Your Bi-Weekly Update #4

1. Business has really picked up with my "day job" lately, so I haven't been able to steal time there the past week hence the delay in delivering parts 3 & 4 of "Orwellian Affair" (I had been doing the inking on my lunch break -- didn't have time for one this week).

2. There's a Warhammer 40,000 tournament coming-up locally in June that I'd really like to attend and make my return after 7+ years to that "scene", so I've decided to spend more time in the evenings (when I actually have time -- things are also busy at home as always) over the next couple of months really pushing to get my army painted. You need to have your entire army painted in at least three colours for tournaments, but professional pride prevents me from entering with anything less than a fully-painted army. Above are some of the troops I'm currently working on in various stages of completion.

3. After claiming to have gotten "back on the horse" with my writing last month, I've only been able to complete 3,000 words on that generation ship story. I'm going to try to make a final push this week to get it in for the submissions deadline.

4. Still looking for suggestions from my readers on what I should read next in terms of non-fiction.


The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Book Review)

Title: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian 
Author: Robert E. Howard 
Publisher: Del Rey 
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Summary in a Sentence: A compilation of all the Robert E. Howard Conan stories, this collection is a classic that not just defined but created the "swords and sorcery" genre; Howard's bold style and somewhat purple prose make for good clean fun well-worth the modern reader's attention.

I picked-up the Kindle version of this book a few months back after Sophia's Favourite mentioned on his blog that he considered the Conan stories "good clean fun".  On the whole, I agree with the assessment and considered this collection a good read. Being an older work, you can get it for a fairly decent price as well, although unfortunately the version I got (which was only $0.99) is no longer available on Amazon.

When I say "good clean fun", there's quite a bit of violence with descriptions of brains splattering in the tradition of the Roman classics and Medieval chansons de geste, and while there are a fair number of scantily-clad ladies Conan is rather gentlemanly in his conduct with them, at least "on-screen". The stories are uncomplicated, pure action/adventure, so you should take them for what they are. These are to be read for fun and relaxation. One complaint I had, and which brings the collection down to a 3.5 where it might have been a four, is that the stories get a little repetitive after a while. There's definitely a formula to them, and while Howard does a pretty good job of mixing this up,  there's only so much variety available. I found the same with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books.

But these stories are certainly better than most of what passes for fantasy fiction today. Aside from creating the "swords and sorcery" subgenre, this collection also features one of the seminal "anti-heroes". Conan is not just a barbarian, but a mercenary, brigand, and thief. He lives for the thrill of battle, the taste of wine and good meat, and the embrace of a woman. For all that, he does have a certain honour and decency which especially comes out when he is placed in positions of authority or when a vulnerable young woman is in his power. So he's certainly a palatable "anti-hero" although he seemed to have a bit of the "noble savage" about him which is a trope I've never been a fan of.

On the whole, the collection deserves a solid 3.5 stars and I recommend that any fan of fantasy in general and swords and sorcery in particular, read it.


Iron Sky

I've been following for several months now the progress of the production of "Iron Sky", a dark comedy sci-fi film being made in Finland, financed by fans about ... yes, Space Nazis invading earth. Iron Sky premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February and opens in theaters in April 2012 with Finland opening on 4th of April and Germany on the 5th of April. No release dates have been set for North America. The teaser trailers were somewhat tantalizing, but I was left a bit skeptical and wondering how they'd make this work. But they've now released the theatrical trailer. Here it is:

Okay ... this just looks awesome. I can't really say much more than that. If the trailer is any indication, this film is the perfect mix of comedy and action and destined to become a cult classic with yours truly as a member of that cult. Here's some more footage, the first four minutes of the film:

Now, this film has NOT been made my mainstream media (which is why I'm sure it will be as good as the trailer promises), so they need the help of lowly people like us. Go to this link to "demand" that Iron Sky be shown in your area: http://www.ironsky.net/demand/


Call to Arms: Bharatians

First, a bit of an update -- I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was "rethinking" what to do with Call to Arms after what I perceived as a negative critique from a trusted reviewer. Well, after meeting with him and having a lengthy discussion over the manuscript, I've decided that the necessary changes won't be too difficult to make and will make the work much stronger. So while this will delay the release of the work, I'm definitely not shelving it. 


The previously mentioned Serveus Kunar character belongs to a unique culture within the Empire, hailing from the planet Bharat which was destroyed by the Anaketh several years before the start of Call to Arms. The Anaketh didn't use a death-star like device to completely annihilate the planet, but they did blast a significant part of it apart by placing extremely powerful explosives deep in its mantle, cracking the planet into pieces. The few that survived this cataclysm are now dispersed across the Empire with no home.

Family is immensely important to Bharatians, all the more so since the destruction of their home world and the resulting diaspora. Traditionally, Bharatians lived in huge homes inhabited by as many as four or five generations and dozens of people.  There is little concept of “personal space” in these bustling homes. Bharatians find the nuclear families of other Imperial cultures to be lacking in a sense of the importance of family.

Births and weddings are occasions of great celebration with as many as a thousand or more people invited to take part.  These are spectacular, theatrical events with celebrations often lasting several days.

Bharatian culture disapproves of physical contact between males and females; even a husband should not touch his wife in public.  Bharatian men, however, are often seen holding hands and may even attempt prolonged holding of an offworlder’s hand as a bonding gesture with no sexual intent whatsoever.

In clothing they have generally been more conservative and formal than other ethnic groups in the Empire, even before the Estates General.  As their world was destroyed shortly after the Estates, before the New Order had taken root, the survivors cling to their more traditional clothing.  Even those who serve in imperial security units will often add to their plain uniforms Bharatian accoutrements such as colourful scarves, medallions or even additional weapons (depending on how strict their unit leader is and what s/he will allow). Baggy pants and shirts/jackets that reach nearly to the knees are the normal cuts for most male clothing in Bharatian culture – Imperial influence incorporates a toga into more formal dress. Women wear a blouse and petticoat or dress with a thick strap of cloth wrapped about the waste and shoulders.


Mediæval Child Brides

A few weeks ago I did a post about medieval hygiene -- here's an easy "filler" post for this week: demolishing the myth that young girls under the age of ten were routinely forced to marry much older men [in the Middle Ages]. Now, it's true that according to the Catholic Church's canon law, girls were considered eligible to marry as young as 12 years old, and boys as young and 14.[1] However, this doesn’t mean that everyone was indeed married at the minimum age. We can use common sense to discern this, since even today Church law allows for marriage at these same ages, yet few marry that young. Furthermore, we’ve already disproved part of the myth since marriage to a girl under 12 was illegal and invalid.

Interestingly, finding sources that can give us any definitive answer about what age people were married at is difficult at best – although one can surmise that the Protestants and Modernists who concocted such canards as the child bride conceived of them from reading about certain isolated (and highly publicised) betrothals of royal princes and princesses at a very young age. Even then, these cases almost always involved a betrothal in childhood that was not translated into a sacramental marriage until many years later, or the couple would not consummate the marriage until adulthood. Further, both were of similar age. Such was the case of Catherine of Aragon’s betrothal to Arthur of England at ages three and two respectively, but they were not married until age 16. The rare cases where a young girl was married to a much older man, such as Isabelle d'Angoulême’s marriage at age thirteen to King John of England (aged 33) in a.D. 1200, received much attention and remained in people’s memories precisely because they were unique occasions of scandal.

Of course, royalty were a very small percentage of the medieval population and it is more useful to see when the average person married. Looking again at The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England by Barbara A. Hanawalt, we see that wills, manorial court records, poll tax lists, and parish registers all fail to give ages.[2] We must therefore look to “circumstantial” evidence drawn from cultural attitudes reflected in the primary sources.

All in all, these sources, which include those mentioned above, as well as literature, hagiographies, descriptions of domains and synodal statutes, indicate that people married at roughly the same age, and at a relatively mature age.[3] Of course, “relatively mature” depends on the culture we are looking at, and we should keep in mind that people in the Middle Ages started work quite young, with many boys entering apprenticeship at seven.[4]

Looking to more specifics, we see that in 14th century England, at least, teenagers were considered too young to marry, as reflected by the fact that in rape cases, men whose victims were teenagers were singled out as especially reprehensible by the prosecutors.[5] This reveals an attitude that girls in their teens should be sheltered from sexual encounters.

It’s also noteworthy, that the age of inheritance was twenty-one, which means that a young man could receive no money from his parents until that age.[6] Moralists of the time such as Robert Mannyng (1275-1338), a Gilbertine Monk and historiographer, considered the marriage of children an outrageous sin. Even the artists of the time wrote in ballads stories of special and tragic circumstances surrounding the taking of a young bride. [7]

All of the foregoing would suggest that most people were married in their early twenties, which is not much different than today (at least among those who don’t live in public sin before marriage). A survey of familial literature (ricordanz) of mercantile “bourgeoisie” from the Tuscany region of modern-day Italy between 1340 and 1530 shows some 136 first-time brides with an average age of 17.2 years married to husbands averaging 18 years old.[8]

[1] Rock, P.M.J., “Canonical Age”, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Nihil Obstat. 1 March, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
[2] Hanawalt, Barbara, The Ties that Bound : Peasant Families in Medieval England, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 98
[3] Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane, “Women and Children”, The Middle Ages, Fifth Edition. Ed. Brian Tierney. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999
[4] "Family Life" Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, Ed. Norman F. Cantor, London: Viking, 1999.
[5] Hanawalt, supra at note 1, p. 98
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Klapisch-Zuber, Supra at note 3


Orwellian Affair, Part 2

Here's the next episode of the tale that began last week. Part one is here: http://www.swordsandspace.com/2012/03/orwellian-affair-part-i.html

As always, click on the image to see the full-sized view.

Visit again next Friday for part 3.



QFT is internet discussion board for "Quoted For Truth" ... this picture is so funny because it's so true, especially concerning yours truly. As usual, click for the full-sized version.

God save the Queen!


Ivanhoe (Book Review)

Title: Ivanhoe 
Author: Sir Walter Scott
Publisher:  Tor Classics
My Rating: 1 star
Summary in a Sentence: A supposed "classic" -- a classic example of anti-Medieval, anti-Catholic nonsense that started the tradition that spawned many foolish notions about that period in history.

Some years ago, having read very few of “the classics” in my youth, I decided to read the well-known Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Being someone who fancies himself an aficionado of the Middle Ages, I thought that I really ought to read it. Then, just recently, while perusing the offerings of various homeschool programmes, I discovered that a popular traditionalist homeschool (which I won’t name here) includes Ivanhoe as required reading in their Twelfth Grade Literature course. I therefore felt it necessary to take a detour from my original plan for the series and “defend Christendom” by dispelling the myth that this novel gives an accurate portrayal of life in twelfth century England. I do not intend this article as an attack on the homeschooling programme as they do a wonderful service to Catholic families, but I am concerned by the fact that such a work is included as required reading in their programme.

Sir Walter Scott is considered the “grandfather of the historical novel”, even the pre-eminent master of the genre. I am left wondering how this can be so. He clearly did about as much historical research for Ivanhoe as Dan Brown did for The Da Vinci Code. To the person that's done any serious research into life in the Middle Ages, it becomes obvious within a few pages that most of Sir Walter's perceptions of that time are products of his own imagination rather than any scholarly investigation.

Interestingly (and likely not coincidentally given the novel’s popularity), most of the myths/misrepresentations present in Ivanhoe are the very same time-honoured fables held by the average western educator of today. There are many, but in this article I shall look at the myths perpetuated as regards equating serfdom with slavery, the corruption of the clergy, and persecution of the Jews.

Equating Serfdom with Slavery

The swineherd Gurth is said to be his master's property and even wears “a brass ring, resembling a dog’s collar, but with no opening, and soldered fast” to underscore this[i] -- which is a calumnious misrepresentation of the relative freedom serfs in Mediaeval England enjoyed. Discussing those freedoms in detail is for another article, but suffice it to say for now that, while they no doubt lived a hard life, mediaeval serfs were not considered mere property, bereft of all rights. Rather, they could own property and sustained themselves through the gains of their own labour, rather than relying entirely on their “owner”. The serf’s lord was obliged (by custom) to protect him from external threats. And while he could not leave the land he was tied to, nor could he be evicted from it.[ii] Above all, there is not a shred of evidence anywhere that serfs were made to wear dog collars.

Corrupt Clergy

Every Churchman in the work is portrayed as both incredibly wealthy and incredibly immoral. The Benedictine Prior Aymer is the most obvious example of this, portrayed a massive gold signet ring and other rings of previous gems, a silk habit and embroidered cope, and a scarlet cap.[iii] While it’s true that there were problems of corruption among abbots and priors in this time period, to suggest that they would dress this outrageously in public is quite incredible. Prior Aymer’s love of feast and women is played-up constantly as well. His depravity is only superseded by the Templar Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert who also, contrary to his vow of poverty, displays vast wealth in an ostentatious manner. He is also said by the author to be “accustomed to act upon his own immediate impulses of his own wishes”[iv] which he proves by many vile actions including the kidnapping of the Jewish character Rebecca. The only cleric with a shred of decency (because he helps rescue the kidnapped maidens) is the Franciscan Friar Tuck who doesn't honour any of his vows, but rather hoards wealth, feasts rather than fasts, is an alcoholic, is subject to no religious superior, and is the most impious individual of the whole novel.

Beyond these specifically bad characters, Sir Walter tells his readers that the only reason anyone entered religious life in the Middle Ages was for wealth and, in the case of women, goes to far as to claim that “it was then common for matrons and maidens of noble families to assume the veil, and take shelter in convents, not as called thither by the vocation of God, but solely to preserve their honour from the unbridled wickedness of man”, because of the “licentiousness of those times”.[v]

There is not one positive portrayal of clergy in the work and the lay characters for the most part constrain their religious references to profanity. The message of the novel is thus clear: no one in the Middle Ages actually took the faith seriously, they just “went along” with it as part of their culture and something they were “expected” to do (we may suppose this was because the Inquisition would burn them if they didn’t; Scott doesn’t say so explicitly, but suggests this via the show trial of Rebecca for witchcraft in Chapter XXXVII[vi]).

To disprove this particular myth expressed in Ivanhoe, would take an entire book describing the popular practice of religion in the mediæval period. But we can use our common sense to realise that it is totally absurd to imagine a society religious faith is unanimously hypocritical. It is equally absurd to imagine that such a society could produce the quantity and quality of saints that it did. But to give one small, yet pointed example of how much the average mediæval person was willing to conform to Church law, we can consider that in the Middle Ages, Advent and Lent were “prohibited times” during which marriages were forbidden and continence strongly recommended. Historical evidence shows that a significantly reduced number of conceptions occurred during these “prohibited times”, at least among city people (the prime targets of preachers and missionaries), indicating that these injunctions were indeed heeded and practiced by many every-day Catholic.[vii] If people were willing to conform such a private aspect of their life to a mere recommendation of the Church we can be sure that the faith was taken seriously by most.

Persecution of the Jews

Sir Walter goes on ad nauseum about how horribly downtrodden, abused, and persecuted the Jewish characters are. He has no qualms about intruding into the work as omniscient narrator and judging the mediaevals for their treatment of Jews. Despite the melodrama, there is the internal contradiction to the work that the Jewish characters are the wealthiest people in the book and essentially move about as they please while all the Saxon characters are slaves. Scott contradicts what he tells us by what he shows us.

Yet the point remains that he would have us believe that the Middle Ages were a time when Jews suffered more than in any other period before or since. As with the preceding two myths of this novel, there is a kernel of truth here. Certainly, as people belonging to a religion that rejects Our Lord Jesus Christ, living in a nearly unanimously Catholic society, they had reason to be unenthusiastic about their surroundings. Occasionally, piety and religious zeal would “go overboard” among the Catholics leading to violence against Jews.[viii] However, the papacy and the kings of Europe gave special protection to the Jews, and Jews were in fact serfs of the Crown directly in many countries.[ix] They were not prevented from getting an education or pursuing careers in areas other than money lending, either, and the ranks of lawyers, physicians, and scientists contained many Jews.[x]


Some may try to defend this novel by saying that it's not meant to be historically accurate, it's just a fun read. As usual, this is considered a “just excuse” when Catholics and the Church are the victims of a work's inaccuracies. Beyond this, however, for many people, Ivanhoe may be their only exposure to the Middle Ages and will have their opinions formed accordingly.

Ivanhoe is not completely void of merit, so I concede that my comparison to The Da Vinci Code are not really fair and more abuse than argument. This perhaps makes the myths it tells even more tragic. The characters tend to be complex and original (with a few exceptions like Prior Aymer who is nothing more than a platform to attack Catholicism) and from that point of view the book was enjoyable. Scott does a good job of describing the landscape and setting a tone, although this may make the work more insidious from a historical standpoint as it really draws the reader into the world. Moreover, the plot is quite good, and through it, Sir Walter does do a good job of paying homage to chivalry and self-sacrifice. There is certainly a theme that good things cannot be achieved without sacrifice apparent in the work, but in the end, if one wants historical fiction one can do a lot better.[xi]

[i] Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe. London: Marcus Ward and Company, 1878. p. 20
[ii] “Serfs and Serfdom”. Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Ed. Norman F. Cantor. London: Viking, 1999.
[iii] Scott, supra at note 2, p. 43
[iv] Ibid., p. 46
[v] Ibid., p. 202
[vi] Ibid., pp. 332 and following
[vii] Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane.“Women and Children”. The Middle Ages, Fifth Edition, Ed. Brian Tierney. New York: McGraw Hill, 1999. p. 186
[viii] And it should be noted that this was not always unprovoked or one-sided. For example, we can look to the ritual murder of St. Simon of Trent, a two year-old boy who was kidnapped and crucified upside-down by fundamentalist Ashkenazi Jews near Passover in 1475. Although the Vatican of today denies this event and forbids public devotion to St. Simon of Trend, recent scholarship by Dr. Toaff, a respected Jewish historian, indicates that it did happen because the confessions of the killers in the trial transcript contained details that the clergy and police could not have known. See: Horvat, Marian T. “Bloody Passovers Reported by a Jewish Scholar”. Tradition in Action. http://www.traditioninaction.org/History/A_010_BloodyPassovers.htm>
[ix] Hollister, C. Warren. Medieval Europe, Eighth Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998. p. 170
[x] Ibid., p. 172
[xi] The works of Sharon Kay Penman are quite good, but rather long. The Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters are not bad (with a warning about the seventh novel in the series, The Sanctuary Sparrow, wherein the title character condones fornication). Shakespeare is always to be recommended and his history is fairly good since he lived only a few generations after the Middle Ages. I highly recommend without reservation Crusader King by Susan Peek (published by TAN Books) although it is mean for a younger audience than grade twelve. The novels of P.C. Doherty should generally be avoided because of immoral content, although they are historically accurate.


Orwellian Affair, Part I

In honour of Jessie Sansone, the man arrested in Kitchener a few weeks ago on firearms charges after his four-year-old daughter drew a picture of a gun at school, I've done up a little parody comic strip of what might have happened if one of my children was in that girl's class (see the original news story here: http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/676150--man-shocked-by-arrest-after-daughter-draws-picture-of-gun-at-school). Just for added context, here's the key quote from the article concerning the reasons for arrest:
The detective told him that his four-year-old daughter had drawn a picture of a man holding a gun. When a teacher asked her who the man was, the girl replied, “That’s my daddy’s. He uses it to shoot bad guys and monsters.”
This will be a four-part comic. I've already pencilled all four parts, just need to ink the rest and I'll then post them each Friday.  Click on the image below to view the full-sized version:

Be sure to check again next Friday to see what happens next!

Part 2 is here:http://www.swordsandspace.com/2012/03/orwellian-affair-part-2.html
and Part 3:  http://www.swordsandspace.com/2012/03/orwellian-affair-part-3.html


Call to Arms: Celestians

Some time ago, I posted a piece of "fan art" depicting Eremiel, a Celestian. Readers have no doubt wondered what a Celestian, is, although from the name may have guessed at their nature. They are a race of supernatural beings who live in the Empyrean,  but sometimes venture into the natural world. Their are two groups of different alliegance, the "Fallen Celestians" being those who turned against their creator and work evil in the galaxy.  These second are much more common in the galaxy as they are constantly seeking to work mischief and will "sneak" out of the Empyrean in the wake of star ships exiting or entering.

"Regular" Celestians appear as tall human men of otherworldly handsomeness with pure white hair and skin and silver eyes. They wear clothing of an old style, usually consisting of togas with ornate cuirasses. While in the world, they still maintain a mental link with the Empyrean and will therefore appear detached from what is going on around them, and almost always placid.

The "Fallen Celestians", on the other hand, are hideous, misshapen abominations only vaguely resembling their former selves. Their pure white skin has shrivelled to a hideous black, and they are covered in sores and puss-filled blisters -- they are completely ridden with The Disease and in constant agony, though also full of rage. They can disguise themselves as normal humans to appear similar to Celestians only with dark hair to appear more human.

Both, when in the real world, have real bodies and must eat and drink. In fact, they require more sustenance than a normal human and are also more sensitive to the elements.


Medieval Food

Reading Food and Drink in Medieval Poland (by Maria Dembińska) has given me some more grist for the mill of dispelling anti-medieval myths. "Popular" histories would have us believe that medieval peasants lived lives of unmitigated misery. The people of that time lived a hard life compared to ours, to be sure. But before getting into the foot, it's worth remembering that between a.D. 1000 and 1340, the population of Europe grew from 38.5 million to about 73.5 million people[i] -- something which would have been impossible if the average person were half-starved and worked into the ground by his aristocratic taskmaster.

Now, as for food, it's commonly believed that Medieval people scarcely had any access to meat and, again, it was their evil noble masters who were the only ones with such food on their table. Meat was relatively expensive -- it still is, especially if you're trying to maintain an all-organic diet like I do! -- but all the same, in medieval Polish society meat was considered essential to a healthy diet and to be consumed daily. Historian Andrzej Wyczanski calculated that manorial work hands (serfs) of the late 1500s consumed a little better than half a pound of meat daily -- and Ms Dembińska stresses that this is a "pauperized" state as compared to the High Middle Ages (I restrain myself from embarking on an anti-Renaissance rant at this juncture).[ii]

Further, according to Regine Pernoud, part of the reason it's been believed that Medieval peasants were constantly starving, is due to the fact that the word "famine" held a much different import in those days than it does now. "Famine" to them was not the total absence of food, as we consider it today, but the lack of wheat bread. Therefore, when the people of a certain area were instead eating rye bread, they would say that they suffered famine. Even then, such "famines" tended to be localized and of short duration.[iii]

P.S. If readers are wondering why my Middle Ages posts are all academic-style with footnotes and such, it's because I want to show that I'm telling the truth on this stuff since my "claims" in such posts go completely contrary to what prevailing wisdom holds.

"History of Europe: Demographic and agricultural growth" Encyclopædia Britannica 2008 ed.
[ii]Dembińska, Maria. Food and Drink in Medieval Poland: Rediscovering a Cuisine of the Past. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. p. 62
[iii]O'Reilly, Hugh. "Medieval Famines, Bread & Wine. Tradition in Action. http://www.traditioninaction.org/History/A_023_Famine.htm


Rex Caelestis: The Sleepers, Part I

By Nicholas Wansbutter

"Permission to enter, Captain?"


Dmitri stepped into the captain's personal quarters and pulled the door closed. It was his first time in the cabin, despite being executive officer of the ISS Admiral Kolchak for two weeks now. He'd replaced the regular XO mere days before launch due to sudden illness.

Captain Kirilov sat the work station at the end of the room, positioned perpendicular to Dmitri standing just inside the door. The captain sat on one of two chairs, where the bed would normally be, though this was folded into the wall. From the bottom of the bed a chessboard-sized table extended across the captain's knees. Running along the wall from the captain to Dmitri's right was a work station sandwiched between wood cabinetry. On this a computer screen displayed schematics and a samovar gurgled softly at Dmitri's elbow. The only other sound aside from the omnipresent hum of the engines and whisper of the air circulation, was the scratch of the captain's old-style fountain pen on the rough paper of a ledger. The captain did not look up from his work.

"You wanted to see me, sir?" Dmitri ventured.

"You were not at Mass this morning." The captain still did not look up.

"Yes, sir, but there was --"

"No, soul is not secondary. Good example to crew is not secondary. Take tea, and sit."

Next to the samovar were were cups and saucers, sitting in front of an icon of Our Lady of Good Success. Rather western, Dmitri thought, then shrugged. He poured his tea and sat on the only other seat in the room, kitty-corner to the captain's. After another minute of writing, the captain put the lid on his pen and placed it precisely against the wall.

"Dobre." He closed the ledger and looked up at Dmitri. The XO resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably as his commander's steely grey eyes seemed to bore into his very soul. Captain Kirilov was known for that penetrating stare of his as much as for his religious stringency that even in the Astrogator's Guild was legendary. "You noticed Our Lady of Good Success."

The Old Man missed nothing. "Yes, sir."

"Colonel Konstantinov took icon of Her with him aboard Tsar Nicholas II. Now we take her with us to depths of space. Lomonosov FTL drive still working?"

Obviously it was, but Kirilov was also know for being reactionary. Dmitri knew this was a veiled barb directed at the new drive they were testing which replaced the Angelikovo Drive that had taken the Lepanto to Proxima Centauri five years previous.

"It's working perfectly, captain. We exceeded an equivalent of eight-times light with no time dilation detected. Last clock synchronisation with Baikonur registered no discrepancies."

Kirilov grunted. "We see if it holds up over longer course."

As if on cue, the background hum of the engine dipped sharply in pitch and the two officers lurched towards the fore of the ship as the inertial commentators struggled to cope with a sudden change in speed. An alarm hooted and Captain Kirilov flicked-on the screen above his desk.

"This is Captain -- report."

The bespectacled visage of the navigator, Lt. Artem Fournier filled the screen. "Captain, as you know the computer is programmed to decelerate the Kolchak under certain conditions. It would seem that such conditions have revealed themselves."

"Instead of telling me what I already know, tell me what I do not, Fournier."

"Ah, but of course, sir. It would seem that an unidentified, but almost certainly man-made object has been detected. We will have overshot it by some thousands of kilometres by the time we have completed deceleration, but --"

"I return to command deck. Erlomov."

It took another hour to turn the Kolchak around and move to intercept the object at a slower speed. It was, indeed, a "man-made object" as Fournier had predicted -- a space craft, though clearly not one belonging to any current space-faring nation. It was a long, skinny design with what appeared to be a crew module at one end, with a long latticework of thin metal terminating in a cluster of large spheres surrounding an engine. The Kolchak had matched speeds with it and now coasted parallel to it at just under .03 light speed. Her crew was gathered on the command deck around Captain Kirilov's chair, peering at it through the viewports.

"Given our current location and current speed," Lt. Fournier ventured, "it would seem that this vessel was launched somewhere around a hundred years ago. Could it be a United Earth ship?"

"Or maybe the Han script written all over it, and the big United Earth flag are just a disguise?" Able Starman Dąbrowski muttered around a mouthful of saurkraut. The engineering tech doubled as ship's cook -- and a fantastic cook he was, which was why the captain put up with his sarcasm and lack of decorum. And he hauled me on into his cabin to complain about missing daily Mass, Dmitri thought. Well, a good cook like that was worth more than his weight in gold on a long haul like this.

"If it slowed, it could be more recent launch from Mars," the captain said, rubbing his lantern jaw.

"Begging your pardon, sir," Dmitri said, "But the Martians have better tech than that now. That engine appears to be a fusion system. Though we've detected no launches from Mars, surely they, too, have access to anti-matter and anti-dilation fields."

The captain grunted again. "True: they are good at espionage. Is there any crew on ship?"

The science officer, Ludwig Wagner, shook his head. "I can't, sir. The bioscanner seems to be malfunctioning -- it picks up nothing, not even on our own ship."

"So, we do it the way God intended -- with actual cosmonauts doing cosmonaut work. Commander Erlomov," the Captain said to Dmitri. "You lead landing party. Take Fournier."

"Aye, Captain." Dmitri stood and nodded to the navigations officer.

"Dąbrowski, you too. Break out weapons."

"Tak, Kapitan," the swarthy Pole said, sketching a two-fingered salute. "Although visiting a United Earth ship I can hardly see why. Shall we take oxygen as well?"

Stay tuned for the next installment of this story in two weeks' time (I hope) ...


Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (Movie Review)

Title: AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem
Director: "The Brothers Strause" (Colin and Greg)
Producer: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Reiko Aylesworth, Steven Pasquale and John Ortiz
Excellence: 1 star (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: Xenomorphs accidentally released upon the small town of Gunnison, CO + a lone Predator who comes to hunt them + some "new additions" to the Alien mythos = an unbelievably terrible film, a steaming pile of canine excrement

Lest readers of this blog think that I'm too easy on science fiction/fantasy films, or that I just give all of them positive ratings because I like the genre, here's a strongly negative review. Wow, I could NOT believe how horrible this movie was. I went in with very low expectations given the film's reputation and how bad the first "Aliens vs Predator" film was. The only reason I watched it at all was because of my affection for the Aliens and Predator franchises separately, and because I thought it would still be mildly entertaining going in with low expectations.

I was amazed at how wrong I was. Everything was plain pathetic. The special effects were decent for some things, but astonishingly bad on many -- the facehuggers were absolutely terrible and looked so fake I thought iTunes had sent me a fan film as a practical joke. In fact, the whole movie had the feel of a fan film to it, with the exceptionally inane dialogue, the poorly-conceived plot that involves LOTS of things that make NO SENSE happening, the cardboard characters (who are scarcely developed at all, probably because there's too many of them), to the bad lighting (it's so dark you can barely see anything) ... actually, I take that back. Fans would do better, and they'd certainly have at least SOME respect for the key features and continuity of the Aliens and Predator franchises.

I was especially outraged by the tampering they did with the xenomorph. The new kind of alien who can impregnate humans without the use of a facehugger was the stupidest idea ever and totally overturned what makes the xenomorph what it is. Especially moronic is the movie makers' total ignorance of human anatomy since this creature still lays eggs down peoples' throats but they somehow end up in womens' unterus (it can only "infect" women)??? I guess it's the logical conclusion of the stupid bad science Sophia's Favourite railed against recently and undermines my theory that the xenomorphs were a parasite and hosts weren't actually impregnated but infected (which I think Dark Horse comics backs me up on based on my reading of their stories in Aliens Omnibus Volume 1). Actual fans of the Aliens movies/comics would also know that there is a gestation period of longer than 2 seconds when the facehugger has deposited a xenomorph inside a host.

I was going to give it zero stars, but allowed for one star due to some half-decent action in the last 15-20 minutes of the film. And after my shock at how bad it was wore off, in retrospect it's not the worst movie I've ever seen. I enoyed it more than V for Vendetta, for example. I still suggest avoiding it, though.


Blast from the Past: Dargonzine "Great Houses War: The Empress of Beinison"

Aendasia, Empress of Beinison, Duchess of Northfield, and Queen of Baranur rode west along the Kings’ Road at the head of her army. Her title of empress was merely a formality since her son actually ruled Beinison, but the title Queen of Baranur held real power. She had succeeded her great uncle King Stefan II upon his death, according to his wishes.

A short distance ahead stood Woldarun, a village under her rule, the last along the road before she would reach mighty Magnus. Caeron Tallirhan, her cousin and grandson of Stefan II, who had stolen the Baranurian crown while she was still in Beinison, had been killed outside the walls of Magnus in Deber, more than four months ago. Despite this, she did not hold the capital, for its citizens had stubbornly refused to surrender it and instead proclaimed Caeron’s widow, Dara, to be their ruler.

When two of her armies had been wiped out in Quinnat trying to capture “Queen” Dara, Aendasia had been forced to lift the siege she had levied against Magnus the previous year and wait until spring to resume her campaign. Now that the trees were in full bloom and the land was green once again, she marched towards Magnus.

Behind her, a force thousands strong stretched far down the road. It was comprised of professional Beinison soldiers and the citizen levies from duchies that recognised her as queen. The largest contingent was from Equiville, and Aendasia thought it very fitting that their livery colours were white, which to her mind represented the purity and truth of her claim on the Baranurian throne.

As she neared Woldarun, the town did not seem as joyful at their liberation as she expected. Yes, people lined the streets to greet her, but their faces betrayed unhappiness. They bowed only grudgingly when she rode past them, raising the ire of her battle captain, Raimundo Quikuches, Viscount of Marolleris.

“Exalted one,” he said, “we should teach these peasants proper respect for not only their queen, but an empress of mighty Beinison.”

“They will learn respect,” Aendasia said. She was sure of it. Caeron had been a powerful and charismatic speaker — she could not deny him that — and he had worked his magic on these poor, ignorant villagers. It would wear off eventually, though, now that he was gone.

As Aendasia scanned the crowd, her eyes came to rest on a youth with dirty matted hair, whose features smouldered with anger. He did not bow at all, and instead shouted, “Blortnikson! We bow only to house Tallirhan!”

Aendasia gasped. Such audacity! She couldn’t believe that she had actually heard the boy say that to her face. Wearing her diamond-encrusted imperial crown, she had thought she would overawe these peasants.

“King Caeron is our rightful ruler!” a villager out of view cried. A few others seemed to take courage from this and added their voices to his.

“Caeron is dead!” she shouted back at the villagers. The calls died down and the peasants became quiet. A small group nearby applauded. The voice of the angry, dirty young man reproached them.

“Don’t cheer for that Beinisonian witch!”

Duke Baldwin Equiville drew his sword. “Who called my lady queen a witch? By Nehru’s blood I’ll have you –”

“Exalted one, this is intolerable!” Raimundo Quikuches pulled his battle axe from his back and summoned the master drummer to his side with it. “We should kill these insolent dogs! Sound ‘to arms’.”

The master drummer beat out a tune on his large drum and his underlings echoed him. The deep, rich sound of the Beinisonian drums reverberated between the buildings of the small town. The army came to an abrupt halt and the clicking of hundreds of weapons being lowered from shoulders filled the air.

The villagers were now completely silent. They stared fearfully at the weapons arrayed against them. Everything was suddenly silent, until Aendasia shouted, “No! I will not have this. These are my people. As queen, I am their mother and I will not see them harmed, even for their show of disrespect.”

In truth, Aendasia would have been perfectly content to stay in Beinison, where she’d lived since she was wed to the Beinisonian emperor Alejandro VII at the age of ten, over a quarter of a century earlier. Baranur was a strange land to her after all these years, its people not nearly as disciplined as the militaristic Beinisonians. She had loved her uncle dearly, though, and she would see his wishes fulfilled. He wanted her to rule Baranur, so when she was widowed and her son rose to the Beinisonian throne, King Stefan had arranged for her to marry the Duke of Northfield, ruler of perhaps the most powerful of the Great Houses of Baranur. He had intended for h er to rule, and rule she would. It hurt her that she should leave her adoptive homeland for these people and they rebuked her.

“Exalted one –” Raimundo protested.

“I said ‘no’, and I meant it!” The words were curt, but she intended them to be. No one who was weak-willed could last long in the Beinisonian imperial court. “Now continue the advance.”

Read the rest of the story here: http://dargonzine.org/the-great-houses-war-part-4-the-empress-of-beinison/

Links to the rest of the series here:  http://dargonzine.org/series/the-great-houses-war/


Deleted Scenes From Star Wars: The Complete Saga

In George Lucas' constant practice of returning to the Star Wars trough for more, they're now releasing "Star Wars: The Complete Saga" on Blu-Ray in September. One of the goodies in the set to entice people like me to buy it are some never-before seen deleted scenes. I include a clip below of a preview of these scenes. As usual with deleted scenes, you can see why most of these were left on the cutting room floor. However, the battlescene with storm troopers inside the shield generator bunker starting at 00:36 would have been a cool addition, as I thought some of the action on Endor a bit lacking and the bunker way too easy to capture.

These deleted scenes on their own are certainly not enough to make me go out and buy the set. I'm not THAT much of a Star Wars geek. I'd maybe consider it since I don't have Episodes I & II in any format and my children (I think) will like them whenever I get around to acquiring them (they're very young). On the other hand, I've heard from one of my colleagues at work that they watched Empire Strikes Back on Blu-Ray, that HD actually makes some of the older special effects look worse. The Styrofoam rocks and Yoda puppet just don't stand up well under the clarity of HD.
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