Thursday, January 31, 2013

AllSpark Almanac reviews, Ender's Game

I like to keep track of my Amazon reviews. It's helpful to know what people think. I'd been very proud of the unbroken streak of five-star reviews for both volumes of The AllSpark Almanac. I ticked up to a combined 49 five star reviews, with no dissent, then stalled out. I figured I'd wait till 50 to start tooting my own horn. So, the other day, I check, and sure enough, I'd gotten review #50. Eagerly I clicked through only to find that it's... FOUR STARS!!! Noooooooooo!  As far as I can tell, the reviewer wasn't pleased that their copy arrived damaged, though Amazon did replace it.

Only a few days later I got one more review, five stars this time, but the damage is done. I couldn't quite get up to 50 perfect reviews.  I'll have to settle for 50 five-star reviews, and one four-star review.  That's 33 fivers on The AllSpark Almanac, 17 fivers and a four on Volume 2. Sigh.

In other news, reread Ender's Game for my book club and was inspired to attempt to create an Ender's Game board game.  I figured I'd use chess as my starting point.  Thoughts?

(The book remains engaging, though the Locke / Demosthenes material strained my credulity and the denouement goes on and on and on. It's pretty apparent that Ender's Game is in many ways more a prequel to the later works in the series than a book in its own right.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Ark Addendum - The Immobilizer (part 2)

Howdy, faithful readers and newcomers alike! This week's Ark Addendum finishes off The Immobilizer with some backgrounds. Now, it's true, they're nothing really spectacular, but on the other hand, the idea that Spike and Bumblebee meet Carly at a place called Robots Video Arcade is so delightfully Transformers that it brings a smile to my face. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Farscape Geekwatch: The Peacekeeper Wars

Here we are! 88 episodes of Farscape behind us and only the movie to go. The Peacekeeper Wars ties up most of the loose ends left in the series and give things a dramatic send-off.  John finally builds a wormhole weapon, one that puts the piddling bridge to a star built in Infinite Possibilities to shame. The FX department really sells just why it is that it was so imperative to keep this tech away from Peacekeepers and Skarrans alike.

We get some closure on the Eidelons, introduced in the early S4 two-parter What Was Lost. We witness the birth of John and Aeryn's son and the dramatic death of D'Argo, There's plenty for the Rygel and Stark to do, which is good because they're sometimes hard to write for. It almost goes without saying that there's plenty of delicious John / Scorpius interaction. Jothee makes a welcome appearance, which helps bring extra poignancy to D'Argo's death. Little time is wasted on the reconstruction of John and Aeryn, which is good. I have no doubt it'd have made a fine episode, but it wasn't germane to what the PKW was trying to accomplish.

There are a few flaws, mostly in the things that were designed to be revealed over a season and instead are crammed into an episode.  I'm thinking specifically of Chiana's new bionic eyes (the producers have said that they were going to let her be blind for 4-5 episodes), Jool's odd return (she's out of character with little explanation), and the reveal that Sikozu is a Skarran agent (too abrupt, not enough set-up.)  On the other hand, O'Bannon has stated that Chiana's brother was slated to make an appearance but got cut for time. Probably wise. While the Nebari plotline is one of the biggest dangling threads, it was never all that engaging. Besides, our heroes need SOMETHING to do even after we stop watching them.  Most of these would have been addressed in Season 5, I have no doubt, along with some other returns. (Furlow is another obvious candidate for a return.) I'm also glad they didn't shoe-horn Crais or Zhan in. 

And, of course, the geek comes flying fast and furiously. John makes an almost out-of-universe reference to Farscape itself when, under interrogation from the Eidelon descendants, he tells his story "for the eighty-ninth time," borrowing from parts of the the opening credit narration. The Peacekeeper Wars is, of course, the eighty-ninth episode of the series.

"Next Ferengi we see, we run," he commands, nodding yet again to Star Trek.  When the Eidelons later achieve some early success in negotiating with Staleek, John happily notes that they're "walking into federation-ville here." 

When Scorpius reveals that he's being hunted by Peacekeepers and Skarrans alike, John ask "what the hell did you do when you left the fatherland, kill the goose that laid the golden egg," nodding to Jack and the Beanstalk while calling the Peacekeepers Nazis.

There is, of course, an extended Wizard of Oz sequence while John tries to convince the Eidelon's to help teach the gift of peace to their descendants. "I'm just the guy without a brain." (Points at Stark) "The lion here would like some courage. (Points at Scorpius) "Tin man... he needs a heart." (Points at Rygel) "Toto here just wants an easy birth." (Takes the arm of the Eidelon's descendant) "And Dorothy here, she is just looking for a way home. Now, we're not going to be here tomorrow, so I suggest you take a long, hard look at our broomstick." He later lists all the threats facing them and includes "lions & tigers & bears." 

He also tells the Eidelons that the Skarrans are not "chirpy, saturday morning sleestacks," a Land of the Lost reference.  He then calls Emperor Staleek 'Godzilla' to his face.

There's some repeated Geek too.  In referencing the events of What Was Lost, he again calls the aquatic monster 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon.'  While meeting Einstein in the snow, John calls himself 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.' He then repeats the Time... sequence ('sup, flies, Bandits, wounds all heals, rosemary and...') only to conclude it differently with "time ends."

When Braca asks if Crichton and crew are reinforcements, he replies "No we're the band. Looks like KISS was the opening act."  Whew! Almost went all of Farscape without a KISS reference.  (Aside: I love that Braca gets wounded and Scorpius puts himself in harm's way to save him. Braca didn't have much to do this extended episode, but nice to see he wasn't forgotten. Trulys, his character peaked in We're So Screwed pt 3.)

As we pull into the home stretch, we get a Star Wars nod, when John asks Staleek how the wormhole weapon looks "from the Death Star." 

And, finally, we get the death of Harvey in an extended visual homage to the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Harvey notes that he toyed with Slim Pickens & the bomb, the iconic ending of Doctor Strangelove. I can't help but wonder if he was speaking directly for the writers, as that too would have been an amazing and appropriate fantasy ending for Harvey. 

And, for the not-really-geeky stuff, we have a bit.  John tells Staleek that he is "asking for a kilo of pure wormhole tech," a drug reference. He later references the infamous 'this is your brain on drugs' PSA when he crumbles up a snowball in his fist saying "this is your universe, this is your universe on wormholes."

"Things are looking grim in mudville," John narrates, alluding to the poem Casey at the Bat.

While talking with Aeryn about war and peace, John notes that "Woody Allen's version is better than Tolstoys. You know why? His version is funnier." He's probably referencing Love and Death, though of course there is the famous Woody Allen quote "I took a speed reading course and read 'War and Peace' in twenty minutes. It involves Russia," that comes to mind.

John calls Stark (containing the death-energy of the last full-blooded Eidelon) "the Johnny Appleseed of d├ętente," recalling that little bit of American folklore.

Lastly, during his wormhole weapon demonstration, John addresses his announcement to "Ladies and gentlemen and all the ships at sea," the last bit taken from radio commentator Walter Winchell's opening address.

 There you have it, folks! A fun project for me, cataloging every bit of pop culture and especially geek culture that finds its way into the 88 episodes and one mini-series of Farscape. Note that there is absolutely zero Doctor Who references here. No 'Doctor,' no 'Dalek' or 'Cybermen,' no nothing. Maybe John doesn't like the BBC. Or, heck, maybe it's the same universe. Tonally, I could totally see Matt Smith or David Tennant showing up on Moya. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Ark Addendum - The Immobilizer (part 1)

Welcome to another edition of The Ark Addendum. I combed through my holdings and found enough models for not one but two outing from The Immobilizer. Sadly, I don't have the Immobilizer itself, but there are some pretty cool models from the episode. My favorite has to be the very Dery-esque board of Jazz's sound and lights show. I wish I'd had that one for the Jazz page in The Ark. Ah, well, perhaps all for the best, his page is pretty tight already. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Battlestar Galactica RPG

Howdy, friends, strangers, neighbors, and readers! I've been pretty busy recently with writing, life, etc, but not too busy to try out a new RPG system.  I've been playing the Battlestar Galactica RPG, which uses the Cortex system from Margaret Weis Productions.

For those of you who don't know, Cortex is a system designed to highlight the interpersonal drama of universes like Firefly and BSG. Attributes are expressed in terms of dice, and most rolls are resolved as a paired attribute / skill roll attempting to beat a static difficulty.  It's light on crunch and heavy on drama, with a system that rewards in-character flaws with plot points that can be exchanged for bonuses to dice rolling or to make minor (or not-so-minor) edits to the story.  I rather like it.  So much so that I've been playing around with making some resources for the game.

First up, my one-page character sheet.  I managed to squeeze everything on the two-page version into this except for the advancement table (our group house-rules a different system, but it's easy enough to look it up in the book.) You can see how it works out in practice with my Viper pilot Zoe 'Billboard' Arden.  Colonial flags and rank pips can be found at the BSG Wiki. If you want to photoshop an actor into a BSG uniform, you're on your own.  (One of the things our GM does is say which actor might play which PC/NPC.  I rather like it.)

 As I'm playing a pilot, I looked through some of the prop websites and found some neat documents that I've recreated.  I have Viper and Raptor pre-flight checklists.

Here are some repair orders for Raptors and for Vipers.

Neat stuff, no?  Check out my GM's website for a ton more BSG RPG resources.I also found this series of articles a great resource for what life on an aircraft carrier is like.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Ark Addendum - The Autobot Run

Well, after a couple of months off, I managed to find the time to put together one more of these.  Not too many left, unless I find a new source! 

This week (month?), I bring you the models from The Autobot Run.  It's a good episode and it has especially interesting models.  There's the Transfixatron, of course, but I'm especially partial to the model sheets labeled "metal crushing machine."  The wiki makes fun of it as a tentacle monster, but it's really quite a frighting design.

I'm also rather partial to the idea of setting the episode in an old west ghost town. Why? Why not!

Here's a bit of trivia for you, by the by. The Transfixatron was originally called the Satsitron. That could be a typo on the model sheet for Stasitron, or it could just be a flurry of creativity on the part of Donald Glut.  (This trivia note appears on the wiki. Did I put it there? I don't imagine there are too many other people out there with model sheets.)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Apologies for my long absence... and Farscape Geekwatch

Well, here it is, January 10th, nearly two months since my last post.  I didn't mean to let it slip this long.  I got busy with the holidays, took a couple of trips to the East coast, got a nasty stomach virus... all the usual things when life gets in the way.

One of the factors is that, believe it or not, I'm running very low on Ark Addendum material.  I've still got some pieces to share, but not a lot, and what I have needs more work.  I'll try to share what's left.  Does that mean no more animation models for you?  No, no, no.  I've got the next Joe animation model book due out in a few months, and after that, anything that didn't make it in (that I'm ethically allowed to share) will start to find a home here.  Yo, Joe!

And now, the content!  We're up to the series finale of Farscape on our geekwatch.  The penultimate episodes are the three parter, S04E19-21: We're So Screwed.  This is, incidentally, my favorite sci-fi episode title ever.  The first part's subtltle, "Fetal Attraction", is of course a reference to the movie Fatal Attraction. (We also have "Hot to Katratzi" and "La Bomba".)  Oddly, part one is a bit disconnected from the other two, featuring a raid on a Skarran outpost that results in Aeryn retrieved, but Scorpius captured.  John would, of course, gladly let Scorpy go, except Harvey returns, claiming falsely that Scorpius has wormhole knowledge and John has to rescue him lest the Scarrans extract it.  The other two parts are a more unified whole, featuring John's dramatic rescue of Scorpius.  Crichton's journey is nearly complete. He's gone from a peace-loving scientist in search of truth to a nuclear terrorist, dancing on a table with a bomb strapped to this thigh. The imagery of him actually detonating said device in a strategically important field of flowers is terrific.

There are some hiccups, like the return of Stark.  At first it looks like Stark is working with the Skarrans to torture Scorpius, something that seems totally in character for him given his hatred of Scorpius. We find out it's just another replicant bioloid, albeit one who can use Stark's Stikira abilities to torture. I think that missed a trick, frankly. Still, nice to have him back.

The geek is plenty. When Harvey returns, it's via an extended homage to Dracula. John calls an elevator with drilling capabilities, appropriately enough, a Wonkavator. (It's a silly plot conceit to have it there, but if you're going to have it there calling it a Wonkavator is almost a must.)  In reference to Braca's loyalty to Scorpius, John rattles off "feel the love, Mr. Burns" to Scorpius, once again casting Braca in the role of Smithers.  John describes himself as able to "leap tall galaxies in a single bound," paraphrasing the narration to the old Superman radio serials.  And speaking of super heroes, John calls the secret chamber growing Skarran flowers the 'Bat Cave.' 

There's lots of other pop culture too.  Much revolves around the bomb.  When he's describing what happens if the bomb goes off, he calls it "John Lee Hooker time."  I had to look that one up, Hooker was a blues musician with a hit called "boom boom." "Get ready to kiss your ass goodbye, Castro," John quips to the Skarran emperor when the latter attempts to heat probe the former, for the Cuban dictator.  "We didn't need no stinkin' code," John sneers, in a nice homage to the oft (mis)quoted line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  The bomb itself John calls Fat Man, the second and, hopefully, final atomic bomb ever set off as a part of active warfare.

The female Skarran war minister he calls Lady Macbeth. That's not the only nod to the Scottish play, when John paraphrases "If it were done when 'tis done, best it were done quickly."  Ahkna is also called Minnie Pearl, the actress from Hee Haw, in reference to her enormous hat.  When trying to convince the Peacekeepers and Skarrans alike that wormhole tech is for sale, he calls it a "blue light special in aisle 3, free set of steak knives and all the tea in China."  The blue light special is from old K-Mart ad campaigns, steak knives call to mind late-night tv deals, and all the tea in china has been a phrase kicking around for over a century.  Finally, John remarks on rescuing Scorpius that "Cadaver and Hutch" are back together, nodding to the classic cop show Starsky and Hutch.

The show's not quite over yet, though.  The final episode, S04E22: Bad Timing, serves as a sort of Coda to the series.  The Skarrans realize that Earth is a potential target for them, due to the special flowers that grow there that boost Skarran intelligence. John has to close off the wormhole forever, denying himself even the possibility of home.  It's rather poignant, watching him have a last conversation with Jack by phone from the moon.  After they collapse the wormhole and toast a Skarran scout craft, the gang rests up on a water world and John proposes to Aeryn, which the gang hilariously misinterperts.  He puts the ring on her finger.  With the series seconds away from ending, things look great... until a new alien comes along and blows Aeryn and John, literally, to hundreds of crystalline pieces.  The End.  I have to admire the producers for sticking to their guns and not cutting out the last action bit, even after they found out they were canceled. Given the very strong Peacekeeper Wars miniseries that ties everything up, it was the right call.

There were some nice moments.  John's last conversation with Jack from the moon was pretty touching.  Sikozu, when she and Scorpius are exiled back to Braca's command carrier (oh, yeah, he came into his own last episode and relieved Commandant Grayza of command.  Good for him!), says of humanity "weak species," echoing what the Skarran spy version of her said in an unrealized reality.  Foreshadowing for her eventual betrayal?  Most of the pop culture centered around that scene.  The Command Carrier is called the Queen Mary, and Sikozu is called both 'Miss Britannia' and Goldilocks.  Later, John complains that he's "not fast enough, smart enough, alien enough, and you know what, there are people in the universe who dont' like me," inverting the Stuart Smalley-ism.

And that's Farscape!  The show, anyway.  I'll have one more geekwatch that covers the Peacekeeper Wars, and it'll be a goodie.