Musings on comics, mathematics, elections and anything else I can think of.
Author: Dr. K
I'm a Mathematics Professor interested in Mathematics Education and Voting Theory. I've been a science fiction buff and comic collector nearly as long as I can remember. Occasionally I'm lucky enough to teach courses about such things.
“The Law Wisely Considers a Podcast an Incompetent Witness”
Happy New Year! Today, 2 January, is National Science Fiction Day here in the States, and not coincidentally, the birthday of Dr. Asimov, aka the great explainer, aka the Great and Glorious Az. Happy Birthday, Issac!
Thus, today we’re dropping a special episode of the Stars End Podcast, our first musical episode! Well, kinda. There’s a bit at the end where we talk about music and songs that would be apropos to the real action, where we discuss Chapters 13, 14, 15, and 16 of The Robots of Dawn. Don’t worry, none of us sing.
So, head on out to Golden Corral, find yourself a nice quiet corner away from the humans and read about R. Daneel and R. Giskard. Then join us back here for our musical episode. Or, just listen to the episode. That’s cool too.
For our part, we’re recording another episode this evening, each safely in our own space, securely separated by state and/or national boundaries. This one’s a very special episode; it’s our 50th and we’ve got something different planned for the milestone! Stay Tuned!
But first, episode #48.
And as a bonus, you can find our soundtrack to The Robots of Dawn on our website, StarsEndPodcast.com. Let’s go!
That, of course, can never be complete unless we can find someone to record (The Robots Want to Wear My) Red Shoes for us.
“Do Not For Your Own Sake Test the Force of Our Podcast”
In a departure from our recent episodes, we have breaking news! Well… probably! The Midgard Times tells us that Apple TV+’s Foundation has been renewed for a third season. No word yet on when season two will premiere, but there’s more information that you’ll need to listen to learn!
Who is The Midgard Times and how did they manage to scoop the competition for this vital information? We don’t really know! We can tell you though that if you’re looking between hard-hitting journalism like “Muspelheim in Danger of Freezing Over” and “Troll Literacy Rate Rises to 3%” it isn’t there.
You need to go to… hang on, it was here a minute ago… give me a second… here! It’s this The Midgard Times, which appears to be a subsidiary of moviesr.net. That reminds us of nothing so much as a vanity license plate that… isn’t quite what the car’s owner really wanted.
And what of the news from Svartalfheim? Gesundheit!
Aside from this, we revisit “Mirror Image” and, of course, we continue our discussion of The Robots of Dawn. This time, it’s chapters 10, 11, and 12 in which we wrap up the interview of Vasilia and get the entirety of Baley’s conversation with Gremionois. Also, Baley goes to the bathroom and has lunch! Without this, no Asimov novel would be complete.
Meanwhile, we’ll always be at StarsEndPodcast.com and StarsEndPodcast.WordPress.com but not at StarsEnd.anything because we don’t know what those are either. We think there are squatters.
It’s Doctor Who Day and We’re going to spend a big chunk of time watching Doctor Who, both Classic and Nu. Beginning with…
The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Episode 1: “World’s End”
You have to admit, this looks pretty good.
I thought I’d seen this before, but maybe only bits and pieces. The first few moments have my attention; they’re both dystopian and compelling! It’s amazing how well that’s conveyed by a run-down area a sign, and a strangely dressed man shambling into the Thames.
The Tardis materializes and it looks worn and damaged. I wonder what’s up with that.
The Doctor and crew think they’re getting Ian and Barbara back home. This will be a recurring theme for the next 6 decades or so.
But the Doctor quickly suspects that they’re landed in the wrong time. The others remain optimistic even as debris blocks their re-entry into the TARDIS.
I’m thinking it’s sad that we never saw any more of Susan in the modern series when “Grandfather” tells her that what she needs is a “jolly good smacked bottom!” Sigh.
They seem to be making use of abandoned properties around London quite effectively.
And things start happening; Barbara and Susan are taken by men offering to protect them as gunfire is heard in the distance while Ian and the Doctor find a corpse wearing a sinister-looking helmet, which they seem to think is some sort of cell phone.
It’s a compelling start and even though it’s mostly about atmosphere at this point there are some enjoyable details including the “robomen” who may well have inspired the Cybermen two years later and a spacecraft that is strongly reminiscent of “Attack of the Flying Saucers.” In the final moments, we get our first glimpse of a Dalek rising from the river.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth Episode 2: “The Daleks”
The Dalek confronts Ian and the Doctor proclaiming “We are the Masters of the Earth.” “Not for long,” is the Doctor’s reply. Lots of classic tropes here; I wonder if these are the first occurrences.
But the Daleks have certainly evolved from here; they’re already fascistic but seem content to rule rather than destroy. Offering to let prisoners survive if they surrender is very unDaleklike, but then conversion into Robomen isn’t exactly survival.
They’ve noticed the Doctor though and realize that he’s smarter than the average bear.
We get a bit of backstory; Earth was bombarded by meteorites, then most of the population was wiped out by a plague. By the time humans could combat the plague, it was too late. There were only small groups of survivors, too separated to join forces, and too small to resist effectively.
The humans have a bomb, but it looks like a bottle of perfume. And it’s stunning how dumb they all are; thinking that they now have a “superior weapon.” Barbara helps them improve their plan somewhat though. Not enough I would guess.”
By the way, is it me or does that guy look like Radar O’Rilley?
The episode ends with the humans’ attack underway and the Doctor in the process of being robotized.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Joanne and I watched “Rose,” the first full episode I ever saw, over lunch. It’s a near-perfect starting point.
Looking back, it’s astounding how well RTD balanced a comfortable introduction for new fans by including nice, familiar touches for old friends (…look at the ears) and integrating hints about what happened post-McGann. The show had some growing to do, Jackie & Mickey were still caricatures and the show hadn’t quite decided that it wasn’t a kids’ show any longer, but the Doctor was compelling and Rose was clever and capable. Without Eccleston & Piper, we might not have Nu-Who today.
Watching this gives me hope for the next few seasons.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Partners in Crime (2008)
Next is “Partners in Crime,” the opener of my favorite series of Nu-Who due mostly to the presence of Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. I’m psyched we could be revisiting this team in a few months.
Donna makes the perfect foil to the Tenth Doctor and there’s so much to like about this episode, including the choreography of the Doctor and Donna missing each other throughout investigating Adipose. The scene where the two finally see each other is just wizard.
This is our first time watching this since watching Sara Lancashire in Julia. She inhabits these characters so well it’s hard to believe the two roles are the same actress. This one is an excellent performance through and including that nice Wyle E. Coyote moment.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
The Eleventh Hour (2010)
We’ll end with “The Eleventh Hour,” the best opening episode for a new doctor in Nu-Who, perhaps in all Who. It’s fun watching the new Doctor do the Tigger thing from The House at Pooh Corner. But the most impressive moment follows after Amilia has rolled with the crashed TARDIS, the strange man with the swimming pool in his library & the nuttiness of fish fingers and custard with complete equanimity the Doctor says, “Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.” That line gives me chills every time.
Then it’s off to the races, into an episode that melds humor, intrigue, action, and heart into a seamless whole. The cast is excellent and this Doctor, being a bit odd makes it all the easier to see him as alien. The episode and what follows works very well.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
It’s time for bed, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to a Peter Capaldi episode as I consider him to be the doctorest Doctor. But I’ll be back soon to finish The Dalek Invasion of Earth. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this.
Another holodeck episode? Janeway is showing Seven the program where she sculpts to inspire “imagination, creativity, fantasy…” and Seven doesn’t see the point. But the image of DaVinci’s proto-airplane causes a flashback, ending the teaser.
It looks like Seven has PTSD from her assimilation. So far she’s in denial. The “Bomar,” an alien race shoehorned into the story, look ridiculous and have lots of unreasonable conditions for Voyager to cross their space.
Seven is learning to eat. Is a theme of growing humanity developing, or is the show just contriving a reason for Neelix to exist?
Plot whiplash. From nurturing Seven’s humanity to her Borg side reasserting itself. You have to ask what that has to do with the flashbacks and the bird. She escapes the ship in a shuttlecraft. The Bomar’s purpose is now obvious; they will serve to impede the search for Seven.
Yup, they do and they’re are quite obnoxious about it too. A tedious chase sequence puts Tuvok on Seven’s shuttle which leads to a nice scene. Seven wants to assimilate Tuvok then changes her mind and they just talk. Good performances.
Meanwhile, Janeway realizes the significance of the bird. Seven & Tuvok eventually find the Hansens’ ship where Anikka was assimilated and learn its name. It’s the Raven. We didn’t know that before and that makes Janeway’s epiphany feel like a cheat. Meanwhile, the Bomar start shelling the ship from outer space. We get it; they’re petulant.
In the coda, Seven is becoming creative and that’s the throughline. Seven’s growing humanity begets flashbacks begets still more humanity. In the end, Janeway tells Seven that her parents were “unconventional & had unique scientific theories.” That’s how you describe crackpots.
Healing from childhood trauma is a good basis for a story. But the Bomar were straw men and lots of the rest didn’t make any sense. Story wise this is a nice house with a bad foundation. Focus on the central storyline and skip the filler. This should have been far better.
“There is Not Really Much Use in Cross-Examining a Podcast”
Cross-examinations are a staple of teevee. On Law and Order, there is a plethora of great scenes where Jack McCoy presses the defendant until they break and inadvertently provide irrefutable evidence against themselves.
Lije Baley wants us to believe there is no benefit to cross-examining a robot, but teevee and Captain James T. Kirk argue against this. Consider this scene from “The Ultimate Computer,” restored to the intended version that was prevented by copyright issues. Ironic because Star Trek walks right up to the border of the ground Asimov covered in The Naked Sun in this one.
M5: This unit is the ultimate achievement in computer evolution. It will replace man so that man may achieve. Man must not risk death in space or other dangerous occupations. This unit must survive so man may be protected.
SPOCK: Captain, attack force almost within phaser range.
KIRK: There were many men aboard those ships. They were murdered. Must you survive by murder?
M5: This unit cannot murder.
M5: Murder is contrary to the First Law of Robotics.
KIRK: But you have murdered. Scan the starship Excalibur, which you destroyed. Is there life aboard?
M5: No life.
KIRK: Because you murdered it. What is the penalty for murder?
KIRK: And how will you pay for your acts of murder?
M5: This unit must die. (It disconnects itself from the power feed in Engineering and goes dark.)
CHEKOV: Sir, deflector shields have dropped.
SULU: All phaser power is gone, sir.
SPOCK: M-5 is leaving itself open to attack. The machine is ignoring the Third Law to atone for its violation of the First Law.
The Ultimate Computer, Star Trek S2E24
So, despite Baley’s repeated assertions to the contrary, Kirk shows us it can be productive to cross-examine a robot, perhaps even forcing a mental freeze-out.
“Mental freeze-out!” you might exclaim! “Dr. Han Fastolfe says that’s practically impossible!” I suggest we ask Captain Kirk about that too.
But let’s think about this together as we discuss chapters 7, 8, and 9 of The Robots of Dawn. It’s a monument to cross-examination and interrogation. And not just of robots. We talk about it, you can join us! Let’s go!
“There is Something to be Said About a Podcast That Makes One Smile”
This is the city, Eos, Aurora. It’s the city of the dawn on the planet of the dawn. It’s the largest and most important city on the oldest and most important Spacer World. Mostly, good things happen in Eos, the Robotics Institute is in Eos as is the planetary government. Sometimes bad things happen; things that require a lot of discussion. Was the victim even alive? Was this even a crime? Questions that need answers. When that happens, I go to work. I carry a badge.
Friday, October 30. It was windy in Eos. We were working the day watch out of the roboticide division. Our host is Han Fastolfe. My partner’s Daneel Olivaw. My name is Baley.
Join us as we get into the meat of The Robots of Dawn. Baley starts to learn the details of the case, and Fastolfe performs some experiments on Baley. Plus the return of an old friend, the wackiest trip to the lavatory in all of the Asimov canon, and the Great and Glorious Az tries his hand at writing romance. As always, you’ve read it, we talk about it, and fun will be had.
Do you know what a “teaser” is? You probably do, but just in case I’ll tell you anyway.
A teaser is the bit of a teevee episode that precedes the opening. Nothing much happens in a teaser except to set up the action and hopefully grab your attention. A wedding on the Enterprise is interrupted by a red alert. A landing party beams down to Cestus III to find the outpost destroyed. Chekov screams in terror because he’s been startled by an inexplicably elderly couple. You get the idea.
And boy, does the Great and Glorious Az have a teaser for you! A quick 126 pages of astral viewing, etymology, rhetoric, and a description of a government official that made Joseph’s wife, Joanne, groan in faux outrage. That’s the first three chapters of The Robots of Dawn and not a whole hell of a lot happens.
We talk about it, you listen to us. A splendid time will be had by all. Hopefully.
Also, a spoiler warning. If you’re new to the podcast and haven’t finished the novel yet, you might want to read ahead before listening to the episode. Or not. It’s up to you.
“A Small Podcast Yet to the Humans Involved Astonishingly Large”
We didn’t set out to do it, but we did it.
What, you might ask? We’ve created an episode that’s an excellent jumping-on point for anyone who’s been itching to try the podcast, but doesn’t know where to start.
How? Well to start with, we’re talking about a short story. You don’t need to read the books or watch the shows we talk about to enjoy the podcast, but we certainly understand if want to! We’re talking about “Mirror Image” from Robot Visions, in which Lije Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw help to solve a dispute between two mathematicians. It’s about 19 pages long, a comfortable, digestible chunk.
And? And we have guests! Episodes are better with guests and we’re joined by two charming mathematicians, Coleen and Charlie Jacobson, long-time science fiction readers and friends of Joseph from Elmira College. They’ll help us decide if the off-screen mathematicians are true-to-life! On a personal note, if you remember Joseph from EC you might enjoy hearing from half of what he calls, the “Mathematics Faculty Classic” that existed from 2012 to 2014.
So, if you’re a regular listener, settle in for another excellent episode. If you’re new to the podcast, buckle up! You’re in for a fun ride! Let’s go!
Two notes on the Featured Image: The background is some board work from 2016 when Joseph taught Geometry from Charlie’s notes. In the foreground are two images of Paul Erdös, one at age 20 and one much later in his life, drawn by LeUyen Pham from The Boy Who Loved Math. Erdös is famous for being one of the most prolific mathematicians of all time and for having a multitude of collaborators.
Did you know that when Elements are named to honor cities the Latin names for the cities are used rather than the common names? The funny thing is that this is true even if the city has no Latin name. This is how we get the name for holmium, which is named after Stockholm or rather after “Holmia” which is the Latin name for Stockholm that the chemist made up.
This is from the essay “Names! Names! Names!” by the good doctor. It’s all about naming elements and, although I haven’t quite finished it yet, I’m pretty sure it covers all hundred or so that were known at the time.
The essay appeared in the December 1956 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, the very same issue as our final installment of The Naked Sun. This led John W. Campbell to declare Asimov a “two-headed author.” Isaac’s predilection for non-fiction was starting to show.
Being trained as a chemist, Asimov gives us a ton of Asenion names to enjoy in this final section! There’s GlaDIEah Delmarre, Klorissa Cantero, Jothan Leebig, Corwin Attlebish, and Anselmo Quemot. And who could forget Benzadril Copperbottom? In this final section, which corresponds to chapters 13 to 18 in the book, Baley survives the assassination attempt, gets his portrait done, almost strolls to his death, and solves the case! Of course, we talk about it all. Join us for the setting of The Naked Sun!
Happy Star Trek Day! It’s been busy, but I didn’t want to let the day roll around to midnight without posting something. So here’s another installment of my Voyager Rewatch. It’s nice that we have an outstanding episode for Star Trek Day, one of my favorites from Season 4.
I might post something else apropos in a day or so, but the start of it is way back in my Twitter feed and the more you tweet the harder it is to find something filed in reverse chronological order.
In an interesting bit of synergy, I realized that today is also the fourth anniversary of this blog. If you’re interested in my first post, you can find it here, “All in Color for Forty Dimes.” That’s a glorious start to a deluge of nonsense with occasional insights here and there.
So, without further ado, “The Omega Directive!” Let’s go!
There’s an actual funny moment over a kal-toh game. That’s a good sign after some less-than-mediocre episodes. This looked like it would be a Seven-heavy episode; then it went sideways. There’s a real sense of mystery. Nothing is dumb so far.
“The omega phenomenon” has been detected within 1.2 light-years. “All other priorities have been rescinded.” Janeway’s locked in her ready room… the crew is being given puzzling orders on a “need to know” basis… so far, this is excellent.
The Borg know about the “Omega Molecule,” and of course, Seven and Janeway have radically different ideas about what to do. Turns out the kal-toh game in the teaser was a nice bit of foreshadowing. There’s a powerful scene between Janeway & Chakotay. As we’ll see, this needs everybody.
Okay, the technobabble explanation is dumb but can be ignored. The stakes are high, and tension rises. “For the duration of this mission, the Prime Directive is rescinded.” This is like Genesis. Later: “The Final Frontier has some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.”
Seven designates a crewman as “3 of 10.” Chilling, but it doesn’t play out as I expected. Another powerful scene with Seven and a survivor. Another perspective on the crisis: his people need the energy from the Omega molecule to survive.
Ahhh! Blue light!
Seven has a perspective on Omega from her time as a Borg. She views it as perfect with almost religious fervor. But she follows Janeway’s lead anyway. That’s real development. The climax is exciting and well done. But the spiritual stuff at the end is too simplistic and abrupt, marring an otherwise Great episode.
Nonetheless, this one is an exemplar. It’s a good story and depends on Voyager’s journey through the Delta Quadrant. The show needs more episodes like this and fewer things that seem like rejected TNG scripts.