Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Star Trek: Discovery

As many of you know, I am a life long Trekkie, yes, I said Trekkie, not Trekker. I consider Trekker to be pretentious, I don’t care if people don’t take me seriously or not, so my preference is Trekkie. I have seen every episode of every Star Trek series multiple times. Even the much panned Enterprise and Voyager shows were better than 90% of everything that has ever been on TV. I have also seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan more times than i can count. It should come to no surprise that I took time out of my vacation to watch the first two episodes of the new series.

So what did i think, well I liked it, I thought it was very Trek. The opening scene on the desert planet, was very Trek, Burnham’s space walk is very reminiscent of Spock’s in The Motion Picture, the plot, “A Federation ship finds a Klingon sacred burial ground in Federation space.” has a very Trek like moral dilemma to it. Setting aside the new look for the Klingon’s, I like the new added depth, we now get to see their spiritual side, the Torchbearer standing guard on the outside of the ship with a pike was just awesome.

What I did not like was the acting was a bit wooden, which I can live with, after all the first half of season one of The Next Generation was pretty awful. I was also not a big fan of this being an origin story for Burnham, I would have preferred we get straight to it. I was also not a big fan of Burnham being Spock’s foster sister, they could have done the whole “Raised by Vulcans” without ever involving Sarek.

Things I got over and so should you; This is more of a sequel to Star Trek: Enterprise then it is a prequel to The Original Series. So there are no 60’s style turtleneck shirts and the sets have a more modern style to them. The Original Series was its core was cheap 60’s Sci-Fi television, building sets based on those designs would be very silly and very bad. Yes, the Klingon make up is different, but the make up is pretty good and helps set this show apart from those that went before it.

So far, so good, I plan to watch the rest of the season, as with everything in my life, my hopes are high and my standards are low.

What buttons does this press?

Answer, ALL OF THEM!

RE: Treasure Con, Billings Montana, 1983 to 1985

After the last post reminded me of TreasureCon again, I decided to do a run on Google, to see is anything new had popped up since the last time. This is apparently pages from The Retort, a newspaper published by what is now Montana State University, but back then it was Eastern Montana College.

Spring Cleaning

I have been on vacation all week and I spent most of that time doing some long needed spring cleaning. While throwing out old furniture and giving away books by the box, I came across these;

These two drawings were done for PezWitch by Phil Foglio at Treasure Con III in Billings Montana in 1985.

Review: Black Mirror

I just finished watching the first two episodes of Black Mirror. This is some seriously dark shit. If you are depressed or thinking about suicide, do not watch this show. The writers of this show are literally holding a mirror up to our modern society and showing us the worst aspects of ourselves. These guys are not showing us a dystopian future, they are showing us as we are living now. Certainly they are taking things to extremes and certainly they are putting a science fiction vainer on it, but it is none the less our modern society with the nice facade stripped away.

Holiday season random thoughts

It is the last day of my vacation, it is also the last of my vacation days for the year, there is really just a couple of short weeks between now and my vacation day reset, so life is good. I have not been posting much lately and that will likely not change anytime soon. So here are some things that have been on my mind.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: We played 4 games of this culminating into my year Christmas game. My original review of it can be found here, and not much has really changed in my opinion. I think it is a respectable game and a decent D&D edition. In actual play, there were some rough spots, but again, I suspect that had more to do with Roll20.net than it did with the actual rules. Overall, I like the game, but the real problem is, I don’t love it.

Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Once again, the movie was not bad, it was a bit of a remake of Star Wars – The New Hope, on the other hand it did not damage the franchise in terms of anything being truly bad. The real problem of course is, it also did not bring anything new to the table. My hope is, this movie is simply laying the ground work for the next movie, which I hope is not just good, but GREAT! What I hope is that people don’t look for reasons to hate the movie and just take it for what it is.

Companions of Xarth Wiki: The CoX wiki is a bit of a mess, it has grown very organically from a few simple webpages. The problem with any knowledge base grown in this manner, is it tends to be an exercise in chaos. There is not much organization, some of the material is outdated, incorrect or flat out useless. One of the things I want to do this next year is scrap the wiki as it exists today and build it back up into a more useful tool. I have transferred about 80% of the information on the wiki to my desktop wiki program, Zim. My plan is to weed out all the useless stuff, update the things that need updating and organize it better.

GURPS Cyberpunk: While I was planning this campaign, I came across an old article I had read many years ago in the Roleplayer, a now defunct newsletter published by Steve Jackson Games. The article entitled Prime Time Roleplaying laid out a format for producing game sessions to mimic TV series. This seemed like a really good way to run the game I am planning to run. I said from the beginning, this would mimic Burn Notice in many ways. My idea is, each episode will be roughly 3 games, each game being a single act within the episode. From the article;

Act I introduces the villain’s crime fully, and gets the PCs involved. It climaxes in a minor confrontation with the villain or his henchmen when one of the PCs gets too close. This confrontation, which will often take an impersonal form – a bomb in an apartment, a car chase, a sniper – should put the PCs on the right trail.

Act II centers on the PCs’ investigations, as they put together the pieces of the puzzle that lead to the villain. By the climax of the second act, the investigators should be fairly confident of whodunnit; the tension in this act comes from the need to catch the villain before he gets away or strikes again.

Act III brings the PCs into direct confrontation with the villain, climaxing in – we hope – the miscreant’s downfall. Following Act III is the epilogue, which wraps up loose subplots and clears the stage for next week’s episode.

This was a good article, when it was published in 1988, it has withstood the test of time, and yes, I still have my original copy.

More genre conventions in the old home town

So apparently my home town of Billings Montana is not having just ONE!, but TWO! Sci Fi/Fantasy/Comic convention this summer. Alternacon was July 10th to the 12th, now apparently we also have FantasyCon taking place August 21st to the 23rd. I am a bit surprised by this, I mean 30 years and NOTHING, now suddenly two in a single summer. Seems like there was pent up need for this sort of thing.

https://www.facebook.com/TragicCityAlternaCon

https://www.facebook.com/MagicCityFantasyCon

As a side note, GenCon was this weekend and as every year, my Twitter feed fills up with people having way more fun than I am. Sadly, I think I will have to wait until retirement to go, not only does this suck a week of your life away, there is no way to do GenCon on the cheap, it is going to be expensive no matter what you do.

Two very different books

I have read two books in the last two weeks, both of them, I think come from the same place in the authors psyche, but with very different results. The two books are “The Chronicles of Benjamin Jamison: Call Sign Reaper” by Thomas Wright and “Armada” by Ernest Cline. This is more of an observation than a review of either of these books, although I will probably write a full review of Armada at some point. Both of these books are nerd teenage boy fantasy books. Both of them reflect a desire to have something interesting happen and be the hero. Quite frankly, I had both of these fantasies when I was 14 years old.

Call Sign Reaper is a story driven by pure testosterone, from the opening scene where the protagonist beats up 5 guys in bar, through the katana fights, the sexual submission of the female lead, until the final scene where he has assembled his own fleet. The author is really not a bad writer and while I get where this came from, I really had to fight my way through to finish the book, because this is the type of fantasy that should have been outgrown.

Armada is driven more by nostalgia and fond memories of the teenage years. The author is about 10 years younger than I am, so while I was in my 20s during the 80s, he was a teenager. Like his first book “Ready Player One“, Armada I think is a homage to those dorky movies they made during that time, like Real Genius, Weird Science and yes, the Last Star Fighter, which this book barrows heavily from. Even so, it is still at its core, the fantasy of a 14 year old boy.

The key difference between these two books, is Reaper comes off as kind of creepy and not in a good way. It sort of has this “I never got over being bullied in High School, so I am killing surrogates in my book” tone to it. Armada on the other hand is pretty harmless, beckons back to a simpler time and feeds into our love of coming of age stories. One of these is perfectly normal and even healthy, the other is not, if you went to High School with Thomas Wright, you should probably skip your class reunion.

Review: Mr Robot

In theory, I should love this TV show, Mr Robot is a techno thriller borderline Cyberpunk story. It is about the main character raging against the evil mega corporation with plenty of liberal politics slathered in. I do not love this TV show, I do not even like it.

The pacing of this show is terrible, the character development and plot move in extreme slow motion. The show seems to be constantly on the verge of doing something, but never delivers. The music is a plodding strum that does nothing to enhance the experience. Even the parts that are suppose to be fast paced and exciting are nothing of the sort. During episode three, they did threaten the protagonist Elliot with some character development and GASP! even some human emotion, but alas, by the end of the episode he was right back to where he was at the beginning of episode two.

The characters in Mr Robot are even worse than the “FUCKING DO SOMETHING PLEASE!” pace of the show. The primary character is obviously suppose to be emotionally dysfunctional and distant. The problem is the actor, Rami Malek, is not good enough at his craft to pull this off. Instead of getting an interesting character with problems, we get a stone faced idiot staring at the world with dead uncomprehending eyes. With only one exception, every other character is completely boring, two dimensional and the female characters are the worst. The one exception is Christian Slater, who is not a great actor, but when he shares the screen with anybody else, he cannot help but dominate and shine, by virtue of being the only competent actor on the show. The problem is his character Mr Robot is unlikable and generally just a prick who needs to have his ass kicked.

I have watched the three episodes I give every new show that shows promise and this one failed to deliver on almost every level. If you are looking for a great techno thriller watch Person of Interest instead. Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson are good actors who know how to pull off “Emotionally Broken” and still be likable and interesting. The show is fast paced and fun to watch and even the minor characters get their chance to shine and do interesting things.

Hometown SciFi Conventions

It looks like after 30 years my hometown Billings Montana is about to have another Science Fiction Convention. Tragic City Alternacon is taking place July 10th through the 12th. Looking at the schedule, I do not see much gaming going on, even under Tournaments and Contests, there does not seem to be anything specific. The Panel list also does not look terribly interesting either, although admittedly, the 8PM Friday Boobzilla Slideshow sounds like it has some potential, but I suspect it is not what I think it is and would disappoint me. Those of you who live in Billings, I do hope some of you go, because I really hope this is more fun than it looks. TreasureCon I, II and III were all a lot of fun and Billings is big enough that there really is no reason they should not have a small genre convention each year.

5 things I want to see

Star Trek TV series: I know the money is in movies and I know it will take a near act of god to do another Star Trek series, especially in light of how poorly the last two did. However, I’d dearly love to see a good solid Star Trek series hit TV.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow buddy story: Something that has been missing from DC comics for many years is the classic best friend relationship between Hal Jordan and Ollie Queen. In fact I am not pleased with the current Green Arrow at all, he has lost all of the interesting things that give him depth, his relationships. DC writers have eliminated his relationship with Speedy, Black Canary as well as Green Lantern. Of all DC characters, Green Arrow had the best developed relationships of all. I want to see DC bring these relationships back, I want to see GL/GA gallivant around the world saving the day, I want to see hot steamy scenes with Black Canary and I want to see the broken father/son relationship between Ollie and Roy.

A good 250 page Fantasy or Science Fiction  book that is just a fun romp: I hate 700 page books, I especially hate 700 page books filled with dark gritty bullshit. No dark anti hero where the only difference between him and the villain is the body count, living in a world of murder porn. Give me a book about a light hearted hero who is sort of having fun while he saves the world.

16 page D&D Module that takes 3 months to complete: Along with 700 page novels and I hate huge hard back D&D modules that leave very little to the imagination. Really, all I need it an outline, a rough draft if you will and some maps, I will run with it from there.

 A computer that just works: Over the years, some computers have worked better than others, but none of them seem to just work, all of them require some maintenance and general fucking around with. I’d like a computer that just works, no screwing around it just works. The closest thing I have seen so far is a Chromebook, but it is still not quite there.

Treasure Con, Billings Montana, 1983 to 1985

Believe it or not, Billings Montana had its own Science Fiction Convention, Treasure Con, there were three of these conventions before it crashed and burned. Each was nick named after the person organizing it by those who for whatever reason decided there needed to be a nick name. The first was StomperCon, the second was CarolineCon and the third was CowboyCon, the first two I get, the third one I do not, I am sure someone can explain it to me.

tcon_adWhat prompted this is, I was looking through PDF previews of old issues of The Space Gamer and I came across the ad I highlighted to the left. It occurred to me that next year is will be the 30th anniversary of the last Treasure Con. Of course being a middle aged man, this brought with it a wave of nostalgia and fond memories. Treasure Con I is where PezWitch and I reconnected after High School, although that implies we said more than a paragraph of words to each other in High School. By Treasure Con II we were dating pretty heavy, although we were not exclusive at that point. Of course by Treasure Con III we were married and in it for the long haul.

I have to admit, if I (god forbid) still lived in Billings, I would be considering putting on Treasure Con IV on the 30th anniversary week of Treasure Con III. Maybe instead I’ll just start a FaceBook page called “Treasure Con Memories” and see how many people respond and how many people enjoyed it the same way I did. It would be interesting to hear stories, different points of view and reminiscence of a shared experience.

Oh John Ringo, No

I just finished reading Live Free or Die: Troy Rising by John Ringo. I would like to first say, John Ringo is a passably good writer, he can develop a decent plot and has an interesting sense of humor. The big problem with this book is the heavy handed right wing political agenda and Mary Sue central character. Don’t get me wrong, neither of these things is a necessarily a deal breaker, after all I have read and enjoyed the majority of Heinlein’s work. The problem is Heinlein was a better writer and knew how to convey an idea without shoving it down your throat. I was half way through my second reading of Star Ship Troopers before I realized the government of earth was not a real democracy, but rather a military dictatorship, where only those who served in the military were allowed to vote.

The Good: The book has a neat premise and a pretty good plot. I especially love the proto Death Star.

The Bad: Tyler Vernon, the main character, can do no wrong, he is the smartest, richest most excellent man in the universe. he is also boring and two dimensional, there is no other significant characters in the book.

The Ugly: When the aliens attack earth, they use biological weapons designed to kill everyone except blondes and makes blonde women go into heat on a regular basis and capable of multiple birth. Further, when the aliens start bombing from orbit they target all the big cities in blue states, I am pretty sure Dallas and Houston survived the bombing. Essentially, he killed off most of the non-white people in the world, turned all the blonde women into baby making machines and eliminated all the liberal strongholds in the country. Then Tyler Vernon commented while it was really horrible all these people died, it was really a good thing because it would help the economy.

Stories dragging on and on

I don’t really like 800 page books, I especially don’t like 7 book series of 800 page books. Unfortunately, this trend is now affecting Comic Books as well. For some reason the current crop of Comic Book writers have taken to writing stories that develop at glacial speeds. Please, if you can not write a Comic Book story in 3 issues, 4 at the outside, give it up, you are in the wrong business. For example, DC’s current crossover event Forever Evil is by itself a 6 issue mini series, now add in the three other 6 issue mini series that tie into Forever Evil and both Justice League and Justice League of America are tying in as well. That is 36 issues over 6 month period for this story line, we are barely 4 months in and I want it to be over with already, no more navel gazing Lex Luthor.

Forever Evil is not the only story line dragging. Both Earth 2 and Worlds Finest are killing me as well. Earth 2 is currently in a story line about the re-invasion of earth by Darkseid, okay, fine and dandy, this could have been done in 4 issues, The Legion of Superheroes did the Darkness Saga in 6 issues, we are currently on issue 12. Worlds Finest is almost as bad, They are currently telling a story about Power Girls abilities going all wonky on her, 2 issues right? We are on issue 6 of this story line and we are about to cross over to Batman/Superman. Please make it stop.

Two Reviews

The Lost Fleet Series by Jack Campbell: It normally takes me seven to ten days to read a book, I know, I know, I am a fairly slow reader. However, I have plowed through the first three books of this series in the last week. Campbell builds an interesting universe where humanity has been engaged in a galactic war with itself for more than a century and due to staggering losses, the war has degenerated into horrible stale mate with the two sides throwing cheap ships with raw crews at each other in near one for one exchanges. The main character John “Black Jack” Geary is an interesting characterization of a man out of time. Although some times it feels like a cross between between Andromeda and Idiocracy, over all it is an excellent read.

Legion of SuperHeroes/Star Trek crossover: When this first came out, I avoided it like the plague, I figured there was no way this was going end well. So by the time the 3rd issue was out, I started reading some reviews of it saying it was turning out pretty good. So I went to my friendly neighborhood comic shop and picked up the first three issues. All I can say about this is, it really sucks ass far worse than I originally thought. Whoever thought this was a good idea needs to fired from IDW and DC Comics. Seriously, I knew who the villain was by page twelve of issue 1, the plot is not only predicable, it is BORING and predictable. The characterizations of the Legion is completely two dimensional and the Enterprise crew is presented in extremely cliched manner and is almost a parody. Please do not waste your money on this crap.

RIP: Anne McCaffrey, 1 April 1926 – 21 November 2011

This last week Anne McCaffrey, author of the Dragon Riders Pern, died. While she was not my favorite writer, I have read much of her work, and she writes in that light, fun sort of way that new writers don’t seem capable of. I suggest everyone dig out their copy and re-read Dragonflight next week.

Cyberpunk RPG

This totally theoretical. I am thinking a game in the cyberpunk genre that capitalizes on the fact that we play online. We are in fact a small group of people in different locations, with varying jobs, responsibilities and resources. So picture this, the game is about a group of near future techno peasants, who in real life are your basic run of the mill losers and corporate drones, but that part of their lives is not relevant to the game. What is important, is online they are a powerful people who influence the cyber world. Perhaps they are a gang of hackers, maybe they are a guild in an online game or they run some sort of legitimate business.

The game would be played in real time, meaning, their real lives keep them from meeting except for a few hours every Friday night and all other communications are done through a forum, email or social network through out the rest of the week. The game would be as much about what they could do individually as well as a group. This game would be the hardest on the GM who would have to deal with actions on nights and at times other than the regular game night, but even the other players would have to be diligent about reading their email and interacting in a meaningful way.

The other interesting question about such a game is what system to use. It would not be terribly necessary to define the actual characters but rather the hardware they are using and how it interacts with the cyberspace environment. Perhaps grab the cyberdeck designing rules from GURPS Cyberpunk or other genre game and use that as the basis of the game.

Another important feature is how cyberspace itself is defined and perceived. Is it simply an extension of the current Internet with some fancy new interface gear or is it a fully immersed environment in neuro interfaces plugged directly into the brain. Is the environment completely “Cyberpunk” and looks like Tron where data centers look like huge glowing dystopian fortresses or is it a game similar to World of Warcraft that grew beyond its original purpose where the same data centers may look like deep dungeons built into a tall mountain.

Hmmm, maybe next year.

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a rags to riches story set in a near future dystopian America. The basis of the story is the world is in extreme decay, human civilization in decline, the only escape most people have from their bleak lives is the OASIS, a huge virtual reality where most people spend their days. When the creator of OASIS dies, he leaves his huge fortune to anyone who can solve his three puzzles. Wade Watts is a poor chubby little boy living in a trailer park who solves the first puzzle and it launches him into the adventure of a lifetime.

Cline writes very well and I really enjoyed his characterizations. I completely understood why Wade Watts was in love with the primary female character Art3mis, because I had a crush on her myself by the middle of the book and Wade Watts was a likeable character who I readily identified with. The book is full of 1980’s nostalgia and trivia because James Halliday, then inventor of OASIS, grew up in the 80’s and his puzzles involved 80’s movies references, video games and music. Because I myself am a child of the 80’s, this made the book all that much more fun to read. This book is the best book I have read all year, it is fast, fun and intelligently written. I highly recommend it to anyone.

Why SteamPunk Sucks

I have never cared for the SteamPunk sub-genre. I have never read a SteamPunk book or comic that was anything more than mildly amusing and even SteamPunk movies don’t really do much for me. For a long time I couldn’t really figure out why, I am a Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror reader. I enjoy most other sub-genres within those categories, so it felt odd that I didn’t really enjoy SteamPunk, especially since I enjoy SteamPunk’s elder cousin CyberPunk a lot.

Recently it dawned on my why, so far everything I have read has the emphasis  on the “Steam” and not the “Punk”. What I mean is they tend to be gee wiz stories talking mostly about clockwork this and steam powered that, descriptions about an idealized Victorian setting. The problem is the Victorian age was not much fun and an idealized form of it is outright boring. The genre, paints a shallow facade of the 19th century where wars are fought by gentleman and no one of any consequence ever dies (except the peasants) and technology is a great fashion accessory but has not solved any real problems.

To any prospering SteamPunk authors out there I would like to explain to you what “Punk” actually means in the cultural sense. Punk is at its core about rebellion, it is about youth rebelling against the oppressive moral values of the older generation, it is rebellion of the poor and disenfranchised against the wealthy elite of society. Punk stories should be about cynical protagonists fighting and carving out a better life for himself against a society that wants him to grow up, accept his place and go back to the ghetto. Punk is about being beaten down and pushed into the sewer, it is dirty, it is gritty, but it is also about getting back up, crawling out of the sewer, screaming “I am not going to take this any more !” and fighting back. If you don’t understand what I am talking about go sit down and listen to everything done by the Romones, the Clash and the Sex Pistols between 1975 and 1980. If after that you still don’t get it, then might I suggest you move on to writing Romantic Fantasy.

The Best Star Trek Episodes

I read The 10 Best Star Trek Episodes article at The Best Article Everyday with some reservations, this sort of thing is way too subjective and many a forum flame wars have been fought over this subject. I do not necessarily agree with all their choices, some of them seem to be stretching it to include one from every series (except Enterprise). However, it is a good try, there are several excellent choices and I 100% agree that Balance of Terror is probably the single best all time episode of Star Trek.

 

Review: Tron – Legacy

Normally I try to add some substance to these reviews, but Tron – Legacy was entirely “Meh”. While it did not suck, it was also not exceptional in any way. Don’t bother buying it unless you already have the original and are a completest of some kind. It is probably worth rotating through Netflix, but honestly, there is no hurry.

My Memory

I have a pretty good memory, although sometimes it is a bit selective. For instance, I remember D&D games from 1980, I remember pretty much every TV show I have ever watched and I remember every book I have ever read, at least I thought I did anyway. Of course don’t ask me what my cell phone number is or my mothers birthday, because I will have to look it up.

For the last couple of years I have been re-reading many of the books I read as a teenager and young adult. So far I have remembered everyone one of them. Before re-reading them, I could tell you the plot, all the major characters and describe significant scenes. Some of those books stood the test of time and others did not.

These last couple of weeks I have been re-reading The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Oddly, these books have been a blind spot for me. I remember reading them, PezWitch remembers me reading them. However, in the re-reading it is like I never read the books at all. The only thing I remembered from the books is the main character Hagbard Celine and Fnord. This is a bit disorientating for me, however at least all the gags are new. The only explanation I have is obviously I am a victim of the Illuminati Orbital Mind Control Laser.

Orginal Star Wars LP

PezWitch picked up a copy of the original LP for Star Wars off of ebay for like $10, which included this poster, now hanging in her grrl cave.

2011-03-19 15.06.10

Science Fiction Fans in 1939

Recently Time Magazine started publishing articles written decades ago online so readers could get a glimpse into the world of the 1930’s and 1940’s. One of those articles was about a small Science Fiction Convention taking place in Manhattan. The article is condescending and in some cases outright mean, proving that SciFi fandom has never gotten any respect, no real surprise there.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,761661-1,00.html

Review: The Green Hornet

I was not going to write a review of this movie, not because I didn’t like it, but rather simply because it was not what it could have been. First, don’t waste your money on seeing the 3D version, the 3D simply does not add anything to the movie. Before this movie was released, my expectations were extremely low. Seth Rogan is a mildly amusing comedic actor and I have enjoyed some of his previous work, but I felt he was miscast in this roll and the fact that he was one of the writers didn’t help much either.

After I saw it I changed my mind, as io9 said, the Green Hornet is basically a watchable stoner movie. Okay, its not an academy award winner with a deep and memorable script and dedicated inspiring actors, but what it is, is a fun romp, a nice blend between a comedy, an action adventure and a Bro movie. Rogan and Chou play off each other very well, Chou is an excellent straight man to Rogans goofball. Unfortunately for her, Cameron Diaz comes off as the third wheel in this movie. Diaz has mediocre screen presence and when she is paired with other actors with the same problem, she does well, but when put on stage with someone like Rogan, she fades into the background. Fortunately for her, the movie was not about her character. In this team, her character is the sidekick to the Green Hornet/Kato partnership.

This is one of those movies that has a good amount of cheesy fun, so ignore the bad reviews this movie is getting and go see it anyway. Unless you are very serious person who only goes to see very serious movies, you will enjoy it.