Tuesday, July 02, 2013

SF TV in Book Form

It looks like I'll finally get something done on the Saga of the Water Heater Enclosure. Last night, a board member, his contractor friend and another board member who is also a contractor came over to look at it and agree that yes, it does need to be fixed. The non-contractor board member was talking about how the undamaged side was okay, but the contractors said no, it all had to go because it was probably breeding vast quantities of mold. They also agreed that the water heater was probably shot, based on the symptoms. I said I wanted to put in a new water heater when they put the water heater back in after the work, but the one I found that I liked was too big for the enclosure.

That was when the contractor board member, an older gentleman, made a potentially fatal error. He expressed shock that I was shopping for a water heater. I said (not necessarily in these words), "Well, duh, it's a vital piece of equipment and it costs a lot of money. Why wouldn't I research the purchase?" He then said something about getting the right color. He received what my friends would likely recognize as the Scary Smile as I patiently explained that the one I wanted had multiple program modes, so it could learn my water use patterns and save energy, and it had a vacation mode so that it didn't have to heat the water full-on while I was out of town. I think that was when he realized that I was a force to be reckoned with and asked for the specs on the water heater. I gave them off the top of my head, which the other contractor who was standing by the cabinet verified. He then said that he could go through his plumbing supplier so I wouldn't have to pay retail.

Maybe I should have let them know that I might have needed someone to take out and then install the water heater, but I could probably have done the carpentry work on my own, other than rebuilding the door frame. I know how to deal with drywall. Habitat for Humanity is great for life skills like that.

I got word this morning that they'd start work today. I don't know how long it'll take. It's a very small space. Getting the water heater out will probably take as much time as ripping out the old sheetrock and maybe even hammering in the new. Taping and mudding out will take a little longer. So I might have hot water by tomorrow night. In the meantime, I worked out a way to get a semi-shower using a large basin, a small pitcher and the electric teakettle. Is it weird that I'm kind of enjoying the creative problem solving aspect of this?

But enough about the "my house hates me" woes (maybe my ghost is acting up). I have books to talk about! This week, I have two fun science fiction novels/novels relating to science fiction TV. One, I was really surprised to see in my library, Shada, the Douglas Adams Doctor Who story that was never finished, as novelized by Gareth Roberts (a current Doctor Who writer). This is from back in the day when a "story" was told in six half-hour episodes. They'd apparently started filming this, doing the location shooting for the first part that takes place in Cambridge, but then there was a strike that shut down production, so the episode was never finished. From the author's note at the back, I get the impression that the script wasn't entirely finished, either, that Adams, who was never known for being good with deadlines, hadn't quite reached the end, or else had done a "and then stuff happens, the good guys win, the end" type of rushed ending, with the hope of fixing it as they got closer to shooting that part. Since they never shot that part, he never finished it. The fun here is not so much that it's a Doctor Who story, but rather that it really feels like a new Douglas Adams book, more so than the Hitchhiker's book written by a different author. It's very much in his voice, and there are very Adams-like touches, like the ship with an annoying personality. There are also a few inside jokes for Who fans, like the description of a monster tearing through a wall like it was made of polystyrene. I'd imagine that a Douglas Adams fan might enjoy this even without being a Who fan, though obviously a Who fan would enjoy it more.

Still on a science fiction TV theme, I then read Redshirts by John Scalzi. An ensign newly assigned to the fleet's flagship notices something strange, like the way they seem to burn through junior crew members, with at least one dying a horrible and pointless death on every away mission. Then there's the "Box" into which material is fed, and it then pops out an analysis or solution with only minutes to spare, no matter what the deadline is. The science of that just doesn't make sense. The more veteran crewmembers avoid having anything to do with the senior officers and hide when it comes time to assign crew members to away missions. Then there's the one senior officer who seems to get injured or exposed to a deadly disease on almost every mission, only to miraculously survive and then be totally cured a week later. Our hero gets suspicious and starts looking into this, only to find that the truth is even weirder than he imagined. The story goes off onto a highly entertaining metafictional slant, something sort of like Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms series meets Galaxy Quest meets Stranger than Fiction. It's laugh out loud funny in a lot of places, though one of the codas may have brought a tear to my eye. Recommended reading for Star Trek fans.

Although I enjoyed this approach to the concept, it did make me kind of want to see a realistic treatment of the Star Trek tropes -- what would really happen in a ship like the Enterprise, where the senior officers seem to have a strange case of Stockholm Syndrome that keeps them from accepting promotions that require transfers, where people are regularly coming down with strange diseases that make them behave oddly, and where the junior officers have a horribly low life expectancy? You'd think there would be investigations or mutinies, or is Captain Kirk some kind of charismatic supervillain who has the crew under his thrall so they don't notice these problems and live only to serve him? How does a captain maintain so much loyalty from his crew that they won't leave his command even to further their careers in spite of the fact that so many of his crew are treated as expendable and so many awful things happen to them?

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