Friday, 24 October 2014

21st Century Leda #2

SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. This is my snippet for it - please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here. 

This is 21st Century Leda. Our narrator is dallying with a girl in a pub - and has just admitted that he is actually a God. He continues to reminisce to himself...



Trouble is, we've become figures of fun in books for children or treatises on the classical world. I get bitter, sometimes. Three thousand years ago I was king of the world - now it seems the title has passed to some upstart called James Cameron. 
 
Was it your worship of us that made us divinities? We are still Gods… but without the prayers and the beliefs in us we are barely more than you mortals, now. We have to change, adapt, survive.

Or die. Apollo… he gave up centuries ago. The Sun King in France – that angered him. He wanted to smite Louis for his presumption… but by then Apollo was all but forgotten. So weak he could not change his form, let alone fire even one of his plague-bearing arrows. He couldn’t stand the shame.

Artemis, though, adapted. She’s a major fashion model – lesbian, of course. But they all are, so who takes any notice?


I would like to make it clear that the views expressed by the narrator of this story are not my views, and any complaints about him being misogynistic, bigotted and reactionary should be addressed to Zeus, c/o Olympus plc. 
I am also not responsible for anyone being struck by a lightning bolt as a result of any such conplaint...
With the above provisos, comments appreciated!



Wednesday, 22 October 2014

New Who - Deep Breath to Flatline

 
I've got to admit I've not been a great fan of Newu Who. I first watched Doctor Who when Jon Pertwee was the Doctor, and I've always thought of him and Tom Baker as being “my” Doctors. I've got a pretty good collection of classic Who on DVD, and in the main I prefer the original series to the current stories. There have been a few exceptions – there are about half a dozen New Who stories that I thought were very good indeed, including Empty Child, Blink and the Doctor's Wife. I also think there have been some absolute stinkers.



I was one of those who thought David Tennant was too brash and Matt Smith too young. To be fair, I don't think either was a bad Doctor, but neither really matched the ideal of the time-travelling Gallifreyan that I had in my mind.




 
Peter Capaldi, on the other hand, struck me as a perfect choice for the Doctor. He had sufficient gravitas and a strong screen presence, a face that was reminiscent of Jon Pertwee, and very considerable acting ability.

 The season started pretty well. Deep Breath was a good story, but Into the Dalek (whilst it had some very nice ideas and some very strong moments) had enough logical flaws and plot holes to sink a starship. Robot of Sherwood was great fun, but not great Who. It and Listen, the story that followed, both seemed to suggest a degree of promise.


 
 
Time Heist, on the other hand, was both obvious and illogical, and really didn't work.

The Caretaker, again, seemed to be working, but still didn't quite have the spark that the best Who stories have.

 And then we had Kill the Moon. Ouch. Probably one of the poorest stories I've seen. If anyone doubted that New Who is fantasy, not science fiction, this was a good proof. Classic Who endeavoured to put a gloss of “reality” into the science. It often got it badly wrong (I cringe at the sad excuse for astrophysics in Wheel in Space, and a good many of the stories failed basic science, but certainly from Jon Pertwee's time onwards the series tried to pretend it was SF not magic). Anyone with no more than a GCSE in physics can see the flaws in the science of Kill the Moon.



The Moon's “gravity is changing”. Because there's something growing inside. Fluctuating. But mass can't change. So gravity can't change. The basic structure was gibberish. And the creature that is born from the Moon immediately lays an egg that is of the same mass and is identical in appearance. And “bacteria” that look like spiders and spin webs? How this story got approved is beyond me – it fails on so many levels. And the Doctor leaving the decision to the humans also makes no sense compared with what he has done before. The logic of the character and the logic of the situation are entirely absent. Yes, the production crew want to make the Doctor darker and edgier, but he needs to remain the same character as before. And the big “event” of the story – the Doctor leaving Clara and co to make the decision – doesn't in the end have any consequences, making it ultimately pointless. The ending felt like a cop-out.

I don't mind saying that this episode disappointed me very badly.


 
Fortunately, Mummy on the Orient Express restored my faith in the series. I didn't expect to like the episode – it looked somewhat as though someone had come up with a neat image and a good title, and I was afraid the plot would be an irrelevance. I am very glad I was wrong – the story held together, the Doctor was magnificent, and the plot made sense. 

I didn't have problems with the science – yes, a starship built to look like a steam-train in space is daft, but it doesn't obviously break basic laws of physics. We've built some pretty bizarre ships and vehicles in reality, and the attempt to create something anachronistic for rich, paying passengers is not extraordinary. The plot held together, and the characterisation of the Doctor finally felt thoroughly right.


Which brings me to Flatline. I enjoyed Flatland many years ago. I was nervous of what Doctor Who would do with it.

I needn't have worried. This was an excellent episode, the internal logic consistent, the plot credible (as far as Doctor Who plots are ever credible) and the science not objectionable. And the character of the Doctor (both as played by Capaldi and as brilliantly emulated by Jenna Coleman!) was beautifully portrayed. This really felt like the “real” Doctor. If the new series can keep this up, then New Who might just grow up to be as good as its parent.



Friday, 17 October 2014

21st Century Leda

SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. This is my snippet for it - please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here. 

Having finished Blue Ice last week, I'm jumping sideways from hard science fiction into a story set in the present day. This is 21st Century Leda.




The Swan's not a bad pub, if a bit pseud. Landlord and I have an understanding. He’s got rooms upstairs, and he doesn’t talk to the missus.

The plasma TV’s got some braindead idiot deconceptualising (whatever that means) Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The pool table by the naff wood panelled wall is surrounded by youngsters showing off, and the beer's not a patch on the stuff we used to drink. But that’s progress.

The chick across the table is gazing at me, admiring my manly physique. And so she should – I may be a bit (okay, a considerable degree) older than I was, but I’m still more male than most of these weedy yobs you get nowadays. I can still pass for being under fifty. Okay, only in a soft light, (one of the reasons I like this place) , but who’s quibbling?

I never used to bother with small talk. Grab the wench, sweep her off to some secluded grotto, and take my time deflowering her. But it doesn’t work like that now. The world’s changed - not for the better, in my view. Still, I’m a God – I can handle change.

Sorry, no prizes for guessing the identity of our narrator...
As always, comments appreciated!

Friday, 10 October 2014

SFFSat 11/10/14 - Blue Ice 8

 SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. This is my snippet for it - please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here. 

This is the final part of Blue Ice. Anton deGama is in the rings of Saturn, planting bio-engineered plants on a chunk of ring ice, when he sees blue snowflake creatures moving towards him. He guesses that they have evolved from the bio-engineered life that humans have brought to the rings.


 
Anton briefly thought about wading in and shattering the fragile assailants, but his own words were whispering in his ears. The predators were trying to keep themselves alive. He could not just slaughter them out of hand.

And anyhow, the discovery of the parasites might well be worth a considerable sum, if he could keep them alive. Even if (improbably) the biotech firms weren’t interested, he had no doubt the vidnetworks would be. A slight grin crossed his face, just as Kellerman made a similar comment over the commlink.

Anton glanced up at Rose, and gave up the uneven battle with the predators. He gripped his umbilical, and jumped. Rose's photonsong deepened in welcome as he hauled himself through the hatch, and he felt her tune quicken. She had been attuned to him when she had grown, and was glad to feel him aboard her. He gazed down as the predators continued their slow-motion feeding frenzy with his crop. 
 
Not, perhaps, a good omen for a space gardener, he thought wryly as he unclipped his helmet, to be driven out of the garden by pests. He suddenly laughed out loud. As the discoverer of the predators, his would be the right to name them. In future years, he suspected people would wonder continually why he had named the blue snowflakes "Greenfly".



As always, comments appreciated!

Friday, 3 October 2014

SFFSat 4/10/14 - Blue Ice 7

SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. This is my snippet for it - please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here. 

This is the penultimate part of Blue Ice. Anton deGama is in the rings of Saturn, planting bio-engineered plants on a chunk of ring ice, when he sees blue snowflake creatures moving towards him. He describes what he sees to Kellerman as the creatures approach.



"You think they're some form of bio-tech sabotage, Anton?"

Anton shook his head, and then realised that she could not see the gesture. "Not really. I think they're some kind of rogue svenskites." Anton was staring at his blooms and their approaching demise. "We brought life into the rings, Kellerman. Svenskites, draxblooms, anazites, even singleships." He tiptoed carefully through the draxflowers, trying to use his shadow to hold back the blue tide. It was like using a bucket to put out a forest-fire. "Maybe this life has been here long enough to grow a few predators."

"In forty years?" He could have cut Kellerman's disbelief with a laser.

"Nearer sixty – the first svenskites must go back that far. Hard radiation, genetic changes... and the need to survive, Kellerman. Living beings grab hold of life pretty tenaciously - why should that be different for the life-forms we engineered?"


Next time, the final snippet, as deGama responds to what he has found.
As always, comments appreciated!

 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

D&D 5 - Trinkets and magic items


I've been poring over the D&D5 PH again. I still like what I see. There's far too much to comment on everything, but a few aspects have caught my eye.

One of my pet hates in a lot of fantasy games and settings is the prevalence of Ye Olde Magic Item Shoppe – a shop, usually run by a level 20 wizard, selling a wide range of magic items. 

Such places miss the point about enchanted objects. Such things should be rare and wonderful and extraordinary – not just commodities made in their thousands in a magical factory somewhere. There needs to be a sense of wonder.

D&D5 agrees – the PH expressly comments that “you won't normally come across magic items... to purchase. The value of magic is far beyond simple gold”. Yes!

The new PH also contains about four pages of trinkets – odd objects that characters can have in their possession. I've seen a review on Amazon hotly complaining that these trinkets are useless, with no powers or benefits for the character possessing them.

This proves that the reviewer has not understood the point of these items. The trinkets are plot hooks. Objects a DM can seize upon to build a scenario, or even a campaign around. I've used such things more than once in starting a campaign – one character had an amulet that after many sessions proved she was of noble blood (and that the noble family in question intended to sacrifice her for evil purposes – but that's another story). Another character had a bracelet which turned out to be one third of an artefact that would open a portal to another world. Trinkets are the kernels of stories.

And that, once again, is why I like the look of D&D5. It is not setting out to create complicated mechanics systems so you can minimax characters – it is trying to tell stories.

Friday, 26 September 2014

SFFSat 27/9/14 - Blue Ice 6

SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. This is my snippet for it - please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here. 

This is part six of Blue Ice. Anton deGama is in the rings of Saturn, planting bio-engineered plants on a chunk of ring ice, when his colleague Kellerman sees something blue moving on the ice. Despite all common sense, Anton moves towards it, to see living creatures moving towards him...



Each creature was shaped like a snowflake hexagon atop a crystalline frond. The six panels could change their attitude independently, to grab sunlight and to focus it through the crude crystal lens at the base of the frond. The thing moved by directing the faint sunlight through the organic lens onto the ice below it: as the ice burned away, the spreading water-vapour pushed the creature onwards. It obviously relied on the marginal gravity of the fragment to keep it from drifting off into space.
Anton suspected the creatures were not greatly dissimilar to the draxbloom or svenskite plants that ringfarmers cultivated, clearly formed from the same silicorganic genetics. But Anton had never heard of anyone bio-engineering anything like this.
Kellerman was demanding that he reply. He finally murmured "They're alive, Kellerman."
"I was beginning to wonder if you were, Anton! What are alive?"
Anton briefly described what he could see, watching the creatures devouring his crop. Each one enfolded a draxbloom in its snowflake. The motion was so slow and sensual that Anton for a brief, delirious moment wondered if this was some bizarre mating ritual. But then he saw the flower petals shattering and the fragments being absorbed. This was a ritual of consumption, not reproduction.


As always, comments appreciated!