RSS

Tag Archives: Sci Fi

Alan Young

A couple days ago I learned that actor Alan Young passed away.

He played a number of roles over a long career in TV and is best known for playing Wilbur, the straight man to Mr. Ed, the talking horse on the sit-com of the same name. He also did quite a bit of voice work for cartoons, most famously as Scrooge McDuck on the fabulous Duck Tales cartoon. (WOO-oo).

However it’s a different show that I will always remember him for, Battle of the Planets.

BotP1

When I was in first grade, Battle of the Planets was my favorite show. You hear of kids running home so they didn’t miss their favorite show? This one was mine. The show was a fabulous mix of elements including superheroes and Star Wars, all combined into an animated series that had character story arcs. That’s not unusual now, but in 1978 almost all cartoons were episodic in nature. This was something new, something no other cartoon series was doing. I was hooked.

Alan Young did two voices for the show; the first was the R2-D2-esq robot 7-Zark-7, who was a comedy relief and exposition character. The other was Keyop, the youngest member of the team, who had an odd speech quirk due to being grown in a lab instead of being born naturally.

I adored this show. I watched it on TV over and over and I caught all the reruns I could. I played G-Force on the playground with my friends, and even years after it went off the air I was still drawing pictures and dreaming up stories about the characters.

Years later, when I was an undergrad and diving headlong into the new World Wide Web, I found other fans of Battle of the Planets and its original Japanese version, Gatchaman, but it was devilishly hard to find copies of it. It wouldn’t be until many years later that small collections of episodes made their way to market on DVD.

It didn’t matter how long it had been, I was still a fan. I scooped them up.On the DVD extras they did interviews with several of the voice actors, including Alan Young. Young had a reputation for being a kind and genuine person, and it came through in his interview. Battle of the Planets had been just another job for Young. He came in, read his lines, did a good day’s work, and moved on. He’d never even watched the show and was quite honest that he’d mostly forgotten it. He had no idea that the series still had a devoted following, perhaps small but very dedicated. People like me, who had connected with it in a big way.And he was clearly delighted. Young had an expressive face, which served him well on shows like Mr. Ed, and you could tell that he was surprised and pleased by the questions he was asked and to learn about what this part of his career had meant to people. I don’t think he completely understood it, if anything he seemed shy about it, but watching that interview brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. I was glad to see how much he enjoyed learning that his work had meant something to the fans. 220px-alan_young_circa_1944

 
3 Comments

Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Movies & TV, Science Fiction

 

Tags: , ,

Why I will Never Get Caught Up

If I never bought another book, never checked out another thing from the library, never downloaded another e-book from Project Gutenberg, I’d still have enough reading material to keep me busy for a long time.

And things like this keep popping up, the Bundle of Holding has a package deal on Rocket Age by Cubicle 7.

Now, if this was just about having another sci-fi rules set, it wouldn’t be so attractive to me; I have enough of those to fill a supermassive black hole. But this bundle comes with sourcebooks and adventures. I love Flash Gordon-style sci-fi, I love sourcebooks, and I love reading adventures.

The only thing holding me back is that lately I’ve been reading fewer e-books, and I really am trying to conserve some cash. But there are still eleven days left for this bundle to wear me down.

If any of my readers have seen these books and care to chime in, I’d love to hear your opinions.

Image from http://www.pdclipart.org/

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 7, 2016 in Gaming, Pulps, Science Fiction

 

Tags: , , ,

DS9: Elseworlds Edition

In my last post I talked about Star Trek: Deep Space 9. One of the strengths of DS9 is that it knew when to reference the greater Trek canon and when not to. That allowed them to have fun with old ideas, such as the delightful episode Trials and Tribble-ations, without getting bogged down in a history that is at best inconsistent. By keeping the main story arc more self-contained it gave it greater strength and weight.

Still, as Star Trek fans, it’s our Prime Directive to wonder what might have been. Given that it is April 1st, I thought I’d have some fun and throw out some of the story ideas that came to my mind. Who knows? They might make good adventure fodder for a Starships & Spacemen campaign. Or my next foray into Call of Trekthulhu.

As a side note, I don’t read fanfiction. I’m not averse to it, it’s just not something I’ve ever gotten into. However, if any of these ideas have turned up in fanfiction already I would be interested in reading the stories.

A Tangled Web: The Federation Alliance is outnumbered. Even with the Romulans entering the war, the combined forces of the Dominion and Cardassians is too large for the allies. To compensate, a diplomatic team has been trying to organize a joint fleet composed of ships from several smaller empires. Tensions are already high as they try to forge an understanding among Gorn, Ferengi, and Kzinti warriors.

Then the Tholians arrive.

Tholian technology and tactics prove to be so alien that they put their allies at risk, and their motives for participation are suspect. Why have they emerged from their jealously guarded isolation? And are they really allies against the Dominion?

Before you Go: Keeping with the “alliance seeking” concept, a Star Fleet ship is dispatched to seek aid from the First Federation, the child-like alien beings encountered in The Corbomite Manuver. The Federation and the First Federation have maintained distant but cordial relations since Lt. Bailey spent time serving on board one of their vessels. It is Star Fleet’s hope that they will consent to bring their powerful and hyper-advanced ships into the war against the Dominion.

The First Federation welcomes the Starfleet delegation, but are reluctant to provide aid. Their species is on the cusp of apotheosis, and soon they will begin the process of transformation. Once complete, they will leave behind the mortal realm and explore the universe as cosmic beings. It is the culmination of millions of years of development and they are eager to proceed.

The Starfleet delegation needs to convince them to delay their ascendancy in order to join the fight against the Dominion. Or, failing that, maybe they could be convinced to leave behind a few of their gigantic starships.

Doomsday Revisited: Their search for a new weapon has driven Star Fleet to a desperate gamble. They have thrown all their resources into reverse-engineering The Doomsday Machine. They have installed living quarters, a bridge, secondary systems, and bolted on controls that they hope will allow them to manually direct the planet-shattering vessel. However, they admit that they cannot completely understand the mechanisms and there are those who warn that the ship might revert to its original directives, complete with the knowledge of how it had been stopped previously.

Still, the Alliance’s lines are crumbling under the Dominion’s assault. Thousands are dying, planets are falling, and all that remains is to rekindle the Doomsday Machine’s blazing heart.

The Ultimate Reboot: A variation on this theme would be Star Fleet revisiting the M5 system, seen in the episode The Ultimate Computer. As bad as the loss of starships has been, the loss of veteran crews is even worse. Ships can be rebuilt, but training new crews to command them takes years.

Decades ago the original starship Enterprise was able to engage three Constitution class battlecruisers while under control of the M5 computer system. The system was scrapped after it malfunctioned and became an uncontrollable killing machine. Still, advances in artificial intelligence have made some think that corrections to the technology are now possible. Adding elements from positronic brain designs should allow for a new generation of M5 systems to be mass produced, complete with enough mental stability that they can be trusted to control starships once more.

Unfortunately, there are only two positonic brains available to the Federation, and Commander Data needs his. That only leaves his brother Lore’s brain…

Plato’s Grandchildren: A mysterious team of specialists arrive at Deep Space 9 and Dr. Bashir is called in to tend to their needs. The team wear sealed encounter suits at all times, with the exception of when they are in verified clean rooms. The reason for this is that their immune systems have been completely destroyed.

This is the result of massive doses of kironide, an element that grants them amazingly powerful telekinetic abilities. This is the same substance found in the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, only more refined. The specialists are reaching the point where they can crack a starship open with their powers, but the toll it is taking on their bodies is destroying them.

Each of them is a volunteer, someone who knew the risks when they signed up, but the self-destructive process is difficult for the Doctor and the DS9 crew to accept.

Where Few Men Have Gone Before: Star Fleet has assembled a group with powerful ESP potential. This group will soon leave from DS9 on a specially designed starship. Their destination is the barrier at the edge of our galaxy.

In its first mission under command of Captain Kirk, the Enterprise made contact with the mysterious barrier. The results badly damaged the ship, but more importantly gave godlike powers to two of her crewmembers, people with a high rating for ESP potential.

The powers grew at an exponential rate, but their minds were overwhelmed by the transformation and their humanity slipped away. In the end they destroyed each other.

Now, faced with defeat by the Dominion, Star Fleet plans to replicate those events. With luck, the rigorous psychological training the volunteers have gone through should let them hang on to their humanity, if they survive the transformation. At least, long enough to win the war.

As a bonus, one of the team members would be played by John de Lancie, and recognized by members of DS9’s crew. Is this really Q? Is he observing? Sabotaging the mission? Or is this the birth of the Q Continuum?

————–

Well, those are my flights of fancy. What have you got? I’d love to hear more ideas.

Deep_space_9

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Science Fiction

 

Tags: , ,

Star Trek: DS9

I finally finished watching Star Trek: DS9.

I always liked the show, but it was in a bad time slot for me and I never got around to watching the later seasons. Now, thanks to Netflix, that isn’t a problem. I can see why it’s such a popular show, with Trek fans of every flavor.

Even with Voyager fans! Which I’m told really exist!

I kid! I kid!

Mostly.

Anyhow, there are plenty of good episodes to rave about, one of my favorites being Sisko’s dream of being a pulp science fiction writer, but I also found tons of small moments that really hit home. These little things would let an episode punch above its weight class and caught me off guard. My favorite was when Sisko explains to Kasidy Yates why he doesn’t like going to the Las Vegas nightclub holosuite that everyone else loves so much. They have a brief but powerful conversation about race, history, and fiction, then went on with the rest of the plot.

That ability to tackle an important, timely social issue in a strong way, and not even make it the focus of the episode? That’s art.

Then came the finale. Quick warning, there will be some spoilers below.

SpoilerSpoiler

*Insert Rimshot*

The last several seasons revolve around the brutal war involving the Dominion and its allies against the Federation and its allies. The war drags on, lives are lost, ships destroyed, and ideals are compromised among the most noble members of the cast. Everything finally comes down to the Dominion’s last stand over Cardassia, which results in the slaughter of millions of Cardassian civilians in reprisal for the Cardassian military changing sides. It’s a long, emotionally tiring story and the audience can feel the toll it takes on the characters and when they finally do stand victorious, it’s a subdued celebration at best.

But there is a second story running underneath the main one, a war going on between the cosmic beings called the Prophets and the imprisoned Pah Wraiths, who are looked at as gods and demons by the Bajoran people. The chosen one of the Prophets is Captain Sisko, revealed to be the child of a Founder who had merged with a human host. The champion of the Pah Wraiths is Gul Dukat, a war criminal, megalomaniac, and one of the most wicked villains in sci-fi. Dukat further twists the already corrupt Kai Winn, high priestess of the Bajoran people, convincing her to help release the Pah Wraiths.

During the alliance’s final victory celebration Captain Sisko receives a vision and immediately runs to face Dukat and Winn, sacrificing his corporal body to defeat them and lock the Pah Wraiths away for all time.

At first, I was a little let down by this ending. It felt rushed because so much had happened behind the scenes or in short asides. But the more I think about it? The more I love it. The more I realize what a brilliant ending it is.

We have a grand clash of galactic empires, including the shape-shifting Founders who are looked upon as gods. We have drama writ large as planets burn and millions die. Lives are changed, societies are shattered, the history of two galactic quadrants will never be the same.

And yet, on the cosmic scale, it means very little. In the end, the war between the Prophets and the Pah Wraiths was a far more important conflict. Had the Pah Wraiths been victorious then the entire galaxy would have burned, regardless of which side had won the war on the prime material plane.

It was a war waged on another level of existence, fought by three individuals who could barely perceive the battlefield or comprehend the stakes. And in the end there is no one left alive who knows what happened. At least, not alive in the conventional sense.

Those are some serious Golden Age science fiction ideas. That ranks up there with the concepts in Doc Smith’s Lensman books.

Well done DS9. Well done indeed.

Deep_space_9

 

Tags: , ,

The Fleet is In

My new space armada has arrived!

I picked up a set of plastic space ship miniatures on a recent Amazon order. I’ve been looking for a decent and cheap source for ships to use in various games and this pack looked like just the ticket. You can find them here.

SShips3

 

These plastic ships come in a pack of 144 for under $7.00 and use a variety of molds. Their quality is fine, they won’t blow you away but they are not bad at all, and the quantity you get for the price is impressive.

Some of the molds look familiar to me, while others I’ve never seen. And then there is this one, that hit my nostalgia buttons very hard:

SShips2

Way back in the early 80’s I was a brand new gamer. I had just gotten my first copy of TSR’s Star Frontiers and falling in love with sci-fi gaming. I was getting into miniatures and had a few boxes of fantasy figures, but was having trouble finding sci-fi sets.

Then one day I was in the toy section of a department store and there on the shelf was a set of Traveller 15mm lead figures. The set had various space adventurers and this air car, complete with a removable figure. I snatched it up. (Lead gaming figures in a department store toy aisle, rare in the 80’s but impossible to imagine today).

I never found any more figures for Traveller, nor for that matter did I find the game itself. The only store in town with gaming stuff didn’t carry it and I did not yet really get ordering by mail, but I played with those figures for years.

I’m pleased with my purchase and finding this blast from the past is icing on the cake. I don’t have any specific plans for them, but sooner or later I’ll unleash them on my tabletop.

SShips1

 
 

Tags: , , , ,

Battlestations Version 2.0 is en route!

Back in the belfry’s early days I wrote about my love for the game Battlestations by Gorilla Games.

It’s still one of my favorite games, but it doesn’t hit the table very often anymore, just because it takes more prep and play time than I usually have these days. These days when my group has that kind of time we go for straight up role playing games. Now news has come across the aether that a new edition is on the horizon!

When you have a game as well designed as Battlestations it’s a little nerve wracking to hear about a new edition, especially when you know there will be some noticeable changes to the design. However I am encouraged from some of the news I’ve seen. It looks like the focus has been on streamlining the game, allowing the players to get into the action more quickly but with a focus on keeping the qualities that make Battlestations so much fun.

I will be watching this develop with great interest.

The Kickstarter will be launching on February 2nd!

Below are two videos; the first is an introduction to the game and the second is a simple explanation of the base rules and a play example.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 10, 2016 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

Tags: , ,

Save us, Space Bear!

This is another one of those wonderful, “What the heck is going on,” sci-fi images. It’s made even better because the look on Space Bear’s face is just as amazed and confused.

We’ve got aborigines, we’ve got what may be a post-apocalyptic ruin in the background, and we’ve got aliens. Why are the flying saucers shooting at the one on the ground? Did Space Bear escape some fiendish alien base by stealing it? Is Space Bear a mutant? An uplift?

This looks like a job for Mutant Futures! Or perhaps Justifiers? It could be a Beta.

Space Bear

Image found on the Infinite Machine Tumblr

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Cool Stuff, Weirdness

 

Tags: , ,

Phil Plait Broke my Brain

Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer, is a fantastic resource. I’ve been a fan of his blogs and books for quite some time. He has a gift for taking complex astronomy concepts and making them simple and entertaining, and his enthusiasm is contagious. On top of that he’s also a skeptic and spent a few years as the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

He’s also a huge nerd, he’s our people.

For a while now he’s been doing a series of educational videos for the Crash Course YouTube channel, called Crash Course Astronomy. They’re all fascinating and fun to watch, but recently he posted on the topic of binary and multiple star systems. I knew that binary systems were rather common, but I had no idea how often larger systems have been found, and I had no idea that Polaris is a pentuple system.

There’s some amazing stuff in this video, things that could really lead to some fun ideas for sci-fi gaming, What kind of societies would spring up in a system with five gravitationally bound stars and planets orbiting several of them? What might happen in such a setting?

Actually, Issac Asimov did ponder that question back in 1941, with his story Nightfall. It’s a fantastic read.

The video goes on to touch on how these stars can interact with each other, which makes for even more great fuel for adventure ideas.

Give it a look, and then watch more of his videos. It’s well worth the time.

 
 

Tags: , , ,

Considering House Rules for Star Trek: STCS

Following up on yesterday’s post, I’ve been thinking about some house rules for Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator.

First, I did find the excessive damage rules. It’s specifically for sub-systems that get hit, like shield generators and sensors. These systems have damage tracks, from one to five, with each point on the track being harder to make repair rolls on. The excessive damage means that for every full five points of damage done to the system, another box on the track is marked off. Thus a four point phaser hit counts as one on the track, while a 12 point hit would mark two boxes off.

There is no corresponding rule for weapons. Those have a different track with the statuses Operational, Damaged, Repaired, and Inoperable. Repaired weapons are limited to half power. I am considering something similar for excessive damage, maybe making damage of 10 or more points automatically destroying the weapons.

Regarding my dissatisfaction with shields I’ve been considering two options:

  • Double the amount of shield points you get per power point. For example, instead of a 1-to-4 ratio, make it 1-to-8. My concern with this solution is that part of the tactical aspect of the game is trying to get the firing angle on your opponent where they have light or no shields. However, in our previous games we’ve never been able to maintain very strong shields. Even in my Excelsior, I never had a single shield facing up to maximum strength. I only had all my shields powered up on the first turn, and then at a minimal level. Combined with how often we’ve dropped shields completely to power weapons and movement, and how quickly a salvo can strip off a ship’s shields, I don’t think this would unbalance the game or reduce the tactical aspects. I’m leaning towards this solution.
  • The other idea I was thinking about was reducing how much damage weapons do to shields, say 1/2 rounded down. A five point shield would still stop five points of damage, but the shield level would only be reduced to three instead of being completely stripped off. This has more of a Star Trek feel, but adds one more step of math to the game, and while not a complex equation by itself it will still slow the game down. It also doesn’t address the power allocation issues that often lead players to run with few or no shields at all.

Combining the two is also a possibility, but that would be a significant change. I think trying one at a time would be better. I also don’t want to increase the length of the game too much and by improving the shields I run the risk of doing that, so caution is best.

1000px-USS_Exeter_remastered

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

Tags: , , , ,

Star Treken Across the Universe

This past weekend we pulled out the old FASA Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator again, and this time we tied something a bit different.

An Excelsior class battleship was thrown back in time and space, landing deep inside the Klingon empire. Alarmed by the appearance of this unknown and very large ship, the Klingons scrambles a fleet of six D-7A Painbringer class cruisers. These ships were top of the line for the time period, but obsolete by the standards of the mighty Excelsior class. The question was if their numbers would make up the difference.

The Klingons split their forces, threading their way through the system’s planets and asteroids to close the distance with the Excelsior. One brave ship crossed the center line into the open, hoping to draw their target out. It was a challenge that the Excelsior was happy to accept, lumbering forward and managing to get two of the D-7’s into sight. Hoping to score two quick kills to thin the herd, the Excelsior opened fire at long range. One ship was damaged, but survived. The other vaporized under the big ships assault.

The Klingon pack then descended, with three of their ships closing to point-blank range and pouring fire into the Excelsior. The battleship took significant damage, but was still in good shape. However the proximity of the three D-7’s meant that further engagement was risky. The Excelsior boosted strategic shields and decided to ride out the fight, throwing the rest of her power into her weapons.

Her aft torpedoes vaporized one of the two ships that had held back, whose explosion damaged the other ship sitting at range. Then her forward guns ripped another D-7 apart, and the cascade of death began.

The exploding ship caused damage all across the Excelsior, damaging systems and tearing at her hull, but she survived. The D-7 behind her did not and it exploded. This second explosion smashed into the Excelsior, knocking out her engineering grid, savaging her warp and impulse drives, and further tearing apart her superstructure. Unfortunately this also destroyed the third D-7.

The Excelsior was unable to endure any longer. The third starship explosion finally broke her hull and the great battleship erupted like a supernova. The blastwave reached much farther than that of the small D-7’s, far enough to hit the one remaining Klingon cruiser. The blast nearly wiped out the last vessel, but with three hull points remaining the Painbringer was able to limp home with news of their victory.

Songs are still sung of this battle in the Klingon warrior’s halls. The fate of the Excelsior class ship remains unknown to Star Fleet.


It was a great battle.

By the numbers, the sides balance out with four and a half D-7A cruisers to one Excelsior Mk I, but I bumped it to six considering that a single torpedo from the Excelsior could destroy a D-7 with a clean hull hit. Given the results, I think the sides were fair. We picked sides by random draw, with the Excelsior coming under my command.

The Klingon player quickly realized that he was out gunned and chose the Mutually Assured Destruction strategy, which is probably the best tactic for the circumstances. I was hoping to score more kills in the first round, but ended up damaging sub-systems instead of landing killing blows. In the end I probably should have dumped power into my engines and torpedoes, trying to get some distance and pounding away with the massive 20 point weapons, but the greater numbers and speed of the D-7’s made me decide to try trusting my ship’s durability instead.

Things learned:

This game was again great fun. The pounding the ships take makes you feel like the starship is being battered apart. It feels very Star Trek and plays quickly. There is a sweet spot on range, and it’s farther out than you’d think. The weapons in the game are brutally accurate, even at a longer distance, and the optimum range for engagement is more distant that the mobility of the ships would lead you to believe. Though in this case the Klingon commander was correct to go hull-to-hull with me instead of risking me picking him off.

However the shields still don’t feel right. It’s hard to power all six shields and have them make a difference, meaning you routinely leave some sides completely unshielded. Even a fully powered shield only takes the edge off an incoming salvo. This feels decidedly un-Star Trek. I haven’t come up with a good solution for this yet. Also it’s frustrating when you fire a massive torpedo at a target, something powerful enough to wreck the ship, and the result is a single beam weapon being knocked out. I believe there is an optional rule in the book regarding this, I’ll have to look it up.

It’s been a lot of fun re-discovering this old favorite. We’re hoping to play it again, and next time with a third player. A good Klingon, Romulan, Star Fleet battle would be epic.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

Tags: , , ,