Spock is still missing, but Star Trek Discovery offers the return of other familiar faces in “Saints

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Nomen certainly est omen with the latest episode of Star Trek Discovery, because “Saints of Imperfection” very much highlights the many flaws of the show, all of them carry overs from the mess that was season 1. Furthermore, season 2 also seems to establish the pattern of one good episode alternating with a not so good one. So after last week’s excellent “An Obol for Charon”, we now get the very messy and imperfect “Saints of Imperfection”. For my takes on previous episodes, go here BTW.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!

“Saints of Imperfection” opens where “An Obol for Charon” left off, with the Discovery still searching for Spock and Sylvia Tilly missing and presumed dead. Okay, so we and Stamets know that Tilly isn’t really dead, but everybody else is mourning her and Michael delivers a heartfelt eulogy for her first (and for a long time only) friend aboard the Discovery. It’s a lovely speech, but as Zack Handlen points out, it’s also a little much after Michael’s tearjerking reaction to Saru’s “death” (don’t worry, he got better) only last episode, especially since we know that Tilly isn’t really dead, but was kidnapped into the magic mushroom drive instead. But then Star Trek Discovery seems determined to give our tear ducts a workout to the point of feeling manipulative. Now I’m not much of a movie cryer, though science fiction and fantasy films tend to affect me more than traditional movie tearjerkers such as Love Story, Titanic, My Girl, Terms of Endearment, The Champ, Doctor Zhivago, etc…, all of which mostly just annoy the crap out of me. But even in the science fiction and fantasy genre, Star Trek isn’t normally something that makes me cry (not even Wrath of Khan, probably because I saw it after some of the latter movies, so I knew that Spock gets better), unlike e.g. Star Wars, which has a few moments which get me every single time, or the various Marvel movies. Therefore, the experience of getting misty-eyed at a Star Trek of all things show is both new and ever so slightly annoying to me, since I don’t think I cried at Star Trek since some episodes of the original series I saw as a very young girl. “Spectre of the Gun” stands out, because they kill Chekhov (don’t worry, he gets better, too) and he was my favourite.

But before launching into the inevitable search for Tilly, the Discovery crew is still busily searching for our other missing person, Spock, who is on the run after first checking himself into a psychiatric hospital because of recurring nightmares and then escaping and supposedly murdering three doctors in the process (The Spock we know would probably say, “This is illogical”, because it is). This time around, the Discovery actually manage to track down the shuttle Spock stole. But when the shuttle is brought aboard, the person who emerges is not Spock, but Empress Philippa the Merciless in her cool Section 31 leather outfit. What is Philippa Georgiou doing aboard Spock’s shuttle? Supposedly, Section 31 were also tracking Spock, only to find the shuttle empty and Philippa Georgiou just stayed aboard, because… Honestly, don’t ask, because this doesn’t really make any sense.

In a review of season 4 of Outlander, someone said about the fan favourite character of Lord John Grey, “He just pops up wherever the plot requires him to be”, which in the case of Outlander means Scotland, Jamaica and North Carolina, specifically Fraser’s Ridge and River Run. Philippa Georgiou or rather the evil mirror universe version is very much the Lord John Grey of Star Trek Discovery (even though she’s very much the opposite of the steadfastly noble Lord John in every other way) – she pops up wherever and whenever the plot requires her to, regardless whether this makes sense or not. And though it makes zero sense for Philippa Georgiou to show up in Spock’s shuttle, the plot requires her to pay a visit to the Discovery, so here she is. Coincidentally, Michael staring expectantly at transporters or shuttle ramps, waiting for Spock to show up, only to get someone else (Pike, Amanda, Mirror Georgiou) is something of a running gag this season. And as Camestros Felapton points out in his review, this constant Spock teasing is getting ridiculous at this point.

Unfortunately, Mirror Georgiou – though as far as everybody else is concerned she is the real Philippa Georgiou (even if Pike seems to sense that something is off about her and asks Michael about that) – has no idea where Spock is either. And indeed her reason popping up this time is not to facilitate the search for Spock, but to reintroduce another familiar face from season 1. Cause it turns out that Starfleet has detected tachyon emissions near the Red Angel signal bursts, which worries them so much that they have assigned Section 31 to cooperate with the Discovery on tracking down the Red Angel bursts and locating Spock – not because he supposedly killed three people, but because Starfleet would really like to know what Spock knows about the Red Angel. The Starfleet orders are delivered by another familiar face, by the way, namely Admiral Cornwell, Gabriel Lorca’s ex and surprisingly genocide-happy Starfleet admiral. Why would Starfleet assign its Black Ops division to investigating the sort of cosmic phenomenon that its regular exploratory vessels normally deal with? Who cares? None of this makes any sense whatsoever.

Because Philippa Georgiou is too busy strutting around her Section 31 ship, looking sexy in black leather, and her commanding officer Leland (yes, he actually has a name) is too busy looking pained and having some tense conversations with Pike (apparently, they went to the Academy together or something), the Section 31 liaison assigned to the Discovery is none other than Ash Tyler, Michael’s on/off lover, who is also a surgically altered Klingon formerly named Voq and single Dad of a Klingon baby currently being raised by monks. Yes, the entire subplot of Philippa Georgiou popping up in Spock’s shuttle served the sole purpose of bringing back Ash Tyler. Though except for Michael, no one is happy to see Ash and Pike doesn’t want him on the ship at all. But then, Ash used to be a double agent, albeit an unwitting one, and he did kill Dr. Culber in an outbreak of Voqness in one of the dumbest plot twists in a season full of dumb plot twists. Plus, the fact that no one except Michael wants Ash aboard gives Shazad Latif the chance to look tortured some more. Actually, the fact that both of them are terribly tortured characters is maybe why Michael and Ash make such a good couple. Though I suspect hanging out with them will get very depressing very fast.

But for now, tense conversations and moral dilemmas regarding the ethics of working with Section 31 have to wait, because there is still the missing Tilly to recover. Stamets manages to convince Michael that Tilly is not dead. Together, they investigate the pod in which “May”, the spore ghost, wrapped Tilly and find that it is a transporter of sorts and deduce that Tilly must have been abducted into the magic mushroom network. They decide to go after her and since Pike is the sort of Starfleet captain who actually takes Starfleet’s supposed ethics seriously, he goes along with Stamets and Michael’s plan to use the Discovery‘s magic mushroom drive to teleport them into the spore network in a manouevre that is very much like the one that killed off the entire crew of the Discovery‘s sister ship way back in episode 3 of season 1. However, if Stamets theorises that if they crash the Discovery only halfway into the magical mushroom dimension, they have an hour to rescue Tilly before the ship is eaten by the fungus spores. It’s an insane plan, but Tilly is in danger and – so Pike announced to the whole ship over the intercom – Starfleet never abandons anybody to their fate. This is probably also why Pike is so very pissed off when it turns out that the cloaked Section 31 ship has been hanging around and watching all the time without helping the Discovery.

Meanwhile, Tilly and her new spore ghost friend May are exploring the magical mushroom world. It turns out that May is really an alien being and citizen of a civilisation inside the spore network (according to Keith R.A. DeCandido, May’s people are called the jahSepp). However, the jahSepp are in trouble, because a monster is attacking the spore network and endangering their civilisation. Tilly, being another Starfleet officer who actually takes the stated ethics of her organisation seriously, promises to help, as do Michael and Stamets, once they crash into the mushroom world and are reunited with Tilly.

So the monster hunt is on. And once more, there are some parallels to episode 3 of season 1, where a Discovery away team including Michael and Stamets embarked on a monster hunt aboard a Starfleet vessel half eaten by fungus spores and found not a monster precisely, but the tardigrade. The monster threatening the jahSepp is no more a monster than the tardigrade was one. However, “Saints of Imperfection” gives us not the return of the tardigrade, but the return of Dr. Hugh Culber, Stamets’ husband/life partner (most reviewers seem to assume they’re married, but I don’t recall any official confirmation in the show itself). For those who missed season 1, Dr. Culber was murdered by Ash Tyler in an outbreak of Klingon rage and later reappeared as a sort of ghostly guide to lead Stamets home, when he was lost inside the magical mushroom network, something which happens with alarming frequency in Star Trek Discovery.

Stamets initially assumed that his encounter with Dr. Culber in the magical mushroom world was only a hallucination. Now however, it turns out that Hugh Culber’s spirit/soul/whatever you want to call it was sucked into the magical mushroom world, because Stamets was still connected to the spore drive when he discovered Culber’s dead body and so his overwhelming grief transported Culber into the mushroom world. Here, he found himself under attack by fungus spores attempting to digest him and fought back, somehow accidentally infecting his environment and endangering the jahSepp. Okay, so none of this makes any sense, but then this isn’t the first or even the worst example of Star Trek dishing up complete and utter nonsense to bring back a beloved character (The Search for Spock – the movie, that is – anyone?). And the reunion between Stamets and a desperate and traumatised (not to mention somewhat grubby and unshaven) Culber is so sweet and so well played by Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz that you honestly don’t care that the way they got there makes zero sense. Besides, the “monster” which turns out to be just a misunderstood alien life form is a classic Star Trek plot.

There is one more roadblock to the long awaited return of Dr. Hugh Culber, because it turns out that unlike Stamets, Michael and Tilly, Culber can’t leave the magical mushroom world. However, May has a solution and proposes using the pod, via which she abducted Tilly to reconstruct Culber’s body. Unfortunately, this means that May has to remain behind in the magical mushroom world forever, which leads to a tearful good-bye from Tilly, who by now considers May her friend, even though she’s an alien mushroom creature. And then Stamets finally gets to hold the reconstructed body of the love of his life in his arms again. Of course, Culber is very likely deeply traumatised by everything that happened to him. And knowing that the man who killed him the first time around is back on the ship probably doesn’t help either. But that’s a problem for another episode, cause for now we have one of the best couples in all of Star Trek (two, if you include Michael and Ash) finally reunited and there’s not a dry eye in the house.

“Saints of Imperfection” is not actually a bad episode of Star Trek Discovery, just a very imperfect one. And indeed, I enjoyed myself quite a bit while watching it. It’s the sort of story that should not work, but somehow does, largely due to the excellent performances of Discovery‘s cast, particularly Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz. The problem is just that once you start to think about this episode – e.g. for writing a review/recap/long ramble about it – everything falls apart and you realise that most of the events in “Saints of Imperfection” – from Philippa Georgiou’s deus ex machina’s like reappearance to Hugh Culber’s resurrection via magical mushrooms – make no sense at all and basically only happen to patch up yet more of the mistakes made in season 1.

James Whitbrook points out that this episode is all about love – love between partners, love between friends, hell, even love between siblings, for Michael is still searching for her lost brother – and even aired on Valentine’s Day. Now Star Trek is not really an emotional franchise and love is not an emotion any Star Trek has much dealt with and if Star Trek did venture into the realm of romance on occasion, it usually didn’t do so very convincingly. But as someone who likes a side order of romance with my science fiction, I’m happy for Star Trek Discovery to deliver all the feels. Though maybe hold off on the magical mushrooms next time, okay?

I’m not entirely sure why the episode is called “Saints of Imperfection”, though the title is very much a mission statement for the entire show. Because Star Trek Discovery is a very imperfect show, whose frustrating flaws are papered over by great characters and an excellent cast, a dollop of emotion and a hearty dose of sheer weirdness. In fact, what most distinguishes Discovery from other Star Trek shows is that it’s often imperfect, very emotional and very weird.

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Love Through Space and Time – A Round-up of Indie Valentine’s Day Speculative Fiction

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Our monthly round-ups of new speculative fiction and new crime fiction releases by indie authors are a perennially popular feature. Therefore, we now offer you a round-up of our favourite Valentine’s Day science fiction, fantasy and horror by indie authors.

These Valentine’s Day stories cover the broad spectrum of speculative fiction. We have urban fantasy, a lot of paranormal romance, paranormal mysteries, science fiction mysteries, science fiction romance, space opera, space colonisation, horror, alternate history, time travel, dragons, werewolves, wizards, ghosts, aliens, robots. magical greeting card writers, crime-fighting witches, crime-fighting ghosts, grumpy cupids, Valentine’s Day in space and much more. But one thing unites all of those very different books. They’re all set on or around Valentine’s Day.

As always with my round-up posts, this round-up of the best indie holiday mysteries is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Roses & Tails by Barbara BeRoses & Tails by Barbara Be:

She is an alien with silver-blue skin and a sexy tail, he is human and sometimes she doesn’t quite understand his customs. Like that strange human event of Valentine’s Day. He has something special planned for that day and it involves Zero G. But maybe he hasn’t quite thought this through. Sex in Zero G has some unique challenges.

This short story has previously been published in 2017 as part of the “Red Hots” anthology, which has been unpublished.

 

Valentine's Day by Zack BrooksValentine’s Day: A Charlie The Cupid Short Story by Zack Brooks:

Meet Charles Vefflin. A cupid stuck as a drone within a corporate company run by the Fates in Boston, he is doomed to cause people to fall in love with their soulmates for all of eternity. He hates his job and most people of the world. But a job is a job, and he isn’t going to let a little thing like people ruin the few pleasures in his life.

Join Charlie on the worst day of the year, Valentine’s Day, where he must make a young couple fall in love at a most unconventional party. See him deal with the idiocy of his co-workers, the lunacy of humans, and even run into a perverted old god. But, one thing’s for sure, he’ll see the job through. Even if it takes some liquid courage just to get through the night.

Valentine’s day is short story, about 6,500 words or 22 printed pages

Valentine's Day on Iago Prime by Cora BuhlertValentine’s Day on Iago Prime by Cora Buhlert:

Kai and Maisie are about the celebrate their first Valentine’s Day on the planet Iago Prime. However, the holiday traditions they established back on Earth such as celebrating Valentine’s Day with a picnic on the beach are impossible to maintain in the hostile environment of their new home. But in spite of the many limitations imposed by living on Iago Prime, Kai pulls out all the stops to give Maisie an unforgettable Valentine’s Day.

This is a science fictional Valentine’s Day story of 2200 words or approx. 10 print pages.

Quill Me Now by Jordan Castillo PriceQuill Me Now by Jordan Castillo Price:

What if the words you wrote came true?

Spellcraft isn’t exactly a respectable business, but it does pay the bills. At least, it should. Unfortunately, Dixon Penn failed his Spellcraft initiation. Instead of working in his family’s shop, he’s stuck delivering takeout orders in his uncle’s beat-up Buick.

Winning a Valentine’s Day contest at the largest greeting card company in the tri-state area would be just the thing to get his life back on track—but something at Precious Greetings just doesn’t add up. And despite numerous warnings to quit pestering them about his contest entry, he simply can’t stop himself from coming back again and again.

It doesn’t hurt that the head of security is such a hottie. If Dixon had any common sense, he’d be scared of the big, mysterious, tattooed Russian.

To be fair, no one ever accused him of being too smart….

A Werewolf's Valentine by Zoe ChantA Werewolf’s Valentine by Zoe Chant:

Curvy cat shifter McKenzi Enkel gave up on love after one too many heartbreaks. What’s more, she declared war on Valentine’s Day. But then a handsome, whiskey-voiced stranger comes to town.

Sexy singer West, a lone wolf who lost his pack as a child, never stopped searching for his missing family. He sings when he can, fights when he must, and always moves on—until he meets the scorching hot McKenzi in the diner she reluctantly decorated for Valentine’s Day.

In a small town of shifters where anyone can find a refuge, West and McKenzi still feel alone. But as they begin to open their hearts to each other, he can’t make himself leave… and she can’t let him go. With Valentine’s Day approaching, can West and McKenzi forge a new pack… and find a love even they can’t deny?

My Maggie Valentine by Kate DanleyMy Maggie Valentine by Kate Danley:

Valentine’s Day is terrible. Especially when you’re Maggie MacKay and tasked with chaperoning the local high school Valentine’s dance. Join Maggie and Killian on a holiday, short story adventure. Sometimes you wrestle with demons. And sometimes they just want to cuddle…

A part of the Maggie MacKay: Holiday Special short story series. This stands independently from the main Magical Tracker series and can be read at any time and in any order.

WARNING: This adventure contains cussing, brawling, and unladylike behavior. Proceed with caution.

Vintage Valentine by Cat GardinerVintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner:

Romance and time-travel meet Pride and Prejudice in this utterly romantic modern story. Step back in time to WWII-era for a sweet Valentine’s Day.

What begins as a begrudging visit to Time & Again antique shop turns into so much more than discovering trinkets from the past. The unexpected happens! Love and lessons await Lizzy Bennet when she leaves her mobile device in the future. Travel with her through a portal to timeless romance back in 1943 where she’s looking up into the eyes of one dashing G.I. at U.S.O dance.

An 8,500 word sweet paranormal romance.

A Dragon's Valentine by C.D. GorriThe Dragon’s Valentine by C.D. Gorri:

“She’s given up on love, but he’s just begun…”

After five hundred years of servitude, Dragon Shifter, Callius Falk and his three brothers are finally freed from their bonds. Callius has one mission, to find his true mate.

Winifred Castillo spends her nights tending bar at The Thirsty Dog, a local favorite in Maccon City, New Jersey. After her boyfriend skips town with her rent money, she’s sworn off men. For good!

But what’s a Werewolf to do when a dark-haired stranger with golden eyes and rippling muscles claims her as his mate?

The Ghost of Valentine Past by Bobbi HolmesThe Ghost of Valentine Past by Bobbi Holmes:

A romantic weekend at Marlow House Bed and Breakfast turns deadly when Earthbound Spirits founder, Peter Morris, is murdered. Plenty of people had a reason to want the man dead—especially Danielle’s current guests.

But it isn’t Morris’ ghost distracting Danielle on this deadly Valentine’s Day weekend, it’s her late husband Lucas. She has her hands full with suitors coming from all directions—both living and dead—while she tries to figure out if there’s a killer in Marlow House.

 

Ghoul You Be My Valentine? by Olivia JaymesGhoul You Be My Valentine? by Olivia Jaymes:

It’s time for another Ravenmist Whodunnit! A tiny Midwestern town with charming covered bridges, quirky residents, delightful antique shops, and more than their share of haunted activity.

Tedi has another packed inn of people for the Ravenmist Valentine’s Day Ball. The evening was a complete success until she and Jack find a dead body on the back patio with a Cupid’s arrow through his heart. There’s no shortage of suspects for his murder either. Jack will have his hands full paring down the list.

And Tedi? She’s staying out of this. No way is she going to be pulled into it. Not after last time. She has her own investigation. She and her friend Missy are trying to find why the town has suddenly been infused with paranormal energy. Ghosts are literally getting up and dancing around. It’s all going well too. That is until the investigation starts to hit just a little bit too close to home.

Hop into your ghostmobile and take a ride with Tedi as she meets a spirit who doesn’t think he’s dead, two ghosts in love, and a hard partying specter who just might have witnessed the murder. It’s a hauntingly good time in the little town of Ravenmist and you’re invited to the party.

Bear Valley Valentine by T.S. JoyceBear Valley Valentine by T.S. Joyce:

Colin Cross is a lone bear shifter living on the outskirts of Bear Valley. He likes his reclusive lifestyle, but when he musters the nerve to talk to the woman he has feelings for, being alone just doesn’t seem like enough anymore. When he finds Hadley on an online dating site, it’s the perfect way to build a relationship with her without dragging her into his dark past. Hadley is human, and humans don’t belong in his world, but a little online flirting never hurt anyone.

Hadley Bennett has had it with dating local townies. Determined to cast her net a little wider, she enters the chaotic world of online dating. When she finally secures a face-to-face date with the elusive Bearman28, it’ll be a Valentine’s Day to remember.

And if Hadley can handle his real identity, they just might find what they’ve both been searching for.

Bear Valley Valentine is a 20,000 word story with heart pounding romance, a thoughtful alpha bear, and spicy Valentine’s Day surprises.

For the Love of Cupidity by Raven KennedyFor the Love of Cupidity by Raven Kennedy:

First comes love, then comes mating, then comes the baby and some cupid training.

Cupidville is overrun with new cupid recruits, and it’s up to me to train them in time for Valentine’s Day. Too bad I have four mates who keep insisting that it’s time for me to take a break.

Juggling my role as the cupid boss, being a mate, and handling motherhood isn’t always easy, but it’s sure as hearts worth it. Let’s just hope I can get these cupid flunkies trained in time.

Author’s Note: This is a Heart Hassle novella just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Love Potion, edited by Graceley Knox and D.D. MiersLove Potion, edited by Graceley Knox and D.D. Miers:

A valentines day charity anthology featuring 8 exclusive stories from your favorite bestselling Paranormal and Fantasy romance authors! All proceeds will be donated to Room to Read!

How to Capture a Demon’s Heart – Graceley Knox & D.D. Miers
A Demon’s Plaything (The Elite Guards) – Amelia Hutchins
Deep Blue Sea – Pippa DaCosta
The Hellhound’s Legion: A Kit Davenport Novella – Tate James
The Heart Cantrip: a Family Spells Novella – C.M. Stunich
Eternal Hearts – A Forsaken Gods Series Novella – G. Bailey & Coralee June
A Damsel and a Demigod (The Guild Codex: Spellbound) – Annette Marie
The Fox and the Wolf – Clara Hartley

Moonshine Valetnine by Tegan MaherMoonshine Valentine by Tegan Maher:

It’s Valentine’s Day, and Noelle has no idea what to get for Hunter. While she’s getting her hair cut and tossing around gift ideas, Coralee’s long-term boyfriend pops in and declares his undying love via a marriage proposal, breaking rule numero uno of their relationship clause.

He’s only the first to fall, though. When the men of Keyhole Lake start acting like lovesick lunatics, Noelle and Rae have to put their heads together to figure out what happened before the whole town goes loopy in love, or someone ends up in jail.

This story falls in between book 4, Murder and Mayhem, and Book 5, Murder and Marinade, in the Witches of Keyhole Lake Mystery Series.

Heart Attack by Terri MainHeart Attack by Terri Main:

When Smelling Roses, Watch Out for the Thorns

Strange things are happening in Armstrong City right before St. Valentine’s Day. Several women who found roses on their doorstep passed out inexplicably. Carolyn and Mike must figure out how this happened, who is doing it, and why?

A fun little mystery for the holiday of love.

 

Valentines Day Time Patrol by Bob MayerValentines Day: Time Patrol by Bob Mayer:

“The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity—or it will move apart.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

What does it take to change history and destroy our reality? Change events on the same date, 14 February, in six different years. The Time Patrol must send an agent back to each day, with just 24 hours for each to defeat the Shadow’s plan to disrupt our time-line, creating a time tsunami and wiping our present out.

Ivar: 1929. Gunmen massacre seven people in the infamous St. Valentines Day Massacre. Al Capone is consolidating his grip on the Outfit in Chicago. But what if it turns out very differently?

Eagle: 1945. President Roosevelt, heading home from the Yalta Conference, stops on the Great Bitter Lake to meet King Idn Saud of Saudi Arabia to discuss a relatively new topic: Arab oil. And a Jewish homeland.

Roland: 1779. Captain Cook, famed explorer of the Pacific, meets his fate in Hawaii.

Scout: 278. Saint Valentine is beheaded near the Milvian Bridge.

Doc: 1945. The Dresden Firebombing. Kurt Vonnegut is in a slaughterhouse as the first bombers appear overheard.

Moms: 1946. The ENIAC computer, programmed by six women, is unveiled to the public. The press thinks the women are simply models.

The mission, as always for the Time Patrol, seems straight-forward: keep history intact. No matter the cost.

But this time, things go very differently than in previous missions and one of the team members must make the ultimate sacrifice.

Rainbow Bouquet, edited by Farah MendlesohnRainbow Bouquet, edited by Farah Mendlesohn:

Authors featured are Harry Robertson, Edward Ahern, Victoria Zammit, Erin Horáková, Cheryl Morgan, Sarah Ash, Kathleen Jowitt, Sean Robinson, Garrick Jones and MJ Logue, and the settings vary from a mediaeval monastery to the ‘final frontier’, give or take the odd supernatural realm along the way. Stories of love in the past, present and future – all as fascinating in their variety as love itself.

 

 

My Bloodiest Valentine, edited by K.A. MorseMy Bloodiest Valentine, edited by K.A. Morse:

Roses are red. So is your blood. It’s Valentine’s Day, and we’ve brought you something good. Abandon the chocolates, forget flowers and wine. Because these authors stories are bloody divine. Demons from Hell or a vampires kiss, this collection of stories you don’t want to miss.

 

 

 

Love Magic by Jesi Lea RyanLove Magic by Jesi Lea Ryan:

“The day I met Derrick while playing my violin in the park was magical. Unfortunately, magic and love together don’t always mix.”

Oliver met Derrick while busking in the park, and they hit it off from the start. At first, Derrick’s “mysterious magician” vibe was intriguing, but after two botched dates, Oliver was ready to call it quits.

Fearing he lost his chance with Oliver, Derrick makes a last-ditch effort to win Oliver’s heart with a romantic Valentine’s date. But when love and magic collide, things tend to go awry. Will these two guys make it through the date unscathed?

Validated by Valentine's by Joynll SchultzValidated by Valentine’s by Joynell Schultz:

Ivory has the perfect man, from his microchip processor to his flesh-like exterior.

Ivory hated that she loved her Christmas gift this year. Her sister gave her the perfect humanoid companion, but there’s just one problem: he’ll never be able to say he loves her, no matter how much Ivory falls in love with him.

Was her dream man a present or a curse?

But when Ethan (Ivory’s Dream Droid) looks at her with those sweet blue eyes and secretly earns enough money to enter her in the city-wide bake-off, she realizes she doesn’t care. He’s hers. And that’s the best gift of all.

Ivory’s perfect world falls apart the closer she gets to the bake-off. It starts with a lost entry and Ethan having a few programming malfunctions, then she discovers someone’s deliberately sabotaging her. What started out to be a dream Valentine’s day, begins to turn into a nightmare. A large supportive family, a caring artificial companion, and the best cupcake recipe in the world might not be enough to uncover who’s setting Ivory up to fail.

My Wicked Valentine by Lotta SmithMy Wicked Valentine by Lotta Smith:

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner… Love is in the air and so are the ghosts!

When Rick’s old friend, up-and-coming celeb psychic Brian Powers is accused of murdering an esthetician at a luxe gentlemen-only spa, Mandy’s cozy afternoon at home goes from cookie-baking to crime solving.

With baby Sophie and ghost-pal Jackie in tow, Mandy and Rick take to haunting the spa where the facials are fab and the intrigue is high-end.

Every suspect has a secret, but who’s willing to kill to keep theirs under wraps? [Seaweed wraps, that is.] Find out in this dangerously funny installment of the Manhattan Mystery series.

Dragon's First Valentine by Emily Martha SorensenDragon’s First Valentine by Emily Martha Sorensen:

There’s a new dragon visiting from Chicago, and she’s green, like Virgil! Unfortunately, this might cause a few small problems nobody anticipated.

As well as a few revelations and surprises.

And all while Rose is trying to figure out what to give her husband for Valentine’s Day.

 

The Draed Arrow by Grigor WeeksThe Dread Arrow by Grigor Weeks:

Dark Space is strange, and so are the hitmen who live there. Strap in sweetheart. Love never hurt so good.

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Love and Crime – A Round-up of Indie Valentine’s Day Mysteries and Crime Fiction

http://corabuhlert.com/2019/02/13/love-and-crime-a-round-up-of-indie-valentines-day-mysteries-and-crime-fiction/

http://corabuhlert.com/?p=28835

Love and Crime banner

Our monthly round-ups of new speculative fiction and new crime fiction releases by indie authors are a perennially popular feature. Therefore, we now offer you a round-up of our favourite Valentine’s Day mysteries by indie and small press authors.

The holiday mysteries cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have plenty of cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, culinary mysteries, animal mysteries, paranormal mysteries, historical mysteries, jazz age mysteries, police procedurals, crime thrillers, legal thrillers, amateur sleuths, crime-fighting witches, crime-fighting bakers, crime-fighting ghosts, crime-fighting dogs, masked vigilantes, missing children, kidnappings, sleazy lawyers, serial killers, assassins and much more. But one thing unites all of those very different books. They’re all set on or around Valentine’s Day.

As always with my round-up posts, this round-up of the best indie holiday mysteries is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Valentine's Day is Murder by Carolyn ArnoldValentine’s Day is Murder by Carolyn Arnold:

Cupid’s arrow may have missed its mark…

Jimmy finally takes a vacation–and a chance on love–only to be abducted. His female companion originally thinks he had cold feet about their relationship, but Sean and Sara know there’s more to it. Jimmy isn’t the type to just up and disappear, let alone leave a lady stranded.

Setting out on their private jet, Sean and Sara reach the tropical paradise of Ocho Rios, Jamaica with sightseeing as the last thing on their minds.

With a gold coin being their initial tie to Jimmy’s kidnapper, Sean and Sara even speculate about the involvement of pirates. Yet as the hours pass, and there’s no word from Jimmy’s captors, Sean and Sara will need to figure out the real motive before it’s too late.

With help from their friend, Adam, back in Albany, the pieces come together and not a moment too soon.

A Valentine for the Silencer by Cora BuhlertA Valentine for the Silencer by Cora Buhlert:

Valentine’s Day 1938: All Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the masked crimefighter known only as the Silencer wants is to have a romantic dinner with his beautiful fiancée Constance Allen.

But on his way to his date, Richard happens upon a mugging in progress. Can he save the victim and make sure that young Thomas Walden has the chance to propose to his girlfriend? And will he make it to dinner with Constance on time?

This is a short Valentine’s Day story of 7200 words or approx. 24 print pages in the Silencer series, but may be read as a standalone.

He never brings me flowers...He never brings me flowers… by Cora Buhlert

He never brings me flowers…

Waiting for your boyfriend to finally come home from work can be hell, especially if it’s your anniversary and you suspect he forgot – again. But does the ringing of the doorbell promise roses and sex and the long overdue proposal or something far more sinister?

Lovers’ Ridge

A foundling, a newborn, abandoned and left to die. But tonight, he will have his revenge on the parents who deserted him. Tonight, they will pay, at the very place where the story once began, at Lovers’ Ridge…

This is a bumper edition containing two short crime stories of 3200 words altogether. Both stories are also available as part of the collection Murder in the Family.

Valentine's Madness, edited by Beth ByersValentine’s Madness: A 1920s Historical Mystery Anthology, edited by Beth Byers:

Welcome to a very flapper Valentine’s Day!

Are you ready for the roaring twenties? For spunky young women crafting their own lives? If so, you’ll love Violet, Julia, Abigail, Evelyn, and Rosemary.

Inside, you’ll find four short Valentine’s day adventures, 1920s style including roses, chocolates, kisses, and cocktails. With stories from The Violet Carlyle Mysteries, the Piccadilly Ladies Club Mysteries, the Abigail Dutcher Mysteries, the Jazz & Gin Cozy Mysteries, and The Lillywhite Mysteries.

Murder on Valentine's Day by P. CreedenMurder on Valentine’s Day by P. Creeden:

It’s Valentine’s Day and 20-year-old Emma Wright just wants her crush to take notice of her. But Colby Davidson, the K9 search and rescue deputy only thinks of her as a kid sister. How will she get him to take her seriously?

When her veterinarian boss calls her to pick up a cat at a potential crime scene, she finds herself at the house of the richest woman in Ridgeway. Her father—the sheriff—and Colby are there. They both dismiss the untimely death as a heart attack, but Emma finds clues that it might be something more. Did the software billionaire die of natural causes, or was it murder?

The Valentine Mystery by Kathi DaleyThe Valentine Mystery by Kathi Daley:

If you love small towns, endearing relationships, food, animals, and a touch of murder, you will love this new mystery series by Kathi Daley, author of the popular Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery Series.

It is Valentine’s Day in White Eagle Montana and Tess and Tilly are busier than ever delivering Valentine Cards along with the daily mail. Of course it wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day in White Eagle without a mystery to solve or a holiday adoption party to prepare for.

When Tess happens upon a vehicle accident where one man dies, she gets pulled into a mystery with roots into the past. With Tony’s help she not only tracks down a killer but she looks into the occurrence of a missing person as well.

Tony is still looking into the case of Tess’s father’s disappearance, meanwhile Tess and Tilly team up with Brady to make sure that every animal shelter resident finds their perfect match in time for Valentine’s Day.

A Valentine Murder by Steven DemareeA Valentine Murder by Steven Demaree

In this delightful combination of a whodunit mixed with humor, a woman, who has been celebrating her birthday and Valentine’s Day, is rushed to the hospital complaining of stomach pains and nausea. She grabs the doctor and tells him she has been poisoned, but before she can tell him any more, she dies. When Lt. Dekker and Sgt. Murdock investigate, they find out that no one liked her, with the possible exception of her husband.

 

 

Corridor Man: Valentine by Mark FaricyCorridor Man: Valentine by Mark Faricy:

BETTER CHANGE THE LOCKS. BOBBY DID.

Disbarred attorney Bobby Custer continues to use his main skill set; murder, treachery and perversion in an ongoing effort to increase his personal gains.

Ever the charmer, Bobby provides Emily with an unforgettable valentine that up until now she could only dream about . . . or maybe it was a nightmare. Together they forever mark the day with a memorable secret. Psychotic, sociopathic, always charming– and you thought he was here to help.

Valentine by Celina GraceValentine by Celina Grace:

A respectable, middle-aged housewife. An ambitious young lawyer. A student burlesque dancer. Three women with nothing in common – except for the fact that someone has sent them a macabre Valentine’s Day gift; a pig’s heart pierced by an arrow.

Is this a case of serious harm intended? Or just a malicious prank? Detective Inspector Olbeck thinks there might be something more sinister behind it but his colleague Detective Sergeant Kate Redman is too busy mourning the departure of her partner Tin to New York to worry too much about the case. Until one of the women receives a death threat…

Valentine is a novella in the best-selling Kate Redman Mystery series by crime writer Celina Grace.

The Ghost of Valentine Past by Bobbi HolmesThe Ghost of Valentine Past by Bobbi Holmes:

A romantic weekend at Marlow House Bed and Breakfast turns deadly when Earthbound Spirits founder, Peter Morris, is murdered. Plenty of people had a reason to want the man dead—especially Danielle’s current guests.

But it isn’t Morris’ ghost distracting Danielle on this deadly Valentine’s Day weekend, it’s her late husband Lucas. She has her hands full with suitors coming from all directions—both living and dead—while she tries to figure out if there’s a killer in Marlow House.

 

Ghoul You Be My Valentine? by Olivia JaymesGhoul You Be My Valentine? by Olivia Jaymes:

It’s time for another Ravenmist Whodunnit! A tiny Midwestern town with charming covered bridges, quirky residents, delightful antique shops, and more than their share of haunted activity.

Tedi has another packed inn of people for the Ravenmist Valentine’s Day Ball. The evening was a complete success until she and Jack find a dead body on the back patio with a Cupid’s arrow through his heart. There’s no shortage of suspects for his murder either. Jack will have his hands full paring down the list.

And Tedi? She’s staying out of this. No way is she going to be pulled into it. Not after last time. She has her own investigation. She and her friend Missy are trying to find why the town has suddenly been infused with paranormal energy. Ghosts are literally getting up and dancing around. It’s all going well too. That is until the investigation starts to hit just a little bit too close to home.

Hop into your ghostmobile and take a ride with Tedi as she meets a spirit who doesn’t think he’s dead, two ghosts in love, and a hard partying specter who just might have witnessed the murder. It’s a hauntingly good time in the little town of Ravenmist and you’re invited to the party.

Lady Rample and Cupid's Kiss by Shéa MacLeodLady Rample and Cupid’s Kiss by Shéa MacLeod:

Just when Lady Rample has given up on love, a former flame reappears, bringing with him all sorts of emotions she thought buried. Unfortunately, that flame comes with one very aggressive and rather angry almost-ex-wife. The ensuing catfight is almost worth the price of admission.

When the ex-wife is found dead in Hyde Park, stabbed with a hatpin in the shape of a heart, the police naturally assume the killer is the husband. Our intrepid heroine is not about to allow her love to go down for a crime he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, proving him innocent may put her own neck on the line.

Never one to shirk from danger, Lady R—with the help of her eccentric Aunt Butty—will need all her wits about her if she’s to solve the crimes of the Cupid Killer.

Enjoy the glitz and glamor of the 1930s with the sixth book in the popular 1930s historical mystery series, Lady Rample Mysteries.

Moonshine Valetnine by Tegan MaherMoonshine Valentine by Tegan Maher:

It’s Valentine’s Day, and Noelle has no idea what to get for Hunter. While she’s getting her hair cut and tossing around gift ideas, Coralee’s long-term boyfriend pops in and declares his undying love via a marriage proposal, breaking rule numero uno of their relationship clause.

He’s only the first to fall, though. When the men of Keyhole Lake start acting like lovesick lunatics, Noelle and Rae have to put their heads together to figure out what happened before the whole town goes loopy in love, or someone ends up in jail.

This story falls in between book 4, Murder and Mayhem, and Book 5, Murder and Marinade, in the Witches of Keyhole Lake Mystery Series.

Heart Attack by Terri MainHeart Attack by Terri Main:

When Smelling Roses, Watch Out for the Thorns

Strange things are happening in Armstrong City right before St. Valentine’s Day. Several women who found roses on their doorstep passed out inexplicably. Carolyn and Mike must figure out how this happened, who is doing it, and why?

A fun little mystery for the holiday of love.

 

Sweet Hearts by Connie SheltonSweet Heart by Connie Shelton:

Will there be Valentine wedding bells for Samantha Sweet and Beau Cardwell? (introduced in this mystery series opener Sweet Masterpiece) Sam’s bakery, Sweet’s Sweets is busier than ever this Valentine week, as she struggles to replicate the magical chocolate-making techniques of the enigmatic chocolatier who boosted her winter holiday sales into the stratosphere. However, candy classes take second place to a new mystery, when Sam meets a woman whose missing son’s case seems to have been dropped by the authorities. Marla Fresques learns that she is dying and needs for her son to come home and raise the daughter he left behind. Sam agrees to help, hoping that Sheriff Beau’s inside connections will bring about a quick and happy resolution.

But what about Sam’s and Beau’s own wedding plans? They may be in jeopardy when an entirely new development appears in the form of Beau’s ex-girlfriend who is determined to win him back.

With the familiar mix of mystery, romance and a touch of magic that has enchanted readers of this series, Sweet Hearts draws the reader even further into the captivating world of Samantha Sweet.

My Wicked Valentine by Lotta SmithMy Wicked Valentine by Lotta Smith:

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner… Love is in the air and so are the ghosts!

When Rick’s old friend, up-and-coming celeb psychic Brian Powers is accused of murdering an esthetician at a luxe gentlemen-only spa, Mandy’s cozy afternoon at home goes from cookie-baking to crime solving.

With baby Sophie and ghost-pal Jackie in tow, Mandy and Rick take to haunting the spa where the facials are fab and the intrigue is high-end.

Every suspect has a secret, but who’s willing to kill to keep theirs under wraps? [Seaweed wraps, that is.] Find out in this dangerously funny installment of the Manhattan Mystery series.

The Draed Arrow by Grigor WeeksThe Dread Arrow by Grigor Weeks:

Dark Space is strange, and so are the hitmen who live there. Strap in sweetheart. Love never hurt so good.

 

 

 

 

 

Valentine's Blizzard Murder by Linnea WestValentine’s Bizzard Mystery by Linnea West:

When a minor celebrity staying at the Shady Lake Bed and Breakfast dies of an allergic reaction during a blizzard, it doesn’t seem like it could get much worse. But was it really an accident?

Jake Crawford is a D list celebrity who loves to come back to Shady Lake to be the big fish in a small pond. This time, he brought his new wife back to Shady Lake for his honeymoon and they are staying at the bed and breakfast that Tessa Schmidt helps her family run. Jake is kind of a jerk, but then a blizzard hits and he dies of an allergic reaction. It seems like things couldn’t get any worse for a Valentine’s Day weekend. But Tessa is starting to suspect that the allergic reaction isn’t the horrible accident she had assumed.

As the blizzard stretches on and on, secrets keep coming out. It seems like almost everyone has a motive to kill Jake. Can Tessa figure out who wanted to kill Jake Crawford before the killer strikes again?

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Star Trek Discovery pays “An Obol to Charon” and gets back on form

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After last week’s messy return to much of what made season 1 so annoying, Star Trek Discovery comes roaring back with “An Obol to Charon”. For my take on previous Star Trek Discovery episodes, go here.

“An Obol to Charon” features yet another reiteration of two classic Star Trek tropes, namely the encounter with a threatening cosmic phenomenon (or is it?) and “everything on the entire ship is breaking down and the crew must make do without tech”. However, though the basic tropes are well worn, “An Obol to Charon” manages to do something original with them and also uses them to develop and illuminate the relationships between the characters.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!

The episode opens with the Discovery still hunting for Spock, who is on the run after breaking out of a mental hospital and killing three doctors in the process – or so Starfleet claims. Number One, Pike’s first officer aboard the Enterprise (who is now played by Rebecca Romijn, but still hasn’t acquired an actual name), shows up to give Pike an update about Spock and his last known whereabouts in exchange for a cheeseburger. The Discovery immediately sets off in pursuit, but instead of Spock (whom I suspect we won’t see until the season finale, given the pace at which the search for him is progressing), the Discovery finds – surprise – a mysterious cosmic phenomenon (TM). Though this mysterious cosmic phenomenon (TM) is not the Red Angel whom the Discovery has been chasing these past few episodes, but a gigantic glowing orb, which pulls the Discovery out of warp speed and then infects the ship with a virus that causes every single system on board to break down.

Now massive shipwide system failures are nothing new for Star Trek – Starfleet vessels seem to experience them about as often as they encounter mysterious cosmic phenomena (TM) with holodecks particularly prone to malfunctioning. What sets this massive shipwide failure apart from others we’ve seen during 53 years of Star Trek history, is that the virus transmitted by the glowing orb mainly attacks the Discovery‘s communication system. First of all, the automatic doors get jammed, trapping Starfleet personnel in their respective sections of the ship. Then, the universal translator goes completely haywire and starts translating everybody’s words into random languages, making communication impossible and linguists’ hearts leap with joy. By the way, the implication that the Discovery crew (and presumably every other Starfleet crew we’ve ever seen) are really speaking a multitude of languages and we only hear them speaking in English (or German or whatever), because that’s what the universal translator spits out for us, is certainly interesting.

Since the Federation has universal translators, language learning isn’t really a priority for Starfleet personnel. And hence they rely on the universal translator so completely that they are utterly lost without it. But luckily, one Discovery crewmember has made language learning a priority and that’s Saru who speaks 94 languages and is pretty much the only one on board who is able to translate the dialogues between the various crewmembers.

Unfortunately, Saru isn’t feeling well. Initially, he believes he caught a cold from the sniffling alien crewmember (apparently the character’s name is Linus and his species has six sinuses) last seen in the first episode of season 2. But it quickly turns out that Saru has caught something much worse and is actually dying.

Here “An Obol for Charon” not just lives up to its title, which is a reference to the coin with which you pay Charon the ferryman when he takes you across the river Styx into the Greek underworld, it also hearkens back to a Saru focussed Short Treks mini-episode named “The Brightest Star”. Now I haven’t seen the Short Treks mini-episodes, because they are not easy to watch outside the US. But apparently “The Brightest Star” delves a bit into the biology of Saru’s species, the Kelpians. We’ve been told before that Kelpians are considered livestock, basically alien cows or pigs, and are farmed by an advanced alien race called the Ba’ul. When a Kelpian approaches the end of their life, they exhibit symptoms similar to Saru’s. Then they are either harvested – and presumably eaten (and honestly, what is it with this weird “Let’s eat Saru” obsession in Star Trek Discovery?) – by the Ba’ul or they go inevitably mad.

However, there are no Ba’ul handy to harvest Saru and the only other Kelpian eater we know of, the evil mirror universe Philippa Georgiou, is too busy strutting around her Section 31 ship in sexy black leather outfits and seducing Ash Tyler (Come on, you know that she will do that) to drop by and relieve Saru of his suffering. Therefore, Saru asks Michael to euthanise him, when the time comes. He also asks her to catalog his personal journals and deliver them to his sister and the rest of his people, so they can learn about his adventures one day. Cause it turns out that the Kelpians are a pre-warp civilisation (and you can bet the Ba’ul will make very sure they remain so – after all, they don’t want their cattle to go travelling around the galaxy) and Saru is the only one who managed to make contact with Starfleet, which also explains why we have never seen any Kelpians before.

But Saru is a trooper and so he keeps on trying to solve the puzzle of the mysterious glowing orb that has thoroughly messed up the Discovery up to the moment of his death. Saru’s dying wish to pass on his history and what he has learned as the only Kelpian ever to travel the stars finally puts Michael and Saru on the right trail, namely that the glowing orb is dying as well and just wants to pass on its knowledge to the nearest intelligence, which just happens to be the passing Discovery. Together, Michael and Saru persuade Pike to lower the shields and just let the orb finish its broadcast. So the orb uploads all its accumulated data (which conveniently also includes the location of Spock’s shuttle, since even glowy alien orbs know that Spock is of prime importance) into the Discovery‘s computer system and the shipwide systems malfunctions just cease and everyhing goes back to normal. As solutions to massive shipwide systems failures go, it’s a little too convenient, but than “An Obol for Charon” isn’t really about engineering problems aboard the Discovery.

Instead, “An Obol for Charon” is the Saru centric episode we’ve been waiting for since the start of season 2, if not since season 1. Because just as the Discovery‘s system failure is repaired, Saru’s final moment seems to have come. Together, Pike and Michael help the weakened Saru to his quarters (he sleeps on a bed of moss), where Michael holds his hand, tells Saru that he is like a brother to her and shares a tearful good-bye. Now this sudden closeness between Michael and Saru comes as something of a surprise, because for much of season 1, Saru and Michael didn’t seem to get along very well at all. And indeed, Saru’s constant passive aggressive behaviour towards Michael was a large part of the reason why I did not much like the character well past the halfpoint of season 1. But then, families do tend to quarrel and we also know that Michael is massively traumatised and comes from a messed up family background, because Sarek and Amanda are crappy parents. Coincidentally, the fact that Michael views Saru as her brother, even though the two of them were at odds for most of season 1, also reveals a lot about her relationship to Spock.

And besides, who cares that the sudden closeness between Saru and Michael doesn’t quite match what we’ve seen in season 1, when Saru’s dying scene is so beautifully acted by Doug Jones (who really should have gotten an Oscar nomination, if not an Oscar for The Shape of Water. And while you’re at it, give him an Emmy nomination for Star Trek Discovery) and Sonequa Martin-Green. Yes, it’s emotionally manipulative as hell and Doug Jones and Sonequa Martin-Green really gives those old tear ducts a good squeeze, but it’s also a great scene. And since Discovery has killed off series regulars before – Lorca, Dr. Culber, the real Philippa Georgiou, that annoying woman security chief who got eaten by the Tardigrade, Connor, the crewman who gets killed twice in two different universes – I was a bit worried that Saru might really die, especially since Doug Jones is very much in demand following the success of The Shape of Water.

But in true Star Trek manner – though I didn’t realise this as a kid and was worried and heartbroken every time Spock, Kirk, Bones, Scotty, Chekhov, Sulu, Uhura, etc… were in mortal peril (though Zack Handlen is mistaken, because a series regular – Tasha Yar – does die for good in The Next Generation) – Saru gets better. And so Michael grabs a knife and prepares to cut off Saru’s threat ganglia, which is apparently how you kill Kelpians (well, according to Evil Mirror Georgiou, the ganglia are the best part). However, just before Michael can make the fatal cut, the threat ganglia suddenly shrivel and fall off and Saru magically gets better. Plus, his constant sense of fear has vanished along with his threat ganglia and Saru is literally a new person, the first ever Kelpian to survive the terminal phase of his life and remain sane.

Okay, so Kelpian biology doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but then Star Trek has never been all that great with regard to biology. And besides, the most damning implication of Saru’s miraculous recovery from near death is that the Ba’ul have been lying to the Kelpians all that time – quel surprise – to keep their livestock calm, as they willingly go to their slaughter, which puts the Ba’ul near the top of my personal “worst Star Trek villains” list. Of course, the Prime Directive – pardon, General Order One – forbids Starfleet from doing anything about the Ba’ul’s exploitation of the Kelpians, but you can bet that Saru doesn’t give a damn about the Prime Directive in this case, especially not now that his everpresent fear is gone. So the question is, will Michael, habitual Starfleet mutineer, back him up? What about Stamets, Tilly, Pike?

However, that’s a question for another episode (though hopefully one that will be answered this season), because for now the Discovery is still engaged in the search for Spock (too bad that title is already taken) and after almost losing Saru, Michael is now more determined than ever to rescue her other non-biological alien brother. Besides, another crewmember goes missing as well in this episode’s B-plot. Because even though there is a lot happening in “An Obol for Charon”, the episode still finds time for a B-plot or rather the same B-plot Discovery has had for the past three episodes, namely Tilly’s ghostly encounter with May, the fungus spore ghost.

When the glowing orb causes the Discovery to malfunction, Stamets and Tilly find themselves trapped in the engineering section together with Jet Reno, the chief engineer of the USS Hiawatha, whom the Discovery rescued in the first episode of season 2. With the Hiawatha destroyed, Jet Reno apparently was transferred aboard the Discovery and works in engineering. This puts her on collision course with Stamets and the two of them do not get along with each other at all. Of course, I have the strong impression that Stamets does not get along with new people of any kind – see his early interactions with Michael – and now he has also lost his anchor Dr. Culber, too. And Jet Reno doesn’t really strike me as a people person either. Nonetheless, the sniping between Stamets and Reno is a delight, not least because Anthony Rapp and Tig Notaro are so very good in their roles. And yes, Jet Reno makes the obvious magic mushroom joke.

But the situation quickly gets serious, when “May”, the malevolent (or is she?) fungus spore ghost uses the chaos caused by the systems malfunctions to break out of stasis and attach herself to Tilly once more. Via the possessed Tilly, “May” tells Stamets that she is an emissary from a civilisation existing inside the spore network. However, each time the Discovery uses its spore drive, part of that spore network is destroyed, putting “May’s” civilisation at risk. This poses a massive dilemma to Stamets, because obviously it would be massively unethical, not to mention a violation of the Prime Directive/General Order One to continue using the spore drive. However, for the time being Stamets has a more pressing problem, because “May” is putting Tilly’s health and life at risk. Yes, Discovery doesn’t just give us one regular about the die this episode – no, it gives us two.

Saving Tilly requires Stamets to engage in some emergency trepanning with a power drill. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it leads to a sweet scene, where Tilly tells Stamets about her favourite song (“Space Oddity” by David Bowie) and Stamets sings it together with her. It’s truly a lovely moment and also gives Anthony Rapp the chance to show off his Broadway honed singing skills. Since Stamets is something of a genius, his emergency brain surgery succeeds and Tilly is safe… for now. Because at the end of the episode, “May” distracts Stamets and Reno by getting them high on mushroom spores, wraps Tilly in some kind of cocoon and apparently abducts her into the spore network. So the search for Spock must be interrupted in favour of the search for Tilly.

I strongly suspect that the Tilly and May, the fungus ghost, subplot, only exists to tie up one of the more annoying loose ends from season 1, namely the mystical magical mushroom drive, which has never been seen in Star Trek before or since, and to exorcise the last remains of the mess former showrunner Bryan Fuller left behind when he walked away/was fired from Star Trek Discovery after two episodes. And like pretty much anything connected to the magic mushroom drive, the Tilly/May/Stamets subplot is a mess. Nonetheless, the scenes of Tilly, Stamets and Reno trapped together and getting high, while singing David Bowie songs and performing emergency brain surgery with power tools (which is freakier and trippier than anything the Original Series dished up during the actual 1960s) are a joy to watch, because the actors are just so very good.

I’ve said before that Discovery‘s great strength are its characters and its stellar cast. And this episode used them to their best effect, which makes it the strongest season 2 episode (Camestros Felapton also ranks it accordingly) and one of the strongest episodes altogether. Every character got their moment – even supporting characters like Jet Reno (more of her, please), Number One (more of her as well, please) and Linus, the sneezing alien (more of him, too) got the chance to shine. It alsmost seems as if Star Trek Discovery finally knows what it wants to be, namely a character driven show, which takes classic Star Trek tropes and infuses them with a dose of psychedelic weirdness.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a show I’m very happy to watch.

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In Memoriam Václav Vorlíček

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Czech film director Václav Vorlíček died today aged 88.

You may never have heard Václav Vorlíček’s name until today, but if you were a kid in Eastern and/or Western Europe in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, you have almost certainly watched his films at some point. Because Václav Vorlíček was the man behind many of those Czech fairytale movies that were afternoon television staples for children all over Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. Because – uncommon for the time – Vorlíček’s films crossed the iron curtain and entertained children on both sides.

His best known movie is Tři oříšky pro Popelku a.k.a. Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel a.k.a. Three Wishes for Cinderella from 1973. Forty-five years later it’s a beloved classic that is on Czech and German TV every Christmas, even though Three Wishes for Cinderella was never intended as a holiday movie and the snowy Saxonian landscapes around Moritzburg castle near Dresden (my grandmother hailed from there) were just a lucky coincidence, because it started to snow as Vorlíček and his team were shooting. Nonetheless, it’s a truly magical movie and a surprisingly feminist take on the Cinderella story, featuring a crossdressing Cinderella.

If Three Wishes for Cinderella were the only movie Václav Vorlíček had made, he would still be remembered. But he did so much more. Fairytale films were his forte and his oevre includes such classics of the genre as Das Mädchen auf dem Besenstiel (The Girl on the Broomstick)*, an early take on the magical school trope and the film that first introduced me to the trope, Wie man Dornröschen wachküsst (How to Kiss Sleeping Beauty Awake) and Der Prinz und der Abendstern (The Prince and the Evening Star). But he also made a lot of comedies, often with fantasy and science fiction elements, and even a James Bond parody called The End of Agent W4C.

Václav Vorlíček particularly liked stories in which the world of stories and fairytales collides with the “real world”, i.e. Communist Czecheslovakia of the 1970s, usually with hilarious results. In Who Wants to Kill Jessie?, a comic book character invades the real world, while in How To Drown Dr. Mracek, the Lawyer the last seven watermen of Bohemia try to survive in 1970s Czecheslovakia. In The Girl on the Broomstick, a sassy young witch flunks magic school and finds herself banished to the world of humans, as the clip below of Saxana the witch trying to impress her human teachers with magic spells shows. And who never dreamed of turning their teachers into rabbits?

But my favourite among Vorlíček’s works and one of the most delightful things you’ll ever see is the 1979 TV series Arabela a.k.a. Die Märchenbraut a.k.a. The Fairytale Bride. Once again it’s a story where the real world and the fairytale world collide into utter chaos, when the evil wizard Rumburak takes on the appearance of Karl Majer, a typical everyman who tells fairytales on Czech TV. Rumburak as Majer thoroughly messes up the fairytales, which in turn plunges the fairytale realm into utter chaos. The king of the fairytale realm sends his two daughters as emissaries to set Majer (who still has no idea what is happening) straight, only for the younger daughter Arabela promptly to fall in love with Majer’s son Peter. Things get even more chaotic from there on, as Karl Majer gets turned into a dachhound, the exiled king of fairyland is forced to work in a factory, Arabela’s older sister Xenia decides to inject a bit of Socialist realism (trash, factory jobs for everyone, housing estates) into fairyland and the seven dwarves discover what a flush toilet is good for. Unfortunately, they mistake it for a waterslide. We also encounter adult fairyland, which is inhabited by fictional heroes such as Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and ruled over by Fantomas, the classic villain/antihero of French literature. A highlight is Peter and Arabela’s wedding, where the bride has unfortunately been turned into a goat and the groom into a grandfather clock by Rumburak. The registrar refuses to perform the ceremony, but is then forced by Fantomas at gunpoint to marry them anyway, because “if they love each other, what does it matter.”

I’m not sure if the wedding scene is intended as an argument for same sex marriage, though I have always taken it as one and have been known to quote Fantomas’ line from Arabela to opponents. Though rewatching Arabela as an adult, it’s striking how much satire and sly criticism Vorlíček managed to slip into this and his other works and that barely ten years after the suppression of the so-called Prague spring and around the time of the Charter 77. I suspect that Vorlíček got away with so much, because he made films and TV shows for children, so the censors didn’t pay close attention.

If you want to see Arabela, the whole series is online, but only in Czech alas. Unlike other Czech fairytale films of the era, Arabela never had an English language release, likely because of rights issues. Vorlíček’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves not only look like Disney’s, they even sing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho”, though Disney’s dwarves never mistook a toilet for a waterslide. And characters like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Fantomas (who looks eerily like Jean Marais’ 1960s take on the character) were still trademarked as well. But if you want to catch a glimpse of what the show was like, here is a clip featuring a messed up version of Sleeping Beauty where the prince robs the sleeping princess instead of waking her up with a kiss.

Indeed, Vorlíček’s fairytale films pretty much ruined the ongoing renaissance of fairytale retellings in the English speaking world for me, because whenever I try to read the latest updated, feminist fairytale retelling, I realise that Václav Vorlíček did something similar forty years ago and that he did it better.

Václav Vorlíček’s genius was recognised in his native country and the Karlovy Vary film festival gave him a lifetime achievement award only last year and his wonderful films will continue to entertain children all over Europe. Unfortunately, Vorlíček is not nearly as well known in the English speaking world, which is why I had to write this piece about his passing, since the only English language obituary I could find was the brief article from Radio Prague’s English language site. This is a true pity, because he was one of the great fantasy directors of all time and deserves to be remembered.

So rest in peace, Václav Vorlíček, and thanks for all the stories that brightened up mine and so many other childhoods.

*I’m not listing the original Czech titles from here on, because the Czech language has too many characters that require HTML handcoding – sorry.

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A Science Fiction Promo and Richard Blakemore blogs

http://corabuhlert.com/2019/02/06/a-science-fiction-promo-and-richard-blakemore-blogs/

http://corabuhlert.com/?p=28711

Blast Off with Sci Fi promo image

Today, I have two brief announcements to make. The first is an announcement for a science fiction cross promo at StoryOrigins.

What is StoryOrigins, you ask. StoryOrigins is a new service for free e-book giveaways. One of those is the Blast off with Sci Fi giveaway organised by C. Gockel.

You can get 18 science fiction e-books for free, including one of mine, if you enter your e-mail address and sign up for the respective authors’ newsletters. Just click the link below:

Blast off with Sci Fi
February 1 to March 17, 2019

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In other news, Richard Blakemore, protagonist of the Silencer series, has started blogging.

How can he blog, when he’s fictional and lives in the 1930s, long before computers and blogs were a thing? Well, that’s the magic of the Internet.

You can find Richard’s blog here. So far, there isn’t a lot of content over there, just a brief introductory post as well as a repost of a “Meet My Character” feature about Richard I did in 2015, with some asides and comments from Richard himself (he wishes to make it very clear that he is not the Silencer). But there is more coming, since Richard just dipped his toes into the sword and sorcery waters.

Coincidentally, Richard Blakemore has also acquired an Amazon Author Central page, which was a lot more difficult to set up than I assumed, as well as a Books2Read page, which was a bit easier to set up.

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