Friday, August 26, 2011

Wrapping Up The Summer of Khan!

"Have you ever read Milton, Captain?"
--Khan to Kirk, "Space Seed".
(Warning: Very long blog post ahead)

There are so many reasons why I chose this summer to be Summer of Khan. I believe it started with acquiring a new book...That's how it usually happens any way.

In fact, that is how I shall choose to end The Summer of Khan.

One excruciatingly hot day in the sleepy little cold-call-sales capitol of the world (San Antonio) I picked up a copy of The Eugencis Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh. It took significantly longer than planned to finish the series, considering I had to wait two weeks for the third volume to arrive, then read it, and--unhappily--it took even longer to blog about it, as I sent the trilogy south for my co-worker and good friend to borrow, attached to an address for him to return them. My policy has always been to spread the nerd around.

The series ended in tragedy, as it happens. Not only did I already know how the story would end, the fact that Khan proved to be the megalomaniacal tyrant he was portrayed to be in Wrath of Khan did not exactly give me any hope for the future, nor did knowing that his entire race was doomed from the beginning. What did give me cause to hope was that Captain Kirk, despite whatever Khan might have believed, would have been unable to prevent the disaster on Ceti Alpha V even if he had known about it, which was an impossibility, since you can't see black holes. Allow me to explain.

To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Sing

Stock photo
I have to admit being slightly disappointed that the story did not pick up en medias res, before the events of Wrath of Khan. I had hoped that Khan's potential as a character would not be colored by the events of the film, nor did the story benefit from being told in a sort of pseudo-epistolary (from journals and records kept by the individuals who's story it is). As such, a great deal of time is spent focusing on Kirk, Spock, and Bones getting trapped on Ceti Alpha V by the remaining genetic outcasts, and not just outcasts, the outcasts of the outcasts. The genetic offspring of several renegade colonists who felt that Khan had worn out his time as their leader had kidnapped Kirk and his men and demanded without mercy that they turn over Khan and the rest of his clan to them to be dealt with. First of all, their captor was about fifteen and hardly any match for Khan, even at a very haggard and weary forty years old (Ricardo Montalban was 61 when the film was made. I somehow doubt a shirt-tailed kid was going to take Khan at any age). Second, I don't know that any of this is important to the story other than to re-enforce the overall theme that genetic tampering with human beings has the potential to be more harmful than good.

The story is told from the third-person limited perspective of Marla McGivers and Khan Noonien Singh. I don't know why so many authors forego the very not-cliched first person for villains. Several amazing authors have proven already that the villain is the most convincing in his own voice (Brian Lumley, Anne Rice, Mary Anne Mitchell, Fred Saberhagen and Gregory McGuire to name a few). I would have paid way more than $20 for that book if Khan had told the story in his own voice. Of course, his private thoughts, were closer to the mark. Also, though I have expounded on the merits of McGiver's character before (See "All the Women that Went Before Part 2" in the July archives), I feel that if we are ultimately going to explore Khan's character in this novel, why we were given both perspectives? If the idea was to watch Khan slowly descend into madness, why was Marla so fundamental? Her character had been given very little attention before (sadly, I would say). She saved Khan, to be sure, but he was doomed anyway, and she died (no real spoiler, that), which only makes the tragedy of the story ten times worse. I can't get over the fact that, witnessed through Khan's eyes, that fact would have struck me as tearful and heart-rending, rather than half-assed (since Kirk was sitting on Marla's tomb reading about it) and transparent. Sorry, Greg Cox, but it made me mad.

Well, we know how the story ends, and Greg Cox does an amazing job of filling in the blanks of what transpired on the sands of Ceti Alpha V that drove Khan to ultimately destroy himself to avenge his people. I'm not saying I could have done it better, but I was very much disappointed with the novel. There were, however, some very distinctly tragic aspects, and causes for hope, that I want to expound upon.

The Demise of Ceti Alpha V

Unbeknownst to the captain of the starship Enterprise, the Ceti Alpha system had been  unstable for probably all of its lifetime. It was not until almost 20 years after Kirk had marooned Khan and his race of genetically enhanced humans on Ceti Alpha V, after the horrible events that had transpired, that a full-scale, or even a small-scale analysis of what happened to the planet could be conducted. Even then it was open to speculation. Spock reasoned--after his resurrection on the Genesis planet and rescue from the Klingons--that Ceti Alpha VI had not just exploded, as Khan had suggested, but rather was pulled apart by the gravitational shift caused by a black hole emerging in the system. If the black hole was large enough to consume the whole planet, it could very easily have caused the earthquakes, atomic winter, drought and death of every living thing on the planet that did not have the human capacity (not to mention several evolutionary jumps forward) of Khan and his cohorts to survive it. Of course, such a hypothesis comes on the coat-tails of slightly more scientific science-fiction in 2005, rather than the necessary but short explanation in 1982.

It makes little difference, however, how exactly the planet had devolved. By the time Kirk was discussing this with Spock, Khan had been dead a year, his atomic particles spread out over the Plutara Nebula where he had activated the Genesis device while trying to kill Kirk, subsequently resulting in Spock's tragic demise, resurrection and rebirth. What made my heart so heavy was that Kirk never got the chance to explain it to Khan, not that that was Kirk's fault (not all of it anyway).

Khan had always been hot-headed, self-serving and arrogant. He was vastly intelligent, an excellent leader and strategist, but he had his mother's maniacal thirst for vengeance, cultivated first by her death at hands of a desperate Gary Seven, then by Kirk's seemingly "childish" unwillingness to give up his ship and his crew to the service of the despot who had fled earth during the Eugenics wars, then simmered on the desert wasteland of Ceti Alpha V. None of this makes for a very reasonable person.

"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."

Even more tragic--though exciting to some scholars--is the fact that Khan identifies himself with Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost. The novel's title, To Reign in Hell is a dead give-away...well for me it was. Khan's character is a superior being expelled by inferior beings. However, no matter what his genetic make-up, Satan and Khan both felt that they were better than those they were brought up around, even if it wasn't true. Gary Seven, Roberta Williams, and James Kirk all proved themselves Khan's betters despite their "inferiority". Satan, though fancying himself God's equal in the epic poem that  nearly got Milton killed, was really no better than any of his kind. The angel Abdiel commented in book vi of the poem, during the insurrection, that Satan was misguided, for he could not hope to be higher than  his kind, even when God had personally placed him so high in his esteem (you will recall that Satan's name in Heaven was Lucifer, "The Light-Bearer", which seemed to be an important role). Khan repeatedly quotes Milton, especially Satan. The title of the novel is taken from a quote from Satan in book I of the poem, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." The quote has lead many to believe that Satan is in fact the hero of paradise lost, but I once had a professor that said, "Any critic that says Satan was the hero never got past book II." I have to agree. Neither Khan nor Satan are the heroes of their respective story. Khan and Satan's expulsions were the results of their own depraved actions. The school of thought that defines Satan as a hero is that Hell was essentially what you make of it. Satan and Khan both built palaces in their prisons (Pandamonium in Hell and New Chandigar on Ceti Alpha V). Both found ways to survive their exiles, but the fact that both characters created their prisons and then decorated it to make it nicer only solidifies the notion that they rule in delusion. Khan was no more in control of his prison than Satan was. Khan's fight for survival, though valiant and well-intended, really meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. The story would have carried more weight, if, like Paradise Lost, it had begun en medias res, with Khan waking up in his camp on Ceti Alpha V the way Satan woke up in Hell, flashing back to how they fell and when.

Tragedy followed Khan wherever he went. Khan is not the first, nor the last, neutrally bad or good character that has ever just needed a hug. Drizzt Do'Urden, Joey Garza (Streets of Laredo), Nephran Malinari (Necroscope, though being sexy had something to do with that), Radu Vladislas and Saberhagen's Dracula are several I can name off the top of my head that I might have said to them, "Awww, what you really need is a hug...if you could just put down that sword/knife/gun/gauntlet..." Marla tried to protect his sanity, and even succeeded for a time, but by the time we meet Khan in WoK, he is beyond help, and though attempts were made to reason with him (poor Chekov), I do not feel that every possible attempt to restrain and reason with Khan was made. Kirk told lies and deceived Khan even when it wasn't necessary. People feared Khan, and rightly so, but that fear and mutual hatred only fueled an even greater blindness to Khan's very much justified anger. Kirk was ultimately responsible for keeping tabs on Khan. Kirk failed. In the novel, Kirk even admits it. Good. Carry that with you for the rest of your life. Absolving Kirk of that failure would only cheapen Khan's anger, which Cox is careful not to do.

Hope in a Sea of Despair

What gave me further cause for hope was the fact that the colonists of Ceti Alpha V were able to produce children, though those children were the products of genetic tampering. Each and everyone of the children produced, no matter the genetic nationality of the parents, were blond-haired and blue-eyed, a fact that did not fail to impress itself on Khan and his historian wife, Marla McGivers. It did not surprise them that what was meant to be a superior race of humans had become essentially "Aryan". As part of the sub-plot of the second Eugenics Wars novel, the children, after Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are stranded on Ceti Alpha V are convinced of Khan's death--through more deceit--and return with the curtailed crew of Enterprise to the colony of genetically enhanced humans on the planet Sycorax, which has just been denied admittance into the Federation. There, the universe could go on blissfully unaware of Kirk's mistake (to put it bluntly), and the colonist children would be monitored and raised by others who understood them. A happy ending, the fact that Kirk gets to forget, yet again, that he might have prevented all of it had he not been so hot-headed and arrogant himself twenty years past.

Wrapping it Up

Though I have harsh criticism, I nevertheless enjoyed the final chapter in Khan's life. There was, as was the case with the other two novels, a sense of enlightenment and, after the events of WoK, a sense of closure. Marla McGivers Singh's ashes were scattered in the wake of the Genesis planet, finally laid to rest with her husband. Now that got me choked up. If Kirk did one good thing in all of this, it was admit that two people had come together in all of this and that their union was stronger than any Kirk had known. The end of the novel was bittersweet: Khan's reign of terror was dead, but he was at peace--at least we hope so. Spock, though lost to Khan's wrath briefly, had been restored. Khan's followers and their children had been placed under careful diligence. All was right with the universe, and though there were wrongs committed on both sides that could never be taken back, at least they had been accounted for and reckoned with. Khan and Kirk were even, at least on the score of what had been lost (as you will recall, Khan died creating the Genesis planet, which in turn claimed Kirk's son David on a Klingon blade). Over all, I feel like my summer was complete having read these novels, and though the events Khan and Kirk set in motion had ended, the book I just bought brings the past back into clear focus as Captain Picard must deal with the aftermath in Star Trek The Next Generation: Genesis Wave.

Franchises that never die...for the win.

In Response to Google Searches 2

Anyone familiar with Blogger can track their page views based on what kind of search is being run that brings up the blog site on Google's search engine (thanks Google! *thumbs up, tongue out*). First of all, thanks to everyone who comes along to check out my little blog now situated north of the river in fabulous Austin, Texas.

A Blast of Gormenghast from the Past!

Stock photo from
The Overlook Press
Blogger has shown me, through its hideous third eye, that people have been searching Gormenghast lately. Well, do I have news for you guys! And there was no way this could have waited until the Ninth Day of the Month!

In June, released a notice in part of their "Fiction Affliction" blog foretelling the release of Maeve Gilmore's publication of "the lost book of Gormenghast" based off of a fragment of her late husband, Mervyn Peake's famous novel trilogy. Titus Awakes has fallen into my unemployed hands. The novel was published July 9, in honor of Peake's centenary birthday (alongside the release of Michael Moorcock's The Sunday Book). The story picks up en medias res of the plot of the first novel and includes all of our favorite characters: Steerpike, Fuscia, and Dr. Prunesquallor. Who's looking forward to Dr-Freakin'-Prunesquallor?

*Cough* A-hem, in any case, my reading list for the summer still includes a Jane Austen novel, so I am likely not getting to Titus Awakes until September. Fortunately, summer in Texas usually extends into September (sometimes even October). I look forward to reading and reviewing the novel for my reader's pleasure. Keep your eyes peeled for white rooks and your ear to the Stones.

Doctor Who Season Six Continued!

Excitement abounds as we look forward to the next half of Doctor Who season six. Many Google searches have been turning up my blog, as well as original screen shots for your viewing pleasure. For a full statement regarding Doctor Who see my post "Doctor Who Eve, like Christmas, and Bigger on the Inside!"

The Squealing Nerd!

Thanks to everyone who keeps coming back to The Squealing Nerd. Many, many more Google searches are turning up my blog by name, and I have you, my readers to thank for that!

Keep checking back. As the summer comes to a close, you never know what is going to happen that makes this nerd squeal.

Doctor Who Eve, like Christmas, and Bigger on the Inside!

I recall looking forward to the summer break after "A Good Man Goes to War" with tears in my eyes. That's right, a whole two months between parts one and two of Doctor Who season six. This season of the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor has been harrowing and upsetting, with so many twists and turns in the plot and with amazing minds behind the scenes, such as genius Stephen Moffat, Matthew Grahame and personal hero Neil Gaiman ("The Doctor's Wife"). In addition to amazing writers, we also have the fabulously outlandish Doctor in Matt Smith, favored among Doctor incarnations. Throw Amy and Rory into the mix, toss in their baby--which is actually a Flesh copy of the real baby stolen by Kovarian--who is actually the Doctor's backward time travelling lover, River Song, pirates, aliens, The Silence and then start calling the Tardis "sexy" and you have only just scratched the surface of one of the most poignant and talked-about television series in the United States and the United Kingdom. Time to gear up for the next half of season six!

Doctor Who Eve: Like Christmas, only cheaper and no lines.

We left off in June with "A Good Man Goes to War", the blog review of which can be found in my June archive. The Doctor left his two companions and River and took off across the universe in search of their baby, Melody Pond (whom the Gamma people have named River Song). Confused yet? Neither am I. Because we haven't yet laid down the law about whether or not the Tardis is the impetus behind the dynamic screen writing or a catch-all designed to use time-travel as a plot device, it is hard to be confused. Just because River happens to be standing right there when the Doctor takes off to search for her does not mean he is off to search for the time-traveler that is River. The fact that so little of River is known can now be explored because she can be evaluated only in the present. Also, we should not forget that the first two episodes of season six involve the girl that we now know to be Amy and Rory's child, which, if the time-traveler plot should be believed, River should have known all along to be herself. Since River was investigating the child as well, we can only assume that River is not even that many steps ahead of the Doctor. The Doctor travels forward in time, while River travels backward. It could be that her own past remains largely unknown to her. There is so much potential in the coming episodes that excitement can hardly be contained. I know, you can't see me, but I can assure you, I'm excited!

If anyone should wonder why I don't immediately launch into a spoiler-filled Doctor Who Eve "Lets Kill Hitler" pre-evaluation its because I, like the rest of the world, enjoy surprise and don't like to be bogged down in the fan-page plot-killers. Many of you may follow Doctor Who news from the BBC (or have liked that page on Facebook and receive constant updates that must habitually be ignored for the sake of context). It would be unfair of me to continue talking about an episode we haven't even seen yet. However, I will  offer this tiny tidbit for contemplation: why, in the history of the known and re-defined universe hasn't anyone who had the means tried to go back in time and kill Hitler? Tomorrow night, well find out. And for anyone wishing to watch sneak-previews, get the low-down on the Doctor's companions, or need more fun ways to enjoy the Eve of Doctor Who, is doing a special on Amy Pond and has been running Doctor Who blogs and interesting side-bar additions all week (check out the Tardis corset) as well as previous season and Doctor incarnation re-watches. Enjoy.

"Yes, yes bigger on the inside!"

I like to think that  my Doctor Who blogs offer just a bit more than a plot synopsis and some cool pictures (which I would like to remind my Google AdSense reviewers and other interested parties, are usually all my own screen-shots, and those that I did not take myself are usually referenced in the captions). For those readers who are only just joining The Squealing Nerd, I'll recap.

Basically, my DW blog is boiled down into the major sections: I try to introduce the episode with a memorable quote, then explain the reasons why this particular episode left me feeling the way it did. Next comes a brief but detailed plot synopsis. After that, because I am a writer myself, I like to explore the writing of the episode a bit and discuss interesting plot twists, the fictional timeline (important since it often changes) and awesome quotes. I try to only speculate about the episode and episodes that came before it as reference, since a lot can be said about an episode that is essentially heresay (like when everyone thought the kid in "The Impossible Astronaut" was Amy and the Doctor's. I don't do fan-girl gossip). I usually wrap up after that, unless I'm doing a Double Whammy or something else interesting comes up. 

As you can see, I have chosen to monetize the blog (see "A Werd From the Nerd: The Decision to Monetize"). I did not undertake this lightly. I would much rather not use advertising to pay for the blog. I have attempted, and will attempt again, to start a campaign to earn income to increase blog accuracy and timeliness by getting cable television, which is not cheap no matter where you live. A donate button can be found at the bottom of each episode review and at the bottom of all prior episode reviews. Anyone wishing to donate to the Doctor Who Cable Television fund is more than welcome to, and I thank you. The proceeds will only benefit my readers, as my blog is often late because I have to find a legitimate way to view the episode. 

I look forward to watching and reviewing the next half of season six. I encourage everyone who has a Gmail account to post comments on the reviews to further discussion. Thanks to all of my readers, and I hope you will all join me tomorrow night to watch Doctor Who season six episode eight, "Lets Kill Hitler".

The Doctor is a time lord of Gallifrey who has traveled for over nine hundred years across the universe in a sentient time-traveling box, the Tardis, adventuring in many incarnations and with many companions. Tensions have been high all season, but none so high as when the Doctor sets off to search for Amy and Rory's baby. Will he find her? Will our questions be answered? The mystery continues tomorrow night on BBCA.  

The Doctor Who Cable Television Fund

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Werd From the Nerd: The Decision to Monetize

I thought it only fair to explain myself before proceeding. I have been entertaining the idea of monetizing the blog for quite some time. Through serious deliberation and a number of personal and Facebook polls, I have decided to go ahead and monetize the blog through my Google Adsense account.

My first attempt to generate even the slightest amount of income that might benefit the blog and enhance its content came in the form of Paypal donations for the Doctor Who episode reviews. Even after I knew I would have no takers I continued making the donation button available for anyone who wished to donate to my cause, which was acquiring funds to buy a subscription for legitimate cable television. If anyone should still wish (and I mean this in the best possible way) to donate to that particular cause, you have only but to go to any of my Doctor Who review posts to relay your assistance. I also tried reaching out as a contractor, only to find that anyone willing to use my basic services was unwilling to pay for it. Sad, but someone is always trying to get something for nothing.

The reasons for taking this next step forward in the life of The Squealing Nerd are manifold. On the one hand I can continue to try and visit shows, go to concerts and see movies on my own money. However, I have been out of a job for almost two weeks. However, without any income, I cannot afford to continue reviewing anything out of my own pocket, nor can we afford the cable television subscription that would bring us Doctor Who. This means no more tattoo expos (or tattoos for that matter), no more movies, no concerts someone does not pay my way for (such as tonight at The Happy Campers) unless I find some way to gather income that would enable me to produce content. On the other hand, I could monetize the blog and use that income continue funding my content-generating hobbies. More income means more content, and vice versa.

What prevented me from doing this earlier is that I was in fear of losing loyal readers based on the fact that I would now have clunky adds eating up my free space. However, after much talking, polling and coercing, I discovered that not too many of my acquaintances would be overwhelmed beyond endurance if they saw one or two banner ads on a blog or website. This was reassuring to me, and thus influenced my decision to monetize. For anyone that does not agree, I am sorry, and that I hope a few simple, well-placed ads won't interfere too much, since the majority of the people I asked said they ignore ads anyway.

As always, my readership is hugely important to me. I would not take this step (a step I consider to be very annoying) if I could continue to run this blog on my own income. I will hopefully be able to remove my ads once I have a better situation in life, i.e, a job. Thanks to everyone who keeps coming back to The Squealing Nerd. Keep checking back, as I do have more content coming as I get settled into the weirdest city in the world, Austin, Texas.

The Nerd

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Blizzard's Global Writing Contest: Get Your Geek On!

I believe it is only fair to follow up the latest chapter of "A Warlock's Work" with a word about an event that I have been awaiting each year since 2009 with mixed feeling of embitterment and excitement. Excitement because of what this means for writers all over the world--embitterment because I never win.

The Blizzard Global Writing Contest was announced on Monday. This writing contest is, by virtue of its name, an invitation to Blizzard fans all over the world to submit works of fiction based on the franchise of their choice: Diablo, Warcraft, or Starcraft. I am quite fond of Warcraft, as many of you may know, and so have decided to submit--as if anyone couldn't guess this--a work of fiction based in that realm.

Of course, when I submit, my mind goes from the glimmer of hope offered by having judges read my work to actually winning the competition. From there it is really easy to imagine myself a famous writer being petitioned from all over the country to submit all of my novel ideas, making me rich, famous, and as well known as Neil Gaiman, perhaps even getting invited to his house for tea. Its only logical, therefore, to imagine myself owning Blizzard, and after that, the world itself. Since I have very little in the way of shame, I use this time to give myself the courage to do other things while I still have the gumption to do them without the crushing disappointment of having lost the competition (not even to have been named among the honorable mentions). This year, in attempt to rein in my overreaching sense of worth, I have decided to just be happy that I live in a country where the everyday writer has a chance for judges to read their work. Having been peer reviewed is very important, and how can you win if you don't even try. This is a very important time for me, but it is also important for me to keep my head...Pray for me.

It will come as no surprise to my readers that I have chosen to submit a much truncated and--astoundingly--completed version of "A Warlock's Work is Never Done." At the moment, it is no different in substance than the original except that it is much shorter at 7,200 words (a womping 300 words shy of the limit) and actually has an ending. Of this I am very proud. At its current standing of eight installments, "A Warlock's Work" is uncompleted at 55 pages and over 32,000 words, to which I am adding every day. I feel it only fair to say  here that on the slim--very, very slim--chance that the work is accepted, even as an honorable mention (still very slim) I may be asked to remove "A Warlock's Work" from the blog in order not to detract from Blizzard's ownership of its revised midget cousin. If the work is not accepted, all is not lost, for I will be happy to post it in addition to its fanfic brethren here as soon as I receive word of the actual winner of the contest.

The revised version of "A Warlock's Work" that I will submit next week is called "Zul'Ftagn: The Barrow-Caller". The new title focuses on the Staff itself, which has many epithets including The Staff of Death. I won't give away too many details, but the plot has been broken up into flashbacks, beginning en medias res instead of at the beginning. This, I hope, will focus the story more on Zennith's decent in darkness rather than on the humor which it currently presents as a false facade to a world being torn to pieces from the inside and the outside. I hope you will all join me, as I join all of you, in keeping our fingers crossed that I--or anyone in my acquaintance--is picked as the contest winner.

Zennith Wants You!
Heed Him!
The contest began, as I said, Monday the 15th and will end October 15, 2011. Anyone wishing to submit must have done so by the deadline. I strongly, strongly encourage everyone who hopes to submit to read and re-read the submission guidelines. Blizzard, like any other publishing company, has no time for shinnanigans, and will reject a piece before it even hits the slag piles if it does not follow submission guidelines. They have a lot of submissions to go through. Don't be the guy that gets kicked because you can't follow directions.

For more information and for access to the "submit" button, go to Here at The Squealing Nerd I invite everyone to get their geek on and submit something to the Blizzard Global Writing Contest. Also, for anyone interested in what the first few pages of "Zul'Ftagn" look like right now, visit the June archives of this blog for "A Warlock's Work" Chapter 1. I hope to meet a lot of people on the field of battle...of the slag pile.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The Ninth Day of the Month..."

Happy Ninth Day of the Month!

Well, Happy Tenth Day of the Month, really. As I had said in an earlier post, today, the tenth of August marks the end of The Squealing Nerd's week-long hiatus while we officially make Austin our new base of operations. I would like to thank everyone for their continued patience and rest assured that today is a day of blogging!

As promised, I have a full account of the Ninth Day of the Month, and although I'm sure everyone else was ten times more productive than I was, I am still proud of how I spent my day serving my country's judicial system. Yep, I had jury duty, which ultimately prevented me from posting this yesterday.

I know I have several international readers, so I should probably be more clear. For those of you who know what jury duty is and have had it before, sorry, but this has been a pleasant learning experience and I think can continue to be for others. Bear with me.

I am not sure, nor will I presume to know, what the system for picking jurors for court cases in other countries who also follow the democratic system are or if there is even a stature in place for that. The judicial system has what San Antonio district court number four Judge Sarrah E. Garrahan-Moulder calls a "buffer" between the government and the people. That buffer is the jury selected to serve in each level of court from civil to municipal, to criminal, to federal. The jury selection process is very important because the United States requires (under the protection of the Constitution) that all of those who are on trial for a crime have the right to a fair and impartial judgement by a jury of their peers. Jury selection, therefore, involves a process of weeding out the people for each individual case who cannot or willfully chose not to be fair and impartial in the deliberations of a person's guilt or innocence.

People are not punished by receiving jury duty (even if it feels that way sometimes). You are automatically cast into the lottery to receive jury duty by registering to vote and getting your driver's license. And despite living status, the address on your driver's license indicates in what county you will be serving your jury duty. I received my summons to jury duty in Bexar County even though I technically don't live there anymore. I even asked the judge my that was. Until I change my driver's license to reflect my residence in Travis County, I could technically still be chosen to serve on a federal or municipal jury in San Antonio. Which means driving.

According to the judge, and through my own personal experience, jury duty involves a lot of sitting, standing, sitting, and clock-watching. The potential jurors are called down to the court house early in the morning. I was summoned to the Bexar County courthouse on Dolorosa Street at 8:00 am.

                                                                But not this court house.

This court house, which is right next door to the other one. Apparently the place I got my marriage license is not the place where you serve your jury duty. Also this place has a sushi bar.

I went in, gave my jury summons slip and questionair to the nice bailiff (and the bailiff is always nice) and sat down in a sea of people. I didn't even really get to pick my own seat for an hour.

The judge came in and gave us the cliched spill about how important jury duty is, and for those of us whose first time it is, the whole standing, sitting, getting called, getting canceled on and the like. The likelihood, she said, of getting picked to a jury panel, and then possibly a jury, is high. Actually having to serve on the jury is another matter. Any number of things can cause a court to cancel, the most common of which is the defendant suddenly deciding to settle out of court (in a civil case) or plead out (which usually means a criminal case of any degree in which a guilty plea may procure a reduced sentence). The last time my husband was on a jury panel, the councilors had not even chosen their jurors before the defendant got wind of it and crapped himself, promptly taking a plea bargain. Some of the more cocky defendants, especially in criminal cases, are actually intimidated by the prospect of facing a jury, knowing that a jury is capable of being convinced of his or her guilt. Suddenly, that reduced sentence or fine starts to sound really tempting when faced with extended jail time. However, since the judge had to have been keenly aware that, given the nature of shows like Law and Order and the recent media coverage of Casey Anthony, she felt compelled to remind us that dramatic nineteen part criminal cases are few and far between, and that we would not likely be handling any case that could not be deliberated more than a few days. I am not sure, but a better part of the jury pool was relieved.

In my service, they did not even start picking panels until well after ten a.m. The bailiffs and clerks have to wait until they get the go-ahead from the councilors and judge before they decide whether or not trail, and a jury, will be necessary. That means we sit and wait until they call each panel. Before eleven o'clock I managed to escape three chopping blocks, a panel of 40, 60 and 65 respectively.

We took lunch at 11:30 and came back two hours later. Rather than risk my life at the court house sushi bar, I ran to Sushi Zushi around the corner, where I exercised by scanty Japanese language skills and ate a Bento lunch special. On the way, I stopped to marvel at some of the less familiar scenery of downtown San Antonio around the court house. I had rarely been there, and since I was not likely to visit there again, I felt compelled to take a journalistic approach to some of San Antonio's historic nostalgia.

El Jalisco on Market Street. There are apartments for rent above it.

The Market Street entrance to the court house. The fountain and hotel
are particularly pretty. The motel also has apartments for rent. 
Is that not a fair prospect of San Fernando's Cathedral?
We re-convened after lunch. It took them another hour to figure out that three courts had cancelled for the day, but that an equal number still required rather large panels. As the last of them were winding down, and as my name still remained un-called, I started to believe that I might have been in the clear. At three o'clock, as we were getting ready to go home, the final court called my name as number eight on its panel. I sighed and followed the bailiff up to the second floor. We were seated before our district judge and were given the run-down. I was to sit on the panel of potential jurors for a criminal DWI case.

Great. So much for a learning experience.

I was actually rather excited. In my short stint as a contract editor for Bill Clanton, attorney at law, I had edited his DWI defense manuscript. Which meant I was uncannily familiar with DWI law (defensive driving helped). The Defense and the State asked us questions about our comfort with the subject matter and our ability to follow the law. Essentially, all defendants are innocent until proven guilty (and a Freudian slip by the judge almost rendered that age-old law obsolete--scared the doo-doo out of the defendant too). The burden of evidence falls on the State, not the defendant. It is the State's job, not the defendant's, to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a term which is entirely relative (like fair-use). Again we were reminded that we were not on TV and that a plethora of different DNA and witness testimony was not necessary for our case, and that we could not force the defendant to give his side of the story (which is covered under the fifth amendment of the Bill of Rights).

Unfortunately, just like the time before, the Defense pegged me as the Hermione Granger of the bunch. Its pretty sad when the average juror can define where it states in the law that it is not illegal to drink and drive, but that it is illegal to drive while intoxicated, then define "intoxicated" off the top of her head. Both the State and the Defense immediately marked me in their heads as a scratch-off. I could see it in the State attorney's eye. She knows too much. The State, nor the Defense, want anyone on the jury that already knows the law and will not be easily swayed. Such a juror may draw their own conclusion from the evidence presented and ignore comments from council. I thought the key to getting on the jury was exhibiting good common sense and a solid education in our rights as citizens. I thought they were looking for the Spocks among the Kirks. Logic and reason would make a fair and impartial juror. Boy was I wrong. Though I might be able to make more educated decisions and draw conclusions, I was unwanted because they were looking for neither Spock nor Kirk. What they wanted were the guys in the red shirts that die at the end of the episode. Such jurors are less sound in their own convictions and are more likely to take councilor comments seriously. It also does not help that I was able to pinpoint no fewer than three different devices used in the average rhetorical argument by both the Defense and the State. The two they used the most were the anecdote and the appeal to pathos, or emotion, to weed out those who feel resentment or anger towards cops or people who drink and drive. 

So one might be able to imagine my chagrin and disappointment that I was not chosen for the jury. I was irritated beyond expression. How could someone as educated and logical as I be "unqualified" to decide the guilt or innocence of a man based only on the evidence provided by the State, not on the way it is spun by the councilors? Simply put, I'm a risky juror. I know too much. I can decide for myself. I am logical. Unfortunately, the judicial system has no place for me. I was incensed enough that I contemplated filing a complaint and forcing the State to add me to a jury. However, that is hardly worth anyone's time. And though it might sound arrogant of me, I feel sorry for the defendant, who I feel got screwed out of a good juror. Also, I feel bad for the State, for now that they made sure no one on the jury is well-versed in the law, they screw themselves on a criminal case, which despite being a misdemeanor, still might have involved a truly guilty defendant who might be a danger to himself or others later on in the future. Of course, I know for next time to keep my stupid mouth shut. Since I did not make it to trial, I will never know how it turned out. I know one thing for sure, and that is that I might have done some good.

I also would have made $80 in two days, and I'm unemployed.

And so my Ninth Day of the Month was spent freezing my ass off at the court house only to be disqualified as a juror based on the councilors' bias towards intelligence. Could have been worse. Could have been at work. Haha! So my readers, I hope you had a great Ninth Day. See you next month!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Werd From The Nerd: What's Happenin' Austin?

Well, folks and Internet savvy cow pokes, The Squealing Nerd's time in San Antonio is drawing to a close. As I may have stated in earlier blog posts, I have been actively seeking employment in Austin, Texas for the past several  months, and despite recent failure (which I take and don't take personally in turns), I am still Hell-bent-for-leather to get to next Monday!

"So, Ashley, what does that mean for the blog?"

My humble but able blog will probably be going on hiatus for a week until we can get everything sorted out between living spaces. I will try to get a new chapter of "Warlock's Work" up before we depart. However, I also wanted to say a few more things regarding my other monthly and weekly blogs before signing off.

"The Ninth Day of the Month..."

This blog will probably be a day late, as I have to be back in San Antonio for jury duty. I will be stuck in the freezing meat locker they call the Bexar County Courthouse all day, with only my books to keep me warm. Fortunately, this will give me ample time to read and review Moorcock's latest masterpiece, which I have been looking through and reading, though I haven't had time to write the review. Thanks to the judicial system, I now have that chance. Thanks San Antonio for giving me jury duty!

"A Warlock's Work"

"A Warlock's Work" is quickly approaching a climax, though I'm not sure when. It came to my attention, as I was re-reading it, that my last chapter was really more draft-like than I would have considered print-worthy. I will be making changes to that chapter and republishing it in the same archive it is currently in. A new chapter is also quickly wending its way to the Internets. It will more than likely be coming late, possibly next week, as this is my last week at Papouli's and so therefore am obliged to work double shifts. I am overworked, and as of Sunday, unemployed. On the bright side, I should have plenty of time to write after we get to Austin.

Other News

I was going to do a blog celebrating my last days at Papouli's. Unfortunately, between packing and moving, I will also be working (not that I mind), so whatever time I'm not spending at the Paps will be spent doing the other two things necessary to secure a new situation in Austin. Also, I have been informed by Happy Campers lead vocalist Ken Burchenal that their website will be available sometime this week if all goes well. I will be on hand to help with implementation in case stuff starts to get screwy. It always does, you know. Also, the Happy Campers will be at The Poodle Dog Lounge in Austin, Texas August 19. The show usually starts after nine. Poodle Dog is a pretty laid back little dive bar, so plenty of drink and good music for all.

I'm really excited about moving to Austin, and as I get closer to the intellectual hub of Texas (it aint big but its all we got), new surprises are in store for The Squealing Nerd, as I hope to expand to include more writers. with readership expanding to new places and people every day, one person could not hope to keep up with my agenda. Hell, I can't even keep up with my own agenda. New writers will mean new weekly additions, new fiction and more nerds!

Also, new readers can check out previous and currently running chapters of "A Warlock's Work".

So, thanks for reading everyone, and I hope to see all my usual peeps back here next week starting on the Ninth. Have a great week!

And that's just one room of my exploding apartment!