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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Star Trek Voyager, "Barge of the Dead" (***)
by Ronald D. Moore and Bryan Fuller
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Ratings
Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Star Trek: Voyager B'Elanna Torres gets hit over the head and finds herself on the Barge of the Dead, the ceremonial vessel of the Klingon underworld.

An entertaining episode, provided you check your brain at the door when you go in. It is worth watching just to see Tuvok handle a Bat'leth -- better than any Klingon.

If, on the other hand, you stop to think, then there are three explanations for what is really going on, and the episode as filmed does not choose between them.

1. The scientific explanation.
B'Elanna gets hit over the head, and the whole episode is a hallucination, which allows her to finally accept her rejection of her Klingon half. The only trouble with this is that, as far as my understanding of current psychiatric theory goes, blows to the head seldom result in deep personal insights.

2. The religious explanation.
The Klingon religion is true, and the Klingon afterlife, along with the Barge of the Dead, really exist. This is the most plausible of the three explanations, given what we see in this episode. The only problem is that the Klingon religion, like most religions, proclaims itself to be the One True Religion, so if the Klingon religion is True, all other religions are necessarily false.

3. The new age explanation.
The Klingon religion is true, but so are all the other religions, because truth is relative. In other words, when the Klingons say their religion is the only true religion, they are right, and when the other religions say that they are the only true religion, they are right, too. And I am right and you are right and everything is quite correct. Such mush-headed thinking I refuse to accept.

So, we had better go with the explanation that this episode establishes that in the Star Trek Universe, the Klingon religion is the One True Religion, and move on.

Harsh Realm, "Pilot" (***)
written by Chris Carter

Harsh Realm Welcome to The Matrix, ah, sorry, Harsh Realm, where everything that looks real is just a computer induced illusion while our bodies lie on a slab. In film, this idea goes back to Tron (***), and has been overdone of late.

In Harsh Realm there is the usual inability on the part of the characters to resist feeling sentimental about virtual people who they know perfectly well have no existence outside of a computer program. This shows about as much maturity as feeling grief every time Lara Croft gets killed.

The virtues of Harsh Realm are, first, a lot of action, and second, enough complications to make the story more interesting than your average virtual reality story. It also features Chris Carter's speciality, lots of Unanswered Questions.

The biggest problem, aside from the inability of the characters to treat computer constructs like computer constructs rather than like the people they represent, is that nothing makes any sense.

spoiler warning

As the story develops, we discover that a villain named Santiago has taken over Harsh Realm, a virtual reality training program inside an Army computer. The army therefore sends large numbers of soldiers into the virtual reality to fight Santiago -- but not a large enough number and not well enough armed for them to win. If they die in virtual reality, their bodies die, too. They can't just attack Santiago's body because he is jacking into the program from some unknown location.

What is wrong with this picture?

In the first place, why not just unplug the computer. That would wipe the Santiago program and they could start fresh. Well, maybe they have spent so much money on this computer simulation that it is worth sacrificing the lives of a few hundred soldiers to avoid erasing the program. What, they don't have a backup? Well, maybe they were too stupid to back up the program before running it. Then why not cut all external connections to the computer so Santiago can't jack in from outside. Well, maybe the program depends on continuous satellite feed. After all, you and I and everyone else on earth are there in the program. Then they have the option of ignoring Santiago. He has, after all, only taken over a small piece of virtual land. They can run their training program somewhere else, and let Santiago play around with his little bit of virtual reality all he wants. Well, maybe they can't stand this, because Santiago is a Bad Man, like Saddam Hussein, and the U.S. Army can't let a Bad Man go unpunished. Well, how do we know Santiago is a Bad Man? Because he mistreats women. But the women he mistreats are just computer simulations of women. They aren't real. Is it bad to mistreat a computer simulation?

Sigh. There are certainly a lot of questions that need to be answered, and I will probably tune in next week to see if Chris Carter has any answers.

Copyright © 1999 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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