More Races of Twilight Imperium

We're gearing up for our second game of Twilight Imperium at the Château Wansbutter, which means another round of pre-game race selection. We're going to have seven players this time around, with many familiar faces from last time. Mr. Heiner is already plotting his revenge for my denial of his well-planned attack of last game. He's told our group "remember that shafting Nicholas, not necessarily winning, is the point of TI."

But I digress. Since we have more players, and I purchased the Shattered Empire expansion, I decided to add a few more races to the mix:

In a word: Fire people
Background: Former slaves of the Universities of Jol'Nar; a race of living flames who must travel inside special suits when off-world, they seek to revenge on their former masters and a new regime of justice in the galaxy.
Pros/Cons: The start the game with a War Sun, can move through supernovas, their War Suns can spawn fighters without a space dock, good trade agreements, mediocre home system, start the game with a War Sun although the rest of their fleet is weak.
Style: For the cautious player who wants to be left alone in the early game (having a War Sun will have that effect on neighbours), yet able to play with some finesse as the Embers are not considered one of the strongest races.


In a word: Warrior Zealots
Background: Genetically-modified fanatic adherents of a bizarre cult centred around long-dead scientist named Darien who illegally cloned hundreds of his children in an effort to save his wife from a deadly disease who now seek to bind all to their religion.
Pros/Cons: Beasts in ground combat, can do kamikaze runs to destroy enemy ships, poor trade agreements, poor home system, very strong starting fleet.
Style: Another race for a very aggressive style of play -- really, these guys would have been well-suited to Greg's aggressive militarism of our first game.

In a word: Warrior Space gypsies 
Background: Genetically-modified fanatic adherents of a bizarre cult centred around long-dead scientist named Darien who illegally cloned hundreds of his children in an effort to save his wife from a deadly disease who now seek to bind all to their religion.
Pros/Cons: Have mobile star bases, can still collect victory points if their home system is occupied, gain bonus trade goods for capturing planets, good trade agreements, rubbish home system, good starting fleet.
Style: For a player looking to play a subtle and crafty game, utilising mobility and trade goods to gain influence in the galaxy.


This will be a day long remembered

Ok, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens trailer out today. So far so good -- I like everything I see in this teaser. Glad to see that they'll be bringing in remnants of the Empire as the bad guys. Storm Troopers with slightly changed armour to reflect the passage of time gets a thumbs-up from me. Tie Fighters vs. the Millennium Falcon in an atmospheric battle? Definitely cool.

Above all, this trailer makes it look like Abrams has nailed the "maculate reality"/lived-in universe feel of the original trilogy. This teaser has that gritty and real feel to it. 

As I've said on Swords and Space Radio, though, I will assassinate J.J. Abrams if he sneaks in a gratuitous bikini scene like he did with Star Trek into Darkness. Although I must unfortunately concede that there would be precedent for such trash with Return of the Jedi and Princess Leia's infamous slave costume.


Interstellar Follow-up

First, here's the embed of the radio show we did last week for ease of reference:

Check Out Movies Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with The AMDG Radio Network on BlogTalkRadio

For those who haven't listened, this is the first work covered by Swords and Space where I give it a full 5/5 stars. In my view this is destined to be a Sci Fi classic on par with 2001: A Space Odyssey and I am really glad I had the opportunity to see it and discuss it on my radio show.

There's a lot of science in the film and it was all handled in such a way that even a guy like me who generally dislikes and finds "hard" Sci Fi boring, loved it. My wife who is not a Sci Fi person, but consented to watch it because she liked Christopher Nolan's other films, also loved it. This has given new opportunities to learn some more about science:

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has been tweeting about the science behind Interstellar and recently followed-up with an interview with NPR well-worth reading: http://www.npr.org/2014/11/14/363798836/neil-degrasse-tyson-separates-fact-from-fiction-in-interstellar

Another science-ish topic we covered on the show was Christopher Nolan's refreshing new take on Artificial Intelligence which I thought was really well done, and really ought to be the gold standard in Sci Fi versus (with all due respect) Isaac Asimov's rules that dominate the genre. Here's an article that echoes my thoughts so rather than rewriting in my own words I'll just share the link: TARS, the Interstellar robot, should be the future of artificial intelligence.

Finally, Hans Zimmer posted his reasons for delaying the release of the Interstellar soundtrack on Quora: http://www.quora.com/Why-has-the-soundtrack-for-Interstellar-2014-movie-not-been-released-yet/answer/Hans-Zimmer-11?srid=ttEB&share=1


Some Thoughts on the Zombie Apocalypse

I had the opportunity recently to play some of the iPad app "The Walking Dead", which got me thinking about the "zombie apocalypse" which continues to be all the rage (apparently the TV series the game is based on is in its fifth season). One thing that I have a hard time accepting from the genre is how quickly and totally the zombie virus spreads, such that there is complete societal breakdown and anarchy, with only a few survivors here-and-there within days if not hours.

Given that the zombie "disease" is communicable only by the zombie biting or otherwise exchanging fluids with victims, I don't really see how this would spread that quick. Even extremely contageous airborne viruses do not spread as quickly as zombieism is portrayed. Further, what allows things like Ebola to spread is the fact that someone can be symptom-free yet contageous for a certain period of time. Not so with zombies. It seems to me that it would be localised to one area since zombies can't drive and it would take them a while to get out of a given city -- leaving authorities plenty of time to quarantine the threat.

I would expect that the army, and the highly militarized police forces in modern society, would be able to take on zombies, even in fairly large numbers, quite handily. Zombies need to get within arm's reach to bite and -- although rarely portrayed as fast as in 28 Days Later, and World War Z -- are slow and shambling. Certainly easy pickings for standard infantry weapons to say nothing of attack helicopters or armoured fighting vehicles which would be totally impervious to zombies.

On the other hand, if zombies could spread as quickly as portrayed, I unfortunately do find it entirely credible how abominably survivors behave in most of these series. I read from time-to-time the blog "SHTF School" written by a survivor of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. He describes from his experiences pretty much all the awful things you see in films like The Road and TV series like the Walking Dead. The sad truth is that there are a lot of people out there who only act like civilized human beings because they have to. From that perspective, one can see the justification for the expanding police state -- in an age where the majority of people are not restrained by religious belief/morals, or a tight-knit community, most of society is one natural disaster away from a replay of what happened in New Orleans in my view.

It's interesting that in the Middle Ages there were no police and the local lord was away on other estates, or crusading, or attending the king. Compared to the control and supervision western democracies exert over their citizens, people lived in anarchy back then. There were bandits, to be sure, but the reason the great majority of people were not robbing and killing each other were the strength of the Catholic religion and the close social bonds people had in that time.


"Interstellar" on Swords and Space Radio Tomorrow

 We're back on the air tomorrow night with episode 26 of Swords and space. I'll be going with my wife today to see Christipher Nolan's Interstellar in preparation for this show. I am really looking forward to it, not because I know anything about the movie (I've purposely kept myself in the dark) but because I have really enjoyed all of Chris Nolan's films. Fortunately, so has my wife. Here's the link:

Swords and Space XXVI: Interstellar 11/11 by The AMDG Radio Network | Movies Podcasts


Virtual Walk-Through of 17th Century London

A little history today for a change of pace -- I was sent the above by a family member and found its depiction of 17th century London fascinating. This video was created by six students from De Montfort University. Due to the Great Fire of London in 1666, most of the buildings are conjectural, but the streets are based off of period maps and primary sources like diary entries describing the buildings including details like tavern signs.

I do love the Tudor style buildings, however the video gives it a rather dark/depressing feel I thought. I'm not sure that it would have been that bad in reality -- I've been the Shrewsbury which has a large area dating back to the 15th century (we stayed in a hotel that was a 15th century house -- albeit renovated) and it featured the narrow alleyways and overhanging stories but did not have a dreary or dark feel at all. I felt rather at home in that setting -- it somehow felt more human than modern cities.


Shot-For-Shot Remake Of 'The Empire Strikes Back' In 480 Different Styles

A friend made me aware of this recently. Definitely different, and entertaining. Apparently Lucasfilm accepted submissions for remade/envisioned shots of the Empire Strikes Back then compiled them into a full-feature-length film. Although even I didn't watch more than about 15 minutes. I'd rather watch the real thing:

I'll probably go back to see how scenes like the Battle of Hoth were done, though.


Obsession with Safety = No Adventure

The obsession with 100% safety and the absolute intolerance for any fatalities is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the main reasons we've have no Age of Space Discovery (1492-17th century) losses were very high. One would think that it would be easy to find data on just how dangerous it was but after spending a half hour in futility I can't give any detailed information. But suffice to say that many ships went down, more than one expedition disappeared entirely. Columbus, during his first voyage, lost one of his three ships and barely made it home after hitting a severe storm on his way home.

If people of the Age of Discovery had the same intolerance for risk that investors, scientists, government, etc. have today, I'd be living somewhere in Europe with no clue that the Americas even exist.

I've written on the Mars One program in the past -- the planned one-way trip to Mars to explore and establish a colony -- and this week I saw an article on that program that piqued my interest. It features yet another wet-blanket researched railing against the idea of such an expedition because there are (gasp) risks of death: Mars One plan has potentially deadly flaws, scientists say.

No kidding. Well, the Santa Maria had potentially deadly flaws too, being a  Renaissance carrack, and ran aground. It was the best technology they had at the time, though, and Columbus didn't feel like waiting 400 years for maritime technology to advance to the safety of a modern ship. But would modern ships have ever been developed if no one took to the sea because older vessels had "potentially deadly flaws?"

Dr. Sydney Doe, of the MIT kill-joy research team, says: "Someone has to ask themselves: Am I ready to rely on this technology which has been tested for two years to operate for an extra 50 years, since my life is dependent on it?" Well, the Canadians on the Mars One short list, at least, are ready to rely on the technology.

Tyler Reyno, from Nova Scotia, said "Obviously, keeping humans alive on Mars is extremely difficult. You just have to understand there's a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns and those who are passionate and inspired will understand that and do it anyway."

Exploration of any kind just can't happen without risk. I suspect that the modern aversion to deadly risk is at least in part due to the widespread lack of belief in the afterlife. If this is all you've got, then you want to live as long as possible. Maybe it's also part of a life filled with too much comfort.


More Interstellar

A new trailer came out for Christopher Nolan's next film, Interstellar, a few weeks ago. I have yet to see a Chris Nolan film that I didn't thinks was fantastic, so I would go to see this anyway, but as each trailer is released it looks better and better. If nothing else the visuals are going to be absolutely stunning. Even watching the trailer on my iPhone had me impressed, such that seeing them on the big screen alone will be worth the price of admission as far as I'm concerned. So here's the trailer:


Guest Post: Top 5 SciFi Reader Pet Peeves

As a bit of a change of pace, today I'm featuring a guest post from my friend and fellow writer (and a member of the Collegium Scriptorum Catholicae), Maggie Zapp. M.R. Zapp is a fan of space opera, dystopian fiction, and the English regency. Published in both print and digital publications, she currently freelance copy writes, works on novels, and hopes to win a Hugo Award before the SHTF. A self-proclaimed "cool nerd," she is actively working toward the indie publication of her first novel, and blogs at Apostolate of the Pen. Find her on twitter @mrzappwriter.

As I mentioned in Write What Readers Love, I read tons of reviews on books that fall into the same genre I write in. Even if I've never read the book itself, I receive huge insight into reader expectations by reading reviews and I've noticed some trends.

This top five list isn't a result of polling hundreds of readers - at least not officially. But it is based off three star and below reviews from across a spectrum of indie-pubbed SciFi books. Perhaps reader objections are different for traditionally published SciFi, but I doubt it. If anything, I would think readers tend to give indie-authors a bit of a pass because "it comes with the territory of reading indie books."

That might sound like I'm advocating sub-par writing, formatting, or editing in indie-pub but that is far from the case. I'm not condoning anything less than the very best an author can do, but I do think those who are less discriminatory easily entertained don't mind as much the need for a better content editor, or the occasional mis-used word.

That being said, editing issues aside, here are the top five mistakes SciFi Indie authors can make (in no particular order.) Think about your work. Do any of these apply?

1. Lack of Plausibility: How far does the reader have to suspend belief? Readers of science fiction expect to be dealing with something that is a product of your imagination. Suspension of belief is expected. But writing science fiction doesn't give you free reign to go against human nature or to defy the rules you've created for your world.

Typically, plausability issues in science fiction deal more plot or world-building than it does with characters. I suspect this is the case because humanity (or at least something like humanity) remains constant, despite other planets, worlds, or twilight zone scenarios.

We have to believe that the rules set within your world make sense with each other, that they don't contradict. We might not know what all those rules are. We may not understand how your world came to be or how your machines work. In fact, a lot of times, half the enjoyment of reading scifi is wondering how something came to be (and hoping that the author answers those questions later). But we have to have some rules as a frame of reference, and those rules must make sense among themselves. Think of it as the principle of non-contradiction for writers.

If your beta readers are commenting that such and such is extremely unlikely or would never happen or doesn't make sense in the world you've presented, that is a huge red flag. But you are fortunate that they caught it before your book went on the market and garnered a bunch of three star reviews for the same reasons.

2. Filler: A cardinal rule of good writing is that every sentence in the book has to expose character, move the plot forward, or set the scene. But the best scenario is when it does all three at once. And the worst?When it doesn't do any of those.

Readers hate it when an author includes eight pages worth of writing that could easily have been left out, e.g. battles that don't have any affect on the plot, extensive writing on - at best - side characters that have nothing to do with the main story, main characters musing about things that have no effect on their decisions or don't have anything to do with anything.

Don't be the kind of writer that includes multiple scenes that you wrote because they were cool. Your book is not a collection of cool scenes (unless it's sold as a collection of cool scenes). It's a book, with a beginning, middle, and end. Deviate from that and you'll have some peeved customers.

3. Lack of Character growth: Characters are the heart of a good story. One could have a great plot and great setting but without characters that have complex motivations and personalities, your readers will lose interest - and fast. They might not evolve and develop, but they should at least have multiple motivating factors and a well-rounded backstory.

If your characters aren't real to you, if you can't see them in your mind's eye, like the way you can "see" a friend or enemy, they won't be real to your readers either.

Think about how varied the life is in your social circle, how each person you know is affected by their temperament, their upbringing, and their life experiences. Now look at your characters. Do you understand them as well? If you don't, then they need work before you continue writing your story. You might discover that your plot doesn't work with the character you are envisioning. Or worse, that you've written a character that is completely superfluous to your plot. Your main character should be intrinsic to the story and drive the plot.

If you need help, try this list from Plot to Punctuation. There are tons of other character development tips available online, so I suggest looking around and finding something that inspires you to get to know your character better.

4. Insufficient World Building/Backstory: There are a lot of different reasons why scifi readers love scifi. One of the biggest attractions is the originality of the world presented. Many of the three star and below reviewers expressed disappointment in author worlds not fully explored.

Why is world building so difficult? Because we are so accustomed to the knowledge we have, that when we try to break it down into its minute parts, we miss a lot. A good back story, an understanding of all aspects of your world and why, and the why behind the why, doesn't make it into your book. At least not the majority of it. What it allows for is a plausible world, something that seems organic and real.

That doesn't mean give us three pages of narration about what this world is like, but it does mean we will be more convinced of the plausibility of your world. Your greater knowledge will affect how you tell the story and what your characters do and how they do it

If you take the time (and perhaps utilize some world-building checklists) before you start on your plot, you'll have a much better chance of your story being fully developed.

5. Too troped/too cliched: Perhaps more so than other genres, scifi readers want originality - if not in story line, than in characters, if not in characters than in setting. Something should set your novel apart from other novels. If the three major aspects of your book, setting, plot, and character all follow overdone tropes, reader attraction will lag.

Of course, tropes are tropes with good reason. We are attracted to certain things: the underdog, the adventure story, the explorer turned battling hero. But if there is zero originality, one can't expect to be getting reviews above four stars very much. If you combine overdone tropes with any of the four flaws above, you're looking at a book that will die a literary death in a short amount of time.

TVTrope's Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Cliches is extensive (and amusing). If you are wanting to find a way to work yourself out a cliche, try throwing in the opposite of what the reader would expect. That might seem like an easy fix, but it has successfully worked (e.g. Columbo). You can also check out this list here for some ideas on how to make your story unique.

All of the above is based off of extensive reading of "how to" books online and scifi reader reviews. If you think any of this information is suspect, I invite you to do the reading yourself. In fact, I heavily encourage that you read reviews on books similar to yours in order to be able to avoid specific pitfalls in plot device, character development, world building, etc. that your niche is susceptible to. And keep in mind that reviewers aren't going to be any nicer to your book than they are to anyone else's, but if you give readers what they want, you have a much higher chance of becoming a best seller.


Bits and Pieces 7

 Wow, it's been a long time since I did one of these, and apologies for the continuing sluggishness of posting here at Swords and Space. But at least we are staying faithfully to our radio schedule and speaking of which ...

  1. The next episode of Swords and Space Radio is tomorrow, 9 September at 9pm Eastern as usual. We were going to do another episode of classics with recurring guest Marc Ratusz, but due to illness on his part we've had to switch things up last-minute and instead Jason Frazier and Matthew Zepf will be returning for a sequel to our show on Alien:

    Swords and Space XXV: The Alien Series Revisited 09/09 by The AMDG Radio Network | Film Podcasts
  2. This is a bit old and I posted it on Facebook some time ago, but wanted to share it here also; the ship pictured at the top of this post is the "IXS Enterprise", an interstellar ship conceptualized by NASA physicist Harold White. Looks fantastic. Usually realistic ships look hideous but this one's a beauty and I'm trusting by who its creator is that it is, indeed, realistic.
  3. I read a fascinating article on the blog "This can't be happening!" last week that gave a very different perspective on the whole Ukraine/Russia situation that's going on right now. Here's a little thought experiment that is suggested in the article:
    Imagine for a moment that Mexico’s elected government was just recently overthrown by a violent putsch, financed for the sake of argument by some $5 billion in Russian money funneled to pro-Russian Mexican activists in the country. Suppose too that the new pro-Russian government installed by the putschists then began a military campaign against the pro-US Mexicans living in the 50-mile-wide strip of Mexico just south of the US border (I don’t know if there are any pro-US Mexicans living there, but let’s at least pretend there are). Now imagine that the Mexican military began indiscriminately shelling and bombing towns like Juarez, Tijuana and Encinada -- places filled not just with pro-American Mexicans, but with many Americans who have vacation homes or who manage maquiladora factories across the border from the US. Imagine that several thousand Americans in those areas had already been killed by the Mexican military’s attacks.
    Well, that basically describes what happened in the Mexican-American War. I have no dog in this fight so this shouldn't be taken as some sort of apologia for Russia, but it does give a different perspective. As with most modern wars, there really is no "good guy" in this one.


Bane: Great Supervillain

Recently I had a little "debate" with a couple of friends about the villain Bane (played by Tom Hardy) from The Dark Knight Rises. My occasional guest on Swords and Space Radio, Stephen, felt that Bane wasn't so great. I beg to differ, however -- I thought he was a great villain, and that's not just because I really like Tom Hardy's work.

Bane was just very savage and powerful (he almost killed Batman and completely took him apart), yet at the same time witty but not so overpowering as to be invincible -- he had his weakness in his mask which added some interesting nuance (a little Darth Vader-esque). He was also clearly evil, but had some human elements to make him more real and not one dimensional -- like his clear love/compassion for Miranda/Talia.

In my view, the most important thing that made Bane great was the fact that he was a militant revolutionary (usually they’re the good guys) who cloaked his revolution under the guise of “liberation” (like real world revolutionaries do). Often, the bad guys represent the forces of law and order (again, thinking of Star Wars here) and its the rebels/revolutionaries who are the protagonists (consider how popular that butcher Che Guevara is). But Bane and The Dark Knight Rises gave us a little taste of what revolutionaries are really like. Here's Bane's Blackgate Prison speech which exemplifies his revolutionary demagoguery, as with the Bastille, turning vile criminals into victims (although interestingly, the film wasn't that black-and-white because the criminals therein were unjustly imprisoned, but the point is that violent revolution is never the solution).


"Daddy Issues"

In preparation for going to see Guardians of the Galaxy at the cinema, and doing the podcast we'll put up next week, I've done a fair bit of comic reading (with thanks to my friend Stephen who gave me his collection to guard while he's out of the country), and I've noticed that a recurring theme in Marvel comics is dysfunctional relationships with fathers.

Just a few examples:

Peter Quill/Star Lord (Guardians of the Galaxy) - never knew his dad growing up, and the guy is a major jerk, much of what Quill does is to defy him
Gamora (also Guardians) - her dad is "the mad titan" Thanos, who she hates, and who she wants to kill him
Sam Alexander/Nova (Nova) -  His dad is an absentee drunk growing up, then disappears
Cyclops (X-Men) - parents died in a plane crash orphaning him when he was very young

... Actually, a great many superhero characters are orphans. I am not a huge comics fan, but those who have existing positive relationship with his/her father are few and far between. I suppose Bruce Wayne/Batman had a positive relationship before his parents were murdered.

Clearly this trope resonates with young people who read these comics, for it to be such an enduring theme. And it's a sad commentary on our society that whole generations of children have grown up alienated from their fathers. No doubt the explosion of divorce since the 1960s has played a role where many young people have been separated from one parent, usually their fathers. I believe another factor is the low value placed on the responsibilities of fatherhood in today's society, and the prolonged adolescence that is constantly complained of but rarely remedied.

Some may argue that this has always been the case, but I tend to doubt that. Looking at literature from the past one tends not to see this level of alienation. One also sees numerous accounts praising the great devotion and attention that certain fathers paid to their children, as recounted in, for example, the life of Charlemagne by Einhard, the life of St. Louis IX by Joinville, and various lives of St. Thomas More to name a few that I've read.


Next Week Swords and Space Radio is Back!

Well, the mid-season break at AMDG radio is coming to a close, and it's perfect timing with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy this past weekend. I was able to watch the film today and, having also read the "Marvel Now!" reboot of the series starting in 2013, I know we're going to have a lot to talk about. Here's the link:

Swords and Space XXIV/Culture of Comics #27: Guardians of the Galaxy 08/12 by The AMDG Radio Network | Entertainment Podcasts


When Gameplay Had to Compensate for Lack of Graphics

Truly, the 1990s were the golden age of strategy gaming. Over the years I have dabbled in various strategy games as they came out, but nothing has ever "done it" for me the way classic games like the original Master of Orion, Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space, or the original Lords of the Realm. Newer strategy games all have much better graphics, to be sure, but they always seem to fall a bit short.

To be fair, I have found a few good ones over the years, and I burned many hours playing Galactic Civilizations II which provided a pretty close approximation of the magic of Master of Orion. But on the whole, I think that the reason those old games were so great was because they could not rely on graphics to save a less-than-excellent game. Nowadays I think that visuals can too easily become a crutch.

The good thing is, all those classic games are old enough that they're available for free, and I am now reliving my gaming glory days with my oldest son. I recently downloaded Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space and we've been playing a few turns every other day. It's available here: http://www.raceintospace.org/

If you are interested in the Soviet-US race into space this is a great game. Every launch has us on the edge of our seats wondering if it will blow up, or go according to plan. My son is learning a lot about the history of the space race too. He's just turning 8 next week but is able to grasp the game with some help from me. Great stuff.


'Salem's Lot (Book Review)

Title: 'Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday
My Rating: 3 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: A very serviceable vampire tale set in rural New England where the vampires are evil animated corpses not emo romanticized creatures of sympathy, and the characters who battle them well-developed and human

There is a lot of garbage vampire-themed fiction out there, in fact, almost all of it is garbage, so full credit goes to Stephen King for penning a good one that is full of suspense, horror, good characters, and above all vampires that actually are evil and vampiric. I give it three stars as a definite page turner but I can't give it higher than three stars because it wasn't really more than that. It brushed with greatness but left important plot points unresolved and lacked any higher philosophical point. It seemed more like a high quality slasher work.

The novel takes place in the town of Jerusalem's Lot A.K.A. "'Salem's Lot", Maine (population approx. 1000) circa 1975. The main protagonist, Ben Mears returns to his home town to write a novel. At the same time the mysterious Kurt Barlow and his associate Richard Straker arrive. Deaths ensue and Ben quickly comes to realize that vampirism is the cause. He joins forces with an interesting cast of characters. The characters are definitely a strong point of the work -- even minor characters who exists only briefly to fall prey to the vampires are well done and very human. I have to complain that I thought the characters were, by and large, a bit too dramatically immoral peaking the work somewhat of a cross between Peyton Place and Dracula.  To King's credit, he does not feel the need to graphically describe the various character indiscretions and tactically cut scenes, but it all felt a bit much. Although I suppose it underscored the theme of how 1970s American society was disintegrating. I tend to think that people are generally not that bad.

My biggest problems were how Catholicism was portrayed. I do believe Mr. King attempted to show it in a positive light, and it was of interest that Catholic items seemed to be all that was capable of stopping vampires but it was also portrayed as if Catholic holy items are mere talismans that can be given to anyone just so they can fight vampires. The vampire hunters all confess their sins to the priest, but absent any actual conversion of even professed faith in God. There are some truly grievous errors concerning Catholicism that minimal research would have avoided such as having an old Mexican priest break the seal of confession in the prologue. Such superficial treatment, besides being wrong an offensive, weakened the story because it leaves one wondering why these Catholic items "work".

The plot moved at a good pace and offered a good mix of character development, scene setting, and suspense. There was really very little action as such, but Mr. King does an excellent job of creating terror and suspense. As suggested above, the vampires were appropriately evil although their powers felt ill-defined and it was unclear why some physical attacks worked on them and others didn't.

It must be noted that I actually listened to the audio book, purchased from Audible.com. The version I listened it was narrated by Ron McLarty who did an excellent job and really helped to bring the characters to life.


Extreme-Early Draft: "The Vampire Hunter" (bad working title)

As I have frequently complained, titles are always a big problem for me. Consider this one a vague placeholder. I actually came up with a whole pile of backstory/worldbuilding for this yesterday (in lieu of writing) and if this first story goes well I want to flesh it out and write a novel in this setting.
This first bit is what I wrote on Monday. It will NOT be a part of the final story I don't think, but I include it for your interest so you can see where I started and how I'm developing it.


This operation was going to be no normal scoot and shoot. Half an hour before drop, word came from command that they were to be accompanied by a First Estate asset. It wasn't unknown to bring such along — sometimes on missions like this they'd face things that photon guns and flame throwers couldn't handle. But to be told after briefing, while conducting final drop prep … Schäfer didn't like it. There was obviously more to this mission than they'd been told, and who was the asset that warranted all the cloak-dagger-stuff? And apparently a retinue as well.

Schäfer counted off his men as they piled into the drop ship. All were clad in rugged, heavy armour, their faces hidden behind omnishield helmets. Large packs carried the tools of the sort of war they waged: in addition of ammunition for their photon rifles, holy water, salt, psalm books, as well as rations and clothing. He counted twenty four — twenty five once he took his position at the rear — he'd been told to reserve third squad aboard the Lux et Origo. To make room for the attachments, he now understood, and those were making their way between the crates and vehicles that clogged the main hangar deck. Whereas usually a member of the First Estate would consist of one darkly clad man and two or three attendants, here came a whole squad's worth. There were a half dozen acolytes. One carried a processional cross and another swinging a censer from which fragrant smoke wafted. This piqued Schäfer's curiosity further. His jaw tightened when he noticed three of the company were clad similarly to his men and heavily armed. His men were more than enough. In the middle of all this strode a tall man, clad all in black, his face hid below a wide-brimmed hat.


And here's a little more, also more than likely destined for the circular file, but has been helpful in getting the creative juices flowing:

"The universe is slowly unravelling — or perhaps not so slowly," the Cardinal said. "Being torn apart at the seams. The end of days, perhaps. But that has been said before. Yet still, with Earth destroyed, the Empire broken, and the demonic invading the mortal realm in numbers not seen in millennia, I think it may be."

Lt. Schäfer carefully, slowly shifted his position and readjusted his grip on his photon rifle. He peered over the edge of the crater they huddled in, scanned the ice field studded with rocks and craters around them. The surface of Charon was dark and still, no sign of their enemies, save the twisted bodies of their dead comrades scattered haphazardly. He exhaled slowly and lowered himself again. He looked to the sky, sought out the sun, Sol. From here, in orbit around Pluto, it was but one star among many, albeit an extraordinarily bright one, still painful to look on for long. It lit their hole well enough that he could see what was left: two troopers, Kapoor and Fulgencio, one of the acolytes (possibly dead), and the Cardinal.

Cardinal Plasden was the only one of them not wearing pressurized combat armour. Incongruously with the desolate and airless landscape, he wore a black coat and wide-brimmed hat, the shimmer of air just visible around him, held inside an Elysium Window. Scarlet gloves contrasted sharply with the dark garb, gripping a silver rod. A pectoral cross hung around his neck.

"A rift in our universe has been opened here. You and your men were only to secure the landing site, not accompany me into the temple." The Cardinal said. "But as my own entourage has fallen, you must steele yourselves for what is to come. I am sorry."

"With respect, Your Eminence," Schäfer said. "Why weren't we briefed about this? We were unprepared — my men —"

"Obviously I was ill prepared, too. My men are equally dead." The Cardinal's voice wavered as he took a hand from his rod and gently brushed the acolyte's helmet. "I thought a quick, surprise attack would work. There was not time to brief anyone. Upon boarding the Lux et Origo I had to perform the Rites. Those are the reason any of us are alive. Flesh and blood is not our main foe here. I think you've been fighting vampires and revenants so long that you — and I — forgot this."

Schäfer looked to each of his remaining men in turn. Their faces were hidden behind their omnishield helmets. Kapoor was no doubt dying to tail his carefully maintained handlebar moustache. Olive-skinned Fulgencio's eyes were likely bulging as he held himself back from shouting, demanding "what the f— is going on?" Schäfer checked the readout on his left arm. They'd dropped only half an hour ago.

"Alright, Your Eminence, what do we do now?"



This is just too good not to share, even though it's off topic. A continuation of my personal war against "the beautiful game".

If people reacted in every day life to how soccer players (especially World Cup) react to incidental contact during games ...

In fairness, it should be noted that my good friend, Stephen Heiner, who is the scoundrel guilty of running a soccer show on A.M.D.G. radio -- and obsessed with soccer -- is the one who forwarded this video to me.


Vampire Research

I'll be posting a little teaser this Friday featuring an extreme-early draft scene of what I'm currently working on -- just to prove I am working on something. After writing it, I realized I was in dire need of research to make it come closer to working. As you will see, it's another one of my genre-bending concepts bringing together vampire-horror and funky science fiction with a gothic Warhammer 40,000 sort of flavour (no idea what you'd call that). So I had a listen to the Audiobook of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot. It wasn't bad, and I'm working on a review for this Saturday.

I'm currently working on Fr. Montague Summers' The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. Fr. Summers was a fascinating man and this is a fascinating book. For the uninitiated, Fr. Summers was an English Catholic priest who died in 1948, I believe, and who had a special (some might say outdated, medieval) interest in the occult. One of his first literary works was a translation of the Malleus Malefecarum.

I've only covered the first chapter so far, wherein Fr. Summers -- who believed vampires to be a very real thing -- makes the case that the believe in vampirism (or at the very least something very close) is almost universal in various human cultures and he gives examples from every continent and divers folklore.



Very unusual for southern Ontario, we've had several cloudless, low humidity days in a row that have yielded exceptionally clear nights for stargazing. Fortunately I live far enough out of town that when my neighbours cooperate and have all their lights off (which they have -- another rare thing), so I've had some great stargazing this weekend!

I just puttered around Friday looking at random things and trying to figure out for myself what they are. Yesterday I "took the plunge" and invested in an iPhone app to assist and decided on "Pocket Universe". I definitely can't complain about my first use.

Last night, while testing out our new tent in the back yard, I was awakened by my two oldest at 12:30 a.m. asking if it was finally dark enough to use the telescope. I'd been unconscious since about 8:30 but they were too excited to sleep. So, I hauled out our telescope and activate Pocket Universe and we had a gander. Found Saturn and I was stunned to be able to clearly see Saturn with its rings! It was stunning. It was all pure white through my telescope so I couldn't make out any other detail, but being able to see saturn's rings around it was sure something.

Below is not my picture, but is pretty close to what it looked like through my 6.3 mm eyepiece (perhaps a little blurrier). Using the 20 mm lense I was able to get a small, sharper, and brighter image. Very cool stuff. Maybe I'll get into stellar photography next. Anything other than actual writing apparently!


Swords and Space Radio - Half Way Point of 2014 Season

Last night we recorded episode XXIII of Swords and Space Radio, and finished up the first half of the 2014 season, the second full season of Swords and Space and first with my father, Richard, joining me as co-host. You can listen to last night's show, reviewing Godzilla and Edge of Tomorrow below:

New Entertainment Podcasts with The AMDG Radio Network on BlogTalkRadio

The network takes a break for the month of July, but we'll be back on the 5th of August with a special "crossover" episode with our friends from Culture of Comics: Swords and Space XXIV/Culture of Comics #27: Jupiter Ascending and Guardians of the Galaxy

In the mean time, I'm going to try to focus on getting the blog back to a more active status and knuckle down to do some more writing. I know this has been promised a few times before, but with your encouragement I can do it.


Edge of Tomorrow (Movie Review)

Title: Edge of Tomorrow
Director: Doug Liman
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Excellence: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: Another very solid science fiction offering from Tom Cruise that features not just good action and special effects, but a very serviceable underlying plot, lifelike characters that the viewer will connect with, and a great new take on the "Groundhog Day" style reliving of the same day over and over.

This film will be discussed on Swords and Space Radio Tuesday 10 June:  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amdg/2014/06/11/swords-and-space-xxiii-godzilla-2014-and-edge-of-tomorrow

Finally a film that I took the time to go see at the theatre and was not disappointed by one bit. This film was great, and I haven't been this enthusiastic about a new sci fi movie since Dredd a couple years back. It was relased just last week on 5 June, so there's plenty of time for readers to check this great sci fi action/adventure out in theatres -- you won't be sorry.

The basic plot is quite straight forward: Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is forced into what's little more than a suicide mission that is part of an attempt to halt the subjugation of earth by aliens called "Mimics". Killed within minutes, Cage then finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop - forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying over and over. He ultimately joins up with Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski and together they try to use his reliving of the same day to defeat the alien menace.

The cinematography was great and the world well-developed and realistic. This certainly helped with the suspension of disbelief, and the battle scenes were well-paced and appropriately devastating to give the viewer a very real sense of how desperate the human battle against the Mimics is.

The plot was fast-paced and well-conceived. There was even a bit of humour here-and-there, and the performances were, without exception, very well done. Special "props" to Bill Paxton for an unexpected (and very strong) performance as a drill sergeant from Kentucky. I was a bit skeptical about the Emily Blunt character going in, but I thought she was done quite well. That she goes into battle wearing a stength-enhancing combat exoskeleton compensates for one of my usual complaints about the D&D Warrior Babe trope (i.e. that women physically aren't as strong as men) and she did a good job of portraying a character who is much more than her exterior hard appearance suggests.

I only really had nits about the film. I wasn't crazy about how the military was portrayed, throwing completely untrained troops into battle, but I suppose this was done to convey just how hard-put humanity is. I also thought that Emily Blunt's character engaging in a very strenuous pre-battle workout was unrealistic since no soldier would exhaust themselves like that on the eve of battle, but I can see why it was done in the context of the film to convey her single-minded devotion to her craft (making war against the Mimics).

Overall, I thought this a fine, fine film. The most enjoyable new science fiction film I've experienced since Serenity way back in 2005. Unlike Serenity, it's doing quite well in the box office, thanks no doubt to a robust marketing effort and the star power of Tom Cruise -- who, it must be said, has rarely let me down. He is a strange, strange man in his personal life, but he chooses good films and performs well in them.


D-Day 70th Anniversary

Today is the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. I personally don't make a huge deal of this, because as I've been on record as saying before, I don't see WWII as being some great "good versus evil" struggle. It was a monumental and horrific war that altered the course of history, that is for sure, but when one considers our alliance with the Soviets (an even more brutal and evil regime than the Nazis) and the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no side can claim the moral high ground.

That said, a reader sent me the above-posted picture of my old regiment, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles (at least some of them) embarking on a landing craft on D-Day. They landed on Juno Beach.

I don't think any of the veterans I had the pleasure of meeting were members of the R Wpg Rif Battalion that landed in Normandy. I remember stories of Italy from the old soldiers I sat with at mess dinners. They had nothing but respect for the German soldiers they faced, and had fond memories of joining forced with British troops to brawl with Americans.


Tonight: Swords and Space XXII - 1984

For the month of May, Swords and Space turns to look at one of the all-time classics of not just science fiction but English literature at large. Your hosts Nicholas and Richard Wansbutter will be joined by recurring guest Marc Ratusz (with whom we discussed Nightfall and Childhood's End) to discuss George Orwell's 1984. We will delve into the timeless themes of this work as they pertain to the destruction of the English language, totalitatian regimes, mind control, false flags, and more.

We will be discussing the novel as well as the two films adaptations of 1956 and 1984 film versions.

This episode of Swords and Space Radio will air at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight.

Swords and Space XXII: George Orwell's "1984"; 05/06 by The AMDG Radio Network | Books Podcasts


For those of you who aren't regular listeners to Swords and Space Radio ...

Well, we've managed to stick faithfully to the new one-per-month-without -fail format for Swords and Space radio mentioned in the New Years/Reboot post. So we've covered off four episodes so far, with our coverage of the new Robocop being our first discussion of a new movie. But 2014 is shaping up to be a dandy for new science fiction.

It's true that there's nothing coming to get me quite as excited as Prometheus did, but on the other hand that means there's nothing that will so bitterly disappoint me as Prometheus did. There is quite a bit that has at least sufficiently piqued my interest that I'm going to go see it in the cinema, though, and I haven't wanted to see this many new movies in years. Here are four that I intend to see and then discuss on Swords and Space (keep in mind that I didn't bother to see anything in the theatre between Serenity and Star Trek and have averaged 1 per year since, so that shows you how good this year appears to me):

Godzilla - As a young boy I remember watching the 1984 Return of Godzilla and having a bit of a soft spot for the giant monster destroying city films ever since. The most recent American Godzilla film of 1998 was so forgettable I can't remember anything about it other than that I had no ongoing interest in any further Godzilla films ... until I saw the trailer for this one. (16 May release)

Edge of Tomorrow - Lots of people like to rag on Tom Cruise, but I don't think I've seen a film of his (certainly in the sci fi genre) that I disliked. Contrary to the reviews I thought Oblivion was more than passable (though no masterpiece) and the trailer for this one has certainly piqued my interest. (6 June release)

Jupiter Ascending - never even heard of this until I stumbled across the trailer and I immediately sat up and took notice. Looks like some fun space fantasy -- my "co-favourite" sub-genre along with sci-fi horror in the vein of Alien and Event Horizon. (18 July release)

Guardians of the Galaxy - As caretaker of my good friend Stephen Heiner's massive comic collection while he's seeking fame and fortune in France, I've been inaugurated to Guardians of the Galaxy which is a fun series and, again, basically space fantasy. Lots of whacky stuff and space battled. Also lots of comedy. Looks like it will be hilarious with good action from the trailer. I have to pre-emptively dock a start from it for my review for casting Zoe Saldana as Gamora. Just not working for me. (1 August release)

We'll be discussing Godzilla and Edge in June, and Jupiter/Guardians in the August episode.

You can find/download all of the past Swords and Space Radio episodes here: http://amdgradio.com/category/swords-and-space/


Thoughts on the Battle of Endor

Well, thanks to the magic of iMovie and the ability to guard my children's eyes from the outrageous Princess Leia slave costume, my children were initiated into Return of the Jedi a few months ago (after asking me for years when they could see the conclusion of the trilogy). Re-watching it with them, I was reminded of the rather abrupt end to the Battle of Endor.

I always wondered where the heck the entire Imperial fleet vanished to after the Death Star blew up. It's pretty obvious from the film that they still heavily outnumbered the rebels and could have easily crushed their puny fleet.

But as I thought about it some more, aside from how fast they took off, it's not totally crazy. Morale and leadership is a huge part of warfare and there are countless episodes in history where vastly superior forces managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory because they basically wimped out. Off the top of my head, the most obvious example I can think of is almost any battle of the War of 1812. Take the capture of Fort Detroit, for example. Sir Isaac Brock on the Canadian side had about 1000 troops, only 300 of whom were regulars. The American fort was garrisoned by 600 regulars and close to another 2,000 militia. But by being bold and preying on the fear that the American general had of the Indians, Brock took the fort with only two wounded. Even the Battle of Queenston Heights, where Sir Isaac Brock was killed early in the fighting, ended up a British/Canadian victory due to the timidity of the American generals.

So, when we consider that the Imperials just watched their prized flagship blow up (for unknown reasons -- no idea how the bridge blowing up would suddenly make it fly into the Death Star), but then seeing their prized super weapon carrying the Emperor evaporate, it's not too much of a stretch that they would lose their nerve and decide to fight another day, especially if the next officer in the chain of command was timid or otherwise not a great leader (conceivable since Darth Vader seemed to choke out the better officers who could think for themselves or had honour).


A Warhammer 40K Toy Soldier Part 2

Well, I neglected to take pictures while I was in the process of painting, so you only get a shot of the finished product of the miniature I posted last week.

We had to write a little story of 100+ words to go with the miniature, who is supposed to be representative of the regiment we use in our tabletop games. So here is this guy's story:

Jan Drewnowski (drev’nov’skee) is trooper in second squad, first platoon, A Company of the 1st Battalion, Emperor's Own Sorgrecian Rifles currently seconded to the Persequi Astro Ultio Crusade. Jan (or “Janko” as the is more commonly known) was one of the volunteers taken in the Great Crusade Raising of 904.M41.

While many members of the E.O.S.R. come from Valkava Hive, owing to its immense population, a disproportionate number (per capita) hail from outlying rural areas. The inhabitants of these regions are hardy frontier woodsmen sent out to re-claim and re-settle the slightly less devastated regions of Sorgrece V. Janko is the third son of one such family. He grew up in the boreal forests south of the Eastern Wastes on tales of how his great-great-grandfather had allegedly killed a Khorne Berserker with just his woodcutting axe.

When the “living saint” Lord Inquisitor Soulis sounded the call for volunteers offworld on Janko’s 16th birthday (surely a sign from the Emperor), the lad rushed to volunteer. Inured to the rigours of pioneer life, he quickly and comfortably adapted to the Krieg-inspired training regimen aboard the warp-borne ship. After years of drilling, he's been awarded his full private rank and awaits his baptism in battle with grim devotion as the crusade fleet nears its destination ...


Swords and Space Episode XXI: V for Vendetta and The Legacy of Heorot

Last night my dad and I wrapped another episode of Swords and Space Radio, with my good friend Stephen Heiner joining us as guest and referee as the two Wansbutters duked it out over the film V for Vendetta. I hate it, my dad loves it, listen to what we had to say here:

Current Entertainment Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with The AMDG Radio Network on BlogTalkRadio

It was an interesting discussion -- I hope to follow-up on a few things that came up during the show that we didn't have time to discuss or that I didn't have time to respond to (such as my father's claim that the French Revolution happened because the monarchy of Louis XVI was a tyrant).


A Warhammer 40K Toy Soldier Part 1

Well, I've been way too busy to do much of anything these days, especially writing, so to remedy the dearth of posts I've decided to post more of what I have been doing in my spare time, which is painting my toy soldiers. I'm desperately trying to prepare for a tournament in July (yes, it takes this long for me to get ready).

I've been posting my progress on The Bolter and Chainsword forum, so I should share that stuff here. Right now they've got a little painting competition of sorts going on that will showcase the hobby nicely. We have to paint a single trooper representative of the regiment we use, with a short story about the soldier and his regiment (this competition is specific to the Imperial Guard "faction"). We must start with an unpainted miniature, so here's my initial photo showing the model that will be painted (it's been undercoated):

He'll be a trooper in 2nd Squad, 1st Platoon, A Company of the regiment I'm working on. The name of the regiment is in flux, it had been the Emperor's Own Sorgrecian Rifles as a bit of an homage to my real-life regiment when in the Canadian Forces. But these guys are more of a line regiment so I'm thinking something more like Princess Paulina's Sorgecian Light Infantry (maybe).


Tonight: Swords and Space Episode XIX

Tonight at 9 pm Eastern, we're back in action again on Swords and Space Radio with a discussion of The Matrix and the various themes and allegory, as well as the all-time classic sci fi novel Dune.

Swords and Space XIX: The Matrix (film) and Dune (novel) 02/04 by The AMDG Radio Network | 

I don't expect we'll have time to discuss any of the film adaptations of Dune and will confine ourselves to the novel. I know that my father, who is a huge Dune fan, hated the  1984 David Lynch film. I personally think that the film has certain charms, although it is by no means a masterpiece. The rococo decor and "noir-baroque" atmosphere/scenery/costumes I thought lent itself well to the story and was visually pleasing. I thought that the casting of all the secondary characters was quite well done.

Like the novel, I enjoyed the story much more up to the fall of House Atreides than that which followed. But on the whole, while holding a certain charm, I think it ultimately collapsed under its own weight.


Heroines ≠ Xena Warrior Princess

I've gone on record before with my pet-peeve about "D&D Warrior Babes" and "Xena Warrior Princess" type heroines, especially in film. I had an opportunity to go on a little mini-rant on this topic on our recent Desolation of Smaug episode of Swords and Space Radio. I recommend you listen to the show, but here's just a real quick recap:

It irks me how female protagonists always seem to have to be cast in the mould of warrior women. That is, basically male archetype characters inside female bodies. Some might accuse me of being reactionary and/or misogynistic, but if you ask me the real misogyny is this concept that for a woman to be worth anything she has to basically be a man. Whereas in reality there is such a great wealth of feminine characteristics and so many great womanly heroics that are ignored.

I find it especially infuriating when film adaptations of books "warrior-ize" strong non-combatant female characters from the novel, or add ones that never existed in the original work (#1 reason I haven't watched John Carter of Mars yet).

Now, since I always try to be about proposing solutions rather than just complaining, let me propose some real-world women who were real heroines without being she-men and kicking butt, for your consideration (and at the same time giving me some ideas to store away for future use in my own writing!) -- unfortunately time permits but a very few examples off the top of my head:

Audrey Hepburn: Before her acting career, this British beauty put her life on the line with the Dutch Resistance during WWII. Now, if this story was a Hollywood movie, she'd be flipping around inside some bunker killing Nazis by the dozen all River Tam-style, or gunning them down. But in reality what she did was dance in secret productions to raise money (the fuel of war) for the resistance. She also occasionally ran messages. If she'd been caught she would have been executed, so this was no less courageous than playing at G.I. Jane and it made good use of her particular talents and feminine graces.

The Women of Tiffauge: During the Vendéan War, the Armée catholique et royale faced the elite French regiment called "the Invincible Mayençais" at the Battle of Torfou. The Vendéens were forced to retreat in the face of vastly superior forces, but they were blocked by their womenfolk praying at a shrine in the rear. Instead of taking up arms and fighting the republican troops themselves, the women angrily reproached and mocked the manhood of the fleeing soldiers, who then turned and fought, and won the day against overwhelming odds.

Laura Secord: Kicked some serious American-butt like Mel Gibson did to the redcoats in The Patriot ... no, actually, what she did when she learned of a planned American sneak-attack during the War of 1812 was walk 20 miles out of American-occupied territory to warn the British/Canadian troops so that they could do the Yankee butt-kicking rather than getting bush-whacked themselves. She was a devoted mother of five and was caring for her husband who'd been wounded earlier in the same war at the time she made this trek (other forms of heroism unto themselves!).



One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.

Words spoken by Aragorn in J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, Book Three, Chapter 'Flotsam and Jetsam'.

Several years ago, I read an article in a Catholic magazine that recommended that if a person must use the internet, he should limit himself to checking emails only once or twice per day and having a specified time each week that do will do any other research on the internet. Never using the internet at home was further advised.

After first reading the article I was inspired to take the prescribed medicine for eSlavery and found it very beneficial. After following the practice for perhaps 3-4 months, I fell back into old habits and started spending more and more time  emailing, reading the useless gossip or sports scores, and visiting discussion boards (although seldom posting). I mentioned in my reboot post that I had a very difficult 2013 and I've realized that my internet habits did not help. If anything, I think they contributed to struggles with depression.

I know back in 2008 I did a second round of internet abstention and found I read (books) a lot more, walked more, and found the time to complete divers other projects I had constantly been putting off. I've renewed my realisation that the creature (internet) has again become the master of me, rather than the other way around as it ought to be.

One of the reasons I don't own a television is that I find TV to be a monumental time waster. This can easily apply to injudicious use of the internet. I'm therefore cutting back cutting-back on internet use. If I can stick to it, I expect an increase in writing along with progress on my Astronomi-con army. My increase in posts this month is already evidence that its working.


For the Record

I just realized over the weekend, that readers and listeners of Swords and Space Radio might have noticed that one of the shows we share air time with on AMDG Radio is something called "The Beautiful Game". Talk about a misnomer if I ever heard/read one -- "The Beautiful Game" is about soccer!

I just don't want anyone associating Swords and Space with soccer. I mean, this is "the Beautiful Game" in action:

Whereas here is how men in a real sport settle their differences:

I write this a bit tongue-in-cheek. I'm not really that into sports anymore, and the spectacle in the Calgary-Vancouver game was just silly. But it's 100% true that I can't abide soccer for all the diving that goes on.

By the way, take note of the next Swords and Space episode coming up in a few weeks: Swords and Space XIX: The Matrix (film) and Dune (novel) 02/04 by The AMDG Radio Network |


Space Hulk (Boardgame Review)

Name: Space Hulk (third edition)
Game Designer: John Blanche; et al.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary: A fun, intense 2-player tactical game pitting Space Marines against hideous "Genestealer" aliens in claustrophobic corridors portrayed by gorgeous miniatures and a clever jigsaw-like board.

Fantasy Flight Games is, as far as I'm concerned, the king of boardgame developers. Although I haven't written a formal review for Twilight Imperium, I hope my "after action report" conveys my love for that game and my conviction that it's the best board game ever. So good that I've gone back and downgraded Puerto Rico  from 5/5 down to 4/5. Anyway, I think they've made another very solid offering in Space Hulk.

Its a two-player action/adventure sort of game with a three-dimensional board. One player controls a group of heroic space marines battling in the confines of a derelict space hulk against the other player's genestealers. The genestealers are initially represented by motion sensor "blips" so the space marine player knows there are aliens lurking down that corridor but doesn't know how many. I found that this really gave the game an intense feel like watching Aliens for the first time. The space marines have big guns but if the genestealers get close they are absolutely deadly in hand-to-hand combat and the space marines will die fast. My first play I watered-down the rules a bit and dialed down the intensity (like removing the time limit on space marine turns) for playing with my 7 year-old son, but it was still great fun.

Here's a shot that gives you an idea of the components in the box -- lots of highly detailed miniatures, plenty of interlocking jigsaw-like pieces of space ship corridors and rooms, doors, dice, weapons templates, and markers. The rule books is quite straight-forward and not very long. The fatter missions book holds all the mission layouts and special rules:

Don't be intimidated by all the stuff you see. The game mechanics are pretty standard: each space marine has 4 movement points per turn. It takes, for example, one point to move one square. They can spend two points to be set on "overwatch" which allows them to shoot in the genestealer's turn, each time one of the aliens takes a move within line of sight. The aliens themselves have 6 points to represent their greater speed and agility. The space marines have a variety of weapons that each rolls a certain number of dice and require a certain number to kill (for example, their assault cannon rolls three dice and on a '5' kills its target).

There are a few characters that give bonuses, too, like the space marine sergeant, and in later missions a Librarian with potent psychic powers and the alien Broodlord. There are a wide variety of missions with varying objectives such as destroying a computer, eliminating all the aliens, or rescuing a stranded marine. I've only had a chance to play two missions so far, but really enjoyed what I did play and I think it gave me a good grasp of what the game offers.

This is a game that's easily picked-up by beginners. As mentioned, my 7-year old was able to play it without much difficulty, although I think sticking to the box's recommendation of 12+ will lead to a more enjoyable experience. I think the genestealer player needs to be a bit more ruthless than I've been with my son to crank up the intensity.

The biggest downside of this game is that is had a limited single print run in 2009 and has been out of print since then. As such, while it isn't particularly difficult to find on eBay or the Boardgamegeek Marketplace, it will run you $200+ (now the $100 I spent on my copy three years ago seems like a steal).

My only other complaint is that it seems to have the tendency to get a bit repetitive. I think that they would have been better off to incorporate a bit more role-playing and character development as in Hero Quest (man, really wish that game wasn't out of print!). But on the whole a very solid game, with the added bonus of being suitable for two players (its hard to find good two-player games).
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