A Great Age For Space Opera Movies

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So, Rogue One is coming out on December 16th and I am stoked!

The release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has heralded a new age for space opera in the movies unlike anything I’ve seen in thirty years (yes, I’m old). And even before the Star Wars primer, Marvel decided to get in on the action with Guardians of The Galaxy. Think about it, Marvel owns the rights to so many superhero franchises yet chose to make a film about space jockeys before Dr. Strange or any of a dozen other  caped characters (and yes, we are all still WAITING for that Miss Marvel movie). So why revive a less popular space franchise first? My answer is, they wanted to get on the ground floor of a booming trend.

When Star Wars first came out in 1977, it inspired dozens of imitators. Hollywood saw the money and quickly shifted from a western and detective thriller factory to a rocket ship launching pad. The first notable attempts were frankly well, crap– like Starcrash and The Cat From Outer Space. However, as Hollywood improved its space craft, we got good stuff like Battlestar Galactica, Alien, and Battle Beyond the Stars.

Naturally, Star Trek jumped onto the gravy train, and that’s FINE by me. After the abortive Star Trek: The Emotional Picture, we got Wrath of Kahn, Search For Spock, and, who can forget, Star Trek Saves The Whales. I grew up in this time, and it’s pretty damn obvious I have yet to recover. Stories of spaceships that go “woosh” and laser guns that go “pew” are still my go to entertainment.

So, sure, I’m waiting with bated breath for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I am also happy to hear they are planning to make a young Han Solo movie. I think it’s great that they are playing with alternative possibilities and taking risks with the franchise. Star Trek is also doing some good stuff with its re-boot, and I really liked Star Trek: Beyond. But here’s the thing…where is the new space opera stuff?

The last time we got an original space opera franchise of any worth on the screen was Firefly. Granted, Firefly and its movie Serenity were AWESOME, but it’s been over ten years and I want more. When Star Wars made bank back in ’77, we got a slew of other space opera films with original content. Now we have…what? Folks, Guardians of The Galaxy is based on a thirty-year-old comic book; it’s as if risk aversion trumps creativity in Hollywood every time these days (and I can’t stand it when things are “trumped”).

I know that today there are some damn good writers crafting top-notch space opera (Yeah, besides me…but also me…uh, me too? Yes, not just me). I want these guys and gals to get their chance now while the iron is hot. And this is important, not just for our entertainment but for the growth of the genre of space opera.

Think about it, forty years from now, what are they going to bring back if they did nothing new in the early 2000s?

 

Rose City Comicon, 2016…Fun!

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It’s a wonderful age to be a nerd.

And, it’s been a pretty good weekend for me and a couple thousand other nerds in the Northwest too. I often say I’m lucky to live in Oregon, and one reason is certainly the high concentration of geekdom in this locality.

comicon-crowdRose City Comicon has been going strong for about five years now. At first, it competed for space at the Portland Convention Center with a grocer’s convention but, now, the whole joint is ours! I suppose the celebrities draw much of the crowd. Summer Glau of Firefly fame bumped elbows with Marvel’s Stan Lee and Grimm’s Russell Hornsby. As to me, I’ve never been much of a celebrity watcher. Sure, if I found myself on a plane next to Peter Mayhew, I’d relish the chance to talk to him. But I wouldn’t stand in line for hours just to briefly shake his hand and get an autograph. That’s why it was such a cool thing to run into Phill Foglio!

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The author/artist of Buck Godot (see earlier post) was sitting in front of a pile of his merchandise, running his own cash register and talking to fans. He was quite personable and treated his fans like gold. These days he’s heavily invested in his hit Girl Genus series of graphic novels that he co-writes with his wife Kaja. I asked him why Buck Godot wasn’t exactly on his front burner these days, and he confessed Buck didn’t sell well and he needs to make a living.

I hear ya’, Mr. Foglio, I hear ya’.

I also mecomicon-doctorst some wonderful fans from around the Northwest, including two who did fantastic cosplays of my  favorite Doctor Who incarnations (I love it when they get the details right).

Locally, I ran into the Concordia Clan of the Mandalorian Mercenaries Costume Club. A great bunch of guys who raise money for a Portland area youth charity called Outside In. Feel free to contact them at  https://www.facebook.com/concordiaclan/ if you want to attend one of their armor making parties or just hang out.

Now, I’ve got to say, I’ve been attending science fiction conventions since the mid-1980s. Back then, you were lucky to be part of two-hundred geeks showing up in a downscale hotel on the bad side of town.Today,  I am constantly amazed at how the community of fans has grown. Back in the long ago, you whispered that you were a fan and hoped people would be kind. Today, there’s such a thing as “geek pride” and we gather in huge crowds to celebrate our passions.

What a fascinating, modern age we live in indeed.

Somthing “New” For A Change

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You may have noticed my affinity for old science fiction. It seems most of the stuff I like to read is thirty to forty years in the rear view mirror and, honestly, that’s fine. Folks like what they like. However, I despise the notion of “the good old days” that never will come again. Because human imagination and creativity go on and older does not always mean better. Frankly, there was just as much crap back then as there is now, we have only forgotten it.

Newer authors also deserve a chance, and it’s not just the Carter/Regan era SF I like. So, allow me to introduce you to Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, vintage 2006-2010…Okay, so the first book came out ten years ago. Sue me. Firefly is older than these books anyway.

The Lost Fleet series is a collection of six novels by Jack Cambell (John G. Hemry) about a space naval fleet that is trapped behind enemy lines and has to fight its way home. The books are also about the fleet’s commander Captain John Geary who has a bit of a back story, as told in the first book Dauntless.

It seems that the fleet was once commanded by Admiral Botch, who’s grand plan was to use “hypernet” gates to sneak this massive fleet deep into enemy territory for a surprise attack on their homeworld.  While traveling to his fateful battle, Admiral Botch’s ship discovers a lost escape pod with a survivor in cryo-suspension. The survivor is Captain John Geary, the legendary hero of the first battle of this war that has by now raged for over one-hundred years. Geary was believed dead and his return from this navy’s mythic past is seen as a good luck blessing by the more superstitious crewmen. But any luck he brings comes too late for Admiral Botch.

The fleet is ambushed and the surprise attack is a total failure. The enemy insists the admiral and all officers above the rank of captain get in a shuttle and come to their flagship to discuss surrender. The enemy, being rather treacherous, execute the senior officers instead and then  insist the rest of the fleet’s captains surrender unconditionally. What the enemy fails to realize, however, is they just put a hundred-plus-year-old war hero in charge of the fleet by reason of his seniority to all the other captains.

Now the stage is set. Captain Geary must acclimate himself to the new age he finds himself in, take charge of a fleet he knows little about, save an impossible military situation from complete disaster and do so without preparation of any kind. What could possibly go wrong?

Campbell does a great job in creating a flawed and very human protagonist. Captian Geary is an excellent officer but not a perfect one and has a lot to learn. Thankfully for him, he is a product of a civilized age that provided first class education to its military and he was trained by the best. Unfortunately for him, one-hundred years of war has yielded a barbaric age where military officers are unschooled in the finer points of strategy and tactics. This rough mob of new captains chafe under Geary’s tutelage and resent his insistence on rules of war. It seems that since Geary has been asleep in a life pod, practices such as the execution of prisoners and the bombardment of civilians has become commonplace…and that’s something he won’t stand for.

I seldom read series, but I devoured every last book in this one.  The descriptions of space battles are highly realistic and superbly well written. But my favorite scenes are the ones where Geary faces moral dilemmas. He must not only convince his captains that obeying the law of war is moral, but it is also essential to victory.

I served in Iraq, and I can attest that moral behavior is key to victory in any war. Enemies will not surrender when they believe they will be abused, a population will not submit to cruelty, and information gained under torture is always tainted with falsehoods. To win, the good guys MUST act like the good guys and Cambell seems to understand this (and I’m not surprised as the man did serve as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy).

To put it simply, these books are awesome. I highly recommend these books to any fan of military science fiction. My only complaint was that all the action takes place on the flagship, and I would have liked to see Geary visit some planets from time to time, but oh well.

Enjoy the books.