Tag Archives: star wars

May the Fourth

Picture of Star Destroyer with words may the 4th be with youMay the 4th. Star Wars day. Back in 1977 a Galaxy Far Far Away crawled up the screen of a theatre near you. Since then, a whole new generation has been introduced to the worlds of the Force and an industry is in full swing, churning out books, toys, games, costumes – you name it. Yes, the science is suspect (at best), the worlds are alternative Earths, the aliens awfully humanoid. But through it all, I loved it and I still do.

Back then, I was teaching. My ten-year-old class loved the new movie. I didn’t go and see it until the long summer break, some nine months later. I’m not a great movie fan and science fiction for me was Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury. I’d LOVED 2001: A Space Odyssey, so this kid’s SF fantasy romp was beneath my level of sophistication. Still, needs must. I went along to the movies and was surprised to find I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lucas hadn’t needed to call it A New Hope back then. I particularly, especially loved that opening scene where the ISD (Imperial Star Destroyer to those not in the loop) chases Leia’s consular ship. Yes, I ducked. That was truly awesome.

But when The Empire Strikes Back was released, my mood changed from “what fun” to a gibbering, orgasmic mess. I saw that movie four times in ten days. Why? Luke Skywatcher? Nah. Luke never did it for me. Han? Yeah, okay, not bad. Darth Vader???? Oh, yesssss. Tall, dark and powerful. In ANH he was portrayed as a shouting bully-boy with smudges on his face mask, albeit with a quirky sense of humour. In TESB he has grown. He’s the man in charge. His face mask gleams. His sense of humour is still there. And he’s got… EXECUTOR. Be still my pounding heart. The ultimate spaceship. Oh, man. That scene where Vader is at the picture window on the bridge, surveying the Imperial Fleet, every massive ISD dwarfed by the mighty flagship. Excuse me while I dribble. And with the Imperial March playing in the background – da da da dada da dada daaaahhhh…

I bought the figures, the models, the books (don’t bother) and eventually, the movies – in VHS (I still have them). I reckon I’ve seen TESB a hundred times or more.

I couldn’t wait for Revenge Return of the Jedi. But it didn’t really do it for me. Oh, the speeder bikes were cool and Executor was back. But some of it was so… dumb. Like Leia in a metal bikini. WTF was Jabba the Hutt intending to do with her? I mean… you hear the stories about sheep and camels. But really? Surely Jabba would be expected to take a fancy to one of his own kind? Later on, the Emperor’s idea of persuading Luke to join him would’ve had him kicked out of the snake oil salesmen’s guild. Very clumsy. And building another Death Star with the same intrinsic fault? Dumb dumb dumb. And then they crashed Executor. My heart was shattered.

Still, I was desperately disappointed when the series ended. Fortunately, spin-off books began to appear, some worthwhile, some garbage. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy was a stand-out (here’s my take on why) and Brian Daley’s The Han Solo Adventures was also well worth an afternoon or two. Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was a bit of fun, set between ANH and TESB.

Like many others, I was ecstatic when Lucas announced the three films filling in Darth Vader’s early years. And like everybody else, I hated the prequels.

Still and all, I was even more excited when Star Wars was resurrected. And although quite a few people liked The Force Awakens, I didn’t. To me it was A New Hope with a few tweaks and absolutely no imagination. But Disney made up for it with Rogue One. Now I’m hangin’ out for The Last Jedi. Tragic, really.

I can’t finish without mentioning that this year we’ll be without Princess Leia and without R2D2 – or at least the actors who played those parts. So a last salute to Carrie Fisher and Ronnie Baker. At least the Star Wars legacy will remain for many years to come.

Will we see Empires in space?

Augustus_Aureus_infobox_versionEmpires are something of a staple in science fiction, and they’re often evil empires. Or at least evil emperors. Asimov’s famous ‘Foundation’ series starts off with an empire in the first throes of disintegration, Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five series has a weak emperor whose power is usurped by a ‘trusted adviser’ (think Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII) and then there’s the most famous galactic empire of them all – Star Wars.

It’s a tempting concept, having one powerful ruler in charge of everything. Earth’s history includes a number of powerful, very well run empires. The foremost was Rome, but others include the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the British Empire, the Napoleonic Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Based on these terrestrial examples, an empire is defined as “a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign or government: usually a territory of greater extent than a kingdom.” As the power of one particular political entity grows, it expands, gobbling up its neighbours. One of the best examples in relatively recent history was the expansion of Prussia, amalgamating a collection of autonomous small kingdoms into the modern political entity called Germany. Even more recently, after the end of WWII, Russia extended its influence over much of Eastern Europe to become the USSR, an empire in all but name. Stalin may not have worn a crown, but an emperor is just another form of dictator.

Are we ever likely to see an empire comprised of a collection of planets, though? It’s hard to imagine. We’re talking vast distances between the planets, which will probably be in different star systems. Perhaps if we reach the point in our technology where travel between star systems is achieved in weeks or days, then the concept of an all-powerful central entity might be feasible. After all, the Rome Empire encompassed such far-flung regions as Britain and Egypt. However, it would also depend upon strong government at a local level, with an allegiance to the central body.

Eva Caye has come up with a new version of a galactic empire in her nine-book series, “To be Sinclair”. In the first book, Dignity, we receive enough backstory to understand that the Sinclair family led a mission from Earth to colonize a planet. Since the Sinclairs provided most of the money to finance the trip, they became kings. Others who contributed large sums became dukes, with their own lands. Because the Sinclairs controlled the wormhole technology enabling space travel, they expanded their influence to other planets, and became Imperial.

Unlike stories like Dock Five and Star Wars, which concentrate on the rebel efforts to defeat the empire, Caye’s books are about the imperial family, and the constraints and responsibilities they must contend with as part of their daily lives. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for members of the British Royal family, especially in these days of insta-media. Privacy is virtually impossible. Everything they say, everything they do, is subject to scrutiny. But the British Royal family has no real power. Eva Caye’s Emperor has power. And with that comes enemies, assassination attempts, sycophants and hangers-on.

I’ve written a review for Dignity. You’ll find it over on the Science Fiction Romance Brigade blog. Do take a look.

Meanwhile, what do you think about Galactic Empires? Do you see if happening? Please share your thoughts.

I find your lack of faith disturbing…

Darth Vader… and other Star Wars favourite lines.

I’m really not sure why, but I’ve found myself remembering Star Wars lines. Maybe it’s because I’m writing. Anyway, here’s a few of my favourites, a number being by him on the left. I found a few Youtube snippets, too

“These are not the droids you’re looking for.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7l8rWfLAus

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzs-OvfG8tE

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” http://starwars.com/watch/encyclo_princess_leiaorgana_a.html

“Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31A1WbkeD2I

Han: “We don’t have time to discuss this in committee.” Leia: “I am NOT a committee.”

“You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYZoxY3sawE

“Apology accepted, Captain Needa.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69WbIEEs288

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Luke: “I don’t believe it!” Yoda: “That… is why you fail.”

Darth: “I… am your father.” Luke: “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peh2T2543ec

and of course “May the Force be with you.”

Do you have any favourites to share?

May the 4th be with you – a nostalgic look at Star Wars

Picture of Star Destroyer with words may the 4th be with youMay the 4th. Star Wars day. Back in 1977 a Galaxy Far Far Away crawled up the screen of a theatre near you. Since then, a whole new generation has been introduced to the worlds of the Force and an industry is in full swing, churning out books, toys, games, costumes – you name it. Yes, the science is suspect (at best), the worlds are alternative Earths, the aliens awfully humanoid. But through it all, I loved it and I still do.

Back then, I was teaching. My ten-year-old class loved the new movie. I didn’t go and see it until the long summer break, some nine months later. I’m not a great movie fan and science fiction for me was Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury. I’d LOVED 2001: A Space Odyssey, so this kid’s SF fantasy romp was beneath my level of sophistication. Still, needs must. I went along to the movies and was surprised to find I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lucas hadn’t needed to call it “A New Hope” back then. I particularly, especially loved that opening scene where the ISD (Imperial Star Destroyer to those not in the loop) chases Leia’s consular ship. Yes, I ducked. That was truly awesome.

But when The Empire Strikes Back was released, my mood changed from “what fun” to a gibbering, orgasmic mess. I saw that movie four times in ten days. Why? Luke Skywatcher? Nah. Luke never did it for me. Han? Yeah, okay, not bad. Darth Vader???? Oh, yesssss. Tall, dark and powerful. In ANH he was portrayed as a shouting bully-boy with smudges on his face mask, albeit with a quirky sense of humour. In TESB he has grown. He’s the man in charge. His face mask gleams. His sense of humour is still there. And he’s got… EXECUTOR. Be still my pounding heart. The ultimate spaceship. Oh, man. That scene where Vader is at the picture window on the bridge, surveying the Imperial Fleet, every massive ISD dwarfed by the mighty flagship. Excuse me while I dribble. And with the Imperial March playing in the background – da da da dada da dada daaaahhhh…

I bought the figures, the models, the books (don’t bother) and eventually, the movies – in VHS (I still have them). I reckon I’ve seen TESB a hundred times or more.

I couldn’t wait for Revenge Return of the Jedi. But it didn’t really do it for me. Oh, the speeder bikes were cool and Executor was back. But some of it was so… dumb. Like Leia in a metal bikini. WTF was Jabba the Hutt intending to do with her? I mean… you hear the stories about sheep and camels. But really? Surely Jabba would be expected to take a fancy to one of his own kind? Later on, the Emperor’s idea of persuading Luke to join him would’ve had him kicked out of the snake oil salesmen’s guild. Very clumsy. And building another Death Star with the same intrinsic fault? Dumb dumb dumb. And then they crashed Executor. My heart was shattered.

Still, I was desperately disappointed when the series ended. Fortunately, spin-off books began to appear, some worthwhile, some garbage. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy was a stand-out (here’s my take on why) and Brian Daley’s The Han Solo Adventures was also well worth an afternoon or two. Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was a bit of fun, set between ANH and TESB.

Like many others, I was ecstatic when Lucas announced the three films filling in Darth Vader’s early years. But I’ll talk about those movies another time.

Your turn. What did you love and hate about Star Wars? Are you still a fan?

The one Rule of Writing you should never break (IMO)

Picture of an X-wing fighterThose who know me would realise that I raise an eyebrow at the mere mention of the Rules of Writing. You know the ones; thou shalt not use passive voice, thou shalt avoid ‘that’, ‘as’, ‘just’ and ‘there was’, thou shalt not use adjectives and yay, verily, thou shalt not use adverbs. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. They are sensible guidelines to consider, NOT “rules” Somebody was supposed to have said, “There are three rules to writing. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.”

BUT… the title says it all, doesn’t it? There is one rule you break at your peril, and that is

Do Your Research

I was involved in an interesting discussion with writers of science fiction, based on a blog post about whether the ‘science’ was important in science fiction. Specifically, the author discussed a scenario in a novel where a spaceship in deep space begins to slow down when the engines fail. There was some to-ing and fro-ing over how important it was that this would not happen. Without any drag in the almost complete vacuum of space, inertia would keep the ship travelling at a constant speed unless something else intervened. It transpired that the writer of the novel had based her ‘research’ on a few science fiction movies. This is not a great move when you consider films like Star Wars, where basic physics is either misunderstood (this ship did the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs) or ignored. Think fighters zooming around in space as they would in atmosphere, and making a quick trip to Bespin without a hyperdrive, just to mention a couple.

People who read science fiction tend to be interested in science. Authors should at least do their readers the courtesy of trying to get it right. I grew up on Asimov and Clarke, who made sure their science was plausible, and basic facts of physics were either adhered to, or if not then explained. Jack McDevitt does the same. Somebody is going to say, but what about faster than light travel (FTL)? That’s impossible. Sure. But that’s a recognised trope in SF, commonly used in space opera to move the story forward. And as I explained here, planet hopping might not be as silly as it sounds.

A similar thing can be said of historical fiction, which I have also written. Before I wrote about a lad beheaded with a sword – just for fun – I found out how this could be done and what would happen. If you’re interested, here’s the answer – murder by decapitation. When I needed to write a scene where muskets were used, I researched muskets. Here’s the post about that. Writers of crime novels face the same situation. You’re going to kill somebody. Is the mode of death feasible? How long does it take? What evidence is left behind etc etc.

I suppose not everybody will agree with me. After all, the story is the thing, is it not? And since I’m a Star Wars fan, I can hardly disagree. But I still think Lucas et al could have done their homework and come up with something more accurate and still just as exciting. Even a few nose thrusters in the fighters would have helped. And maybe the hyperdrive could have been damaged, in need of repair, but still barely operational. Sure, there’s a little more room in speculative fiction for invention. After all, it is ‘fiction’. But I think there’s a limit. Even when I wrote Black Tiger, which is about a were-tiger, I took care to find out about real tigers, the legend of were-tigers in India, and the role of tigers in Hindu theology.

So what do you think? Am I being self-righteous? Do you expect to find real science in science fiction? Real history in historical novels? Or doesn’t it matter to you?

Star Wars ISD – a good design, or not so hot?

Picture of an Imperial Star Destroyer

http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Imperial_Star_Destroyer

Oh, man. The majestic Imperial Star Destroyer.  I’ve said before it was one of the reasons I fell in love with Star Wars. Here it is in all its glory. Bristling with weapons, a space-going aircraft carrier cum assault ship. According to Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels, the 1.6km long ship carried 9,700 soldiers, 72 TIE fighters, 20 AT-ATs, 30 AT-STs and an assortment of barges, gunboats, transports, shuttles and Skipray blastboats. Look at it, all angles and details, with its huge bridge (complete with picture window) and shield generation domes. Be still my beating heart. I built the plastic model, of course, and added lots of spiky details. It was/is a thing of beauty, and a joy forever.

And yet, that’s not what the battle cruisers in my novels look like. Why is this so?

Not, as you might imagine, the copyright issue. Nor is it anything to do with streamlining. In space, streamlining is not an issue. (In fact, the space battles in the Star Wars movies were giggled at by most of us who know a little about space. Those fighters maneuvered as they would in atmosphere, diving and curving like World War I Sopwith Camels.) Getting back to the capital ships, provided they stayed out of a planet’s atmosphere, they could be any shape the mind can conceive. Let’s face, it that pointy bow is unnecessary, even if it looks cool. Same with the angled deck surfaces.

My reservations about the design are more about that bridge structure. Would you really put all your commanders in such an obvious place? I know it’s based on a sea-going ships’ superstructure but I think even in the world’s navies, the actual command centre is well-protected, within the ship. That great T-bone up there is an obvious target. Remember when, in The Empire Strikes Back, an asteroid collides with the bridge of one ISD and takes out the ship? Oops. And then the bridge of the great SSD Executor is hit by a rebel fighter in Return of the Jedi. Double Oops. What’s more, those shield generators must have a pretty mighty job to effectively blanket the whole ship from that position. Clearly, from the previous, with a certain lack of success.

So my ships aren’t pretty. They’re a bunch of rectangles stuck on top of each. The largest and lowest contains the hangars, the hydroponics, the artificial gravity generators, and down the far end, the engine rooms. The level above contains the troop accommodation and training areas, kitchens, workshops and the like, and the highest contains the bridge (although well down the decks) and Fleet accommodation. It’s a big ship, more like 5km long, plenty big enough to support a task force. And of course, it would usually have escorts to protect it. Although it carries quite a bit of its own protection in the hangars and the weapons (missiles and energy weapons) deployed around the decks. The shield generators are on the lowest level and carry charge to a network of emission sites over the hull.The ships have two drive systems, one for shift space when they travel enormous distances through different dimensions, and another for travel in normal space. Like Star Wars ships, they can make a jump within a system, arriving fairly close to a planet. The drives themselves use controlled nuclear fusion. Don’t ask me how. Just look at a star. We know it works.

So… would any of you care to share your observations or feelings about Lucasfilm’s creations? Or wax lyrical about your own?

ET phone home? Really?

picture of a telephoneReal time conversations are a problem in space opera if you’re planet hopping. Why? Think about it. If light can take years to go from one star to us, how long would it take any other type of signal? (We’ll leave out sound waves, which don’t move through a vacuum.) Answer – same as light. About 300,000km per second. Sure, that’s fast. But having a conversation with someone, say, four light years away is going to be a tad tedious.

“Hi, I’d like to order the peperoni, please. With anchovies, no pineapple.” (Wait eight years)

“Sure. Would you like garlic bread with that?”

I think your pizza might be cold before it was delivered.

And yet, so often space opera ignores this fact of physics and has folks chatting from spaceship to planet, or planet to planet, as though they were using Skype back in the 21st Century on jolly old Earth. A case in point is the famous scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where Darth Vader’s Executor is chasing the Millenium Falcon through an asteroid field. Admiral Piett was delighted to be able to tell Vader the Emperor was on the line, so the star destroyer could be moved out of the asteroid field in order to send a clear signal. And then they had the little chat, the Emperor’s ominous figure dwarfing Vader, down on one knee, while he plotted betrayal.

Now, let’s think about this. The Emperor is on Coruscant, Executor is down in the Imperial boondocks, messing around near Hoth. I’m not suggesting the exchange was impossible. No, let’s put that another way. It’s impossible without some sort of futuristic device. Even within our own solar system, it takes anywhere from 3.4 – 21 minutes (depending on how close the planets are to each other) for a a signal to go from Mars to Earth.

It’s a known problem, though. Ursula Le Guin was the first to dream up a device which could enable people on different planets to converse in real time. She called it the ansible. The name has wheedled its way into the genre, rather like ‘hyperspace’. Elizabeth Moon wrote a whole series of books (the Vatta saga) around a company which specialised in setting up ansibles in orbit around inhabited planets, and maintaining them. And the subsequent danger when the ansibles were sabotaged, a bit like taking down the telegraph line across America in the Old West.

I don’t call them ansibles, but since my books involve much planet-hopping, I had to come up with something, which I suppose is an ansible by any other name. A multi-dim transmitter is a device which uses one of the many dimensions of space, a dimension which is not available to physical entities like ships, to transmit a signal from one place to another. They’re fitted to ships and planets have receivers.

Needless to say, if you don’t have access to an ansible or its equivalent, you can’t have a real-time conversation over a long distance.

Care to share your thoughts?

I remember Space Quest. Do you?

picture of Cantina scene from SQ2I’ve been messing about with tech and found myself wandering down memory lane. Why don’t you come with me, help me fill in some gaps?

I started work as a programmer in IT slightly before the IBM PC muscled in and took over. Computer games were a pretty new invention for me and the first I ever encountered was a Dungeons and Dragons game. The name escapes me. It was all done in text (no graphics back then). The opening symbol was a tombstone drawn in lines and crosses etc. It had many levels which you worked your way through. You entered a dungeon, which was a line-drawn box, nothing more. You made you way around using the number keys for movement (no arrows). In the dungeon you might find a magic sword, or armour, or have to kill a monster, which might kill you. If you stayed alive, more of the dungeon was revealed. It was seriously addictive and took up many a lunch break at the office, but it didn’t work on the IBM XT I had at home.

So I thought I’d buy a game to play during the Xmas break. It was Space Quest: the Sarien Encounter. It had ‘real’ graphics – that is, little figures that moved around, using number keys, as I recall. (Feel free to correct me) You (Roger Wilco, janitor of a ship taken over by aliens – you were asleep in the janitor’s cupboard at the time) had to evade the aliens, who shot on sight, get off the space ship, then go through a series of adventures on an alien planet. All great fun and all in sparkling, four-colour, CGA graphics. Wow.

Over the years, the graphics improved as computers evolved and I bought every game as soon as it was out there. One of the things I loved most about it was the designers had a wicked sense of humour, sending up every SF movie that ever existed. You’d recognise bits of Star Wars or Star Trek. In the picture at top left you’ll recognise the Blues Brothers and a bunch of aliens from the famous cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope. One of my favourites was a scene from (I think) the third adventure. Roger (you) is wandering around the prison levels of a ship and a being advances. It’s actually easily evaded but it was always soPicture of a scene from Space quest 4 much fun to see what would happen if you didn’t, you saved the game (so you could start again when you got killed) and let it happen. So the alien comes up to Roger and gives him a huge French kiss. Then goes away. You didn’t die. Gosh. Oh well. So you carry on exploring, looking for whatever you had to do to get out of there. Then suddenly, 5, 10 minutes after your encounter with the alien, Roger keels over and a little tiny alien bursts out of his breast and scuttles off, stage right.

When you stopped laughing, you returned to the last point where you saved the game, and avoid the Alien.

What were your favourite computer games? Do you remember Space Quest? And if you do, which were your favourite bits? Give it a whirl. You might win some buckazoids. Or not, as the case may be.

You could be excused for feeling fairly insignificant

picture of a glaxy clusterI’ve written a few posts lately about life, the Galaxy and everything. When you think we inhabit one small planet going around a pretty non-descript G class star in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy, you could be excused for feeling fairly insignificant. In the scheme of things. After all, our run-of-the-mill galaxy is estimated to contain anywhere from 200-400 billion stars. That’s nine zeroes billion. 200,000,000,000 – 400,000,000,000.

But when you start looking at some of those amazing deep space photographs… Wow, just wow.

Those smudges of light are galaxies. The Hubble telescope took some very deep space photos, looking back in time to what is believed to be the beginning of the creation of the universe. Here’s the link. Please note, half way down the page it says this one shot shows an estimated ten thousandPicture of Star Wars Arkanis sector galaxies. In one little piece of sky. Let’s see now. 10,000 multiplied by 200,000,000,000 is 2,000,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot of stars. And that’s just a fraction, a tiny portion, of the galaxies out there.

Maybe, somewhere out there, is the galaxy far, far away, a long, long time ago. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so farfetched.

Finally. Star Wars is back

Picture of Star Wars movie PosterWell, well. Disney has acquired the Star Wars franchise. Funny, I was in a bookshop yesterday and remarked how incredible it was that a movie made in 1977 was still, 35 years later, making money. There were all sorts of spin-off items; books of ships, aliens, lego, figurines, model kits, games – let alone the endless stream of expanded universe novels.

I’ve always been a Star Wars fan so my first reaction to the prospect of new Star Wars movies is YAY… provided. I wasn’t a huge fan of the three prequel movies, although the SFX were fun and I thought the later Clone Wars cartoon movie was terrible. I’m desperately hoping for something better.

Please, Mister Disney, don’t rehash the old stuff. Pick up the expanded universe material and run with it, but carefully. There are some good novels among the pile of books churned out over the years. I haven’t read a great many of the novelsbecause many of them are, in my opinion, ordinary, but I have a few favourites. The first, needless to say, is absolutely anything with Grand Admiral Thrawn in it. Bring it on – the Heir to the Empire trilogy (see my thoughts on those) and then Zahn’s follow-up books – Spectre of the Past, Vision of the Future and Survivor’s Quest. Also the prequel, Outbound Flight.  Tatooine Ghost was well-written and I enjoyed Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, set in the interval between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back. Then there’s the X-Wing squadron books, which are numerous and very popular.

So… what do you think of this? Thumbs up, thumbs down? And which books would you like to see as movies?