Category Archives: Science Fiction

Star Trek- Discovery Ep 1 & 2 Review

Very little spoilers ahead. Honestly, if you’re paying attention, they aren’t much in the way of spoilers.

I was able to watch the first two episodes and, in general, it was good.

Michelle Yeoh had me worried from the previews. She came off as stilted and uninterested, but that wasn’t the case in the actual episodes. Doug Jones was kind of wasted. I love his work, but the character of Lt. Saru was underwhelming. Sonequa Martin-Green was awesome. She played Michael Burnham with great energy.

The Klingons were interesting. I wasn’t sure about their new look, but I kind of get it. Hate to use this analogy, but it’s like the Star Wars Special Editions. They were able to go in and make changes that they wanted with the available technology. Did I like it? Not really, but I’m still planning on watching more of the show.

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Slightly spoiler-ish below. You have been warned.
___

Captain Georgiu (Michelle Yeoh) is only around for the first two episodes. The previews tease Michael Burnham getting her own command.

It’s a bait & switch.

The ‘season preview’ at the end of the second episode shows her joining another crew with Jason Isaacs as the captain. It felt cheap.

Here’s this really cool character. Check out her story. See her motivations. Now look at this guy you know nothing about. He’s the captain.

Why?

Michael (why is her name Michael) is sent to prison and there’s a war going on with the Klingons. Unless Jason Isaacs is just kind of there, I don’t want to know about him. There was some hints at something more going on with his ship. The parts of the preview with Michael interested me. Her in prison, her being transferred to a ship, that sort of thing.

Here’s an idea. She’s in prison, there’s a war going on, and they are running out of people. The Federation is losing. They don’t have enough crew to fill the ships. Here’s Michael, she was on the edge of her own command, and survived the initial battle. Reluctantly, they give her a ship and then the adventure starts.

Character arc intact, even if the court martial thing is dumb, and she gets her own ship. She’s a captain, as the previews promised. I came up with that as I was writing this. It wasn’t hard.

I’m going to give the show a few more episodes. Please don’t screw it up.

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Simplifying Shadowrun v2

I had thought that taking the D20 Modern approach to Shadowrun would be a better take on things. While the skills are closer to the setting the mechanics are still borked. At the time they worked, but looking at the D20 Modern stuff now is just silly.

Taking D20 Modern and adjusting it to a smoother ruleset ala D&D 5e would solve the problem. This would be workable for Shadowrun and other modernish settings as well.

In short, my efforts in this hobby would probably be better set adjusting D&D 5e to have some elements of D20 Modern. There’s still a bit of work, but once I’ve got that completed it would make running Shadowrun easier.

Or I could just be chasing my tail.

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Double Book Review

A month or so ago I signed up for a free trial on Audible. It comes with 2 credits to download audio-books. I picked out Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Here are the reviews.

Star Wars: Aftermath

The best part of this book was the narrator. Marc Thompson has done a few other Star Wars audio-books so having him doing the reading was a nice slide into things. Not only that but the Star Wars series really goes all out with sound FX and pieces of music to enhance the listening experience. That’s about all that’s good about it. Star Wars books aren’t exactly to top tier of science fiction. They mostly get by on the fanbase, but they’re entertaining enough to read.

This wasn’t. It was set in Third Person Present Tense. She lifts the blaster. He ducks out of the way. I hate that. I’m not a fan of Chuck Wendig. A while ago I saw a bunch of hype about him and someone I respect lent their voice to the praise. I decided to check out one of his books when I was at a bookstore and was underwhelmed. His blog is entertaining, but I don’t understand how’s he’s gotten to be so lauded.

The story takes place on a planet the remaining Empire has locked down. Their story is that nothing the rebels say is true and everything is business as usual.

There was a lot of noise about having a main character who was gay. That’s stupid. I didn’t enjoy the book, the writing was clunky, the tense never settled in my head, and the fan service felt forced. The fact that one of the characters was gay didn’t play in to any part of not liking the story. It felt like the author was grasping at straws for some way to make a flat character interesting.

Verdict: Skip

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson is the author. I like his work, most of the time. He wrote the Mistborn series, which had 2/3 good books and The Alloy of Law was cool. I hope to read that sequel to that soon. The narrator, Michael Kramer, sounds like a badly disguised Microsoft voice and was hard to listen too.

This book. Man. I wanted to like this book. It started off interesting, but it turns out that after the three stage prologue (it calls one of them part 1, but that’s a lie) that the reader has been suckered in to a long trudge. The first prologue is set thousands of years in the past and gives some insight of the larger picture, if vaguely, that is happening. The second prologue is awesome and has to do with an assassin trying to kill a king. That was a sweet read. The magic the assassin used was interesting and dynamic. Part 1, which is really prologue part three, starts a few months in the aftermath. It kept me invested and I wanted to see where it went. Then at the end of the the story takes another leap in time and that’s when the real-real story begins. Something didn’t smell right to me, so after listening for quite a few hours I decided to check out the wiki page. My hunch was right and, not to spoil it, irritated me quite a bit. This damn book is told in 3-6 hour chunks and it wasn’t worth it.

Verdict: Skip

I got these two audio-books for free. They each marketed for like $30 when I got them. I’m so glad I didn’t pay for these.

Sanderson is starting to lose my faith. After the third Mistborn book I was unsure, but Alloy of Law reminded me why I liked his stories. The second prologue, and even the third part, was interesting and I wanted to know more. It wasn’t until I was knee-deep in the slog that I realized I’d made a mistake.

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Random Sci-Fi

Owen blinked his new eyes as the lights came on. They adapted quicker than he expected and he found himself facing a display screen with a friendly face smiling at him.

“Good morning, Owen Phillips,” the voice that came out had a modulated edge. “Your orientation will soon begin. Please report to the company liaison once your physical evaluation has completed. Scans of the communication array has identified seven local languages. They have been added to your training. You have seven hundred and fifty-three unread messages.”

The hatch to his pod popped open with a hiss. Owen sat up and looked around. This was his first trip across a galaxy, but he was pretty sure that this wasn’t the docking bay. Red baked earth dotted with thorny underbrush and orange cacti. His pod was lodged in a sun bleached boulder and as far as he could see, he was the only one around.

It was then that Owen realized that he was entirely naked. A panel slid open on the opened hatch to display a thin robe and slipper. Owen put on the robe, tied it shut as best as he could, and put on the provided shoes. He stood up in the pod and found that the slippers were about as thin as the robe.

The sound of an engine growled as a vehicle trundled into sight. It kind of looked like a truck, but the cab was a roll-cage with glass panels attached to a flatbed. The vehicle bounced along the terrain toward him. Owen watched as the truck pulled to a stop near the pod. A thin, ragged man in dusty worn coveralls with one missing sleeve. The guy wiped his forehead with his bare arm and limped over to the pod.

He gave the slightest of nod to Owen as he walked to the back of the truck. The ragged man unhooked a set of chains that ended in hooks and attached them to the pod.

“What are you doing?” Owen asked.

“What?” The thin guy looked up at him.

“What are you doing?” His brain switched to match the language.

“Taking the pod,” the guy attached one of the hooks and moved on.

“Why?”

The guy looked at him, then at the pod. “what year did you launch?”

“Twenty-two eighty-six,” Owen said as he walked along the truck to get a better look at it.

“They freeze you or CCT?”

“CCT?”

“Clone Consciousness Transfer.”

“Yeah,” Owen said. He nodded and looked down at his new hands. “Cloned.”

“Brain should be working fine,” the guy went back to work. “Lots of problems with the frozen ones.”

“That’s,” Owen held the word as he looked back at the guy. “Good?”

The thin guy shrugged as he attached the second hook, “good. Bad. Don’t matter.”

“You’re not with the company are you?” Owen didn’t see any company logos or patches on the coveralls.

“Nope,” the guy looked up and gave a gapped smile. “Independent salvage.”

Owen blinked and looked from the truck to the pod, “you’re taking the pod for salvage.”

“Yep,” the guy hooked the last connection up and walked back to the truck. “What company were you with?”

“Fesilan Mining.”

“Never heard of them.”

Owen blinked again, “what year is it?”

The thin guy tapped his left temple lightly. “June fifth, Thirty-two twelve, Galactic Standard.”

Owen suddenly found it hard to breath.

“You alright?” The ragged guy flipped open a box on the side of the flatbed.

“That’s nearly a thousand years.”

“Yep,” the guy pulled a lever.

The chains began to slowly tighten. Moment by agonizing moment the pod slid from its rocky casing. Owen wobbled as his brain tried to process the news. The new gray matter worked even better as the mush he had been born with. A flood of emotion and memories were eased away into the sound of rain. Owen found his breathing and pulse returning to normal.

“The trip was supposed to take two hundred and fifty years,” Owen said as he watched the pod move. It jolted from the stone and kicked up a cloud of red dust as it clunked onto the ground.

“That’s sub light drives for you,” the guy didn’t bother to look up from his panel.

“Did the ship crash?” Owen looked up at the sky around them. He didn’t seen any streaks through the atmosphere or massive plumes of smoke.

“No,” the guy laughed. “We’d all be dead.”

“What do I do?” Owen held the back of his robe closed as he sat down on a nearby rock. “Is there a company rep I can talk to?”

“I don’t know, kid,” the guy shrugged. “I’m just here for the pod.”

“It’s my pod,” Owen yelled as he stood up.

The guy pulled a wallet-sized block of plastic from his pocket, “by right of professional salvage I claim this pod and its contents, living, dead, or otherwise. You’re out of the pod. You ain’t my problem.”

A rectangular holographic display projected from the box. A long block of text scrolled along. Owens’ new eyes were able to read the words even from about ten feet away. It was a long winded legal version of what the guy had just said. The final sub clause stated that anything outside of the original discovery would require an additional declaration. An addendum stated that living humans, cloned or otherwise, were not eligible for salvage as they fell under the jurisdiction of the slavers guilds.

“Slavers?” Owen yelled.

“No,” the guy huffed, but Owen couldn’t tell if it was out of insult or disappointment. “I just do mechanics and non-humans.”

The thin guy turned to look at the horizon as the pod made it to the edge of the flatbed. He held up a hand and squinted into the distance. The guy casually strolled over to the panel before he spoke.

“Those are slavers,” he pointed to a trio dust trails.

Owen looked to the where the guy was pointing. His new eyes zoomed in to see three roll-cage type vehicles more akin to the bastard spawn of a dune buggy and a minivan heading their way. Instead of clear panels they were blacked out completely. Judging by their speed and the terrain the three buggies would be there within five minutes.

The pod settled into position on the flatbed. Owen watched as the thin man hopped up next to the salvage and closed the hatch. The thin man did a quick check of the chains before he dropped back to the ground. He opened the cab of the truck.

“Take me with you,” Owen blurted out.

“Why would I do that?”

“It’s better than slavery.”

“They aren’t coming for me,” the guy patted the pocket where the plastic devise was. “I’m legit.”

“Yeah, but they’re after me.”

“What’s the big deal?” The guy settled into his seat and closed the door. “They’ll give you a job, a place to sleep, and clothes.”

“I’ll be a slave.”

“What’s you’re training?” The guy sighed and fired up his engine.

“Efficiency Specialist.” Owen replied. “I can fill in wherever they needed me.”

“What makes you think being on your own would be any better?” The guy patted his truck. “I know I make it look good, but you’d be surprised how many people sell themselves into slavery within the first year of hatching. They’re an official guild, it’s on the level.”

“Section two, paragraph three, and subsection ‘a’ states that a human with functional mental facilities in proximity of salvage with a claim on said salvage has the right to a dispute,” Owen recited the words from memory. “I bet those slavers would back my claim on this pod as witnesses.”

“You’d still be a slave.”

“You’d be out of your salvage,” Owen crossed his arms and squared his shoulders.

The guy glared down at Owen, “fine. Get in.”

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Short Fiction 2014: This is Tomorrow

Virgle bounced his leg nervously as he waited for the bus. The morning air had a damp chill to it, and he was ready to get home for some sleep. Working the night shift put him at the wrong end of the morning rush, but the pay differential helped ease the transition to a nocturnal life. He pulled the wool coat tighter. Mornings like this made him wish he had taken the time to mend the missing buttons, but the second hand coat was one of the better purchases he had made since he moved to the New England Sprawl.

The NES was made up of what had once been the Canadian provinces Novia Scotia, Quebec, and New Brunswick along with the former American states of Maine, and the northern parts of New Hampshire and Vermont.  It wasn’t as crowded as the other mega cities, but that was because it was winter for most of the year with a brief period of spring that led into a wet fall. Summer was a myth in these parts, but this is where he decided to hang his hat. It was a fair trade, snow and freezing temperatures for natural stretches of forest and breathing room.

Virgle sat up as the he recognized the familiar whine of the electric engine of the bus. He leaned over to look down the street, but didn’t see the doubledecker anywhere among the traffic. It took him a moment to realize that the sound was actually his phone.

He dug the slim piece of plastic out of the inner pocket of his jacket and looked at the display. His head involuntarily tilted to the side as he read the caller ID. It displayed one simple word: Morrison. He only knew one person by that name, and they didn’t have this number.

The phone buzzed a few more times before it switched to the message box. Virgle continued to stare at the small display until the notification popped up. He looked up at his surroundings, but nothing seemed out of place. This was a small corporate outlet on the edge of town. For the time of day all the foot traffic was on the opposite side of the road, even the bus had to do a small turnaround to get to his stop. No one spared a glance up the lone security guard slumped on the bus bench. They were all too dialed in to their AR displays, personal networks, and GPS overlays to really see anything about the world. He didn’t blame them, the varying shades of gray didn’t hold much appeal when a simple neural implant could connect them to a pulsing landscape of color and information.

Virgle had a few implants that weren’t anything fancy. Not because he was against them, but because they were against his budget. Being a low level security guard on a corporate site that was on the fringes of the mother company didn’t exactly make his bank account a healthy one. That was another plus of the NES; most everything was a subsidiary of a Corp rather than real deal. There were a few universal big dogs that were inescapable, Walmazon and Micron Mobile being the big two.

He blinked his left eye, which synced the phone to his AR display, and checked the message. A floating box popped up in the space in front of him. It displayed the time, date, and the caller, but the contact information was blank. That took some doing. After a moment the text was replaced with a picture. Morrison was a bit more haggard than the last time he had seen her. Her usual neon blue hair was tucked under a threadbare bandana, and she had a new scar running the length of the left side of her jaw.

“Virgle, you’re not an easy man to find.” The artificial light flickered behind her eyes as she spoke. “I knew your given name and it still took some digging.” She looked off to the side. “I get it, you wanted out. Hell, we talked about leaving so much I wasn’t too shocked when you ghosted.” Her gaze shifted back to the screen. “If you’ve got this then I’m either dead, or in enough trouble to think I need help. I don’t expect you to save me, Virge, I need you to grab my blackbox.” She smiled, it was a sculpted smile that spoke of porcelain veneers rather than genetics. It had never fit her. “Do me a solid, kid. We’ll call it even for that night in May.”

He shook his head and smiled.

The familiar squared off body of the bus came to a stop nearby. Virgle watched as the door folded open. The driver looked out at him when he didn’t move to stand up.

“You coming, buddy?” The driver leaned over with his hand on the lever.

Virgle let out a long sigh. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

 

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Day 3: Short Fiction 2014- NNS Part 3

A soft buzz alerted Andrew that it was time to wake up. The alarm was yet another function of the visor. It was supposed to be a gentler way to wake than the traditional harsh tones, but he wasn’t sold on it just yet. The buzz vibrated the his teeth and made him need to sneeze. His fingers found the latch on the visor and he disengaged it from the three small circular nubs behind both of his ears that was the dock. His shift didn’t start for another two hours and he was ahead of the morning rush, but if he wasn’t early, then he’d be too late.

He had saved up enough to get the current generation of technology, which meant the connections were sub-dermal and didn’t have any real exposed mechanics. Previous versions had open ports similar to the old USB slots that needed to be covered when not in use. The raised bumps behind his ears were easily overlooked and didn’t need any special attention. Plus he didn’t want anyone else to know that he had the tech installed. Most people in the neighborhood wasn’t exactly the most fond of people who were trying to better themselves.

Andrew rolled off the bed and folded it into the wall. He placed his visor in the wall safe by the window, then set his own lock on top of the built in one. That put a solid steel door and four locks between the hallway and his little cache. His room was a seven by ten foot efficiency apartment. It had a monitor built into the wall that doubled as a TV and a pay-per-use computer that was a good ten years behind the times. The table, with attached chair, the bed, and even the toilet folded away to give the illusion of more space.  The sink and kitchenette didn’t lock into place, they were molded plastic that were covered in graffiti from countless prior lodgers. He didn’t understand how someone who had to live in a place like this could afford to toss out their security deposit. The place was a step-up from the racks of coffin hotels that were dotted along the industrial district, but not by much. He didn’t have to crawl to get into the apartment, that was a plus.

He unfolded the table, made sure it clicked into place, and opened up the mini-fridge. The container of purified water was nearly half empty was the only item on the top shelf since dehydrated eggs were cheaper than the real stuff. He took a swig from the bottle and took out the final breakfast burrito from the package. It was mostly soy and generated cheese arranged to resemble the classic ingredients, but if he ate it while it was still hot he could fool himself into thinking it was real sausage and cheese on a flour tortilla. Not that he’d actually knew what that tasted like.

Andrew slipped into his work uniform while the burrito cooked. He had the option of eating at work and having the bill taken out of his check, but that was a slippery slope. Supposedly they used fresh ingredients from one of their company run greenhouses, but it didn’t taste much better than what he could buy in the shops nearby and was more than twice the cost.

The microwave dinged as he finished the lacing up his work boots. He tossed it from hand to-hand before taking a bite of the molten mushiness. Each bite was followed by a deep breath in. He had learned the hard way that he needed to finish the food before leaving his apartment. People found their way into the halls even with the security in place. Not to mention the other lodgers weren’t above a bit of thievery.  This wasn’t corporate housing, no one kept the rules, and the security station only covered the front doors.

There were a couple other unwritten rules that he had picked up along the way. He stuck to the stairs, the elevator was impossible to escape once the doors closed. Andrew pulled a faded jacket he got at a surplus store on over his work clothes. The urban camouflage pattern wasn’t so effective against the various graffiti tags, but it was thicker than it looked and had a few hidden pockets where he could safely keep his personal items. The jacket was his favorite piece of the few articles of clothing he owned. He buttoned up his jacket, slipped on his thick work gloves, and headed out into the hallway.

The space was closed in with one window at the end of the hall. Even at the early hour there were people coming and going. There were a couple of people passed out near, but they he wasn’t sure they were actually out. Some of the lurkers didn’t move right, they weren’t going anywhere, just waiting for someone to ambush. Two weaselly men were patiently waiting for the elevator. Andrew squared his shoulders and stood up straighter to make himself a harder target.

They didn’t look twice at him as he headed for the stairs. It was four stories down to the ground level and then six blocks to the train station. Andrew looked around the station, at this time at morning the streets were lightly populated with plenty of other workers that had the same idea of beating the morning rush.

“Just another day in paradise.” He sighed.

 

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Day 2: Short Fiction 2014- NNS Part 2

Part 2

The world around him slowly faded into view. He was standing in a gently lit white room. In front of him stood a woman dressed in a simple gray suit. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite place from where.

“Hello.” Her voice was soft, modulated, and just a bit off. “Welcome to the tutorial for the Neural Network Service. I am your guide. Please state your name.”

“Andrew Metchnik.”

“Welcome, Andrew Metchnik.” She nodded politely as she spoke. “Please select a service package to proceed.”

Three screen materialized in front of her. Each one displayed a single word. From left to right it went: Entertainment, Education, and Social. Andrew reached out his hand to select the middle screen and saw that his arm was a simple gray limb without an elbow.

“Please do not be alarmed.” The guide gave a facsimile of a reassuring smile. “You NNS avatar has not yet been created. Options for customization will become available once you have selected a service. Your initial session will focus on your individual settings and account management.”

“Okay.” The minutely articulated appendage tapped the center screen.

“You have selected, education.” The guide pronounced the word haltingly. “Is this correct?”

“Yes.”

“One moment please.”

He watched as his arm snapped into focus, complete with an elbow and fully realized hand. Andrew wiggled his fingers, and took a closer look. They lacked fingernails and his arms were completely hairless, but it was a step up from the broom-handle limb a moment ago. The room around him changed to an auditorium with stadium seating. Beside the guide now stood three other people, a man, a woman, and an androgynous person who were all the same height and build.

“Please make your selection.” The guide did a slow reveal wave to the three people.

“Excuse me?”

“Please select your avatar.”

Andrew stepped up and looked at the three options. All three of them were dressed in the same outfit of green slacks with a white button down shirt. They didn’t look anything like him, they didn’t look like anyone.

“Is this it?”

“The educational program has limited avatar customization to avoid distractions.” She repeated the slow reveal wave. “Please make your selection.”

“How limited?”

“Students have three different genders, skin colors, and uniforms to choose from.” Once more she repeated the motion.

“This one.” He pointed to the male figure.

The other two options faded away as the male figure copied Andrews pose. He held the pose for a moment to realize he was now staring at a mirror image. A color palette with three options popped up near his virtual face. He waved it away and another menu with three options took its place. A set of icons similar to the stick figures that identified bathrooms blinked on the menu. One wore the default shirt and pants, another wore a set of coveralls, and the third option was a two-piece suit; the only color option was olive green. He tried each selection out before settling on the suit.

“Are you sure?” The guide asked.

“Yes.”

The mirror and the menu were replaced with another screen. This one was filled with a list of service options. He checked off a number of boxes to adjust his settings before he was allowed to move on. Coarse of study was next and he found a swelling sense of pride as he made his selections.

“Please stand by.” The guide smiled her pinched smile. “Your settings have been saved. Please wait while we finish calibrating.”

Andrew looked down at his virtual body. Aside from a few minor details, mostly the lack of fingernails and body hair, it was a pretty convincing representation. He tried to unbutton the suit jacket, but found that the entire suit was just a different skin on the coveralls. There weren’t any real buttons, zippers, or pockets.

“Calibration is complete.” The guide walked to the front of the room. “Do you have any questions pertaining to the NNS?”

“What happens if I wake up suddenly?”

“The NNS works on a buffer system that allows for such interruptions.”

“How long have I been asleep?”

“Time dilation is not currently active.” The guide mimed looking at a watch. “You have currently been at rest for four hours.”

“Wow.” Andrew blinked. “It doesn’t feel like that long.”

“Calibrating the system to you individual specifications made up for the majority of the time. You experienced REM sleep during this time.”

“Will my next session have time dilation?”

“Yes.”

“What else do I have to do?”

“Your first session is complete. You will return to your regular sleep pattern. Do you have any more questions?”

“How do I know this will work?”

“Please rephrase your question.”

“How do I make sure I’m actually learning something?”

“You can sign up for periodic messaging during your waking hours that contain review materials.” A small menu appeared as she spoke. “We offer the service on a daily, weekly, or monthly rotation. Would you like to know the rates?”

Andrew winced. “Are any of the services free?”

“There is a bi-monthly review that is free of charge.”

“I’ll sign up for that.”

The guide made a mark on the menu. “Do you have any further questions?”

“No. Thank you.”

“Thank you for using NNS, we look forward to seeing you in the future.”

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