talked to a person whose daughter, one of her first words was fractal.
Eric: Has short fiction stories, “Most Valuable Player” (in Analog SF) with baseball statistics, and “Decrypting” in an upcoming. Otherwise not given it much thought.
James: Written many short stories, novels. Eric had reminded him of another story he did on baseball statistics. And “Axial Axioms”, where the great ancient philosopher advanced math rather than philosophy, so Buddha invented the zero. Also wrote “Gravity Wells”, the model of black holes crossed with Kent State killings back in 70s. “I think math is perfectly useful, have a masters in math.” Easily exploitable.
Derek: Written Hard SciFi based mostly on physics and biology. Though he’s more biology, he still thinks math is cool. Where do you see energy budgets and that sort of thing, could do something like that.
Suzanne: SciFi fantasy and horror. Same University as James/Jim, got a teaching certificate, has been teaching high school math for 8 years. “Calculus is my friend.” In a Jr. Kindergarten conversation of math, everyone think of a big number, and her son said those others are small, how about infinity. Math can be really well done in SciFi.

Sheila: How much of a distinction is there between science and math when writing or reading?
James: Leaps in, because as Suzanne mentioned they went to same university, and at University of Waterloo, science is it’s own faculty, and engineering it is own faculty and they all hate each other. So yes, of course math is entirely different, because it’s better.
Suzanne: Even though we don’t have a Nobel Prize.
James: Math makes sense, science doesn’t have to. He went back to do some courses in geology, and the difference is night and day. The way he would set a story up - Derek talked about making stories from a biological point of view, ecosystems - that’s not at all how he would approach one based on math. He’d take something cool in math, which is almost always an abstraction, and come up with someone to whom that meant a lot, had an emotional resonance. “Division by Zero” story, about a mathematician who has come up with what she thinks certainly is an inconsistency. Internally inconsistent, and tries to commit suicide, knows that the rest of her life is going to be a lie, how does she live with that. “Again, it’s a matter of how I’d go about making any SciFi story”, whether I come from math or not, get a cool science thing that has an emotional resonance with a character and then how does that proceed. How does it get the character in trouble and what do they do about it.
Suzanne: And a whole branch of mathematics, pure mathematics, is theoretical. Does P=NP has no corner foundation, proofs not yet completed. In science, it’s a hypothesis then proving it in a lab, whereas in math it’s all about proof, about proving your theory is true. Like the four-colour math problem.

Sheila: How to put math into a story?
Suzanne: Was working on one about proof of love, an autistic kid couldn’t communicate with mom, and when they could communicate, she said “I love you” and he answered “I don’t believe you, I want proof”. He wants math to prove his mother loves him, and if he loves her does she love him, and ‘if and only if’ proves in both directions. And that kind of math is very different form a science math. Could have spent a day hand-waving and talking about it, but because it’s not proven, lots of space for SciFi. What if I change this just a little bit, what if you came up with there was a proof. Take the story from there.
James: Four colour map theorem, could be some place where the map doesn’t colour, and into Lovecraftian geometries.
Suzanne: Or quantum dimensions, slicing through the fourth colour.
Eric: And math affects all of our day to day lives. Ordering a book or online banking, lots of cryptic proofs that is built on an unprovable assumption. The idea that it’s hard to factor numbers back down. Basis of his “Decrypted”, in a post quantum world, that’s made very easy to crack.
Suzanne: Easy to find the large prime numbers.
Eric: We don’t have the computer to execute “Shor’s algorithm”.
 (Suzanne and Eric say something I don’t catch.)
James: “My first research job” was looking at cracking prime number encryption beyond brute strength. And of course we still use it.
Derek: Kind of agrees with Jim, in that we see them [math/science] as separate, and also with Suzanne, in that it’s so abstract. There’s nothing to hang on except metaphors, so far from something like biochemistry.

Sheila: Involving higher dimensions is a staple of literature since “Flatland” and “-He Built A Crooked House”. (How many read?) Science has advanced, including string theory. What might we exploit with higher dimensions?
Eric: Maybe we can ask one of our mathematicians what we mean by higher dimensions. It’s very poorly portrayed in mass media, like Star Trek, where it means walking through walls.
James: What does it actually mean, yeah. From a physics point of view, 10 dimensional space is n-theory, a version - not string theory - that ties things together. That 10 or maybe 11 dimensions is the proper way to describe our universe, and some of those dimensions are so small that you can’t travel in that dimension, but gravity can leak in that direction. What does this mean? The first 4 dimensions are simple, we describe this. Longitude, latitude, altitude, and last is time. Four numbers to describe that point. What’s a fifth number? Is there a fifth thing going on? Perhaps that’s time travel, so let’s say I’m a time traveller, there’s the time I saw “that” when I was 40 but also when I saw it at 50. And the second time back, I was looking at this guy pointing to a table saying 4 numbers, but there’s a 5th number, how old I was when I saw him do that. The time travellers in the back, they need that to remember. A different way of describing things. A 5th dimension based on a time traveller, but why only one?
Derek: “I’ll say something dumb and you can fix it, Suzanne?” From Flatland and Sphereland, I get a dimension is something you can rotate around that axis. So I find it fascinating that if you take a timeline and move it this way you make a surface, then a solid, then turn through another dimension and you’ve created a 4th dimension.
Eric: A physical fourth dimension.
Suzanne: Everyone understands difference between 2D and 3D. So try then to think of the 4th dimension by reversing your steps. See this table is in three dimensions, even though it’s 2D. Then grab a box, a cube, a thick book, imagine taking it and sticking it through this 2D table surface. Makes several points where this book intersects with the flat top. This is 4th and 3rd dimension. People could be at different points in this cube book, so different points when they interact with the 2D object. That notion is how 3rd and 4th dimensions mix, all the ways they interact with a flat surface. And that’s why we have the notion of time travel. If I’m on the cube, I can move to another point, but still be in this notion of three dimensions, that’s how I could essentially time travel. Not move on the table but through the cube.
Sheila: “I have a story coming out and now I understand the table.”
James: And Suzanne’s talking about spatial dimensions, “I was talking about time dimensions”. Math, this is simple, does it have a positive or negative sign, done.

Derek: One thing in "Flatland", no matter what you do to a right handed mitten, it will always be, but if you can twist in another dimension, you can get left handed. Charge time parody, if you change all three dimensions you have the same object but it’s backwards in time, antimatter AND mirror reversed. That would be an interesting way to make antimatter, if you can move it through a fourth dimension. “Something I’ve been exploiting in stories I’m writing.”
James: Does this make lots of sense, no. But is it good handwavium, absolutely.
Suzanne: And that’s how math works.
James: How do you rotate through a 4th dimension? Derek has used double-talk to make antimatter.
Suzanne: That’s the fiction piece.
Sheila: And as an editor that’s great for me, I don’t need it all explained. For some kid out there, that’s exhilarating.
James: Poul Anderson had a story, the hero is a werewolf, it’s modern day, he has a flash link and camera that’s the wavelength of a full moon. So he can flash and be a werewolf. Secret agent for some.
 (Audience Member: “Operation Chaos.”)
James: Yes! Eventually they get into a non euclidean geometry world, in a different dimension, they can take shortcuts like how Suzanne talked about. The shortest distance isn’t a straight line, and they play games with that.
Sheila: Anything else to add?

Fractal Characters
Sheila: As kind of a follow up, fractals captured imagination in 80s and 90s. A one dimensional line not filling a 2 dimensional surface, being between 1 and 2 dimensional surfaces. Making fractal characters.
Derek: What we’ve talked is whole number dimensions, to partial dimensions now.
James: Here’s a simple story. Everybody knows... (pauses) (laughter). All right, if you take a large scale map of Britain - because this is what they did - and you trace around the boundary of the island of great Britain, whatever the technical thing is, the distance around it is about 3,000 miles. Then if you take a smaller scale map, patched together, that distance is 4,000. Because now you can see inlets and irregularities you don’t see on the large scale. If you take an even smaller scale, the boundary gets even larger, even smaller inlets and points. Accumulates into a larger distance, right down to a fractal scale where you’re looking in a magnifying glass, let’s say, tracing the coast of England. Lots of handwavium here, depends on the tide, but that can actually get up to 7,000 ish miles.
Suzanne: From a podcast.
James: Some measurement from Royal Navy. The little irregularities all add up. [Back to simple story.] What if someone gives this exercise to measure a boundary, and it keeps getting larger and larger, but as it gets larger and larger it’s not 10,000 it now looks like 100,000, and you’re looking at Lovecrafian geometries and infinities popping up everywhere. Every time we measure the boundary, this house gets larger.
Suzanne: Infinity hotel. (She explains the Hilbert Hotel premise, new guest arrives.) Room 1 moves to 2, and 2 to 3, everyone moves to Room n+1, no difference between infinity and infinity plus one, and there’s a room for you now. Even though it’s always booked solid, there’s always room for one more.
Derek: So, one of the things that I find interesting, you spoke of a line, and that’s a 1D object, but as your line gets granular it never becomes 2D but more.
James: What we call a space filling curve.
Derek: Moving 1 metre per second, there will be an infinite distance along a fractal dimension. An impassable barrier or something, a forcefield.
Suzanne: Because as a human, how do I travel along infinitesimal distance. The math versus science argument. In science, everything has a physical requirement. In math, the physical requirement doesn’t matter.

Sheila: Comes out like Zeno’s paradox.
James: That’s the first thing you resolve when you take Calculus.
Suzanne: Our [math] calculus, “I don’t know if it’s covered in the engineer’s calculus”. (reaction of ooh!) Just a joke, didn’t mean it.
James: Suzanne’s point is that physical limitations do bog you down, you can’t make a space filling curve where you won’t trip over your own feet. But Derek’s point is useful in that it can be used as a baffling route, to mess up computers if nothing else, but also gives a forcefield that has an infinite number of turns, so say that’s the way your forcefield works. You’ve got perfect forcefield tech, make a story about it.
Suzanne: Or you have the notion that it’s impossible to make a forcefield, because if you go far enough down, you’ll always find a vulnerability.
Derek: Question? Fractals can only be done on a continuous line. When can you not do that, we’re quantized.
James: “My old roommate eventually became chairman of the math department, and this is precisely his field.” Trying to throw out calculus’ continuous anything, make a granular version.
Derek: How’s it going?
James: Claims it’s more accurate with better results than versions of physics based on the traditional.
Eric: Should our panel explain briefly the difference between quantized and continuous?
James: (Explains the idea, quantized as whole pieces) If you try to draw an infinitely smooth line, there’s atomic particles, so you can’t be infinitely smooth. Jumping from atom to atom, or electron to electron. There may not even be spaces, space may be quantized, think of bubble wrap. Can’t exist between bubbles, between spaces. Or space as an egg carton, there’s places you can be and places you can’t, and you’re either in one carton hole or the next carton hole. You can’t smoothly make a transition from one to another.
Suzanne: Draw a straight line with a ruler, magnify it, you’ll get to where it’s not a straight line any more. But I like the egg carton analogy too.
James: Gap on “Math abstraction” and “How the real world works”.

Sheila: Chaos sounds really complicated, but it’s doing a calculation over and over. The math analogy of biological evolution, in play in orbital dynamics, with more than two people in a system. Butterfly effect, yielding weird order. Can Chaos be a jumping off point?
Suzanne: Absolutely. “Jurassic Park”, and he used fractals in that novel too, beginning each chapter as a fractal. You haven’t been talking in a while Eric, want to talk?
Eric: “There’s an exercise I did, the Chaos Game”, a simple thing you can probably script, He used MatLab. A piece of paper, a random dot somewhere, another, a third dot between those two. Then other dot between, a 4th dot, and midpoint between that and the prior midpoint. What do you get? Logically, random dots, but on a screen it came out to a fractal pattern of triangles. “Blew my mind.” Order really can come out of simple rules of the universe, and that’s something quite profound. There’s got to be a story in there.
Suzanne: The whole ratio of 13:11, the Fibonacci sequence in nature like seeds in a sunflower, it’s fascinating how nature keeps linking back to Math. You wonder how much is ingrained in us, and how much thinking is based on our brains and if we’re predisposed to see these patterns.
Eric: Read the novel by Carl Sagan “Contact”, there’s a huge deal in the book about pi, not in the film... is this a spoiler here?
Sheila: It’s been out long enough.
Eric: They got a supercomputer and computed pi to some outrageous digit and found a string of 0’s and 1’s toward the “end”. In a grid of numerical base [base 11], it draws a circle, called “signature of Creator”. Felt it was Sagan’s way - he’s known as a rationalist - that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Felt like this would be the proof, something ingrained in a fundamental constant of the universe. Wish they’d addressed it [in the film].
Sheila: Asimov was so annoyed by that. “I can say it now that he’s long gone.”
Derek: What didn’t he like?
Sheila: It’s interesting from a philosophical point of view; Asimov didn’t like religion having a place in the novel. Give ‘em a break for proof of god. If it had been Shirley MacLaine, he wouldn’t have minded, but it’s because it was Carl Sagan...

 (Audience member brings up Conway’s “Game of Life”.)
Eric: Oh, model, simulation, know of it.
James: It really is just a game of cellular automata. Assume a grid like a checkerboard but as big as you want to make it, tokens and rules. (He sets it up.) All kind of things that you can use that system for. Can make a computer out of that system, can model a gun that shoots blobs like bullets. Contentions that some cellular automata model is the basis for the universe. Thing about cellular automata, each generation affects the next, and math can prove that - aside for extremely simple cases - you can’t predict anything by shortcut. Milionsth generation can only be found by playing it out.
Derek: A limitation on math, or on technology?
James: Basic math limitation. Same way the halting problem says we can’t calculate it in advance.
Derek: So that’s the universe saying there’s no way.
James: Right, no general way except to go through the rules. So that’s the point of the universe, take an infinitely intelligent being, no way for God to predict how the universe will come out except to make one and play it and see what happens. What if the basics of physics were like this? Mathematics says (ha ha stronger than you are) there’s no way to see the final state of the universe.
Suzanne: Because math is based on foundation of proof. Can’t prove it in the general case. Specific cases we might see after 1,000 generations, but that’s a case, not proof.
James: And Godel’s [incompleteness] theorems come into this. In any formulation of math that is sophisticated enough to generate math, then there will be an infinite number of things that are true, but not provable. So you can have a perfectly wonderful basis of math that lets you do all kinds of wondrous things, and there will always be things you cannot complete.
Suzanne: Or things that are undefined, like division by zero.

Sheila: How to use this?
James: Something like that, “is it provable or not” does drive you crazy. Also by Turing’s halting problem, a perfectly rigorous thing, you can never figure out definitively whether a process for stopping will end or not. Can’t say THIS thing is unprovable though, because tomorrow someone may prove it.
Derek: “This is where my mind usually gets blown.” This is the universe’s rule, universe gives physics, gives chemistry, gives biochemistry, gives evolution. But you’re saying math puts things in contention. Looking at far, far future, if you were using neutron stars as sub-processors of a vast intellect, this will still trump those. And that says something big about us too. I love the philosophical.
James: Godel says there are things that are true that you can’t prove, these are true and don’t we already know that? Mathematics looks, said that’s discouraging, well, back to the job. That’s the nature of life.
Suzanne: Almost every story has a conflict between characters and environment, what have you, and a notion of provable in a general case versus specific. That’s where the conflict can happen. A certain theory is true, two species can never breed and make a baby that can survive, can’t live past x breath. Then what if you get that ONE case, where something genetically happens, and your mind is blown. There’s no way the general case WILL apply, because here is a species that can’t exist and how do we deal with that. Take what you’re pretty sure is true or not true and find a single instance of something you can’t prove, and get the conflict.
 (Audience: Mentions “Game of Life”. Novel by Piers Anthony as an analogy for non-energy based, multidimensional life forms.)
James: Something Suzanne said reminds me of “Black Swans”. Everyone probably knows the phrase now, Nassim Taleb abused it. Europeans made it a folk saying, “All swans are white”. Wasn’t that, even in Europe, people figured it wasn’t possible, they must have realized that birds can be different colours. But they had it in their heads. So when they got to Australia and saw black, it blew their minds, not because they couldn’t believe birds were different colours, but because they had psyched themselves up, nature in this case won’t deal us a black swan. And they were wrong. And that’s an important SciFi thing to bring in, people can believe in things that are mathematically improbable, and so will SciFi come to bite them in the ass.
Eric: Like buying lottery tickets.
Sheila: So we have about 4 minutes

 (Audience: Mention of “On Science” by Wolfram(?), and another by Taleb, “AntiFragile”.)
 (Mention of Roger Zelazny’s “Doorways in the Sand”, gets parody flipped, and Ken McLeod.)
Eric: (Mentions how British physicist, George Gammell, played with constants of the universe. What if light was a few metres per second?)
James: FTL, done by bobbing into different frames of reference, where light moves slower.
Suzanne: Approachable books by Greg Egan. Lots of yummy charts to suggest barrier between. Permutation series. Things that prove that math has a place in fiction.
James: And here’s a terrible thing you can do to learn about math, Princeton companion of math. Costs $80, but if you go to Kindle and ask for a free sample, you’ll get the first 100 or so pages, a beautiful summery of the current state of math. You may want to buy the rest of the book eventually. A way to get a bunch of good math, free.
Sheila: I think we’re done now.

I spoke briefly with Suzanne Church after the panel, regarding “Two different models of predicting statistics”, likelihood versus expectation. Also about what books might be good for teachers, enthusing kids, and “A Wrinkle In Time” came up. (Which will be a movie in the not too far future.)

That’s everything for that panel, thanks for reading. Hopefully you found some of this to be interesting, informative and/or helpful. As always, feel free to drop a comment if you have an opinion or a question! Yay for mathematics in stories!