A Pilot’s Guide

In the early days of the science fiction RPG Traveller, the universe was not so fleshed out. All we really had were the three little books GDW put out that contained a lot of information on how to play the game but scant information about the universe the game was played in.

In a way, that was good. Players and referees alike had a lot of latitudes to invent their own worlds and settings. And invent we did. The rules of Traveller were not conducive to simply cut and paste Star Trek or Star Wars motifs so one was forced to get creative. However, as cool as that was it was also a lot of work and sometimes you just want to throw down and roll some dice. Enter: Gamelords LTD’s “A Pilot’s Guide To The Drexilthar Subsector.”

Gamelords LTD  was one of the many small publishing houses that created supplements under license for GDW. A Pilot’s Guide To The Drexilthar Subsector was one such effort. Within this 48 page booklet, were the details of a single subsector just on the edge of Imperium space. Each of the 27 worlds within was detailed with enough information to form an adventure but still left lots for the imaginative Referee to do his/her own thing.

Personally, I found it the ideal setting for numerous Traveller campaigns. In fact, my well-worn copy is still in my possession after 30+ years of gaming. You can still get a copy today at Drive Through RPG at: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/60313/CTG-A-Pilots-Guide-to-the-Drexilthar-Subsector

Traveller has inspired me for decades and I don’t apologize for the similarities one might find to it in my own science fiction writing. I hope you enjoy.

 

 

Social Justice Warriors Are Not Ruining Science Fiction!

So hear’s the thing… I am frequently running into fans of science fiction who are half my age and proport to be more knowledgeable about the genre than I, and what’s more, they can explain to me exactly why it’s all going straight to hell.

To cut to the chase of their rather lengthy arguments, they claim that social justice warriors (SJWs) are destroying all that’s good in science fiction. Now,  whoever these SJW may, or may not, be the complaint is that science fiction will never recover from vandalism done in the name of diversity. Which leaves me with just one question, WHAT ARE THESE PUNKS SMOKING?

From my old-fart-fan point of view, science fiction has always been about diversity. Don’t believe me? Star Trek, of course, went out of its way to ensure the Enterprise had a diverse crew (don’t believe me? Watch a few other shows of that era). Or you could read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War released in 1974 which takes place in a future where homosexuality is more acceptable than heterosexuality.  Robert A. Heinline’s characters, of course, are often in polygamous marriages which are considered normal in his future.  And even in old Flash Gordon, there was an occasional flash of feminism as Dr. Zarkov defends Dale Arden as a talented radio operator who must be included on the missions.

In short, science fiction has always been and always will be about pushing societies envelope. Today, I can recommend D. Wallace Peach’s Bonewall and highly recommend the Jurisdiction series by Susan R. Matthews. Both are carrying on the long and proud SF tradition of pushing our social envelopes and make for good reads.

So, no, I have no idea what are these fanboys complaining about when they moan about SJWs ruining science fiction. These still are the good old days and I for one intend to enjoy them.

By Clayton J. Callahan

 

The Camp David / Battlestar Accords

So, it has just been brought to my attention that FORTY YEARS AGO this week Battlestar Galactica was first seen by television audiences. That’s right, it was on September 17, 1978, that the full 148-minute pilot premiered on the ABC network. It’s an event I remember well.

Because I was stoked!

If you’re wondering why forty years ago is in all caps above, the reason is simple. I was ten years old when the dang thing aired, and I have a hard time believing that so much time has gone by so fast. That’s right, I’m fifty…and that’s not old, right?

Anyway, I do recall that day in unusual clarity. Star Wars had blown my mind that previous summer of 1977, and ever since I saw it, I was eating up all the Flash Gordon and Star Trek on TV I could watch. But here in this “Battlestar” thing was something new. Not an old serial from the 1930s or a show that had been in re-runs since the 1960s. But a new space show with all the bells and whistles my ten-year-old heart craved; robots, fighter ships, and blasters–oh my. The show had been hyped in Starlog Magazine and commercials for its premiere were all over the airwaves. I couldn’t wait to see it. What was the show even about? I had no fraggin idea, it was space and that was good enough for me.

On the night Battlestar Galactica went on the air, I had secured a big bowl of popcorn and my parent’s promise that I’d get to watch the whole thing. As it was scheduled, the two-hour-plus show was going to keep me up an hour past bedtime but that didn’t seem like a big deal. The epic show opened with some brief character introduction and then BOOM, the Twelve Colonies were completely destroyed in a cataclysmic Cylon on Human battle.

And then, ABC News broke in with; “We now interrupt this program…”

On that same night, September 17, 1978, after twelve days of secret negotiations, the leaders of Israel and Egypt had reached an agreement and signed the Camp David Peace Accords in the presence of American President Jimmy Carter. And they picked the middle of the most hyped show in my elementary school world as the perfect time to announce their treaty. In agony, I watched for an hour as Anwar El Sadat and Menachem Begin slowly signed a piece of paper and shook hands. Didn’t these people know the fate of the galaxy was at stake?

In my most mature ten-year-old whine, I complained to my parents but to no avail. For some reason, they seemed to think that peace between two actual countries was more important than a Cylon attack on a fictitious bunch of colonies. Nevertheless, mom and dad (and mostly dad) kept their promise, and when Battlestar Galactica returned to our TV screen, I was able to watch the show to its late-night end.

Of course, I wasn’t worth a fig in school the next day. My teacher found me sleeping at my desk, and when I honestly reported the reason I couldn’t stay awake a phone call was placed to my father. To this day I’m glad they called Dad…because Mom would have really lit into me. My father, however, merely took full responsibility for allowing his boy to stay up late; and swallowed the shame in the certain knowledge his son wasn’t destined for any sports hall of fame but would probably waste his life going to goofy conventions and publishing science fiction novels (now available on Amazon!).

So now, I’m fifty, and to be honest I’m quite happy that Israel and Egypt haven’t spilled each other’s blood in over forty years. In fact, I’d give the leaders of the Middle East the chance to interrupt The Orvil, the new lady Dr. Who, and one of my book signings if they would write a few more of those peace accords. But unfortunately, peacemaking presidents seem in very short supply these days.

Still, it’s worth reflecting on. Childhood fancy and grown-up priorities always race neck and neck in our lives. Now, I do not pretend to know which will come in first at the end of my race. But I intend to keep writing science fiction and working for peace in this world as long as I can.

By Clayton J. Callahan

PS: Jimmy, if you ever decide to run again, I’ll vote for you 🙂

How Cool Was That? Babylon 5

 

Back in the early 90’s, I was a full-time university student, father of two, part-time pizza delivery boy, and US Navy Reservist. Needless to say, I had very little time for TV.

My wife, however, was a little more fortunate. She was a night nurse for a home health service and was able to have a TV on as she caught up on the office’s paperwork. One morning, she came home to tell me all about this new show I’d never heard of called Babylon 5.

Now, I’ve ALWAYS been a science fiction fan (I was born during the premiere of Star Trek’s Friday’s Child in 1967), and I immediately started pumping her for information. She described the show as almost British in style, very unlike Star Trek, with great characters in a well-defined universe. Since we didn’t actually have a TV of our own back then, I had to wait until a night I could bring her lunch to work for her in order to watch the show.

Frankly, I was intrigued right off the bat.

Bab 5 grabbed hold of my imagination and refused to let go. Sure, I still liked Star Trek and in some other post, I’ll wax philosophic about how good Voyager and Deep Space 9 were in the 1990s. But Babylon 5 struck me as unique. Here was a franchise unbeholden to any previous book or film, presenting a fresh canvas. The show was creating its own rules, it’s own life, as it came fresh off the screen without a debt to some forty-year-old fan base dragging it down.

How rare is that?

Let me ask this, do you like the new Star Wars movies or hate them? Is it because they’re too like the original trilogy, or because they’re too different? How about the spin-off films like Solo and Rouge One? Are they true to the vision of the original Star Wars or despicable abominations to be sent to Dante’s basement?

Having something fresh and original to offer means that a writer can take the story wherever it needs to go without fear of fan backlash. Frankly, I’m amazed that authors like Timothy Zahan seem to do their best work when writing in other people’s fictional universes. And although every author borrows inspiration, I must say a great deal of the fun in my writing in the Star Run Universe comes from the fact that I created it.

But Babylon 5 wasn’t just very original…it was also very, very good!

Good acting, good special effects (for the time), good music, and great writing by J. Michael Straczynski, resulted in a show that was sometimes frightening, sometimes hilarious, sometimes insightful, and never dull. The themes that Bab 5 played with were also quite relatable; loyalty, trust, morality, and the easy wrong vs hard right.

I was at Dragon Con in 1994 when Mr. Straczynski was asked by an audience member if he’d based his writing on the Balkan War that was raging at the time. He answered, “No, it’s based on human behavior, and that never changes.” And now almost thirty years later, I have to agree because, sadly, today’s news could just as easily inspire the international strife portrayed in that old show.

Now, the history of the Babylon 5 show is a bit of a jumble. Basically, Hollywood execs never quite got a handle on how to market something this good. Forced to jump from network to network and time-slot to time-slot, Bab 5 bravely soldiered on until all five seasons envisioned by Straczynski were completed. Afterward, two spin-off shows and a made for TV movie were produced, none of which, however, matched the quality of the original show.

If you’ve never seen Babylon 5, I highly recommend you do. Not as a piece of science fiction archeology, but as one of the greatest space shows ever put on the small screen. Its brash, its brave, it’s funny and it’s still very relevant.

Enjoy.

Clayton J. Callahan

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi & All The Drama

So, I’m a fan.

I’ve been on the Star Wars train since I first saw that humongous ship chasing the little one on a movie screen in Dayton, Ohio back in 1977…and I was ten. Star Wars opened up a whole new world for me. A world of adventure, comradery, space travel, and mysticism. Have I seen all the movies? Yes. Read all the books? No. bought the comic books? A few. Made a costume for conventions? Yep, see above.

Now, that being said, every little thing Star Wars does isn’t magic. The prequel trilogy was a big disappointment, and I need only mention the Star Wars Holiday Special once. Which brings us to Holywood’s latest installment, The Last Jedi.

Hardcore fans have rejected it, even going so far to circulate an online petition demanding The Last Jedi be removed from “official Star Wars canon.” Mark Hamill, has even come out against the film for its portrayal of his own character, Luke Skywalker! But as for me, I had a good time at the movies.

Blasphemy you say! Perhaps, but I never was one for orthodoxy anyway.

Oh, I still do have some quibbles with the movie. I thought the pacing was too fast and that they tried to cram too much action into the movie and not enough character and world development. As for Luke portrayed as a grumpy old bastard, well people change and it’s been over thirty years since we last saw this character, and it worked for the story.

And speaking of the story…it wasn’t Luke’s. Nore was it Leia’s. This is a new story of Poe, Rey, Fin, and Rose. And frankly, I like these characters and want to see more of them. Face it, this isn’t the old Star Wars, it’s the next generation Star Wars. And just like, next-gen Star Trek new ground is being plowed.

Frankly, I don’t see how ANY movie company can continue with ANY major sci-fi franchize without pissing off old fans. It is impossible to recreate the past, however, some people will simply never accept that. My solution is for Holywood to start producing…brace for the shock, new material! Great science fiction ideas are all over the internet. Many a new screenwriter, novelist, or comic book artist is right now begging to get their ideas before an audience. And with fresh material, you don’t have legions of old fans complaining about how you failed to do it right. You instead have a new opportunity to entice new fans who will love your thing.

And, Hollywood, if you’re reading this blog, I have an author to recommend. 🙂

By Clayton J. Callahan

Where Are We, And Where Will We Be?

 

So, I just watched a fabulous episode of Star Trek Continues, a Youtube show that continues as if the original series was never canceled. Kirk, Spock and all the gang are simply played by different actors. However, the characters and the universe of Star Trek are very faithfully kept intact.

Thinking back, Gene Roddenberry’s original creation often challenged us to re-evaluate our own society. Issues of morality, justice, and prejudice were confronted–sometimes in quite nuanced ways. And after viewing the new episode, Embracing The Winds, I can happily state the tradition is alive and well.

Right now, we are living in a strange time. I’m an American, and I watched in horror the sexism and misogyny that paraded through our last presidential election. Since then, issues we often imagined to be safely in our society’s past have burst forth with a vengeance. Not only sexism but racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance are once again hot-button issues of our day.

To quote Robin William’s character from the movie Jumanji, “What year is this!?”

Well, sadly it’s 2017. And a reasonable person living at the time the first Star Trek was prime time viewing could easily have imagined we’d be a lot farther along than this. However, that same old Star Trek is speaking to us still, through well-written fan productions like Star Trek Continues-Embracing The Winds. 

Take the 45 minutes to watch this episode, and invite yourself to re-think your views on prejudice. I guarantee you will be entertained…and challenged.

And may you live long and prosper.

 

 

A Great Age For Space Opera Movies

space-opera-movies

I saw Rogue One and I was stoked!

The release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens 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. 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 spacecraft, 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 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. 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?

By Clayton J. Callahan