The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My First Convention Experience - Osfest 6

Art by Bill Hodgson, Artist Guest of Honor
OSFest 6: Ruminations On Attending My First Sci-Fi Convention

I had heard about conventions or “cons” as they are more commonly called.  I was told many things by a few that attended them, and heard a lot about them on the podcasts I listen to.  I figured that they only way I was really going to know what it was like to attend was to actually go to one.  Some of the ones I had heard about were the San Diego Comic Con, Shoreleave, Balticon, and of course the granddaddy of them all, the con in Las Vegas.  The problem was that either these were at time of the year when I am working at my real job, or are so far away that they are cost prohibitive.  So I typed “Nebraska sci-fi conventions” and that is how I learned about Osfest 6, just a three hour drive away from my home in Omaha.  When I followed the link, the first thing on the page was the Guest of Honor list, and at the very top of that list was the name Keith R. A. DeCandido, and that the con was scheduled to be held on the last week of July.  I immediately started making plans to attend with the attention of meeting one of my favorite authors, buying a book, and getting an autograph, not to mention finding out what this con thing was all about for myself.

I discussed this with Diane (my wonderful wife who completely supports my adolescent tendencies) and she green lighted my plan with the condition that she and daughter Chrissy could go along, not to attend the con, but to do other things like go to the zoo, shop, and so on.  So I registered for the con and reserved my room at the Ramada Plaza.

In the meantime, I contacted Scott of the Scifi DinerPodcast and asked him if he would like me to interview Keith DeCandido for the podcast; he gave me the go ahead.  I contacted Keith DeCandido and visited with him and he was also all for the idea.  So I had a mission.

OSFest 6 was held this past weekend, and I did make it.  Here’s what happened…

Friday, July 26, 2013…

I arrived in Omaha about two hours before the convention was set to open.  I checked into the motel and got the “lay of the land” so to speek.  While wandering around, I saw a sign on a pillar that advertised “Raktajino” and to go to a room.  I went there and met a nice couple of Klingons who served me a cup of raktajino (Klingon coffee) that consisted of coffee and a mixture of spices that wasn’t bad.  As I visited with these folks I learned that they were part of a Klingon Assault Group (KAG) and that they are in command of the IKV Raptor’s Heart.

Registration for the con opened at 3:00, so I took care of that and then visited the dealer’s room, the art room, and the modeling room, met Keith and bought a book, and then went to watch the Match Game.  I was even selected to participate and won a bag of chocolate.

Melissa Ann Conroy
Next I went to an author’s reading.  I had heard the term Steampunk on several occasions but never really knew what it was.  I received an education in the genre from author Melissa Ann Conroy.   Melissa read from one of her books, Steam on the Horizon for about 20 minutes and then asked the two of us that were in attendance if we had any questions.  I asked her to explain Steampunk, which she did.  If anyone reading this lives as sheltered a life as I do, Steampunk is a genre of stories, set in the Victorian era where everything runs on Steam, and the stories are futuristic in nature.  So, in my mind, Steampunk is the genre that the old Wild Wild West show would fit into.  She also talked about the costumes that go with the genre, and how difficult it is to breathe while wearing a corset.

Later were the Opening Ceremonies.  It consisted of a Starfleet Admiral being killed by a bunch of Klingons followed by introductions of the guests of honor.  It was pretty funny.

At 9:00, I attended a Babylon 5 gathering hosted by Mitch Obrecht, a man who knows his stuff.  There was discussion and he asked trivia questions for which he would hand out cards autographed by the B5 actors. I really wanted one of those.  One question he asked was the names of Molari’s wives.  Mitch gave us one, and asked for the other two.  We all sat, scratching our heads.  I remembered that Molari had refered to his wives by “pet” names, so I gave it a shot.  I said “Pestilence and Death?”  Everyone in the room laughed and Mitch said, “I’ll gotta’ give you that one.” And he handed me an envelope with a card signed by Peter Jurasik!  

Patrick Kennedy
I spent the rest of the evening wandering around meeting people.  I got to visit with an artist who lives right here in Kearney.  Patrick Kennedy and I visited for quite a while and this is where I learned about how cons work; things to do, and not to do and so on.  We visited several more t imes over the course of the con.  He’s a good artist, a good person, and he attends lots of cons in the Midwest with his art.  I also visited extensively with Keith and another author, Gail Carriger.  That discussion was all over the map and it was a rare occasion for me to sit and listen to, and converse with folks on something other than education.   It was at this point that I set up my interview with Keith.

Saturday, July 27, 2013…

Woke up early and found people to visit with, mostly Klingons.  I gotta’ say, I really enjoyed hanging with the Klingons.

 I started the con day two attending a panel on Klingon Culture hosted by the Raptor’s Heart crew.  When I arrived, I noticed that there was some problem with the computer on the stage.  The panelists were not able to hook their computer to the projector.  I ran back to my room, grabbed my computer and loaned it to the panelists and the show went on.  Needless to say, the panel ran late, but it was interesting.  Much of what they talked about I already knew.  When I went to retrieve my computer, I was asked if I could set up my machine for a later panel they were hosting.

I missed the next panel I wanted to attend, a real science panel on the Militarization of Space.

I again loaned my computer to the Klingons for the Klingon Cursing panel.  It was okay.  I missed another panel I wanted to attend on Space Law, but I saved the Klingons.

About 2:00, I started feeling a little sick.  I thought about it and realized that I had not had anything to drink since before the con started and was probably getting dehydrated.  Note to self (and advice to inexperienced con attendees): Drink More Water.  There was really no excuse for this happening to me because there was a Con-Suite, which I learned is always stocked with food, drink, and a place to relax and visit free of charge to attendees.

I started to feel better when I went to Keith’s reading.  He read two stories from his newer books, Ragnarok and Roll and Scattered Earth: Guilt in Innocence, one of which I had purchased earlier, and I picked up the other later, before our interview appointment.  I really enjoyed the reading session.  Keith talks and reads with a great deal of enthusiasm for what he does, which is a quality I appreciate in people I visit with.  This is also why I enjoy reading his stories, his passion for writing, and life in general not only shows in person, but it also comes through in his writing.

I went to the bar about 5:30 to await our appointed time for the interview, Keith arrived about 6:00 and we recorded for a little over a half an hour.  He is a very easy interview.  Just ask a question and stay out of his way.  Again, his enthusiasm shines through.  I will be sending the interview to Scott and Miles in a few days and hopefully they will find it worthy to play on their show.  If I could change anything, it would be that I butchered the guy’s name, not once, but twice!  The only times I did this was on the interview and I felt like a schmuck!  I introduced my family to him and got it right.  Geez.  He was a good sport about it, but there is no way I can edit it out of the recording without ruining it.  So it stays.  I will be blogging a transcript of that interview at a later date.  Following the interview, we visited for a little bit more and he went to dinner.  I went and found some Klingons to visit with.

In the evening, I attended the Masquerade contest.  I cannot believe how much time and money some people invest in their cosplay.  Some of the costumes were really stunning in their detail.  It was all good fun and Catwoman was tapped as best in show.  This event also got underway well after the appointed time due to problems with the sound system.

At this point, I was pretty well worn out, and probably still suffering from my bout of dehydration, so I just went to my room and slept.

Sunday, July 28, 2013…

After having coffee and breakfast with Diane and Chrissy, I went to a panel on the Philosophy of Star Trek.  It was a great panel and the most intellectually stimulating part of the weekend, other than my visit with the authors on Friday evening.  The panel went for only an hour, but I could have sat there all day discussing the aspects of Trek.  I am planning another blog post just on this subject at a later time.  I would love to serve as a panelist for this subject in the future.

Gail Carriger
Following that, I went to a reading by Gail Carriger.  She read with a lot of expression and it was fun to listen to, but her work isn’t my kind of literature to read.

I was pretty worn out, and so was the family, so we headed home.

All in all, it was a fun weekend.  I had a blast and am very much looking forward to attending OSFest 7 next summer.  Was there a downside?  I do have just a few nits to pick:

1. Panels should be set up before the start of the event.  Panelists should not be checking whether their equipment is working fifteen minutes into their presentation.

2. The lighting in the main hall was horrible.  This was not due to the convention oragnizers’ oversight, but arrangements should be made.

3. Sound equipment needs to be likewise set up in advance of an event.  I could barely hear in the main hall.  When I helped the Klingons with their panel, I noticed a good mixing board behind the curtain.  The EQ was set with no treble, so speakers’ voices were very muffled. (If you are with OSFest and are reading this, I would be willing to help out with this problem next year.  You provide the equipment, I will get it set up properly.)

Here are some other pictures from the convention.  I have these and more posted on my Facebook page.

It's not good to startle a Klingon!
A Dahlek in the lobby.
The Mellinium Falcon in the Modeling Room
A Friendly Steampunk Engineer

The Security Chief in the Klingon Hospitality Room
No Intro Needed
There's Always a Klingon around when you need one.  Kevin Carroll - One of the nicest Klingons you'll ever meet.

 Well, there it is…


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Quest for the Truth - Review of John-Paul Cleary's Convergent Space

Convergent Space by John-Paul Cleary – 2011

This story is set in a distant future where space travel is commonplace and the galaxy is heavily populated.

In a war that takes place two hundred years before the events in Convergent Space, a catastrophe happened called The Great Wave.  It was the result of an explosion so massive that a great deal of the populated galaxy was laid waste.  Former members of the Guild and others blamed the Earth for this disaster.  This resulted in the people of the Earth becoming obsessed in proving that they were not responsible, as a matter of fact, it had become the religion of the people of Earth to find whatever proof there was to hopefully clear their name.  The people of Earth sent out Archeosoldiers to seek the truth; Convergent Space is the story of one such Archeosoldier named Rone.

Rone is a female Archeosoldier who has retired from the quest, but finds herself pressed back into service when another mortally wounded Archeosoldier shows up on her doorstep.  Rone and her Companion, Necessity reluctantly set out to find the truth of the circumstances surrounding The Great Wave.

Just a word here about Necessity, the Companion.   According to Cleary, each human born is paired with a sentient artificial intelligence that grows and learns with its human counterpart.  These devices are quite amazing as they serve as a knowledge database, and sounding board.  Conpanions can also regulate body functions in humans controlling pain and emotional responses.  As intelligent computers, Companions can also pilot ships and communicate with other computers.  Quite the device, wouldn’t mind having one myself.

At any rate, during her travels, Rone meet up with Tihn Forlihn, a member of the Phlegar race.  He also seems to be on a quest to find a purpose for his life.  He finally finds his purpose as he joins Rone in her search for the truth of The Great Wave.  Tihn is in possession of a device that holds the memories of his Phlegar clan that date back to the time when the Great Wave took place.  The device called the Wits of Forlihn, however is damaged and cannot seem to give anyone a straight answer to any question.  It is apparently useless.  So Rone and Tihn set about finding someone that can help them repair the Wits.

Meanwhile, a very dangerous race called the Herneses is moving through the galaxy on their self-appointed mission to purify populated worlds and resettle entire populations on worlds that they have already cleansed.  The Hernses encounter a populated world and remove a portion of a population from a given world and then use their technology to cleanse the planet, destroying all remaining life.  Unfortunately, they never remove the entire population of a planet, so the cleansing also kills millioons that are left behind.  This is their mission, at least until they encounter the home world of the Phlegar.

As far as the Herneses are concerned, the Phlegar are a scum race and have to be eradicated from the galaxy.  They destroy the Phlegar home world, but fortunately not before the Wits device is repaired and able to give Rone some valuable information.

Rone learns that the Herneses are headed for Renaissance Space, a body of planets that replaced the Guild as the governing body of the sector of the galaxy that includes Earth.  Rone tries to reason with the Herneses, but they are unwilling to listen to reason and feel that they are in the right to do whatever they feel is necessary to purify the galaxy.  So Rone decides that she must stop the Herneses, no matter the cost.

Rone learns that, unfortunately, the people of the Earth are indeed responsible for the Great Wave and is in possession of the same weapon, invented by the Phlegar, that caused it.  She uses it to eliminate the Herneses, and causes the Second Great Wave, not only taking out the Herneses, but uncountable other worlds at the same time.  History repeats itself, as the Great Wave was the result of someone determining that another menacing race needed to be eliminated 200 years earlier.  But Rone knew what the result would be in using the weapon, while those who used it before thought it would create a shield against the enemy.  Now she must live with the guilt of her decision.

All in all, this is a good story and fun to read.  Cleary spins a hell of a tale that some might say resembles a Star Trek style of yarn.   One must be patient with the author and stick with the story as the exposition for the story is spread out over many chapters, giving just a piece at a time, but everything comes together and makes perfect sense when it needs to.

One complaint that other reviewers (mainly on Amazon) have expressed is that Cleary is not precise with his use of science fact in the story.  This was not a problem for me because the characters are so well developed, and the story flowed so well that I had no problem suspending my disbelief.  Rone, Tihn, and Necessity, as well as others that join the quest as the story unfolds are truly characters that I cared about and became engaged in wanting their efforts to be successful.

Good story plus good characters equal a great story worth reading.  ‘Nuff Said.

Well, there it is…


Saturday, July 20, 2013

A.I. Revolution or Evolution? - My Review of David Mack's ST: TNG: Cold Equations Book #3 - The Body Electric

Star Trek: TNG: Cold Equations: The Body Electric by David Alan Mack (2012)

This is the third (and final) installment of the Cold Equations trilogy.  This story is set not long after the events that take place in the final Next Generation film, Nemesis.  The main story arch of the three books revolves around a resurrected Data and his efforts to resurrect his daughter Lal.  While the first two books deal with a mostly political plot line in which the Breen are making efforts to usurp power in the Alpha Quadrant, the third book takes a very different direction bringing back Wesley Crusher in his role as a Traveler whose purpose is to save the galaxy itself from extinction.

While traveling the galaxy, Wesley discovers a giant, planet-sized Machine that is destroying star systems and feeding them into the Abaddon super-massive black hole that lies at the center of our galaxy.  When Wes discovers that inhabited systems are being destroyed, he contacts his fellow Travelers to find a way to stop this appalling activity.  The Travelers, who have encountered this phenomena before tell Wes that there is nothing to be done; the galaxy is doomed.  Wes doesn’t accept this assessment and while the rest of the Travelers abandon this galaxy to escape the destruction, Wes turns to the crew of the Enterprise for help.

Picard agrees to look into the matter and Wes uses his Traveler skills to transport the Enterprise to the scene.  An away team goes aboard the Machine and learns that the Machine is was built by the same race that enhanced V-Ger (from ST: The Motion Picture).  They also learn that the Machine’s mission is to increase the mass of Abaddon, then crash it into another body called Sagittarius A-Star which will create a wormhole and causing a shockwave that will destroy subspace, thus making warp travel through the galaxy impossible, and eventually would also eradicate all organic life.

Now at the end of the second installment of this series, Data was seeking to make contact with Emil Vaslovik to help him restore Lal, Data’s daughter from TNG.  He discovers that Vaslovik has changed his name to Ahkarin.  At the end of the second novel, Ahkarin had been kidnapped by a rogue faction of the Fellowship of Artificial Intelligences to extract certain cybernetic secrets from him.  Data discovers Ahkarin aboard the AI’s ship as well as Ahkarin’s cybernetic daughter, Rhea.  It also happens that Data is deeply in love with Rhea, so he takes it upon himself to rescue them both.

With Wesley’s help, Data transports onto the Fellowship’s vessel and is incapacitated and imprisoned by the AI leader, Gatt.  Gatt then makes contact with the Machine and decides that his entire crew should up-load their knowledge to the Machine, seeing this as a move toward immortality, even against his crew’s wishes that wish to retain their individuality.

With the help of the Enterprise crew, Data affects an escape from the brig and takes over the AI ship.  He then makes contact with the Machine to try to reason with it, explaining that there is not only will all organic life would be destroyed, but the Machine would also be eradicating all artificial life as well.  The Machine’s response is to determine that the artificial life in our galaxy is unworthy of assimilation and begins sending the AI ship into Abaddon.   Most of the Fellowship members abandon their ship in escape pods.  Included in two separate escape pods are Ahkarin and Rhea.  Data, aboard his sentient ship, uses his tractor beam to attempt to save both Ahkarin and Rhea before they plunge into Abaddon, but he soon learns that he can only save one of them.  Whom he decides to save is a result of the coldest equation of all, does he save the woman he loves, or does he save the one person in the galaxy that can help him bring Lal back from the cascade failure that ended her life?

All through the history of science fiction, writers have speculated on Artificial Intelligence, and our relationship with it.  It is my belief that this day will come sooner rather than later.  In this novel, David Mack explores this in a way that, as far as I know, hasn’t been looked at in depth.  At one point in the book, the author discusses how artificial life might look at us from a philosophical point of view.  In Mack’s estimation, the artificial intelligences of the future would view humanity as nothing more than a step in their own evolution.   I personally would have liked to see the author delve deeper into this existential speculation, as well as how the AI’s might view the Machine as a religious figure.
I enjoyed this book.  However, it was not my favorite of the Cold Equations series.  That honor is reserved for the first of the series.

The three novels in this series include:
#1 – The Persistence of Memory
#2 – Silent Weapons
#3 – The Body Electric

Well, there it is…


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim - A Lot Like Godzilla -vs- The Transformers - Movie Fun.

Pacific Rim – 2013

I couldn’t get a lot done outside today. So I figured that I would go and take in Pacific Rim this afternoon at the local cinema.  The length of the film is 131 minutes and I must say that it went by very quickly.

A race of monsters known as the Kaiju manage to open a trans-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and begin ravaging the costs of the countries that are on the rim of the great ocean.  This, of course, starts a war and the world unites to fight this menace.  It is soon found that no conventional weapons can fight these super monsters, so an armored weapon is developed.

The development results in the Jaegers (German for Hunter).   Jaegers are giant robots that are controlled by two pilots that work in tandem through a neural link; in effect, they are actually in each other’s minds.  At first, the Jaeger program is quite successful in defeating the Kaiju as they are only coming through the rift one at a time.  But the Kaiju are getting more and more powerful as they come through the rift.  The Jaegers suffer more casualties and seem to become less effective and the governments of the Pacific Rim decide to scrap the Jaeger program.  Feeling that the Jaegers are the answer, the commander of the program decides to freelance and moves the program to Hong Kong.

A scientist determines the nature of the rift and figures out that it is a wormhole between dimensions and can be closed by the use of a nuclear device.  After several battles with very powerful Kaiju, the hero manages to deliver the nuke into the rift and save mankind from certain destruction.

This film is very predictable as it follows an old formula and tells a story that has been told many times, but it is told very well.   There is no moral to the story, no philosophical rambling, and no political message.  It’s just a fun movie to watch and lose one’s self in.  If you are looking for deep character development, it isn’t here, but it is well acted by the well-directed cast.  The effects and the CGI are top notch and really contributes to how the film flows.  And it flows very smoothly.  It is all topped off by a score that thumps.

Pacific Rim is a great film for what it is, a good diversion on a hot summer day.  It is full of action, fighting, and wrecked buildings.  It doesn’t ask the audience to take it too seriously, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Go see Pacific Rim, you won’t have to think, just enjoy.

Well, there it is…