Thursday, 29 March 2012
Wednesday, 28 March 2012
Monday, 26 March 2012
You may or may not be aware that I am trying to get a sim going at Phoenix set in the Honorverse of David Weber’s novels starring Honor Harrington. As such, it seemed appropriate for me to review one of the books – in this case, the sixth novel, which I have just finished reading.
I would like to start by praising the London Libraries Consortium. This particular service allows for a library user registered in one borough of Greater London to order a book on reservation from another for a very small fee and this is how I have managed to read a good number of the books in this series.
So, as Honor likes to say, let’s be about it.
The Honor Harrington series
Often described as “Horatio Hornblower in space”, David Weber’s series is set two thousand years in the future, when humanity has spread out among the stars. While faster than light travel is possible, communication in real-time between the stars is not and so things are rather “Age of Sail” like where it might take weeks for information on a battle to reach home and starship Captains have to make a lot of decisions without consulting higher authority due to lack of time. The diaspora of mankind has formed into a number of Star Nations, such as the Star Kingdom of Manticore (think Britain) and the People’s Republic of Haven (think a cross between Revolutionary France and the USSR), who are as of Honor Among Enemies, fighting a war with each other.
The star of this series is Honor Harrington, an officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy (RMN), a hard charging, very intelligent officer with a propensity for ending up where the fire is hottest and succeeding against huge odds (she’s been criticised for being a “Mary Sue”, which is partly justified, but only partly, because she can be ruthless at times). In the first novel, On Basilisk Station, then Commander Harrington’s aging cruiser stopped a pre-war Havenite attempt to take a key Manticoran system via subterfuge in what is still the best space battle I’ve ever read, setting her on the path to fame, fortune and ennoblement. It hasn’t been an exactly smooth path.
Where we’re at
As this novel starts, Captain Harrington is still in half-pay “exile” (a result of her actions in Field of Dishonor) in the Star Kingdom’s allied state of Grayson, where she is a national hero, high-ranking noble and second highest ranking admiral in their growing navy. She wants to go home and one of her political opponents, trillionaire Klaus Hauptman, arranges for her to do exactly that. Manticore has been suffering increased losses of merchant shipping in the fairly lawless Silesian Confederacy and they arrange for her to be placed in command of a squadron of Q-ships (disguised merchants) to tackle the problem, figuring that either she’ll get rid of the pirates – or vice versa.
Manpower shortages mean that Honor has to take along the best of the newbies and the dregs of the rest of the RMN, as she heads west for the Confederacy…
Weber’s vision of space combat is one of the more plausible (on relative standards) I’ve seen. Unlike the “fighter jets in space” style combat prevalent in much of sci-fi (*cough* Star Wars *cough*), this is a universe involving relative motion and engagements at multi-light-second ranges, with some interesting tech features that make the space combat interesting and provide nasty surprises for both sides. It’s also a brutal, deadly business – hits here will generally kill at least some of the hundreds of crew and the chance of going up with all hands is pretty high, with a good number of the supporting characters not making it to the end of the book. The final battle is worth the price of admission alone as Honor faces the possibility of real and total defeat in a vicious, desperate action to save a civilian liner.
The Silesian Confederacy and the Andermani Empire haven’t been really explored in the five books previously and the nuances of each are interesting to learn here – such as one Andermani Emperor who got herself legally declared male to take the throne and also the endemic corruption in Silesia.
The villains in this piece are well done. The pirates, led by a power-mad former dictator who thinks nothing of using nukes as a negotiation strategy (the final confrontation being a highlight of the novel), are a reminder of why old-school pirates were considered “enemies of all mankind”. In contrast, the regular ‘villains’ of the series, the Havenites, come off with great credit as a number of officers ignore their orders to act against these pirates, even to their own cost.
We also get an illuminating perspective into the lives of the enlisted RMN personnel through a subplot where a shipboard bully and thug is finally brought to heel via the actions of two of the new recruits – the choices of one Aubrey Wanderman aren’t ones I would have made, but one can understand them.
Finally, my printing of the book contains a “flip-book” style animation of an exploding spaceship – a good bonus.
At times, this feels like the edited highlights of a soccer match, with frequent time jumps and a general lack of flow between chapters. There are also some rather large coincidences here and there. The Wanderman sub-plot is interesting (as mentioned), but ultimately extraneous to the whole story. One feature of the climax is a bit clichéd as well.
While this is arguably the weakest of the six novels I’ve read so far, it is still a highly entertaining read and I would recommend it.
Sunday, 25 March 2012
New player Michael Aker has created The (In)Human Dilemma - a superhero sim that won't involve comedy violence and ridiculous amounts of spandex.
Go here to sign up!
Saturday, 24 March 2012
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Saturday, 17 March 2012
Friday, 16 March 2012
Before we begin, I would like to remind people that this obviously contains spoilers. However, since many of these events took place over 20 years ago, one can safely say that the statute of limitations on these are long expired. Won’t reveal too much though.
Season 3 saw that further changes in the production team and cast. Verity Lambert left the show. Her replacement, John Wiles, getting unhappy at Hartnell’s failing health and high salary, wanted to recast the lead actor and was even preparing an explanation that wouldn’t have involved regeneration in “The Celestial Toymaker”. The higher-ups renewed Hartnell’s contract anyway and vetoed another suggestion for a Cockney companion. Wiles walked and script editor Donald Tosh followed him.
The new production team of Innes Lloyd as producer and Gerry Davis as script editor got on better with the BBC execs, starting to develop an alternative way of writing out Hartnell…
The cast also changed a lot – there are no less than seven companions during the course of this season and no-one is there for the entire run… Some of them go out in interesting ways, as we shall see.
45 episodes in this season – most of them (28) not available. In fact, only three of the ten serials of this season are complete. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Galaxy 4 (4 episodes, only Part Three available and that was only recently discovered)
The crew arrive on an arid planet, where two spaceships have crashed and are being fixed. One is crewed by the beautiful Drahvins, the other by the hideous Rills and their robot drones called “Chumblies”. Things are not what they seem…
Mission to the Unknown (1 episode, lost)
The only serial that doesn’t feature the Doctor or any companion, this is basically an extended trailer/prequel for “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, in which a Space Security Service agent and his two comrades stumbles upon a Dalek-led plan to conquer the Milky Way. Naturally, it does not end for them.
The Myth Makers (4 episodes, all missing)
A trip to the siege of Troy that sees the Doctor come up with the wooden horse idea and Vicki fall in love with a Trojan prince and leave, being replaced by handmaiden Katarina…
The Daleks’ Master Plan (12 episodes, only 2, 5 and 10 available)
Who ends up going out of an airlock in episode 4, becoming the first companion to die in the show’s run. In this twelve-episode epic, Team TARDIS have to stop the Daleks from using a “Time Destructor” to implement their evil plan. With Katarina dead, the team are joined by one-shot companion Sara Kingdom, who also snuffs it.
Containing the show’s first Christmas episode, the comedic stand-alone “The Feast of Steven” that ends with the Doctor toasting the audience, this also features the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney, who would later play the much loved Brigadier as Bret Vyon.
The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve (4 episodes, all lost)
The 1572 massacre of five to thirty thousand Huguenot Protestants in France probably qualifies as the most obscure historical event to feature in Doctor Who by some margin – I’m only aware of it through the fact this story was made.
The best known feature of this story that is only available on audio is William Hartnell playing two roles – the Doctor and his physical doppelganger the Abbot of Amboise. The two never meet, but Steven certainly gets confused. Difficult to imagine something like this today, but it could happen.
At the end, the Doctor and Steven land in 1966 London and encounter a new companion, Dorothy “Dodo” Chaplet, who enters the TARDIS while looking for a real police box to report a child being run over.
The Police Box
The initial idea had been to have the TARDIS change shape in each story to blend in with its surroundings, but that swiftly fell afoul of budget problems. The distinctive design would have been common on the streets of the UK at the time when the show began, although most of them have now gone. Also most of them never quite looked like the TARDIS – which is based on a 1920s design. Since the boxes have gone, the blue police box has become so associated with the show that the BBC won a trademark dispute with the Metropolitan Police on the essential grounds of ‘squatter’s rights’.
The exterior prop has changed over the years – subtle changes like the writing on the panel, height and exact shade. There have even been jokes about it.
The interior is more interesting, but we’ll cover that another time.
The Ark (4 episodes, all available)
Not to be confused with Season 12’s “The Ark in Space”, although the concept of humans leaving Earth is similar, this one features the Doctor, Steven and Dodo landing on a spaceship carrying Earth’s surviving life on a 700-year journey to a new world, travelling with a one-eyed servant race called the Monoids. Dodo has a cold, which causes problems. Once that’s sorted out, the crew leave – and arrive back on the ship at the end of its journey (remember the story lengths were not advertised in advance), where the Monoids are now in charge.
An interesting story with good production values, but probably too rushed.
The Celestial Toymaker (4 episodes, only 4 exists in full)
Entering a strange domain presided over by the immortal Celestial Toymaker (played by the late Michael Gough, best known for his portrayal of Alfred in four Batman movies), the Doctor is forced to play a 10-piece Tower of Hanoi game called the Trilogic game, which he must complete in exactly 1023 moves. Meanwhile, Steven and Dodo have to play a series of deadly childhood games to find the TARDIS.
Must read the novelisation or get the audio of this someday. Speaking of the audio, this story contains the old politically incorrect version of “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”, containing a racial slur instead of the word “tiger”. Said word is talked over by the narration in the audio release.
The Gunfighters (4 episodes, all available)
The last story with individual episode titles of the classic era, this sees Team TARDIS arrive in the Wild West. Tombstone in fact. Containing a specially-written song and generally a comedic serial, it’s one of the lowest rated in the show’s history.
Can’t remember much of this – probably best as it’s not popular with the fans.
The Savages (4 episodes, all lost)
Steven’s final story is another “things aren’t what they seem” story involving an apparently idyllic world and the draining of life force. Steven is in fact asked to become the leader of the planet at the end, which means the Doctor leaves the planet alone with Dodo – the first time that the Doctor has travelled on his own with a female non-blood relative (he’s only travelled with two – Susan, his granddaughter and his mother-in-law Amy Pond).
The War Machines (4 episodes, all available)
An interesting, reasonable story that involves a computer called WOTAN trying to take over the world from the BT Tower. Dodo leaves (via note!) at the end of the story and two new companions enter the TARDIS – Ben Jackson and Polly something.
This is the first serial set in the present day (or close to it) entirely – something that would happen a lot more in the future. For in these stories, the Doctor is beginning to ail. Soon, the show will change entirely…
No, not Chumlees. I can hear The Old Man from Pawn Stars commenting right now that would be truly disturbing.
What happened to the kid?
Which at the time was – I am not making this up – not included on official maps as it was technically a state secret.
Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Wednesday, 7 March 2012
Eugène Beauregard had even been let into the Operative programme, but had been thrown out of that same programme within three months. He was very good at following orders, as long as they were orders he liked. Since it was demanded of Operatives that they’d follow orders without question, Beauregard’s attitude wasn’t appreciated. Nevertheless, he’d learnt many things in those three months, sword-fighting among them.
He looked at the letter again, like he had done again and again the night before, when he’d received it. A naïve person would have thought that he would be decorated for his efforts (if killing people could be called such) in the War, now that the Alliance had won. But he knew better. Then why had he come? Simply because he was curious. He wanted to see the face of the person who wanted him out of the way.
At ten o’ five, Beauregard heard the sound of boots coming down the corridor. Four boots: two persons. One a slender fellow, the other a woman, a bit overweight. No doubt the latter would be the colonel.
As he knew they would, both officers walked right past him, never noticing him. One of them, the colonel – who looked exactly like Beauregard had thought (immensely incapable of doing her job) – pulled a key out of her pocket and opened the door to the office.Beauregard recognized the other officer, the major. Although he’d seen him six times before, he’d never spoken to the man but he knew that this had to be Brestle.
“Where is your man?” said an agitated colonel, “I thought he was never late.”Before Brestle could answer, Beauregard stepped out of the shadows. “That is true colonel, I never am.” Beauregard purposefully didn’t salute his superior officers. The two noticed and seemed annoyed by it, but neither of them said anything about it. Although he held the rank of lieutenant, Beauregard’s job in the war had been ‘special’ and he’d never had to work under officers other than major Barrack, who would give him his orders which he’d carry out.
Beauregard’s job in the war had been simple: find the target and eliminate it. Ruthless? Many would think so, but to Beauregard it simply was survival of the fittest. And the Alliance clearly had been the fittest. Although Beauregard had to admit that the Independents had held up surprisingly well. But in the end the inevitable had happened: the Independents had surrendered.
Beauregard walked over to the bust of general Chan, standing in the centre of the room, appearing to admire it.
“Lieutenant Beauregard”, the colonel began. Beauregard looked her straight in the eyes. For a moment the colonel didn’t say a word, intimidated by Beauregard’s stare. The colonel’s eyes strayed to the middle window of the room ever so briefly before she regained her composure and continued. “I want to express my gratitude to you for your fine works in the War. Your commanding officer major Barrack has informed me of your difficult duties and how you have always executed them with perfection.” “He speaks very highly of you, Beauregard.”
“Lies”, Beauregard answered.
The colonel looked confused and unsure at first, but it quickly turned into faked anger. “Lies? You dare accuse me, your superior officer of lying?!” Gale’s face turned red, but Beauregard knew that it wasn’t from anger so much as embarrassment of being caught.
“Yes, I do” he answered. “Because you lying. Barack would never brag about me. He hated what I did and he hated me because I did it. Even though he gave me the orders, for which he hated himself. He respected me, but he would never brag about me.” Beauregard saw the terrified look in both the colonel’s and the major’s face. The major slowly backed towards Gale’s desk. The colonel however, suddenly seemed to realize that she was in fact still the superior officer and that Beauregard was nothing more than a simple lieutenant. But Beauregard knew that this too, was only a charade played by the colonel. And she was a bad performer. Nevertheless, the colonel continued.
“Outrageous!” Gale shouted. “Lieutenant, you are…”
“THEREFORE”, Beauregard interrupted, “you have lured me here for a different reason than to thank me. Since the war is over and peace has been negotiated, I am a liability for the Alliance. I know too much about your dirty little secrets and I must be eliminated.” Silence fell. Had he been almost certain before, he was entirely certain now that he was right.
But even before the major’s body had made it to the ground, Beauregard had flung the knife from his left hand towards the middle window of the room. The knife, which was of a special ceramic material, not noticeable on standard scanners, was something that Beauregard always hid in a special pocket in his left sleeve. The knife flew in the direction of the colonel, missing her left side by a few inch. It hit its target perfectly as it sliced the curtain next to the middle window of the room. As the knife went through the curtain’s fabric, it impacted on something. Or rather, someone. The soldier who had been planted there with a gun to kill Beauregard, dropped to the floor with the knife between her eyes, taking down the curtain with her. Gale stared at her body in sheer terror. She didn’t even have the time to notice that Beauregard had walked up to her. The lieutenant struck the colonel with a short but powerful thrust on her throat. “Consider that my resignation, colonel.” Gale fell to the ground, making gurgling sounds while grabbing her throat; she was struggling for air. “Spare your efforts, colonel”, Beauregard said, leaning over the suffocating woman. “There is nothing you can do to stop yourself from drowning in your own blood.” The colonel’s eyes grew wide. Beauregard wasn’t sure whether it was because of the terror of realizing that she would be dead within moments, or because of the lack of oxygen. Probably because of both, the former lieutenant decided.
Then, anger appeared on Beauregard’s face. A rare thing, since Beauregard hardly ever showed a sincere emotion at all. He leaned even further towards the colonel. “You should have just left me alone. I would have gone my own way and you would never have seen or heard from me again. I would have…” Suddenly, Gale’s eyes twisted upwards and then all tension left the woman’s body. Beauregard growled. He felt the urge to kick the colonel’s body, but quickly recomposed himself. Then these strong emotions faded away from the surface, back into the deep black waters of his mind. He quickly searched and stripped all three bodies of any valuables and after that, searched through the colonel’s desk drawers, which he managed to open within an instant. He took everything even the slightest bit incriminating for the Alliance. Together with what he already knew, this would be enough to ensure the Alliance wouldn’t come after him. If they had any brains.
Many people in Beauregard’s place would have either fled the scene in a panic, or tried to wipe out any evidence that would place them on the crime scene. Beauregard did neither. Although he worked fast and found the papers that interested him within minutes, he remained calm and made no effort to hide any evidence. He wanted to make sure that the Alliance knew who’d done this.
When he had all the papers and valuables he wanted, he got out pen and paper from the colonel’s desk. Many officers liked to act all fancy and use old-fashioned pen and paper and Gale had been no exception. Beauregard wrote down a warning:
Sunday, 4 March 2012
This short work is set in the universe of my sim Fighter Ops. For those of you not familiar with the RP, it revolves around the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran. This and other stories will attempt to capture some of the background of the war, focussing on elements that might not be immediately obvious.
Ibrahim was going to make a killing, his brother thought as he watched some of the produce that the guy had probably sold earlier this morning start to burn. From his office in El-Mogamma, an Egyptian government complex looking out onto Tahrir Square – that one – he regularly had a ringside seat for the regular protests that occurred there. He himself had been in one himself, back in the heady days of February 2011, where he had faced off against the security forces representing the government. El-Mogamma, a building given by the Soviet Union and built in classic imposing Communist style, had been a symbol of the hated Mubarak regime and also bureaucracy in general.
For his contributions to the revolution, he’d found himself Director of the Passport Office, where he was responsible for renewing visas of tourists, issuing passports and so on, which meant he was working in this place. Speaking of tourists… he hoped that this latest protest wouldn’t harm the country’s tourist industry more than some of the decisions of this government had already.
After the military had handed over power, the Muslim Brotherhood had formed a government – and then immediately started fighting among themselves. Two distinct factions had emerged – what might be called the moderates and the hardliners. The moderates wanted to maintain the links with America and the peace treaty with Israel, while the hardliners didn’t – some of the hotheads actually advocating open war against the Jewish state. The ministerial carve-up had kept the hardliners out of defence and also security – but given them the justice ministry. Where they’d started to implement sharia law in a rather haphazard way that in his mind was wrecking the tourist trade.
The attacks on Coptic Christian organisations that Social Solidarity and Justice were widely accused of turning a blind eye to were raising hackles in Washington. The ban on alcohol sales entirely was starting a growing bootlegging industry and Egypt already had a suspected “Nucky Thompson”. The imposition of spot fines on tourists wearing overly revealing clothing, even on beaches, was in danger of turning the country into a laughing stock.
What was happening now was probably something minor that would be largely forgotten in a week, but it wasn’t going to help. Following the Israeli attack on Iran last night, a large group of protestors had gathered in Tahrir Square, where they were burning American and Israeli flags. These were one of the things that Ibrahim sold and he knew that they would be heavily discounted today..
As the man watched, his intercom buzzed. He turned and pressed the button.
“What is it?” he asked. Another male voice replied, sounding annoyed.
“We’ve got one of the new guys. He’s refusing to process an Israeli man”.
The Director shook his head. There were always people like this who took exception to Israelis, particularly those with Palestinian ancestry. You usually just dealt with them by moving them to another queue or giving them a verbal slapping.
“I’m on my way”, he said.
The Director left his office, closing the door behind him and walking slowly, but surely towards the main processing area, briefly stopping to use the lavatory. He heard a faint pop, which sounded like a firecracker. When he heard five more, he sprinted towards the processing area, just as another shot rang out.
The area was one of panic as people either fled for their lives or cowered in terror. Four bodies lay on the floor bleeding, one of which had a pistol by his side. Another woman was screaming in Egyptian, blood running down her arm. A security guard had his weapon still drawn, staring in horror at what had just happened – and what he had ultimately had to do.
“What happened?!” the Director yelled, “What happened?”
“He just pulled out a pistol and started shooting”, the guard said as he lowered his weapon, “Yelling something about death to apostates…”
The Director saw who one of the dead bodies was – the same guy he’d come out to see. If he’d been just a few seconds earlier – he might also be dead. As other police officers arrived on the scene, the Director had a strong suspicion of who was behind this attack. He cursed Israel – and Iran. He suspected that this was only the first of these attacks. He looked down at the body of the gunman and wished him an unpleasant time in hell.
He took a seat and pulled out his mobile phone to tell Ibrahim he was OK.
Thursday, 1 March 2012
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (6 episodes, all available)
I’ve compiled statistics for all of the sims post counts for 1 February and 1 March. Here they are:
Number of posts on 1 Feb
Number of Posts on 1 Mar
The Triple Zero
The West Star
Set Europe Ablaze
The Triple First
End of Peace
Land of Good Neighbors
Wheel of Time
An “SSR” calculation is being conducted and will follow in the next few days, but we must congratulate The West Star, for the highest post count of February.