Seka Has Struck Again!

My good friend Seka Heartley has finally released another erotic masterpiece in her Dirk Moorcock series, Romance Raiders of The Lost Continent. This time, Dirk is a former World War I ace who is hired by the mysterious Countess Rideatop to explore a land unknown to science (unless science reads a lot of Jules Verne that is). Dinosaurs! Intrigue! And Adventure! Oh, my.

Just a reminder though. Seka does not write for young readers. As Dirks amourous adventures can be as thrilling as his dogfights and saber duels. So, if you’re over 21, have a twisted sense of humor and love a good laugh, I highly recommend this spin-off to Passion Pirates of The Lost Galaxy.

Clayton J. Callahan

 

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Solo Vs. Star Wars

Image result for new han solo compared to old han solo

On the whole, I applaud the plethora of new Star Wars films coming out these days such as Solo: A Star Wars Story. Oh, maybe to me they aren’t as good as the original movies, but then again…I’m not ten years old anymore.

Perhaps that’s what makes the new stuff a challenge for us old-school fans. In the 1970s and 80s, we were all at a very different place in our lives. We had no preconceived ideas about how a Star Wars movie “should be” in 1977. We were a blank slate in that regard and we accepted the Force and the hyperdrives without much fuss. Now, however, we are in our late 40’s and 50’s. We feel we know best how a Star Wars movie should look, feel and taste.

Even though I am affected by this virus as much as any older fan, I try to keep it in check. After all, much of the fun of seeing any new Star Wars film is discovering another person’s interpretation of Gorge Lucas’ original vision. Which brings us to Solo: A Star Wars Story.

First off, I have to give kudos to the entire cast. Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover both did excellent jobs. I imagine it is very difficult for an actor to follow behind another actor’s interpretation of a character, but both these guys pulled it off flawlessly. And frankly, for me, that’s the most important part; the characters.

I love characters. Rich, textured, deep, and convoluted characters make for the best fiction. Thus, one of my chief complaints about The Matrix wasn’t the world building…but that I never gave a crap about one-dimensional Neo! Give me characters I care about and any movie or book is well on the way to giving me a story I care about. Skip that part, and you might as well go home and forget about it.

Comming back to Solo: A Star Wars Story, I must say it could have done better. Here’s where I hike up my old-fogy pants and shout, “Kids, get off my lawn” I suppose, but I felt the film put too much emphasis on action and not enough on characters. In total, I counted eight action scenes in the movie whereas the original Star Wars had only five. The action in Solo was done well, but it took time away from character building scenes that I felt the movie could have used more of. In fact, my favorite scene of the film is where Tobias Beckett teaches Chubacca how to play space chess. The scene is short but it connects us to the old beloved original movie while deepening our understanding of who this Tobias guy is.

Perhaps that’s modern movies on the whole for me. Too much well-choreographed action and not enough well-written character scenes. In the original Star Wars, Lucas took his time. We had long conversations between characters like Luke and his Uncle and Aunt. We had meaningful banter between Han and Leia.

Of course, I write books, not movies. Action scenes connect with an audience differently on a screen than on a page. Characters, however, are just as important in both mediums. and it’s characters that matter.

Games, Good God Y’all, What Are They Good For?

So, here’s the thing, I’ve been playing board games, card games, role-playing games, and the like all of my life. But no matter what I play, I’ve learned that what really matters is how I play, because that makes all the difference.

I had an athlete once tell me that, “This is serious. It’s a game. You have to win!” and I couldn’t disagree more. Think about your life for a moment; in school, you have to pass, in jobs, you have to succeed, and marriage is something that requires a 100% commitment to making it work…but games?

Games are the one area of our lives that failure results in no lasting penalty. You don’t have to repeat your freshman year if you lose at Warhammer 40K. You don’t lose your source of income when you’re armies are wiped off the board in Risk. And your wife will not leave you if you fail to reach the high score in Donkey Kong (unless she has lots of weird issues). Games are in fact the one place where it is safe to lose in a world that can be brutally hard on failure.

Thus, games are the ultimate escape from our chained reality. Games offer us the chance to explore possibilities in a relatively consequence-free environment as we let down our heavy load. And once the game is done, we often find ourselves refreshed and ready for the next challenge our real life throws at us.

In short, games are for fun.

Now, my first structured game was probably chess. My father taught me when I was six years old, and I have loved the game ever since. First, he showed me how the pieces moved and we played a few games to give me the hang of it. Later he told me that you needed to say “check” when threatening another person’s king, and then he taught me how to castle and how to get my queen back by advancing a pawn. So even at six, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the game. Dad made it easy by gradually pulling me deeper and deeper in.

My dad also lost to a six-year-old surprisingly often. He would set up situations that put himself in peril just to see if I noticed them and applaud me when I did. Did I win all the time? Heck no. Dad kicked my butt about 75% of the time, however, he never gloated and was always quick to congratulate me when I played better than I did in the game before.

I still love chess. My dad, Ronald J. Callahan, passed away in 1980.

A few years back, I was visiting my mom and my step-father had this beautiful hardwood chess set laid out on his coffee table. I complimented him on it, and he challenged me to a game. “Sure, I’d love to,” I said and we picked who would play white and who would play black. When we sat down, he warned me that he’d worked as an ad manager for the National Chess Federation and had spent his lunch breaks learning advanced moves from the masters. “Cool,” I replied, as I got ready for what I hoped would be a challenging game. It was challenging indeed, but more so for him. I won…twice.

My step-father did not take it well. In fact, he stormed out of the room and we’ve never played chess since. Frankly, I still feel sorry for the guy. At seventy, he has yet to learn what I did at six; that games are for fun!

Sure, you try to win at games, but only because trying to win is part of the fun. If you lose but enjoyed the challenge–you won. If you lose but learned something that makes you a better player next time–you won. If you walk away from the game table feeling refreshed and ready for life’s real challenges–you won big!

And if you take the wrong mindset into gameplay, you are not winning, you are just wasting your time.

By Clayton J. Callahan

My Love/Hate Relationship: Starship Troopers

So, here’s the thing, Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein was the first science fiction book I ever read and in all honesty, it had a huge influence on me. I was all of fifteen years of age and heavily into a role-playing game called Traveller and was cruising my high school library for a book to give me ideas for gameplay. The title caught my attention as a book likely to inspire space adventure ideas so I checked it out.

Mind meet blown.

Now, keep in mind, I was just fifteen. This was also my first experience with a challenging novel that wasn’t part of an English class assignment. Heinlein was a master of the genre and at the hight of his form when he wrote Starship Troopers, and it is easily one of the top five examples of his work (The Cat Who Walked Through Walls…not so much). Within these pages, I learned that science fiction is more than hardware and alien locals. I learned that science fiction is meant to challenge one’s notions about society and the individual’s place within it. In this task, Heinlein succeeded as I would never again take my societal point of view entirely for granted. But, on other levels, he failed, and any honest critique must reflect on those failures as well.

Before I dive into the book, however, I need to mention the 1997 movie of the same title. The two only bare a passing resemblance to one another…and the movie sucks. Now, back to our regularly scheduled book.

The book chronicles the military career of young Johnny Rico who joins the military after having a falling out with his parents. The military, in this future age, is THE public institution after which all others come in a distant second at best. Only veterans can vote, work as teachers, be policemen or become elected officials. In this society, anybody can join the military as a matter of right, but only the honorably discharged can call themselves “citizens.”

We follow young Johnny through basic training, first combat deployment, second combat deployment, officer training school and then another combat deployment. The book ends (spoiler alert) with Johnny’s chance meeting with his father in a spaceport bar. His dad is now a soldier too, having joined after Johnny’s mother died in an alien attack. As father and son “reconcile” the spaceport’s PA system announces that their separate ships are soon to depart and father and son say goodbye–the end.

As a kid, I loved this book and it would remain on my list of “best books ever” for quite some time. I especially thought that Heinlein’s concept of a “Mobil Infantry” that shot out of starships in capsules to raid alien planets in power armored suits was particularly awesome (and why they left that part out of the movie I will never understand). Then, I re-read it in my 30s as I was attending an advanced US Army school. That’s right, I became a soldier myself. Possibly due to Starship Troopers‘ influence, and possibly for a host of other reasons. I joined the service–two of ’em actually, Navy and Army in that order. However, reading this book as both an adult and as a soldier, I found to be quite a different experience from reading it as just a kid and a gamer.

For one thing, I found the book EXTREMELY one sided. Heinlein gives us one point of view character who is essentially a blank slate. Johnny Rico accepts everything the army tells him and never questions the necessity of military regulations or customs. In fact, except for his parents, all the characters in this book support the military’s influence on society and obediently march along. And as for his parents’ objections to the military, well mom’s death at the hands of aliens and dad’s enlistment seems to indicate the end of that argument without further debate or even nuance.

As a man who has served in the military, I can attest that MANY divergent opinions exist within the ranks of any formation. The military is far from a flawless institution and is full of contradictions. Soldiers understand this and often struggle to do their duty in such a chaotic environment. In retrospect, I think Heinlein did his troopers a grave disservice by painting them with such a monochromatic brush. Thinking about all the brave, flawed, humorous and insightful soldiers I’ve served with, I can imagine how Starship Troopers could have been a much stronger story with a little less military perfection and a bit more diversity jammed in.

But thinking about Robert A. Heinlein’s actual military career, one can see why he stuck to such a ridged point of view. As a young man, Heinlein attended the US Navy Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He lived that spit and polish life for four years with other young men of his social class during the 1920s. He then served honorably until he was forced to leave due to health reasons prior to World War II. Thus, never having served in wartime, he could only imagine the stresses a guy like young Johnny Rico would have gone through and it shows.

In the end, Starship Troopers is an idealized concept of what the military “should” be like according to a guy who never got shot at. It is also a work of “tour guide” science fiction, by which I mean that the book’s purpose is to show the reader this perfect world–and not to tell the reader a good story. I will grant that many of Heinlein’s ideas are worth discussing; such as the concept of earned citizenship. However, the one-sided arguments he gives makes his point rather dully in the end.

As a work of science fiction anthropology, however, I do recommend Starship Troopers. It is the first work to call itself “military science fiction,” and all such works that follow owe an intellectual debt to this novel (including mine). However, if you’re looking for an entertaining book you will probably be disappointed. And, I’m afraid, you will also be disappointed if you are looking for a book that challenges you with strong arguments and counter-arguments.

I loved this book once, but sadly, it looks like I outgrew it a long time ago.

By Clayton J. Callahan

Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, The Best Earth Bar That Never Was

So, apparently, I’m not the only guy who ever wrote a space bar book.

Okay, I’m of course kidding. I read Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon back in high school (In fact, I’m holding the high school edition). It was extremely popular back in its day and, reportedly, there were several instances of fans driving around New England looking for a bar that didn’t exist. It’s a fun read and every couple of years still I dust it off and read a story or two just for the pleasure of it.

I say “story or two” because the book is not a novel. Rather, it’s a series of science fiction short stories that all take place in a mythical bar in Suffolk County, Long Island (NOT upstate New York!!). called Callahan’s Place (No idea why Robinson chose my family name here). This is owing to the fact that Robinson at first published them one at a time in Science Fiction Analog magazine. The time of these stories is the present, which at time of publication was 1977.  Therefore, the science fiction elements have a sort of “Men In Black” flavor. Aliens live among us, as well as time travelers, vampires, recovering alcoholics, lost drug addicts, and an array of other quirky characters that populate the bar.

And characters are the important thing because this is not a book about universe changing events or galactic empires. No, Robinson instead gives us a series of intimate tales with a focus on human relations over science fiction wizardry. There’s Fast Eddy the piano player with the thick New York accent, Doctor Webster who leads all the pun contests, Ralph Von Wau Wau a mutant talking dog, and a host of others. All are very relatable people and set the sene for the events that follow.

All the stories are all told from the point of view of folk musician Jake Stonebender, who lost his wife and child in a car accident that he blames himself for. He came to Callahan”s Place to forget his troubles, but soon found something more. One of the quips of the book is “Callahan”s Law” which states that “shared pain is diminished while shared joy is increased.” And through the scientific application of this law, most of the plots are resolved.

Frankly, I always wondered why nobody made a TV show out of this book. It all takes place on one set (the bar) and would require little in the way of special effects. However, upon reflection, there is probably a limit to how much milk you can get out of this particular cow. Robinson wrote a host of other Callahan”s books, each or (in my opinion) of diminishing quality so perhaps such a show would only last a season (but what a cool season that would be!).

I must admit that Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon continues to be one of my influences and it is no coincidence that my first book, Tales of The Screaming Eagle, is a science fiction story set in a bar. Did I bring my own perspective into that work? Of course! Spider Robinson never served in the military, while I am a 20-year veteran. Therefore it is no surprise that my book concerns space veterans and their trials and triumphs. I also set my story on a distant colony world hundreds of years in the future because I really enjoy space opera and wanted to dive into that genera head first.

In the end, I departed from Robinson to tell my own story, but I still, owe a debt of inspiration to Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and highly recommend it as a most enjoyable read.

By Clayton J. Callahan