8.16.2019

D.N.A. EPISODE 4

By BarbaraBlackwell (May-June 2019, age 9)

FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE
FOR PART TWO CLICK HERE
FOR PORT THREE CLICK HERE








8.14.2019

Book Review: Storm of Iron


Title: Storm of Iron (Warhammer 40,000)
Author: Graham McNeill
Publisher: Games Workshop (Black Library)
My Rating: 4 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: An impressive work of military science fiction, even for those unfamiliar with Warhammer 40,000, which is full of tension and interesting characters, as well as a heavy dose of carnage.

Although I (Godfrey) have been a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 board game for many years, I only relatively recently delved into some of their "Black Library" titles, which are novels based in the universe the tabletop game is set in. The Black Library works have a poor reputation because I think many see them as glorified "fan fiction" and it's true that some of the works are not great. But this novel, the first I read, was a great introduction to the series and I would gladly recommend it to anyone who enjoys military science fiction. You do not need to be a Warhammer 40,000 geek like I am to enjoy this.

The novel of course takes place in "the grim darkness of the 41st millennium" which features a sprawling "Imperium of Man" centred on "Holy Terra" where the Emperor rests entombed in his golden throne after being mortally wounded by the traitor Warmaster Horus 10,000 years previous. Those who followed Horus are now known as the Chaos Space Marines for their worship of the Chaos gods (demons). They are divided into diverse legions just as the loyal Space Marines are divided into chapters. Storm of Iron features the invasion by a massive force of the Chaos Marines called "Iron Warriors" of the planet Hydra Cordatus.

Storm of Iron tells this tale from both the perspective of the sadistic, evil Iron Warriors and from that of the brave Imperial Guardsmen garrisoning the massive citadel on the planet which houses a treasure of inestimable value to both sides. I thought that one of the great successes of the author in this novel was his ability to portray the Iron Warriors as totally evil and unworthy of any sympathy from the reader, yet kept them interesting enough to hold the reader's attention.

The Imperial defenders were, of course, more interesting to me and the heroic stand of normal humans against genetically improved supermen (who've been further strengthened by demonic aid) was very stirring. It was among these that one found some very well-done characters from among both officers and regular grunts.

The plot was quick, with lots of action, but also a decent amount of story. There were many unexpected twists-and-turns that kept me guessing right until the very last pages as to what the outcome of this struggle would be. It is, admittedly, brutally violent in several scenes, but I thought this was realistic to a war novel. It may have been slightly overdone in some scenes, but on the whole was well done. There are is no foul language or sexual content in the novel. It gave the reader a very good feel for the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and did so in such a way that someone totally ignorant of that universe would not be lost. Again, I reiterate, that I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys military science fiction, not just fans of the tabletop game.

8.09.2019

ALL THE GODS OF THE GENTILES, Part 3

By Godfrey Blackwell

IF YOU MISSED PART ONE IT CAN BE READ HERE.
AND PART TWO IS HERE.

David’s head burst out of the water. Coughing and spitting he looked around in near panic. He was still inside the lander, but it was half-filled with water that continued to rise. He was already up to his chest. Ogumbembi popped out of the water, cursing.

Cào nǐ mā! Where are we?”

Sarin, Carter and Farro were out as well. Sarin pulled the red lever next to the top hatch and it blasted up and away from the lander in a gust of smoke and steam. “Back on Ladon, somewhere.”

“Maeng!” David sloshed over to his fireteam partner and pulled the limp form out of the water.

“Let’s get out of --” Sarin never finished her sentence as she was pulled up through the hatch, her thrashing boots disappearing into darkness.

Gàn!” Ogumbembi shouted, pulling out his sidearm and emptying the clip through the hatch.

“Sarin!” Wrapping his left arm around Maeng, David unslung his rifle and fired a burst. He sloshed towards the hatch, firing another short burst as he went. “We’ve got to go get her. Farro, take Maeng.”

“Gimme Maeng’s gun,” Ogumbembi said. “Sniper rifle’s no good out here. Careful, Wakker!”

David didn’t have to jump as the water level was now only a couple feet below the hatch. Frantically he scrabbled up onto the roof and looked about. Ogumbembi was out right behind him. The clouds had cleared and the reddish glow of the gas giant Typhon gave visibility better than any full moon back on earth. They were submerged in a lake a few dozen metres off the shore. There was no sign of Sarin, but the hull and the water around them were swarming with human shapes.

“The colonists!” Ogumbembi shouted. “Take this you —”

He opened up with Maeng’s rifle, blasting a half-dozen colonists. Then Ogumbembi’s feet suddenly flipped up and his chest slammed into the hull. David fired a burst into a cluster of colonists almost close enough to grab him then spun around. The sniper was gone.

“Come on!” He fired again then dropped down to give Farro and Carter a hand out. On his way down, something slammed into the back of his helmet and he flew head first into the water.

His gear dragged him down fast to the bottom. He slid along the hull of the lander, bashing past colonists on his way down, then he got a mouthful of sand. Frantically he clawed at the clips on his webgear. As he got his vest unfastened, he felt it pulled off of him by someone else. The colonists were on him! His lungs were burning. He flailed about to get them off. He fired his rifle, but more were on him. He desperately needed to breathe.

Oh God, please help me, he prayed. Help me, help me, help me ...

They weren’t grabbing him anymore. His gear was off. He pushed off for the surface. As he broke the surface he coughed and gasped for air. He couldn’t think. All he could do was repeat the Holy Name of Jesus over and over in his head. The colonists didn’t come near him. He got to shallow water and sat on the bottom, his head the only part of him above the surface and tried to catch his breath.

He remembered: he was somehow invisible to them when he prayed. It had happened both times with the twins -- what did they say? “We can’t hear you anymore, where did you go?” On the other hand they’d “seen” his squad in their retro-reflective fatigues. He started reciting the Lord’s Prayer and sat up. There was no one around. Where had the colonists gone? None of his team were visible either. The top of the landing craft slipped below the surface and even it disappeared.

David moved to dry land and hid himself in the undergrowth of the forest that surrounded the lake. He decided that this must be the same forest he and his team had advanced through to do their recon -- otherwise the colonists could have never reached the crash site so fast. He shivered and rubbed his arms to try to keep the circulation going. He took stock of his possessions: he still had his rifle and his sidearm. The training beaten into him in basic had not allowed him to jettison those items as he’d fought his way out of the water. His smartphone was in his pants pocket and … his rosary. His mother had made him promise her to keep it with him at all times when he left for New Parris Island. He’d done so, but not prayed the beads for a long time. Now he pulled them out.

He continued to work those beads as he set out for the colony. The sun was just cresting the horizon as he came to the edge of the forest and into view of the colony. Before emerging onto the field separating the forest and the outer buildings, David knelt and did a quick visual inspection. There were no colonists in sight, nor any sound carried on the soft breeze. Yet he somehow sensed that they were there. He clicked off the safety on his rifle and started down the hill.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee …

He made his way slowly down the main street that ran through the centre of the colony, staying close to the domed habitats along the left side. He checked each gap between buildings before dashing across to the next. As he moved nearer the centre he felt a throbbing in the air. When he reached the central plaza he found the colonists. They were all arranged around a wooden platform that had been erected near a black pit that the sun’s light seemed unable to penetrate. Neither of these had been here when they secured the colony days before. On the platform stood Maeng between two burly male colonists who held his arms. Around the platform the rest of the colony had gathered, and now that they were all in one place David saw there were at least two hundred of them. They all knelt in a circle around the platform.

David found himself silently singing the Kyrie in tone VIII to himself as he cautiously stepped between the colonists. Not one made the slightest motion to indicate they were aware of his presence. Of the rest of his squad, there was no sign. He felt that they were dead, and he had an impression that one had to volunteer to join this company, as he so nearly had.

“Wakker?” Maeng said weakly from above.

“M!”

Out of the corner of his eye, David caught a flutter of movement. She was there, as always with Her brunette friend beside. He started humming the Kyrie to himself. He had to be careful. He stepped carefully forward.

“Come on, M, I’m going to get you —”

“W-wakk-k-k-k —” Maeng lurched forward, a terrible fear and confusion on his face. The k-k-k-k continued into a chattering palsy as thick ropes of bloody saliva fell from his mouth down to the ground. He collapsed to his knees and the tooth-burr became an inhuman cry of pain and his body started contorting and convulsing. His skin rippled, then talons burst from his hands, which reached to his chest ripping his torso apart.

HAIL MARY FULL OF GRACE! HAIL MARY FULL OF GRACE!

He could only keep shouting those words inside his head over and over. He felt on the verge of losing his sanity watching that horrible scene unfold, yet somehow he could not take his eyes off it. In the frenzy of carnage the shape of a creature took form; a hideous blasphemy against nature. David’s senses revolted against the sight, scarcely able to define what it saw — part ape, part lizard, with glowing yellow eyes in a skeletal black face. Finally, the creature sloughed-off the last of what had been Maeng in a single sinuous, body ripple like a reptile moulting on a time-delay camera. As one, the colonists rose and closed in, buffeting David and ascending the platform. They lifted the thing up on their shoulders and carried it down into the pit. David collapsed onto hands-and-knees beside the altar and was violently ill. Even after his stomach was well empty he continued to retch.

Oh dear lord, what was that? In spite of his horror, he forced himself to get up and stole down the path the colonists had followed. Heat built as he descended as did a terrible stench. He paused and heaved again as his senses were assaulted by the indescribable miasma. It was pitch black down here and his night-vision lay at the bottom of the lake with the lander. He ran back up to the surface, gratefully gulping the fresh air. He had to see what was down there, though. He had to see what was down there so he could kill all those …

He stopped mid-thought and refocussed himself. He would get himself killed that way — he had to keep praying. But the movement he’d caught this time was not from the direction of the pit, but one of the tabs at the edge of the square. Slowly, slowly, he ghost walked over, his weapon held at the ready. He darted around the corner, finger on the trigger, then nearly threw his rifle away as he violently moved it aside. A gaggle of seven emaciated children, all between five and perhaps nine years of age were huddled together there, starting at him with saucer sized eyes.

“Good Lord, there are children here?” he blurted.

“It’s been so long since anyone spoke,” whispered the oldest among them, a girl with thin, colourless lips and hair as nearly as white as her skin.

He dropped to a knee and put a hand on her shoulder. “You talk — you’re not like the others … what happened here?”

She looked at the ground, seemingly unable to speak further. David wasn’t sure whether any of the others were capable of speech at all, but they looked at him with life in their eyes. Sweet, innocent life, not the vacant stares of the adults. They all wore ratty clothes and their hair was dishevelled, unlike the perfect model-like appearance of the adults. He looked to the oldest girl — she must have been trying to raise them. Living in one of the habs, scrounging what food they could.

“Are you going to take us away from here?” the girl asked.

“My own ship … I’ll do what I can. You children stay here. I’ll be back.”

Hesitantly, he gave the girl a hug and she started to sob. He gave each of them a squeeze, and with tears in his own eyes hurried back to the platform. Gritting his teeth and praying all the more fervently, he approached the pile of clothing and shreds of meat that had been Maeng. Forcing his fingers to comb through this, he found a lighter.

“Grant unto him eternal rest, o Lord,” he mumbled. He would not wonder what chance of that Maeng or his other comrades had. For that matter, he was far from sure himself and he looked up to the sky, knowing that the nearest priest was lightyears away. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

He ran down the ramp and into the blackness. When there was no longer any light from above, he ignited the lighter and proceeded forward more slowly. The tunnel wound down ever further. He took note of the walls — they were not rough stone, dirt, or even modern tunnel reinforcements used in such excavations. These were smooth stone, laid without mortar, but with carvings and unlit sconces. After another few paces the dirt floor gave way to smooth steps. The carvings told a tale of men fleeing a great flood aboard winged craft, travelling to a moon orbiting a gas giant, and of women worshipping at altars, with things like the one that had emerged from Maeng crowned and reigning from atop ziggurats. In the flickering flame-light he spotted an arched doorway ahead. To the left of it lay rusted excavation tools. To the right, a huge slab of stone that had been moved by graviton repulsers, still attached but dead. Beyond it was a blackness darker still than that in the corridor, and a new wave of stench. He dropped the lighter and after gagging and retching anew, he had to scrabble about on hands and knees for several minutes to find it again.

Cautiously, fighting every impulse in his body to flee, he inched towards the door. He felt he was suffocating in the stink, and could barely think, could only repeat the name “Jesus” over and over. It was all that allowed him to keep his sanity in those moments and in what followed, as he enkindled the lighter again. Surely, he had descended into Hell itself — in the moment before the flame guttered out, he caught a glimpse of a chamber lined with skeletons, and the colonists kneeling round an altar bearing monstrous creatures that writhed together.

In blind terror David fled back up the stairs, caroming off the walls, tripping and staggering before slamming face-first into them. He spat blood and rolled over, firing his rifle. He burned through the magazine, dropped the now useless weapon, and ran again. Gasping and crying he strove for the light. At last he clawed his way out, scampering more like an ape than a man. The sound of feet roiled up behind him. He reached for his sidearm but pulled out, instead, his phone.

As the colonists were boiling out of the pit, he hit the play button, and Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” stopped them dead in their tracks. As the flute and violin bathed the plaza in gentle tunes, the colonists fell to the ground and thrashed about as if they’d been shot. Once David had caught his breath, he stood on shaky legs.

“You like that, you’re gonna love this,” he said, setting his playlist to have Mozart’s coronation Mass play next.

He nearly dropped the phone as a bellow of pain and rage issued from the pit. There were still the monsters to be reckoned with. He turned, and saw that the children had crept out from their hiding place, and were staring at him with wide eyes. Seeing the look on their faces, as if they’d heard beauty for the first time, made him forget the terror he’d seen moments ago and tears stung his eyes. He trotted over to them and handed the phone to the oldest girl, ordering her to hold it but do nothing else. He got his sidearm out and crouched next to the kids, racking his brain for what to do now. He couldn’t just keep playing classical music all the time, and now that they knew he was here — would prayers keep him invisible? Then there were the children. They’d survived somehow this long, but that may have been because they needed to be adults before they could be infected. He figured that was what was going on here, some sort of infection with the creatures below somehow being the source. But why didn’t all the colonists suffer what Maeng did? No time for that, he had to think … the Shackleton was destroyed. No hope of getting an evac. And his sidearm with all ten rounds it held wouldn’t put much of a dent in their numbers. But what if he could give them a taste of their own medicine? They’d used their landers as missiles, but their own “mothership” that held the interstellar drive that took them here must still be in orbit somewhere.

“Come on, kids,” he said. “We’re going to the operations centre.”

It would be easy enough to find — right below the gigantic communications dish. They hurried along, the orchestra giving way to the Latin choir. Though the colonists kept their distance, David was sure he saw dark shapes dart between buildings as they went, and he shivered. Yet even those abominations that the colonists worshipped, or were controlled by, feared it as well. They made it to the operations centre. As per the standard specs, it was actually the main command module of the ship that had taken the colony here, precisely where it had landed years earlier. From the bridge he could communicate with both UNICA and the orbiter that he would bring down upon this lost colony. It also had escape pods which were designed to blast the crew a safe distance from the engines. Surely enough to launch them well away from ground zero.

There was no time for anything fancy. He transmitted an S.O.S. to UNICA, then found the orbiter and transmitted commands for it to “link up” with the command module. It wasn’t meant to enter atmosphere, but it had enough bulk to make it … and it would hit like an atom bomb. Now to get out of —

“Oh, no,” he said. Mozart’s Coronation Mass had played through and the next track the FIDO chose was not classical. He reached to grab the phone from the stunned girl’s hand but was sent flying across the room. He slammed into the consoles and fell to the deck gasping for breath. His sidearm was knocked from his hand and he was lifted off the ground by a taloned hand that burned like ice. He was face-to-face with the abomination that had burst from Maeng. Prayers failed him as its yellow eyes bore into his — a malicious consciousness forcing its way through the gateway of his soul. Yet somehow his hand found his rosary and he thrust it forward. With a terrible shriek the creature released him and he fell to the floor. He sucked in a lungful of air, and clambered to his feet. The older girl was the only one not in the pod. He grabbed her and dove into the escape pod, slamming the hatch shut behind him. He secured her in her seat, strapped himself in, and with a quick Gloria, hit the launch button.


#


He came to still in the seat, but not still in the colony. Through the canopy he saw trees, and in the night sky ahead, a magenta glow told of a great fire burning off behind the horizon. He closed his eyes. Deo gratis. Then a hand grabbed his shoulder and a female voice came to his hear.

“Nowak David?”

It was Her. How did she make it out here? Was she on the escape pod somehow? What do I do now?


Fin.

8.02.2019

ALL THE GODS OF THE GENTILES, Part 2

By Godfrey Blackwell

IF YOU MISSED PART ONE IT CAN BE READ HERE.



David drew the middle shift for sentry duty that night. Their threat level hadn’t been upgraded by the Shackleton; they were still in ‘admin’ mode -- meaning no sentries were required -- but the colonists unnerved them, and the squad agreed as one that they’d keep regular sentry shifts through the night, rotating at three hour intervals.

David and Maeng lost the toss for the shift starting at 2 am. It was the worst time; right in the middle of the night so that one had barely gotten to sleep during the first watch before he was being hauled out of his rack, then hardly back again before reveille. Though he doubted any of them would sleep much anyway.

He and Maeng moved out of the “hooch”. Ogumbembi and Carter were standing outside waiting for them, rifles slung. Carter took a last puff on her stub of cigarette and threw it to the ground, the bright orange embers sparking in the blackness.

“Bo’, it’s even darker tonight,” Maeng said. “Where are the lights?”

As the night before not a single street light nor table lamp peeking through a hab window was on to illuminate the silent streets; the sky was overcast so that not even Typhon lit their way, nor the stars. Their own tent was blacked-out, too, since uneasy soldiers are less uneasy when they cannot be seen.

“Dunno, M,” Carter said.

“Did you do a patrol into the colony?” David asked.

“No way,” Ogumbembi spit. David heard the spittle smack into a rock in the direction of the town. “There’s something way way wrong with those boofs, I ain’t spending more time with them ‘n I have to.”

“Yeah, Farro thought maybe they found some bless drug or something,” Carter said. “But they’re not just kelping; there’s something really, really wrong with them.”

“Let’s get some rack time.” Ogumbembi said.

With a muffled swish of the blackout curtained entrance closing behind them, Ogumbembi and Carter were gone and David was alone with Maeng.

“C’mon, Wakker, Let’s go check it out,” Maeng whispered. “I wanna see what they’re up to.”

“What?”

“What’re you afraid of?” David heard his fireteam partner cock his rifle with a loud click. “We’ve got BFGs.”

“Let’s ask;” he keyed his mike to the Shackleton’s frequency. “Shackleton, this is Nowak, over.” There was only faint static in response.

“Prolly all asleep, lazy buffs,” Maeng said.

“Alright, let’s just go.” David pulled his night vision goggles down over his eyes.

By instinct borne of years of training, they moved stealthily, but even ghost-walking seemed painfully loud. David winced when he kicked an unseen can which bounced with a loud bang off the plascrete sidewalk then fell with a swish into the tall grass alongside. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears. He was a child again, hesitating at the top of the stairs leading down into the black crawl-space beneath the family home. His mother had asked him to get something from down there ... why did Mom have to always can all that stuff? There was perfectly good food in the megamarket. Always sending him down there ...

He shook his head. He wasn’t a child. Mother and Father had complained he was still a child when he left for New Parris Island -- but that seemed a lifetime ago; he was a trained soldier, now. But the silence was driving him loopy. He panned over to his right, and noticed a hundred metres off, in between a group of three habs there was what looked like a copse of short trees -- although in the monocrhomatic world of night vision it was hard to say. He hadn’t seen any trees within the colony during the day, though.

“M,” he whispered.

“What?”

“What’s that over there?”

They paused for a few moments, David dropping to one knee. There was no movement whatsoever.

“I dunno man, looks like a bunch of statues or something.” Maeng whispered.

“There aren’t any statues here.”

He heard Maeng fumbling with his beltgear. “Let’s use some light. We’re supposedly on level one anyway; why are we sneaking around like we’re level three?”

David pulled off his night vision and groped for his own moon beam. They activated them both and waved the almost painfully bright lances of light down the alley.

“What the ...” David exhaled slowly.

They walked closer. About a dozen colonists were standing bunched together, almost touching one another. As David and Maeng got closer, they could see that their eyes were all closed as if asleep. They were completely still.

“I thought these boofs were weird during the day, mang.” Maeng stepped right up to them while David held back, fixing his light to the upper hand guard of his rifle. Maeng shone his light right into the faces of one of the colonists without the slightest reaction. He swung the beam left and right.

“Where are the rest of them?”

“Maybe they’re in their habs.” David pointed down to the left through a gap in the pre-fab buildings. He was feeling suddenly bolder. “You check down that way, I’ll go up the street. Keep in radio contact.”

He’d moved about a hundred metres down the road when his moon beam picked out another cluster of colonists near the wall of a larger building, possibly a manufactory of some sort. Through the comm bead in his ear, Maeng whispered,

“Got another group here ... twenty of them this time. This is really loco.”

“I think I see more, too,” David said. “Let me check it out.”

When he got within a few dozen paces, he saw Her. She was on the outer edge of the clump of colonists. She was standing just off-centre of face-to-face with the other woman he’d seen with her that morning. They were almost touching, standing so close that each had a foot between the other’s. David felt his heart quickening again. He licked suddenly dry lips and moved in closer.

He detached the light and slung his rifle. Getting as close to the women as they were to each other, he shone the light first in one face, then the other. Were they even breathing? Her eyes were closed and her face and expressionless mask like death. Pulling off a glove, he touched two fingers to her throat. He couldn’t feel a pulse, but the skin was warm and soft. She did not move at all; as if she really were a statute, or she’d braced herself for even that light contact.

He was trembling now, and leaned in closer to see if he could hear her breathing. She was the same height as he with her heeled boots. The light, though at his waist, still let him make out her features; the high cheek bones, symmetrical jaw line, smooth, pale skin. He could hear no breath. Maybe something that would draw a reaction ... he closed his eyes. He was so close he had to move forward only a fraction of an inch to kiss her cheek.

He quickly stepped back a few paces. That was wrong, he thought. Like taking advantage of a habuji. Why did I do that?
He swung the light back up to her face. Still and silent as marble. So was her partner. He turned and trotted back down the street, breathing hard.

Stupid. Crazy. He chastised himself inwardly. Maybe Mom and Dad were right. Away from home, no sacraments, alone ... What am I even doing here?

He stopped at a crossroads to collect himself. Pulling out his iPhone, he checked his position with the Shackleton’s GPS. He was about to signal Maeng that they should return to the hide when he heard a clicking or a scratching sound behind him. He dropped to a knee and swung the light around, fumbling to get his rifle unslung as he did. He nearly dropped it. She was walking down the road with her brunette friend.

He stood. “Ah, look I’m sorry about ... Uh …. are you okay?”

Whereas the first time he’d encountered them, they’d seemed skittish and fearful, now they approached him boldly, and without a word, one encircled each of his arms with one of her own.

“We’re not afraid of your thoughts,” She said. “You shouldn’t be either. Come.”

“Where are we going?”

“To show you something,” She said.

Her friend reached down and switched off the light and they walked in darkness for some minutes. David couldn’t see his own feet, but the colonist curves were surefooted in the black and guided him without hesitation. They took him into a building and up a flight of stairs. He had a sense of being on a balcony that overlooked a large open enclosure, like a warehouse. They stopped and released his arms. Hands started moving over his arms and chest.

“Whoa, wait a minute,” he said. “What are you doing?”

“We can see in your mind that you like us.”

David’s heart jumped as the loud ripping sound of the velcro fastenings on his plate carrier opening reverberated through the silence. He had no idea where his rifle was. One of them pulled the comm bead from his ear. He knew he should run away from here, find Maeng. He felt his rational mind and his desires war within him.

Holy Mary, conceived without original sin ...

“Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“We can’t hear you when you do that.”

“WHAT?”

“Don’t leave us,” her voice was almost pleading, the first hint of emotion he’d heard in that bland voice since he first met her.

A strangled scream startled him suddenly back to himself.

“That was nothing,” She said.

“Oh, no … Maeng!” He pushed them back and scrabbled on the floor to find his rifle. Grabbing the comm bead, he jammed it back in his ear. “M, where are you?”

There was only static on the other side. He pulled a glow stick from his pocket and cracked it, casting a pale green light. He gathered up his his gear as quickly as he could, pulling his vest back on and draping the belt over his shoulder. He didn’t dare look at the two women.

Oh Lord, what did I do? He wondered. He sensed them back away as he thought that. Their boots must have been off for they made no sound. Holy Mary, conceived without Original Sin ...

He sprinted down the stairs with the glow rod lighting his path. He nearly fell down them and stumbled out into the street.

“Maeng!” Somehow he managed to get his FIDO back out and found his fireteam partner’s locator on the GPS. He pounded down the road. It said he was in a hab at the end of it. Dropping his plate carrier he kicked the door open and charged in. Maeng was on the floor ...




#




“Stand-to!” David shouted as he burst through the blackout blinds of the temp hab. “Stand-to -- Sarin, get over here!”

As the squad tumbled out of their cots and groped at weapons, David shifted Maeng off his shoulders and down onto his own cot. The glow stick he’d cracked earlier gave the only light, bathing the domed room in a green glow.

“What the blank going on?” Ogumbembi shouted, pulling his combat vest over his head.

“They did something to Maeng.”

“What happened?” Sarin was now kneeling beside Maeng, her medical bag open on the floor beside her.

“We got seperated ... I don’t know ...”

Gàn, Wakker!” Carter cursed as she dove out of the temp hab clad in only her underwear and combat vest, but with her weapon ready.

Farro was taking the time to pull her pants and boots on. “Where’s his gear?”

“I don’t know!”

“And what happened to you?”

David’s combat vest was hanging open at the sides, he’d lost his boonie hat, and his comm bead was hanging down his back. How in the ‘verse would he explain what he was up to when Maeng went down? He just grit his teeth and watched Sarin run her scanners over Maeng’s limp form.

“Bio-scanner’s still not working!” she groaned. She threw it down and pulled a stethoscope out of her kit and listened. “I’ve got a weak heartbeat -- he’s alive -- but what the --?”

Ogumbembi stuck his head back into the tent. “It’s dead out here, what’s going on, Wakker? Did the colonists attack him?”

“I don’t know ... I mean, there weren’t any around when I found him.”

“Anyone following you?”

“Negative.”

“We need to get him up to the Shackleton,” Sarin said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. But the bio’s not working and I’m hearing some weird stuff ...”

“Well, we’re not humping him all the way back to the lander,” Ogumbembi said. “Farro, get the comm pack rigged so we can bring it in on remote.”

In ten minutes, the howl of the assault lander’s V.T.O.L. engines screamed into the night, rising to a deafening pitch as Farro guided it with a laptop down onto the field separating their encampment and the colony. The Shackleton had not responded to any of their transmissions as they dashed aboard, Carter and David bringing up the rear after keeping an overwatch of the surrounding area.

“All clear!” Carter shouted as the lander’s rear ramp slammed shut. “Do we have clearance?”

“Skrag it,” Ogumbembi said. “Still nothin’ on the radio. We’re leaving.”

“We’re gonna be in quarantine forever, bo’,” Sarin said, her stethoscope pressed to Maeng’s chest.

“Yeah, thanks a lot Wakker,” Ogumbembi said. “What were you and M doing?”

“I said I don’t know what happened,” David said.

The engines roared and they rocketed into the sky.

Hùnzhàng, Wakker,” Carter said. “Look, your gear’s gonna tell the whole story when we get back.” She pointed to the communications pack on his web gear that transmitted everything he saw and heard up to the Shackleton. “You level with us. You are part of this squad aren't you? Semper fi mean anything to you? So what the gan do you mean when you say you got separated?”

It probably means more to me since I actually understand some Latin, David thought. But it was true, he couldn’t hide what he’d done, and this squad, as rough and crass as they would seem to his parents and Fr. Vinogradov, were his comrades. He quickly recounted what they’d seen in the colony.

“I was on my way back to link with M, when those two curves came at me. They took me to this building, and I was with them …”

“Huh? I thought you were an ace,” Sarin said, clearly confused.

“Obviously it was just an act,” Carter said hotly and turned her cheek to him.

“Awesome timing, bo’,” Ogumbembi said. “You know, you’re a real —”

“Recon Alpha this is Shackleton,” the radio cut-in. “You have not been recalled. Send SITREP, over.”

“Ogumbembi here — we are conducting emergency medevac.”

“Negative. You will comply with quarantine procedures.”

“‘Bembi this is Captain Ho,” the voice of their C.O. took over. “You know you need permission for that you dumb— what the?”

David could see through the canopy surrounding Farro at the front of the craft, that they had made it out of the atmosphere and were already in visual range of their mothership, a long latticework structure with engines at one end and an armoured crew area at the front. The view suddenly changed as proximity alarms sounded and Farro threw them into a roll. Now Ladon flashed past along with spinning stars. She righted the craft again and he could see a missile of some sort barreling towards the Shackleton. It missed the bigger ship by mere metres, and a second was blasted out of the sky by the Shackleton’s defensive weapons.

“Those look like colony landers,” Farro said. “Oh no —”

A third rocket slammed into the Shackleton’s engines and a flash of white light blinded David. He was thrown against his harness as the lander bucked and rolled. New klaxons sounded and he knew they were going down.

“Oh my God! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”


IF YOU'VE ENJOYED THIS STORY SO FAR, YOU MAY ALSO BE INTERESTED IN:

CHIMERA, by Godfrey Blackwell - Mackenzie Frazer, a scarred veteran of war in Iran, has returned home to a partly collapsed America and thinks he has left the horrors of battle behind. But one night when returning home he encounters something that has followed the veterans home ...

TIME LIZARD, by Albert Blackwell - Imperial Space Marine Tim is attacked by a strange creature but in the experience gains the ability to pause time which he must use to the utmost as he and his comrades face off against the diabolical Science Time.

7.31.2019

Godfrey's "5 Worst Speculative Futures to Live in"

Several months ago, I stumbled across the little-known Christian Bale film, Equilibrium. It inspired me to do up another list (the first was ridiculous space ships, which has proved to be one of my more popular "musings"), this time focussing on the worst futures to live in. There are a lot of dystopian futures depicted in film out there, and I haven't seen all of them, so there may well be some worse than what I list. But just for fun, I thought I'd throw down the five futures I'd least like to live in:

5. Megacity One - Dredd -After a nuclear war ravaged the earth, people have crowded into mega-cities. Mega City One stretches from Boston to Washington, D.C., an "unbroken, concrete landscape" with 800 million people crammed into it. You can imagine how crummy of a place to live it is already, but throw in the Judges who maintain law and order by summary executions, you've got a rather oppressive place to live in. Still and all, it's not ranked higher on the list because one can still live a relatively normal life here if he minds his own business. It's lot a lot worse than many tough metropolises in our world, although you can't get out of it because of the atomic destruction outside its boundary walls.


4. The Terminator Franchise - Another post-nuclear apocalypse future, although this gets ranked worse than Dredd's world because there's been a total breakdown in society and there is no civilization to speak of. Just small cells of "the Resistance" and other random groups who've banded together for survival. The machines that started the war constantly hunt the surviving humans, making this a pretty hellish future. But, the reason I don't rank it worse than #4 is at least the humans have for the most part banded together to fight the machines, and they are slowly winning that effort thanks to John Connor. It's bleak, but there's plenty to still live for here.


3.San Angeles - Demolition Man - Some might think it odd to have a "utopian" future in this list, let alone ranked #3. The 2032 amaglamation of Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara is a utopia of sorts -- there is no crime, no violence, but there's also no freedom and no humanity. It's illegal for people to even touch each other. The police have cool uniforms (jodhpurs!), but this society would be absolutely intolerable to exist in with all the sappy-happy-clappy nonsense and nannystatism to the maximum.  I'd rather live in one of the nuclear wastelands above where one can actually be human and have real human relationships.


2. Airstrip One/Oceania - Nineteen Eighty-Four -  The communist hell-hole that is the world in Nineteen Eighty-Four would definitely be one of the worst places imaginable to live. As annoying as San Angeles, above, would be, one would still live in material comfort and you get fined for swearing rather than going to Room 101. In 1984 everyone lives in poverty, is under constant surveillance by the Party (and their children, who are encouraged to denounce parents unfaithful to the Party), constantly bombarded by propaganda, and totally unfree. It doesn't get much worse than this, but it's still not #1 on the list because you are at least still human here even if it's only within your mind.


1. Libria - Equilibrium -This is the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four taken to the next level. It's got all the bad stuff listed above (perhaps slightly better creature comforts) but made even worse by the fact that ALL artwork is outlawed and gets burned Fahrenheit 451-style and everyone is forced to take regular doses of emotion-suppressing drugs. Making everyone in society little more than drones living just for the sake of survival. To me, it is an even more depressing prospect than the Nineteen Eighty-Four world and therefore takes #1 on my list.


7.26.2019

ALL THE GODS OF THE GENTILES, Part 1

By Godfrey Blackwell

Private David Nowak peered through his magnoculars at the human forms a kilometre downhill from him. “Shackleton, I have eyes-on the target. I make seven ... eight bo’s and a four curves viz.”

“Buildings?” asked his fire-team partner, Maeng, three feet to his right lying prone among the ferns.

David moved his focus from the figures wandering slowly about the colony’s perimeter to the town itself. It was a typical startup colony: all pre-fab white igloo-like hab modules with a few long half-cylinders interspersed for services and storage. Everything appeared intact, just as it had in the orbital photos. He zoomed-in on the massive, hockey-rink-sized communications dish sticking up from the centre of the cluster of buildings. No damage was apparent to that either.

“Everything looks normal.”

“Negative, this place is not normal,” Corporal Ogumbembi, invisible behind retro-reflective optical camouflage a klick to the north said, his voice dull and slightly distorted over the comm.

“Eighty-six the chatter,” the recon platoon leader, Captain Ho, ordered from his position in the U.N.N. Shackleton orbiting above. “Keep panning.”

A live feed relayed everything from the six reconnaissance specialists’ helmets up to the orbiting ship that had sent them down. David dutifully moved his field of view slowly over the entire complex to give the non-expendable officers and UNICA staff a good view.

“Everything looks peaceful and the colonists appear uninjured, but ...”

“But what? You seeing something we aren’t, Nowak? Over.”

But there isn’t supposed to be anyone here, he thought. UNICA had lost contact with the colony on Ladon, named Marianne, only a few months after the first settlers reported touch-down. After seven years, the Interplanetary Colonial Authority had finally allowed bids for a new colony. After two years in cryo-sleep at the new colonists arrived to find Marianne still inhabited. But that wasn’t what bothered David.

“Well, they’re just standing around staring into space.” He panned slowly back and forth with the magnoculars. “They’re not really doing anything. It’s not right ... ”

“Keep your opinions to yourself, Novak,” Captain Ho growled. “Hold position and keep eyes on.”

David bit his lip and kept quiet. After twenty minutes no new orders had been sent from the orbiting ship. He wondered what was taking so long. No doubt there was a debate going on between the new colony’s C.E.O. and Mr. Louwen, the UNICA delegate. Although Ladon didn’t have as much land as old earth or even Mars, there would be plenty of room for two colonies. All the same there would be legal, political, and policy concerns. He was glad Mr. Louwen was in charge of such decisions and not him. He panned with the magnoculars around the complex twice more.

“No way,” Ogumbembi said.

“What?” David hissed.

“Our position’s compromised,” Ogumbembi’s fireteam partner, Carter, called over the comm..

David could hear Ogumbembi chomping at the omnipresent wad of nic-gum in his cheek. “Negative, negative. They cannot see us.”

“I said cut the chatter,” Captain Ho barked. “Carter, there’s no indication you’re compromised. Stay frosty people.”

The retro-reflective material woven into the fabric of their uniforms and webgear was covered in tiny light-reflective beads, and microscopic cameras to all directions ‘projected’ onto them their surroundings. It was impossible they’d been spotted. David knew where the others were and couldn’t see them. Yet he put the magnoculars to his eyes again; though the Shackleton could see what Carter did, he couldn’t.

“Call it out, J.C.” David said.

“Reference, far left hab,” she said. David got it within his vision. “Ten over, two down.”

He keyed that into the ‘noculars and shifted his view as prompted by the glowing green arrows that flashed on the view. There he found the colonists Carter was talking about: two curves, standing completely still. One was facing towards Ogumbembi and Carter’s position The other, a blonde, seemed to stare directly at David. He zoomed in; her eyes seemed to bore right into his. Self-consciously, he looked away. Feeling foolish, he looked again, and she was still looking ‘at’ him as before. He stared into those eyes for several moments. They were a light blue, almost like the sky on earth. He zoomed out a little to get both of the observers in his view. Both were wearing the standard, close-fitting, functional attire common to space travel.

He let out a a long, slow breath. Ogumbembi chomped his gum noisily and snickered. David bit his tongue, reminding himself that Captain Ho and the UNICA bureaus were listening.


#


They were ordered to stay the night in observation of the town. The two curves had stood staring at them for two hours before finally turning and walking slowly back amidst the habs along with the rest of the colonists. As darkness descended, not a single light was kindled in the whole complex and all was cloaked in blackness.

The ‘bots were unpacked and set up and put on sentry mode at each of the three positions their team of six had taken up and the human soldiers bedded-down in the moss-blanketed hollows between massive tree roots. David found sleep elusive, however, and was still awake when the gas giant Typhon -- which Ladon orbited -- rose above the horizon, bathing the landscape in a subdued reddish-brown.

Not a sound came from the colony. The only thing he could hear was the soft hiss of Maeng’s rebreather and the occasional barely-perceptible whir of their ‘bot’s gun mount. Maeng suddenly rolled over and he grabbed David’s thigh. David resisted the reflex to flinch and give Maeng -- or the night watch listening to their radio traffic above -- the entertainment of a reaction.

“What you still doing up, cutie-pie?” Maeng asked.

“Did you notice how quiet it is here?” David said. “Not even any birds or animals.”

“Wasn’t this place terraformed?”

“No way, these trees are huge -- thousands of years old.”

Maeng shrugged, released David’s leg and rolled over.


#


They spent all the next morning watching the colonists mill about before an order to move came: they were ordered to go to admin status and make contact with the settlers. Sarin, the team medic, had scanned and sampled the atmosphere constantly without detecting anything possibly dangerous. The Shackleton’s powerful scanners likewise deemed the place safe and they were ordered to remove their helmets and respirators for their meeting with the colonists. David couldn’t help but wonder if they were being used as guinea pigs.

He walked down the hill with Maeng behind. With their camo gear de-activated, he could see Ogumbembi and Carter descending to his left, with Sarin and Farro off to the right. Once out of the trees they moved through waist-high grass. There were about thirty settlers visible -- briefing said that just over a hundred had been on the colony ship but who knew how many were here now? When the soldiers had closed to within a hundred metres, the colonists showed the first real life, darting about as if scared but unsure where to go. It put David in mind of feral cats.

A group of them finally broke and ran back in between the buildings, but the remainder started running around in confusion, save a clump of a half dozen who seemed frozen. David headed for these. They got more skittish as he approached. He called out, holding his arms apart with rifle pointed at the ground in what he hoped was a reassuring fashion. “UNICA marines ... we’re here to help.”

“Yeah, we come in peace, bo’s,” Ogumbembi said, grinning like an idiot and chomping away.

“Knock it off,” Captain Ho said. “Nowak, get in close and try to make personal contact with one of the braver ones.”

David wasn’t sure the group standing still were brave, the way they stared wide-eyed at the approaching soldiers. Too scared to run was more like it. The blonde curve he’d seen staring at him through the magnoculars was in the group. His heart beating a little harder and his mouth going suddenly dry, he headed towards her. She was even more beautiful close up, seen with his own eyes. She wasn’t, perhaps, the pop definition of beauty, being taller and fairer than the norm on adverts. But she was gorgeous to his eye.

“Don’t be afraid.” he said.

“We can see in your mind that you want to take us.” She said

“Hey, no one said anything about that,” he said. ‘Hostile takeovers’ weren’t unknown, but he hoped that was true.

“We can see your thoughts.” She seemed to be relaxing a bit now that she was talking. Her ‘friend’ from the day before stood nearby.

David stopped. Could they really read his mind? He was suddenly ashamed for comparing her to advert models and not thinking of her as a person.

“Look, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said.

Both the blonde and the brunette grew frightened and started to back away. I’m not a bad guy! he thought, but could see he was only making them more scared. Holy Mary, Conceived without Original Sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Where did that come from? Then he remembered, a long time ago, Fr. Vinogradov had taught him that to help in times to resist temptation. He repeated the prayer in his head.

They stopped cringing. “Uh, I’m Nowak. David ... ah, Private ... UNICA marines.”

She only stared blankly back at him.

“David is my first name. What’s yours?” He winced at the awkwardness of that. They’d somehow heard his deepest, darkest thoughts, and how he was trying to make small talk.

Maeng approached. They did not appear to fear him, yet as She moved away from the wall, she came towards David. Holy Mary ...

“We can’t hear you anymore, where did you go?” She said.

“Where’s the colony administrator?” Maeng asked.

She just turned and walked away.


#


The hours that followed were frustrating and puzzling. Conversation with the colonists was impossible; they did not respond to verbal communication, making only vague or embarrassing comments on some inner thought of the marine nearest them. They seemed innocent somehow, growing timid and cringing whenever those thoughts were vulgar or turned to the craft of soldiery. Finally, the marines gave up trying to interact with the colonists and just wandered the complex themselves, filming everything for the decision-makers up in the Shackleton. Sarin moved about scanning them with her bio scanner, with her fire-team partner Ferro acting as scribe and videographer. Ogumbembi and Carter were the most unnerved and volunteered to set-up camp, choosing the foot of the hill well outside the colony proper. David and Maeng searched for any non-medical sign that might explain the colonists’ behaviour. Everything seemed not only intact, but new, as if the buildings had been abandoned shortly after construction. Through windows they saw framed photos on desks, clothes in closets, and blankets on beds, but it all seemed untouched as in an advertisement.

After three hours of searching, Maeng insisted they actually go inside a hab. David felt uneasy at the suggestion, so Maeng went in and David removed his pack and sat on it near the door. While waiting he broke-down his rifle to clean it. Sarin sat down next to him and, resting her elbows on her knees, pondered the scrolling data and images on her tablet between her feet.

“Find anything?” David asked.

“Nothing useful,” she said, sighing. “Although I’m having some problems with the bio scanners; they’re giving me lots of dead spots. But what I can see looks completely normal.”

“What’s wrong with the scanners?”

“I don’t know,” Sarin shook her head. “They’re always finicky. I’d like to get one of these colonists up to the Shackleton for a full scan in the med lab.”

“Don’t they have one here?”

“Nope. Haven’t been able to find any medical equipment of any kind; but I haven’t looked everywhere yet.”

“The locals aren’t too helpful, I guess.”

Sarin sighed and got up. “I’m going to go do some more scans.”

David pulled out some headphones and plugged them into his iPhone. He selected some of his classical music to accompany his weapon-cleaning. It always helped him relax and think of higher things. With mind-readers about, he didn’t particularly want the images that his death metal collection conjured. And it was just as well, for by the time he’d extracted and oiled the bolt, She was approaching him, moving like a graceful long-legged gazelle.

“Hello,” he said, hitting pause and draping the headphones around his neck. “Uh ... how are you?”

“You have pleasant emotions.”

David felt his face heat. “Um, yes, I guess so. Just listening to some good music ... ah, some classical music?”

She just looked at him with that vacant stare all the colonists had, almost as if she were blind, or that She were only a holo-projection being controlled from elsewhere. He stood and took the phones from around his neck.

“It’s pretty old stuff, but, well, I guess it’s ‘classic’ for a reason.”

She didn’t react or move.

“Here, listen to this,” David put the headphones on Her head and thumbed the screen on his phone. “This is a beautiful one here, fitting for ... ah, well, it’s Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus ...”

She suddenly screamed and threw herself backwards, tearing the headphones from the jack. She landed on her back and the phone automatically switched to ‘ambient’ mode, filling the air with the beautiful voices of a boy choir. She shreiked and started to thrash about on the ground. Other colonists nearby started wailing and convulsing around him.

“Hey, turn that off, bo’!” Maeng shouted, emerging from the hab, then stopping short. “What the--?”

David fumbled with the controls, trying to turn it off, but accidentally switched to a Bach harpsichord concerto, then to some of his industrial rock collection. When the electronic instruments and pounding base took over, the colonists went silent. She sat up, then stood, and approached. Others did also, until a ring of colonists had formed around David, all looking intently at his phone. Then the music stopped; he’d been holding down the power button on the side and after its five-second delay, had finally deactivated the device.

The colonists dispersed, although She stayed standing right in front of David, uncomfortably close. He pocketed the phone.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO PART TWO

IF YOU'VE ENJOYED THIS STORY SO FAR, YOU MAY ALSO BE INTERESTED IN:

CHIMERA, by Godfrey Blackwell -  Mackenzie Frazer, a scarred veteran of war in Iran, has returned home to a partly collapsed America and thinks he has left the horrors of battle behind. But one night when returning home he encounters something that has followed the veterans home ...

TIME LIZARD, by Albert Blackwell - Imperial Space Marine Tim is attacked by a strange creature but in the experience gains the ability to pause time which he must use to the utmost as he and his comrades face off against the diabolical Science Time.

7.24.2019

Six Months of Swords and Space

The reinvigorated Swords and Space has been running for just over six months now, after being re-launched on January 15th of this year. We've brought you a piece of artwork every Monday and a new piece of fiction every Friday and we hope you've enjoyed the content. The greatest way you can show your appreciation for our work is to spread the word and share our posts with your friends and family.

For those who have joined us more recently, I wanted to point out some of the works that we are most proud of:

GODFREY ran the two-part short story, CHIMERA (part 1; part 2) in March, a tale of a scarred war veteran who returns home and encounters a nightmare creature he thought was only to be found in the war zones he left. If "steam punk" is more up our alley, he also greatly enjoyed writing BRIGHTEST AFRICA about a group of British adventurers who must prevent a nuclear holocaust -- possibly perpetrated by Marians!

ALBERT has been running two serialized comic series at the same time, the first, a science fiction adventure featuring Tim, a space marine who suffers a terrible wound that gives him the ability to pause time, aptly entitled TIME LIZARD. The second is a high fantasy tale, PROWESS AND LOYALTY.

ANNA has given us two stories featuring the half-inch-tall "Season Folk" and the girl Rose who visits them in the short stories SMALL OF ALL and GARFIELD'S WAR.

BARBARA has delighted viewers with several pieces of beautiful artwork, and is currently running a clever and very funny series about a genetically modified dog with a human brain in D.N.A.

JAMES has proven himself to be the miniatures painter of the group and has turned out a number of very impressive works for a boy his age, including a brief "how to" post demonstrating his technique. Highlights include his recent PzKpfw III, and Katyusha Rocket Battery from the 15mm tabletop game Flames of War, and his Primaris Space Marines from Warhammer 40,000.

WHAT'S IN STORE FOR THE FUTURE?

We have no intention of letting up and there is lots of more content in the works:

  • Godfrey is currently editing a novella-length fantasy series set in the Kingdom of Brythonland, a realm wracked by civil war in the wake of the sudden unexpected death of its king.
  • Albert has several more chapters of his two comics, as well as a fantasy story entitled GREEN TOOTH'S CONQUEST set in his fantasy world Airrroth. He also has detailed session reports from our Genesys sessions to type up!
  • Anna has a couple short stories on the go and is working on a novella-length work set in the SILVER DESERT.
  • Barbara has many more (frequently hilarious) episodes of D.N.A. coming soon.
  • While James continued to be a voracious painter and modeller, so one can expect to see more works from him and the rest of the family, plus perhaps some long-hinted at but not yet delivered "battle reports" as we all work on Warhammer Fantasy armies.
We hope you will continue to visit. Please leave comments to let us know what your favourite stories have been and what you would like to see more of!

7.19.2019

7.17.2019

Boardgame Review: Genesys



Review by Godfrey Blackwell

Name: Genesys
Game Designer: Sam Stewart
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Summary: A wonderful "generic" role-playing game system with a unique "narrative dice" mechanic that allows for hugely entertaining, cinematic adventures in any setting a gaming group may choose.

Strictly speaking, role-playing games aren't usually boardgames, and Genesys certainly isn't since a board is definitely not necessary. Some groups may choose to use one for simulating combat scenarios, but the core rules certainly contemplate no boards, just old-fashioned "pen and paper" (and dice) to play the game. That said, I'm reviewing this as a board games since that's the closest thing that fits ... and I must say that Fantasy Flight Games has knocked another one out of the park with this offering.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I played a fair bit of role-playing games in my youth and found them a lot of fun. I decided to try out Genesys since, as a"generic" system that was not tied to any particular setting, I could use it to make a game that was enjoyable for all of my children. I certainly made the right choice as the Genesys rule system excels and being truly generic and compatable for any setting one might imagine. For our first "campaign" (series of linked adventures) I created my own space opera-ish setting heavily inspired by the Alien movies (but without the eponymous and terrifying creatures).  The rules have worked really well for everything we need to do from astrogation, to firefights, to deciphering strange ancient glyphs

The games I found, and especially the combat, really feel like fight scenes from movies -- realistic, but not too realistic, with mechanics like "narrative points" for the players to spend at key moments to ensure that their "big darn heroes" don't meet an untimely end. The game is still very intense though and have had players on the edges of their seats. There's also been a fair bit of hilarity.

This is all acheived by the unique "narrative dice" system, that seemed a bit strange at first, but once we started using them I think they're fantastic. Most role playing game systems use various numbered dice from six-sided to 20-sided. Genesys uses these same shapes of dice but instead of numbers have symbols to denote "success" or "failure" as well as bonus "advantages" and their opposits, "threats" (we tend to call them disadvantages). You can read more about the mechanics here: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/genesys/

For the purposes of this review, suffice it to say that it really makes the game creative and dynamic. Instead of having to pore over tables or have charts for this-and-that weapon in this-and-that setting, the game master just assigns a difficulty (and a corresponding set of difficult dice) and the player roles against it with ability and proficiency dice. Plus there are boost and setback dice that can be added for extra flavour -- so for example a rifle shot at long range would be a certain difficulty, but if its raining the GM can add a setback dice to reflect this.

Just as an example, something that I had occur a number of times in sessions is where a player would actually role more failure than success results, meaning they had not succeeded in their task, BUT, they rolled three or more "advantages" so as game master (with assistance of the players) we had to interpret how they could fail to do what they intended but with a whole pile of positive benefits. Usually we had the character succeeding but in an unexpected way (for example, a character trying to climb a cliff failed and therefore stumbled but in doing so, they swung on their rope to a spot that ended up being better and made the ascent faster than they would have on their initial course).

As such, I give the system a full 5/5 stars and we had an immense amount of fun with our first adventure which lasted about five or six sessions, with the Blackwell children begging dad every Saturday if we could play another session of Genesys. Albert took notes and we hope to have some session reports up soon to demonstrate the sort of fun we had!

7.12.2019

THE FOOLISH NOBLE AND WISE BEGGAR

By Anna Blackwell (June 2019, age 11)

Once there lived a proud noble and a simple beggar who both lived in the LAND OF CHOICES. Now I bet you can easily find out why it’s called that because you had to make a lot of choices -- if you made the right choice you might get good luck.

Now the noble I was talking about was not a good chooser, she always said “ o bother “ then called on her helper Perrier who apparently would just say “dear me again!" and would pick the easiest. The weather nymphs, unicorns and the path fairies were very upset about this wanted to punish her.

On the other hand the beggar was very careful about it, she would think over it and then chose the one that she thought was right.

Now one day the King who reigned over the land was inviting everyone to his birthday party. Everyone had to bring there best dishes. This wasn’t to hard at all for the beggar, who had been saving money, and who was going to bring a turnip salad, freshly made bacon and her best homemade lemon cupcakes.The noble was going to bring Honey glazed ham, Greek salad and chocolate cake with blueberry icing .

This gave the fairies, unicorns and nymphs an idea: they were going to get the noble in trouble . It came to happen that the beggar and noble were traveling on the same path to the castle, after traveling for some time they came to a fork in the road. The beggar decided to follow the road on the right

“Fool,“ said the noble “that road is too long and It looks like it will rain on that side.‘’

But the beggar replied, “yes it will take longer but at least I’ll now I am going the right way.“

The noble sneered and went her way. But in fact it didn't rain. The weather nymphs were pleased with the beggar and made the sun appear. The fairies were glad she picked the right path so they made no trouble come her way and the unicorns came and let her ride them because they were proud of her good choice .

But the noble didn’t have any good luck at all. She ran into bad weather , lost her way once and got very tired .The beggar got to the castle at the right time while the noble arrived late . After that the noble learned her lesson and was much more careful in her choices the next time. As for the Beggar she lived happily in her cottage for the rest of her life .

THE END

7.10.2019

Movie Review: Apollo 18 (2011)


Title: Appollo 18
Director: Gonzalo López-Gallego
Producer: Dimension Films
Starring: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins
Excellence: 3 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A solid entry into the sci-fi/horror genre featuring a classified Apollo mission to the moon as told through decades-old "leaked footage".

This is yet another film that's been dealt with fairly harshly by the critics (25% at Rotten Tomatoes), but which I quite enjoyed. By no means a masterpiece, it was a more than satisfying experience. Many critics didn't like the use of the "Blair Witch Project-style found footage" format but I thought that it was very effective for this particular piece. The plot synopsis from the official webpage states:

Officially, Apollo 17, launched December 17th, 1972 was the last manned mission to the moon. But a year later, in December of 1973, two American astronauts were sent on a secret mission to the moon funded by the US Department of Defense. What you are about to see is the actual footage which the astronauts captured on that mission. While NASA denies its authenticity, others say it's the real reason we've never gone back to the moon. 

It was not an intense, edge-of-your-seat sort of thriller. Perhaps since I don't see movies very often (I watch them about as often as I review them, i.e. once per month) I have not been so inured to bursts of adrenaline and was able to appreciate the more measured and realistic pace. The last ten minutes were appropriately suspenseful, but I thought that the real treasure of this film was the feeling of desolation and being utterly alone and cut-off that was given. I thought that the scene where they come upon the abandoned Soviet moon lander was especially chilling.

The realistic portrayal of a moon mission added to the enjoyment for me. As one who was born too late to live through the space race, but who studied it avidly as a youngster, I thought this aspect was particularly well-done. It wasn't a high-tech adventure and it was very easy to suspend disbelief. I thought that the actors all gave very credible performances. The eerily beautiful moonscape was well-done; the special effects overall made it all seem real -- although I'm really not sure what point a BluRay/HD version of this film serves, given that it is all purposely in 1960s quality.

7.03.2019

Antiheroes (and why Godfrey doesn't like them)

The antihero -- defined by Wikipedia as a protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero -- seems to be all the rage these days. In fact, it almost seems mandatory in modern fiction that the protagonists fit in with this (rather broad) definition in some way.

Of course, there are antiheroes and there are antiheroes. It is good fiction in many ways to have characters who are flawed, because all human beings are flawed. The ones who have a some obvious flaws but are otherwise decent, sane individuals who perform heroic acts (characters like Han Solo, Conan the Barbarian from the short stories, Mal Reynolds, and Winston Smith from 1984), I have no problem with -- other than that they can be tricky to write. Well, I find heroes in general a bit tricky because one must be careful not to over idealize them while still keeping them heroic.

But then there are the antiheroes who have little or no redeeming features and are near psychopaths. These I do not like one bit. I stopped reading the first of the Chronicles of Thomas CovenantLord Foul's Bane, very early in the novel because I just could NOT root for a guy who's willing to outrage a totally innocent girl who was only trying to help him, just because he felt like it. I was unable to finish reading the last two books of Game of Thrones because, as far as I could tell, there were no protagonists such was the "antihero" extremes of every character left alive by that point. Everyone in that series who outlived A Storm of Swords was concerned only for himself and thought nothing of murdering/betraying their own family. Then there's the fact that serial killer Hannibal Lector is considered the protagonist in a series of novels/films! This is the stuff that "Sophia's Favourite" calls "soul-rotting uninspiring garbage".

It's really a shame that these latter have gained so much traction -- which is likely a testament to the power that critics still have over the average reader. But there's definitely an upside: the archetypical hero is so rare these days, that one might be able to pull-off writing one in such a way that it gets praised as "original" or "out of the ordinary".

6.28.2019

D.N.A., EPISODE 2

By BarbaraBlackwell (March-April 2019, age 9)

IF YOU MISSED EPISODE ONE YOU CAN VIEW IT: HERE





To be continued in a few more weeks ...

6.26.2019

Book Review: A Game of Thrones 4-Book Bundle


Title: George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones 4-Book Bundle
Authors: George R.R. Martin
Publisher: Bantam
Rating: 1 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A very well-written series of books that are enjoyable and engrossing then quickly descent into nihilistic soul-destroying garbage in an unending meandering tale with no plot advancement over thousands of pages.

Given the wild popularity of these novels and the HBO TV series they have inspired, it seemed almost mandatory for a blog focussed on science fiction and fantasy to review this work.

Mr. Martin has been dubbed the "American Tolkien" by Time magazine -- I cannot agree with this. The world he created for "A Song of Ice and Fire" is certainly very well thought-out and full of rich details, reminiscent of Tolkien's Middle Earth. However, he is no Tolkien, first and foremost because whereas Tolkien wrote inspiring tales of friendship and honour amidst evil and destruction, Mr. Martin weaves a depressing, dark, and uninspiring tale.

George Martin is, technically, a very skilled writer, and it is his skill that kept me reading and made me really want to enjoy these books the way so many do. He may actually approach Tolkien's mastery in terms of command of language. His style is quite dynamic and engages all of the senses making his writing in some ways more engaging than Tolkein's. It is his underlying message/theme that I cannot abide, coupled with some rather stupid ideas that make no sense if one knows anything about medieval societies, and the outright pornography in sections.

The novels take place, for the most part, the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, which are, at the beginning of A Game of Thrones, united into single kingdom. It is an ancient kingdom with history stretching back some 12,000 years referenced in the story. The overarching plot is of a conflict between the leading families of the realm with House Lannister (the Queen of Westeros being of this house) playing the role of antagonists against the Starks of the North (the large family of Eddard Stark play a major role in the series). There is also a subplot concerning the exiled Targaryen heirs who seek to reclaim Westeros (the last Targaryen king having been overthrown about fifteen years before the start of A Game of Thrones). There are massive complexities within this broad plot involving familial alliances and age-old rivalries (quite well-done) which all explodes into a massive civil war.

One of the major aspects of the world Mr. Martin created is that it has seasons that last for years. I found it extremely difficult to suspend my disbelief on this score, since it would be impossible for people with mediæval technology to survive in northern climes where there are winters that last years and even a decade and more. Especially since there is reference to there being snow on the ground in summer in Winterfell. No satisfactory explanation is ever given in the novels as to how people stay fed in such an area -- although aside from this I found the world-building in these novels was well-done.

In addition to this, Mr. Martin populates his world with a large cast of characters who are for the most part believable and interesting. The problem I had with them is that they are, with very few exceptions who are all killed very early in the series, too "dark". That is, they are all completely out for themselves and here, again, the worldbuilding starts to fall apart a bit because a society with such universal disdain (not just disregard) for oaths and honour would not hold together. Certainly not in a feudal realm which Westeros is portrayed as. An assassination or an oath-breaking here-and-there is realistic and adds conflict to a story. The CONSTANT and unending oath-breaking, assassinations/regicides (more than one occurring at weddings that were ostensibly to form alliances), betrayals, the brutality of every character, the lack of decency, the complete narcissism and nihilism of every character who survives past the second novel, all proved too much for me. In the first two books this is not so bad as the few good and decent characters are still around. But as they are killed-off the work becomes uninspiring and depressing. At first I thought it was good writing -- giving the protagonists lots of conflict to overcome -- but ultimately it becomes clear that the overriding theme of "A Song of Ice and Fire" is complete nihilism, as summed up by a character called "The Hound":
... there are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sharp steel and strong arms rule this world, don’t ever believe any different.
Which is certainly not uplifting at all. It is social Darwinism/"survival of the fittest" writ large. It is, ultimately, soul-destroying uninspiring garbage. The technical writing itself is superb.  The many interesting plot elements and twists and turns, conbine for an enjoyable and addictive read. But this depressing and FALSE theme and theory cannot be countenanced. The real world is often ugly and there is evil in it, to be sure, but it is not THIS ugly -- J.R.R. Marin is beyond cynical in these books. Among humans there ARE true knights and heroes, and the IS a God. And no society has survived on a "survival of the fittest" mentality; it has rather been those societies that took duty seriously that rose to be great civilizations.

Just a couple examples from this series and how they're ridiculous when applied to real life. In one scene, we see a group of lords laughing to scorn a certain duke's "softness" because he allowed his peasants to take shelter inside his castle. This ignores the importance of serfs to a mediæval culture -- the main point of castles was to keep these valuable citizens safe. Martin never does try to explain how there isn't mass starvation across Westeros when the serfs are wantonly massacred and their own lords make no attempt whatsoever to protect them (and on the contrary tend to prey on their own serfs as much as the enemy). Then there's the marriage scene I referenced which angered me so much I stopped reading the novel for many weeks. It's preposterous that one would slay his new allies at the very wedding feast that is to seal the alliance. No one would ever join with that lord again and in reality in a feudal society which DEPENDS on the sacredness of oaths, such a man would be spurned by all.

Returning to the technical aspects, though the pacing was spot-on through the first two installments, I found that by book 3 (A Storm of Swords) the plot started to seriously drag and the overarching plot no longer advanced. It felt like the work started merely treading water and I wondered if Mr. Martin had any clear idea of how this civil war was supposed to end. He may not, given his inability to complete the series. Also, while unexpected twists are good,  Mr. Martin went too far in some instances. At one point he managed to wipe out, over the course of a chapter, almost all of the protagonists  and any realistic hope that whom I had identified as the "good guys" could win the war. I think this is a legitimate complaint, because it is not proper (in my humble opinion) for an author to  imply a certain group are the protagonists and then remove them from the work entirely. It is denying the reader delivery on an implicit promise.

This is NOT a work I would recommend to anyone. At best, it might be worth spending $15 on the Kindle version solely for the purpose of studying the technical writing/style of a talented author. Sadly, Mr. Martin uses his God-given talents to cynically promote a worldview of extreme nihilism.
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