Notice...

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.


***SPOILER ALERT***
Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With A Remarkable Man By WIlliam Shatner With David Fisher - A Respectful Tribute To A Good Man

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With A Remarkable Man By William Shatner With David Fisher

As I write this, we are rapidly approaching the one-year anniversary of the death of Leonard Nimoy. The memories of that day last year are still fresh as I remember learning of his passing and the condolences that were extended to me by many of the students that attend the school in which I teach. It was a hard day.

There were a few days after that that were even harder as I watched the social media pages explode with hate and criticism toward William Shatner because he would not be able to attend the funeral because of a professional obligation that he was fulfilling on the other side of the continent; a professional obligation that could potentially raise a lot of money to help a lot of people. While I remained silent on that subject, I remember being very angry myself at those that would presume to attack a man who was keeping a promise while his heart was most certainly breaking.

When I learned several weeks ago that Leonard was being released, I immediately preordered it for my Kindle.

Leonard reads mostly as a biography by WIlliam Shatner as he gives an account of his relationship with Leonard Nimoy from their humble beginnings in different places up to Nimoy’s death last year. Shatner tells his story, but it is always from a perspective that includes Nimoy in every aspect including how they grew up under similar circumstances, through their struggles to become working actors, followed by their relationship while working on original series Star Trek. After the show was cancelled, Shatner tells the story of how they tried desperately to get away from Trek to secure their own identities as actors and then embracing their relationship with the thing that brought them fame and fortune as well as strengthening their friendship as they attended conventions and other Trek-related functions.

Most of the anecdotes that Shatner relates would be familiar to those of us that have read accounts of the activities that took place during the filming of the television series and subsequent films, but they are fun to read and will make one laugh, but there are also accounts of some very painful times and struggles that the two men went through, lending each other support as true friends should do.

If you open this book expecting to see scandal, I warn you that you will be very disappointed. Leonard is not written as an exposé, rather it is a respectful look at Shatner’s relationship with Nimoy, and Nimoy’s relationship with others. At no time is Shatner disrespectful to other members of the Star Trek cast, and in his own words, he explains that his relationship with Nimoy is not as much about remembering individual incidents as it is about emotional feelings toward a man that he loved, admired, and often tried to emulate, sometimes with disastrous outcomes.

I do indeed recommend reading Leonard. For me, William Shatner touched on the feelings I have for Leonard Nimoy and helped me put those feelings into perspective.

Well, there it is…

Live Long and Prosper.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Star Trek: New Frontier: The Returned Part 3 by Peter David - Disappointing

Star Trek: New Frontier: The Returned Part 3 by Peter David

When I learned that Peter David was releasing three new novels in his New Frontier series of novels, I was very excited and eager to read. After reading the previous eighteen books in the series, I found I wanted more. Now, after reading the third of this latest series, I find myself wondering if the series has finally played itself out even though part three is very open ended and begging for a continuation of the saga that features Captain Mac Calhoun and the crew of the USS Excalibuir.

Part three starts where part 2 leaves off; the Excalibur has entered a pocket universe where the D’Myurj have their home world and Calhoun is determined to make them pay for the destruction of his home world and for the genocide committed against his people. Calhoun has a second objective which is to rescue a group of Starfleet personnel that were captured by the D’Myurj that includes Admiral Alynna Nechayev. Calhoun is cautiously optimistic when a seemingly friendly race known as the Dayan ask for his help in the destruction of the D’Myurj Homeworld.

After the destruction of the D’Myurj, Calhoun soon learns that the Dayan are also on another mission to destroy all life, no matter where it exists.

In the meantime, back on New Thallon, the current despotic ruler, Shintar Han is on a mission to make sure that his rule is not usurped by Robin Lefler and her child, Cwanzi. She is being protected by Mark McHenry, a former Starfleet officer turned demigod. Han is not alone as he has recruited the Thallonian deity who turns out to be none other than Q, who goes about his usual creation of chaos and playing one against another for whatever reason.

While all of this death and destruction along with Q’s constant game-playing is taking place, Lefler sleeps with her protector; Soleta, the Vulcan/Romulan hybrid, enters Pon Far, and seduces Calhoun; Q kidnaps Lefler’s child and returns him as a grown-up liaison to the Q Continuum, who also saves the day by killing the entire Dayan race. And to top everything off, Soleta turns up pregnant as a result of her rape of Calhoun.

I have enjoyed past installments of the New Frontier stories, but this latest trilogy has left me somewhat cold. It isn’t the story itself that is disappointing to me, although there are elements that, in my mind, are not what I would expect from a Star Trek story. As far as Story is concerned, this entire trilogy, with the possible exception of Part 1, reads more like a draft of a completed story than a finished work, at least as far as what I have come to expect from Peter David.

In the first novel, Admirals Jellico and Shelby plot to send Calhoun off to the pocket universe to rescue the officers captured by the D’Myurj. They are sure that Calhoun can complete the job, but they fail to realize that he is severely emotionally compromised and the objective that he will actually pursue, the destruction of the D’Myurj, is not within the normal operations of Starfleet. Calhoun has become a loose cannon and should be reined in until he regains his perspective before he resumes command of a star ship. Calhoun’s officers are more than willing to follow him into whatever situation he deems appropriate, including genocide, with only mild protestations from his first officer.

After the rescue of the officers from the D’Myurj Homeworld, there is no mention of them. There is an admiral on board the Excalibur, and in the past, Nechayev has never had a problem with asserting her command position to make sure that the interests of Starfleet are enforced. There is not a single mention of her or the other officers that are rescued, which seemed to be a main plot point earlier in the series.

Mac Calhoun tells Soleta that he will have to tell his wife, Admiral Shelby about the illicit activity between them because they have no secrets from each other, yet that same Admiral Shelby who has no secrets from her husband, along with Admiral Jellico, manipulated her husband into going on a mission that would be normally frowned upon, to say the least, by the Federation.

I could go on with numerous other plot holes, but that isn’t the main reason I am disappointed. What I missed in this story, and in the trilogy in general, is the depth of the characters that I have become used to in the author’s previous stories. In the past, Calhoun has been a complex character who is able to think on his feet and solve problems cleverly. The Calhoun in this story is a very shallow person, a mere shadow of his former self who has become single minded and quite one-dimensional. The supporting characters as well have become equally less interesting than in the past and seem to have been treated as pawns on a chessboard. Had I not read the New Frontier series from the beginning, I probably wouldn’t have finished this latest installment.

I am sorry to say that it is perhaps time to let this be the end of the adventures of the Excalibur and her crew unless the quality of the characters can be restored. In the past, while the stories may have been good, if not a little far fetched, the members of Calhoun’s crew would leap off of the page and became ones that I deeply cared about.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fun & Games - A Look At Star Wars: X-Wing And Star Trek: Attack Wing Miniature Games

So what have I gone and gotten myself into now?

A few weeks before Christmas, Bruce Schindler (author of the Dust and Cannibal’s series of SciFi books) was having a book signing event at a local gaming and comic book store, The Troll’s Den. So I thought I would go up there and visit with him and pick up Chrissy’s comic book. My grand daughter, Hannah, was having a sleep-over with Chrissy and I took them along.  While at the store, something really neat happened that has started me on a path that I thought I would never go down, namely miniature tabletop gaming.

I was only planning on being at The Troll’s Den for about an hour or so, but time started stretching on and the girls were getting bored after about fifteen minutes.  One of the people that run the store, Ryan noticed that Chrissy was looking at the Star Wars: X-Wing game ships and asked the girls if they would like to learn how to play the game. Chrissy is always up for something new and Hannah also thought it would be fun, so Ryan got out the store’s demo set and began teaching the girls how to play. He probably spent about two hours with them teaching them the ins and outs of X-Wing and I could see that she was having a lot of fun. Hannah was hanging in there too.

On my previous visits to the Den, I had also noticed that there is a Star Trek version of the X-Wing game that I was thinking about getting into myself. Well, When I asked Chrissy, my resident Star Wars super-fan, how she liked the game, she said that she wanted it.  I told her that I would think about it and we would see. Well, being Christmas was just coming very soon, I grabbed the starter kit for X-Wing off the shelf along with an expansion ship, the Millennium Falcon. And while I was at it, I also grabbed the Star Trek: Attack Wing starter kit along with the USS Defiant and managed to get them to the car without letting the kid know what I had gotten. Both games got wrapped and placed under the tree.

In the days that passed after that first experience, Chrissy and I went up to the Den on several occasions and borrowed the store’s sets and we played the games, again with the help of Ryan, who helped us learn the finer points of the game. On Christmas morning, we unwrapped our games and began playing at home.

STAR WARS: X-WING

Of the two games that we play, X-Wing is the easiest to learn and play. The starter kit comes with an X-Wing fighter and two TIE Fighters, pilot cards, and upgrades. There are also tokens for various features that are available to ships as well as maneuvering dials (which show what moves a ship can make) and maneuvering templates to determine where on the three-foot square playing area a ship is able to move.

After one determines what ships and upgrades to use, based on a limited number of points allowed, the player places their ships in the playing area and tries to move their ships into the most advantageous position to either attack, or avoid being attacked. After each ship has been moved into the planned position, the player then performs an action. Actions include focusing, target locking, or doing extra maneuvers as determined by available tokens or as specified on the selected upgrades.

Next comes the battle phase. Ships within a certain range a may attack opponent’s ships to score damage against them. The attack and the opponent’s defense is determined by the dice. There are hits and critical hits, which can include devastating consequences on a ship, and depending on the actions taken a defender can avoid hits on their ship. Also depending on actions taken and what is on the chosen upgrade cards, the dice can be modified to maximize attack and defense results.

After the attack phase is completed, players clean up any tokens left with a few exceptions and once again plan their moves and the process repeats until one opponent’s ships are all destroyed or until a time limit is reached. In competitive play, there is always a time limit on games. In that case, the winner is determined by how many points each has left.

STAR TREK: ATTACK WING

As mentioned earlier, Attack Wing follows much the same procedure as X-Wing, but there are a few more twists with this game. One additional aspect of this game is the inclusion of a resource that can add to the maneuverability or the power of a ship. When a new resource is introduced to the game, it usually expires after eighteen months and can no longer be used in official competitive play, but can be used in non-official play.

Another difference is that Attack Wing seems to include a lot of scenarios that make the game more challenging. One competitive event that I participated in a while back included an element of a story line from Star Trek: Enterprise taken from the Xindi story arc. In “Temporal Cold War III”, a token is placed in the middle of the play area that represents a Delphic Expanse Sphere. Once at the beginning of each round of play, the Sphere send out a massive gravimetric pulse that causes damage to all ships on the board. Players can either choose to destroy the Sphere before attacking each other, or may ignore the Sphere and do battle while trying to sustain the extra damage from the Sphere along with that  inflicted by their opponent. It was a bit harrowing but it did add a dimension to the game that made it interesting.

There are a lot of other details on both games, many that I am still learning as I play, so instead of going into all of them, I will provide links at the end of this article to allow you to investigate further if interested.

SO, WHAT’S THE POINT?

Well, other than just plain having fun, I am enjoying spending time playing with Chrissy. She is really more into the Star Wars end of things while I am a staunch Trekkie and love the ins and outs of Attack Wing, but we do play both games together. Chrissy wants to compete in the Troll’s Den Store Championship that will take place at the end of February, so we play that a lot so she learns how to fly her ships most effectively.

Another aspect that appeals to me is spending time with people who are of the same mindset as me, which is something that I have been missing. The people I have met while gaming are all good people who are mostly just as geeky as I am, and in some cases even more so. When I am playing, there always seems to be a side conversation about what episodes a particular ship or upgrade card is from. My fellow players are also quite friendly and always willing to help out and offer advice to a novice player, such as myself, and some of that advice has translated into wins in my column.

There are also the aspects of strategy and chance involved. It seems that no matter how well one plans their attack or defense, if the dice are not with you, you are going down in flames.

BE LOGICAL

These games are not like Monopoly where you just buy a box of materials once and use until they wear out. They can become a real investment, both monetarily and time wise. While the starter kits cost between $35-45 in both cases, they do not provide adequate resources to play competitively outside of casual play. There are also numerous expansion packs that include ships and upgrade cards, the cost for these varies starting at $15 and can go as high as $100 for very large ships or space stations. At any rate, one will want to expand, especially if one is considering entering competitive play. Many events require a fleet to be “faction pure.” In other words, a typical fleet might consist of three ships, so if one is playing with the faction pure rule in place, all of the ships and upgrades have to be all Federation, or all Klingon, or all Romulan, or whatever others exist. The Attack Wing starter kit comes with three ships; one Federation, one Klingon, and one Romulan ship which works well for casual play, but to compete, one would need at least two expansion sets from a single faction to compete in some events. At this point, there are three factions in the X-Wing game, they include the Rebels, the Imperials, and Scum and Villainy.

This game, at least for me, is very addictive and I have invested considerable time and resources in getting my Attack Wing collection up to a competitive level. I have also invested a great deal in the care of the materials by purchasing card protectors, binders, binder pages, tackle boxes, totes to keep things organized and safe from damage.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

As mentioned earlier, the starter kits include three ship models, plastic stands for the ships, and carious cards that provide personnel and upgrades for the ships. There are also maneuver dials for the planning of movements on the field of battle, gauges for executing planned moves, a range gauge for making attacks, and finally, the attack and defense dice. Along with all of that, there are tokens that represent various aggressive and defensive actions that can alter the outcome of the game.

The models are mostly on the smaller side and are painted to represent the various classes of ships in the universes after which they are modeled. The Attack Wing starter set’s ships are not ass nicely done as the expansion packs, but the X-Wing ships look very authentic in every detail.  Also, the X-Wing ships are far more delicate than their Trek counterparts, and can be easily damaged through mishandling. For instance, the weapons on the X-Wing modes can be easily bent and one has to take great care when mounting them on their stands and making maneuvers with them. If a ship is damaged (one upgrade I purchased had a loose piece that fell of the first time I used it) it can easily be repaired with a little care and a bit of superglue. The Trek ships, so far, have fewer tiny details that could be easily damaged. The reason for this is that the X-Wing ships are mostly representations of smaller, one pilot fighters while the Attack Wing ships are representations of mostly larger ships with large crews.

While the ships themselves are beautiful and fun to collect, the real power in the games are through collecting the cards that come with the starter kit and in the expansion packs. For the X-Wing game, some pilots have elite skills that can be very helpful as well as upgrades that add weapons and skills that can greatly enhance the power of a ship. Attack Wing’s cards include named ships as well as ships that have a specific classes of ships that have various levels of power, captain cards that also add numerous skills to the ship, and upgrade cards that add skills for crew, weapons, and others. The success of a game outcome are greatly enhanced if one chooses the right cards. One factor that determines the choice of upgrades is their cost in points as well as the skills. In competitive play, there is usually a maximum amount of points allowed and one has to budget what is chosen within those guidelines. This alone can be a real challenge.

INTERESTED?

Either one of these games are a great way to play in either the Trek or Star Wars universes in fun and challenging ways, whether one wants to just enjoy collecting models and cards, or if one wants to enter competition. I do have a few suggestions for getting started.

Go to a gaming store and talk to the staff. My “home store” is the Troll’s Den on 2nd Avenue here in Kearney, Nebraska. The owners and staff of the store were extremely helpful in getting Chrissy and I started down this path not only in having the supplies needed, but in advice and instruction on playing the games. The Den has demonstration sets that they are very willing to share with new players to get one started, and the staff enjoy working with people when there is time. Along with that, I would recommend getting your materials and supplies through your home store, especially if they are independently owned and operated. Most likely, the independent owners are people who have other jobs and are putting in a lot of extra personal time to keep their places open to provide other gaming enthusiasts with opportunities to play, compete, and just gather to have a good time.

Watch videos, listen to podcasts, and talk with others who are playing the games you are interested in. I have found that everyone I have talked with is more than happy to help, even when in competitive situations, and give advice and instruction on what they have learned. The majority of what I have learned about playing these games I have learned through playing with more experienced players.

Finally, just get a starter set and start playing. It is a blast!

HERE ARE SOME LINKS YOU MIGHT FIND USEFUL…


Well, there it is...

Qaplah!