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.

 

 

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 🙂

Happy Star Wars Day, Everybody

I’ve been a fan since I first begged my dad to take me to the movie in 1977 (I was ten). It is no small claim to say that Star Wars was my gateway drug into the worlds of science fiction and  I’ve yet to kick the habit. So thank you to George Lucas and all the thousands of talented people who made Star Wars possible over the decades. And keep it going strong!

By 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

Haven’t Been To A Con, Yet? Go!

I just finished my Thanksgiving turkey, but a thing that’s left an equally filling aftertaste was the weekend before at Orycon 39. This year was my eighth, or maybe ninth Orycon. To be frank they all kind of blend together in one great fanish haze from time to time.

Again, this year I was honored to be a panelist (and grateful they forgave/forgot the whole “blasted out of my head” incident of three years back). I sat before various audiences discussing things ranging from Star Wars to Wonder Woman, and man did I get some challenging questions.

But panels be damned! I also went partying with my wife, drank more than a bit too much, played some great science fiction card games, and met a lot of truly great authors (I’m talking about you Susan R. Matthews), and fans.

Honestly, I’ve been going to these science fiction conventions since 1985 (Milinecon Minus 15, Dayton Airport Hotell) and highly recommend you give one a whirl. Oh, you can start out with one of those huge, sprawling Comicons if you like. They can be fun too.

But personally, I recommend you seek out one of the smaller, cozier ones close to home. You get a real sense of community at the local conventions that can’t be found in a larger venue. Great conversations take place in hotel lobbies with like-minded geeks you only met an hour ago, and lifelong friendships get off to a great start.

In short, it’s always worth it to seek out new friends and new conversations. To boldly con where few have coned before.

See you there!

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

 

Flash, Ahahaha!

old-flash

Let me tell you what’s new with Flash Gordon.

First off, when I was growing up we had these things called local TV stations. They didn’t have a lot of money to buy children’s programming and, to be frank, there wasn’t much worth buying back then if they did (it was a dark time– the 1970s). So when I came home from school and wanted to veg out in front of the tube, there was Flash Gordon on Chanel 19…in all it’s 1930s glory.

Flash Gordon was an outer space pulp hero played by Buster Crabbe (a former Olympic gold medal winner). To be frank, Buster didn’t have a wide range as an actor. But he looked every bit the hero and spoke his lines clearly and with gusto. From 1936 to 1940 he appeared in weekly installments that played at movie houses across America. With his trusty companions, the beautiful Dale Arden and the brilliant Hans Zarkov, Flash battled the brutal Emperor Ming the Merciless to save the Earth. Each episode ended with a cliffhanger to leave the audience wanting more.

Was it tacky? YES! Were the special effects crap? YOU BET! But a young George Lucas apparently loved the show as a kid too. In fact, when that boy grew up he wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie himself. Get this…since he COULD NOT AFFORD THE RIGHTS he decided to write his own space opera and call it Star Wars. That’s right, there was a time when the name Flash Gordon meant bigger bucks in science fiction than Star Wars!

Seeing the error of their ways, the people behind Flash Gordon made their own major motion picture starring Sam J. Jones (Buster was getting old by then). The 1980 movie was a minor hit and became a cult favorite. The dialog of this movie was deliberately corny, and Brian Blessed’s performance of Vaultan King of The Hawkmen was a master class in overacting done right. The film had its charm but–like it’s black and white movie heritage– its characters lacked depth.

Enter Dynamite Comics’s latest incarnation of Flash. I recently discovered this volume in my local comic book shop…and it’s wonderful. Creators Jeff Parker, Evan Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire understand and respect the source material but aren’t afraid to add something to it.

In Dynamite’s incarnation, Flash is an Olympic athlete (a nod to Buster) with the attention span of a teenager. A true adrenaline junkie, Flash gets bored easily lives for the chance to jump in and do something physical. However, he’s also a generally good human being, and his boyish understanding of right and wrong serves as the moral compass of his group.

For the Dynamite authors, Dale Arden is the brains of the operation. She is a science journalist who gets roped into the interplanetary adventure. Not one to back down from a challenge, she is the cool head that comes up with the plans that Flash follows. Frankly, this Dale is much more than a girlfriend character and she is certainly no damsel in distress.

Hans Zarkov, as always, is the brilliant scientist of the group. However, he is also a braggart, a horn-dog and an alcoholic. Far from the modest background boffin of the 1930s movies, this Doctor Zarkov is a brash egotist who’s boisterous personality must be tempered by Dale and Flash from time to time. But, to be sure, he’s an awful lot of fun at parties.

If you can’t find this excellent comic in stores I recommend Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Flash-Gordon-Omnibus-Tp/dp/1606905996/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476767848&sr=1-1&keywords=flash+gordon+comics

It’s a big, bold and brash reincarnation of an old science fiction standby, and is sure to bring out the kid in any old fart who remembers what fun Flash Gordon used to be.