My Gamer Origin Story

When you hear that someone is a gamer nowadays, it conjures up all sorts of images. Maybe a TWITCH gamer doing livestreams with a headset, or someone who enters a Call of Duty tournament and plays competitively at a local con. In almost all cases, the term ‘gamer’ deals specifically with video games.

Well, when I hear the word, I tend to think of someone who enjoys tabletop role-playing games first, then board games second, and then video games. Maybe I’m just weird that way. Or old-school. Or both.

When I played original NES games back in the day, I didn’t really consider myself a gamer, per se. It was really when I got into tabletop RPGs that I felt that I was truly a “gamer.”

Let me share with you how it all went down. This is my origin story, if you will.

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Don’t forget to add all your miscellaneous modifiers.

The spark that started the bonfire was a set of choose-your-own adventure books called the “Fighting Fantasy” by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. These differed from many of the other books of the day because they had a dice-based combat system to go along with the adventure. You had a character sheet, magic items that you could collect that boosted your abilities or healed you, and all sorts of other cool stuff that really set them apart from the rest.

Being in a small town, I didn’t have access to many of them.  Both of the ones that made an impression were obtained through ‘book club’ newsletters from my school, in this case TROLL and ARROW. Through them, I got my hands on two Fighting Fantasy titles: Demons of the Deep and Rebel Planet.

 

The former dealt with a brave sailor’s trials in Atlantis as he attempts to settle the score with the murderous pirate, Captain Blood-Ax. The latter was about a secret agent among the stars who attempts to unseat humanity’s conquers, the Arcadians, armed with your wits and your trusty lightsaber.

I loved the interactivity of them, and the vibrant writing style.  You could play through different endings if you messed and died, horribly in some cases. The concept really captured my imagination. When I was in 7th Grade, I happened upon a book in the Eustace Junior High library. This one:

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I have a copy of this book in my personal library. It was the gasoline poured on  the fire.

The ENDLESS QUEST series didn’t have the combat system, but it did have some compelling story lines. I remember reading the introduction where you, the main character, are sent to find a way to defeat a dragon whose very shadow can kill all life. When Shen, the eponymous dragon of doom, takes flight across the countryside, you can follow the trail of withered planets and dead animals.

If you look at the cover art, you’ll notice something else:  it reads “DUNGEONS & DRAGONS” in bold letters across the top. My grandmother certainly noticed this, and promptly made me take it back to the library, and explained that I shouldn’t attempt to check it out again.

Dungeons & Dragons barely registers today in popular culture as a thing itself, outside of a few Gary Gygax memes, references in the Big Bang Theory, or Wil Wheaton videos. It still has a geeky connotation to it, but understand that at this time, Dungeons & Dragons had a vaguely sinister reputation. There were some who thought it was outright Satanic.

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Do you want Demogorgons? Because that’s how you get Demogorgons.

Yep, it wasn’t cute and adorable and nostalgic like in Stranger Things. Some groups used to think it was a (and I kid you not here) a way for teenagers to sell their souls to the devil.  Movies like Mazes and Monsters or the Chick tracts at the time didn’t help, either.

Of course, when my grandmother told me to take Dragons of Doom back to the library, she virtually guaranteed that I would go learn more about it. And I did. I was no stranger to comic-book shops, and many of them sold D&D products, as well as a host of other RPGs.  I talked with some of the guys there who played them, and it didn’t sound like my curiosity was endangering my mortal soul.

And then, out of the blue, I found out that one of my friends, Dan, actively ran different RPG games after school. Some of them he made up himself, and others were published, of-the-shelf games. I soon began hanging out at his house after school with his older brother, Jay, and another guy we knew, Donny. Dan was instrumental in forming my early understanding of how RPGs work. He was the first one to explain to me what a d20 was, and what went into building a character.

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The first time I made up a character, it was a home-brewed system that Donny had made up called “The Blade Lords.”  It was loosely based off of the Palladium RPG systems, using many of the same races, but had a focus more on sword-play and arena fighting than magic. The character was a swordmaster named Ulfric and he was from a race of humanoid canines called the “Wolfen.”  I only played him a time or two, and his character sheet is sadly lost to the sands of time.

After that, Dan ran a round of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, also by Palladium Games. Yes, they made a TMNT-themed RPG, and it was really good. Only this wasn’t the happy-go-lucky ’80s cartoon version of the Turtles. No, this was the original Eastman and Laird version, harsh and unforgiving.

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Everyone wears red around their eyes, yo.

My character was a mutant alligator named Spike, who was also (of course) a ninja. I went on to play many different games with Dan, Jay, and Donny. Sometimes my other friend Cody would run a game. We played all through junior high and high school. I made up many different characters during this time, including one time in the Batman RPG where my character accidentally-on-purpose killed Batman. A dubious honor, to be sure.

I also began running games of my own at this time. One of them I ran in the lunchroom before the bell rang with my friends Robert, Keith, and Cliff. What made this one different was that I had made up the game system. It was a simple d6-based game with heavy emphasis on roleplaying, which I called “RPG To-Go.”

It was also during this time that I realized that my cousin Travis was big into these games. He lived up in the big city of Dallas. Well, big considering the small town I was living in at the time. When I got a car my senior year, a silver ’84 Isuzu Impulse I called the Millennium Falcon, I was able to head up to Dallas on the weekends to game with his group. There, I made many friends that I’m lucky enough to still have today.

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I always thought it looked vaguely like a DeLorean.

Since then, it has been a rarity to not have a game to go to at some point during the week, either playing or GMing. Palladium, Heroes Unlimited, Ninjas and Superspies, Kulthea, Forgotten Realms, Vampire: The Masquerade (I played a Werewolf. Big surprise, huh?), Traveller, MegaTraveller, OMG DRAGONLANCE, Netheril, Valeriand, on and off again, Neverwinter, Storm Watch, The Mean Streets of Thebes, Game of Thrones, Transformers, and hopefully soon…Fallout!

That’s just to name a few.

And now I know enough about RPGs that when I want to play or run one, I kit-bash what I need out of existing systems, or just make up what I need out of whole cloth. Yeah, I didn’t choose the game life…the game life chose me.

Of course, I am a gamer in every sense of the word now. It’s not just tabletop stuff, but also board games, and video games. And while the original NES had a big part to play in fostering my love of video games, I didn’t really accept games as a being a part of who I am until tabletop RPGs came into my life.

True story.


(New)Battlestar Galactica and My Roller-Coaster Fandom

Richard Hatch passed away last week, and it got me to thinking. Most folks probably remember him as Captain Apollo, starring beside Dirk Benedict and Lorne Greene in the original Battlestar Galactica. My favorite role of his was in Galactica, but not in that one. I’m talking about his role in the 2004 reboot as the calculating political operator, Tom Zarek.

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Previously, on Battlestar Galactica…

While lamenting Mr. Hatch’s passing, I found myself revisiting the music of both the original and reimagined series. Of course, I still feel the thrill and majesty of the original main theme. As a connoisseur of space operas, that one is pretty boss. Inevitably, I began listening through the score of the ‘new’ series, which is tonally much darker and angst-ridden (pretty much like the show itself).

For the most part, I don’t look back on New Galactica very fondly, mainly due to the nonsensical third and fourth seasons, and the X-files/LOST kind of ending that was disappointing in the extreme. But then I rediscovered the track “Reuniting the Fleet.” Go ahead, give it a listen. I’ll wait.

The same mix of drums and the uilleann pipes are a direct callback to an earlier piece of music, “A Good Lighter.” Both instantly transported me back to my favorite moments in New Galactica. One is where Adama, played by Edward James Olmos, shared a moment with his son, Apollo, (Jaime Bamber) on the flight deck before an all-important mission. While I take issue with the direction of the show, the peformances remain incredible, and this scene between them – just thinking about it as I write this – gives me a big ol’ lump in my throat.

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I’m not crying. You’re crying!

The same is true for the “Reuniting the Fleet.” Faced with leaving the colonists behind on New Caprica in search of Earth, Adama makes the decision to reunite his people, who were sharply divided down ideological and political lines. I remember watching that scene on TV and being moved by it. Now, it’s downright profound.

With this level of emotion, atmosphere, and acting, how could my immediate impression of the show be negative, now after nearly eight years since it went off the air?

There are so few shows that leave me with such mixed emotions. The aforementioned X-files and LOST are two of them, certainly. These are shows that I absolutely loved at the beginning, but by the end watching an episode was uncomfortable, and largely consumed out of ‘fan duty’ if that makes any sense. And also the hope that it would get better.

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*holding in the existential dread* It’s going to get better…right?

When I first discovered New Galactica, I feel in love. Unlike many old-school Galactica fans I know, I really loved the darker more helpless tone of the new show. It really felt like a great tragedy had befallen the survivors of the Fall of the Twelve Colonies, and this had scarred them all to a lesser or greater extent. Here was military science fiction I could really sink my proverbial teeth into.

The first and second seasons of New Galactica, as well as the first few episodes of season three were not only some of the best sci-fi I’d ever seen on TV, but also one of the best dramas. Full stop. Again, I cannot say enough good things about the performances turned in by Olmos, Callis, Sackhoff and so many others. Bear McCreary’s score put it over the top. The discovery of Kobol and the hint that old gods where not who they seemed, the return of the Pegasus, and the interplay between Adama and Cain…wow. Intense. Like Samuel L. Jackson in the diner with Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction.

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Yeah, pretty much like that.

But once our intrepid heroes blasted their way off of New Caprica, season three took an immediate nosedive. They had gotten the show back on the road, back on the quest for Earth, but it seemed like the writers and showrunners had less of an idea of what to do next. The intro to the show boasted of the Cylons that ‘they have a plan,’ but it became apparent that the showrunners didn’t.

Season three felt like this strange mix of individual character studies that didn’t seem to support what had gone before. Previous to this, each episode had stacked on top of the last, adding layers to the story while adding new developments, new wrinkles. These new episodes, however, felt like you could pull them out of the pile and they wouldn’t be missed. In fact, ‘Hero’ was an episode that I think weakened the series as a whole.

The continuity began to unravel and characters began acting, well, inconsistent to say the least. Adama is willing to stand Cally up against a bulkhead and execute her if Chief Tyrol doesn’t comply to his demands because ‘he can’t have people deciding when to obey orders,’ but does nothing to Helo for disobeying orders when they could have shown Hugh the insidious diagram and destroyed the Borg Collective…er—I mean the Cylons, and saved the human race. And then Helo is promoted to CAG, even after this incident…and he’s not even a pilot.

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Baltar isn’t so sure about that. Baltar is not alone.

There were some bright spots along the way, to be sure. I’m a huge fan of Jan Espenson, and so the middle of the season got a bump with “The Passage” and “The Eye of Jupiter.” But then the ‘All Along The Watchtower’ moment happens at the end of season three that really looked like the show had gone off the rails, and I wasn’t sure it was coming back.

It took more than a year, but come back it did. There was a little improvement, but that’s when the ‘Final Five’ story arc came into play, and for me…the worst thing about the show, not counting the ending. I was this close to just calling it and watching something else. It takes a lot for this fanboy to want to pack up and go home, but I was done.

Then we got to the mutiny arc and, by Grapthar’s Hammer, we were back, baby! The excitement, the drama, the everything…I wanted to shout at the producers: “This is what I’m talking about! Every episode should be like this!

But after that, the show went back to floundering. They found ‘Earth’ only it wasn’t Earth, and we got a pretty weak explanation of how the Twelve Models came to be, even though it didn’t make much sense AND seemed to contradict what we knew about them already. Again, I must stress, Final Five = Worst Part of the Show. Somebody should have really gamed this out ahead of time. I understand writing yourself into a corner, but come on.

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Submitted for your approval…

By this time we all knew that Season Four would be New Galactica’s last. You couldn’t tell it by the way the story plodded on, however. The episode “Someone to Watch Over Me” did not feel like a series with only a few episodes left, but rather a series that still had three or four seasons still to come.

And the ending? Well, let’s just say that it would take the god-awful ending of LOST to eclipse New Galactica on my ‘Worst Ever’ list. It still remains in a solid #2 spot, however. From eschewing technology for no good reason, to Kara’s unexplained departure, and even Adama deciding to live alone for the rest of his life rather than with his son, there are so many horrid things here that a recounting of them all would be a blog post unto itself. It had some interesting action sequences, and *something* of a resolution to the ‘All Along the Watchtower’ craziness of before, but…well, yuck. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Yeah, Brah, I don’t what to make of that either.

So why do I bring this up? Is it just to bash a long-time fanboy disappointment? A bit, yeah. But really it’s to show the extreme ends of the pendulum here, and the lasting impression it made on me both coming and going.

Understand that I still use Bear McCreary’s music when I write. (If you ever need to write an epic combat scene, put “Prelude to War” on your playlist, trust me.) I follow the projects of cast members of this show as much as I do for Firefly, or Babylon 5, or Star Trek. I love to see cosplay of these characters, and enjoy fan theories on the connections between the original series and the new.

That’s still with me.

This show meant something to me. It still does to some degree. I only wish that more care and energy had been put into the latter half of the series to match the first. To me, New Galactica serves as both a shining example and a cautionary tale of what to do/not do in modern science fiction.

Like with people, you have to take the good with the bad here. And in that sense, boy howdy is New Galactica like the contradictory nature of the deeply flawed people it portrayed in the show.

Can I get a “So Say We All”?

 

 


Backwards Compatible – Part 7: Double Vision

[Note: It’s been almost two years since the last installment of this series. Since there’s been something of a resurgence of The Backwards Mask lately, I think it deserves a continuation. This series was meant to inform folks of the odd experience of writing my first novel, and this part explains some of the confusion surrounding it.]

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Fun Fact: Foreigner’s hit “Urgent” was an oft-repeated song on my writing playlist for this book.

To recap, I found myself with the opportunity to complete a trilogy that had been started by another author, Paul Brunette. This new book had to pull double duty as both the conclusion of a trilogy, wrapping up the loose ends set up in the first two books, as well as a standalone novel since years had passed since the previous volume in the series.

I finally had the dark counterpart for to challenge my antagonist, and the stage was set for a final showdown between the two them. Development of the manuscript continued as I finally began to find traction with each character. Many of them were inherited from the previous books, so it took a while for them to really speak to me, and for me to make them my own. Everything just sort of clicked.

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Full speed ahead, Colonel Sanders!

 

Some of the most intense writing sessions I’ve ever had occurred during this time. Understand, I’m a pretty slow writer. Maybe not GRRM slow, but I’m lucky to write 500-750 words in an hour when I’m really on it. Once during this time, I wrote more than 13,000 words, with minimal errors, in a session lasting only a little more than three hours. That goes to show how dialed in I was to the character and the stories.

It was so strong…(How strong was it?)

It was so strong…that a character I fully intended to kill off in an escape attempt utterly defied me. I tried several ways to kill this character and nothing worked. She survived until the end of the story. (I’ll leave you guessing which one it was.)

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A life of its own, indeed.

At this point, the manuscript was about 80% done, and it was pretty long already. Still, everything was coming together. I knew what needed to happen. Now I just needed to get it down on paper. And that’s when it happened…

Paul Brunette’s version of The Backwards Mask surfaced online, on a fan fiction site. Neither I nor Marc Miller had any clue that it existed. As far as we knew, it had been discussed before Game Designer’s Workshop closed its doors in the ’90s, but never written.

But there it was, staring us in the face. Worse, (for me, at least) it was complete. Suddenly all the work I had put into the project seemed in jeopardy. I was an outsider to the series, and my book wasn’t finished. Here was a manuscript, by the original author, that was done and ready to go. Further, I was afraid that fans of Traveller or the first two Brunette novels would see his version as the ‘real’ version, and mine as some sort of weird exercise in fan fiction, or relegated to ‘rogue’ status. You know, like Never Say Never Again, the Bond film that doesn’t ‘count.’

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Not exactly what I had mind…

Thankfully, Marc Miller didn’t kick me to the curb. Instead, he made the decision to make both versions of The Backwards Mask available to the public. So you see, that is why there are two versions of the book floating around out there.

Naturally, this has led some to ask me: Did you take any cues or inspiration from the Brunette version? The answer is simple – no.

I made it a point not to read any of the other version until months after I had already turned my finished manuscript into Marc Miller. Even then, I got a few chapters in before I decided to read no more. To this day, I’ve never read it to completion. Not because it’s bad, but because it is uniquely weird to me as a reader.

It took me about three years to write The Backwards Mask. If you’ve read this blog series from the beginning you can see that there were many obstacles I had to overcome as far as finding a direction, guessing at the previous author’s intent, and generally trying to deliver the best book I could. After all that, reading the other version was like looking into some Twilight Zone/alternate timeline where I hadn’t put in hours upon hours exploring the mindset of the characters, plotting out action sequences, or rewriting whole tracks of dialogue.

I never realized how much ownership I had put into my manuscript until I began reading someone else’s take on the material. It’s a kind of weirdness that only affects me, but I just couldn’t read it. I still can’t. Even though I didn’t create Coeur, Dropkick, Crowbar, and Deep Six, I still feel the connection I forged with them years ago. Writing the final lines of the last chapter was bittersweet. Coeur’s frame of mind closely mirrored mine as the story came to a close.

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“Then again, all good things must come to an end.”

So now there were two versions of The Backwards Mask slated for release, and we were on the countdown to launch. And next time, we’ll talk about my scramble to get everything ready for publication.

[Check out The Backwards Mask on Kindle.]


State of the Sector Address: 2017

My Fellow Sectorians,

Welcome to my first ever ‘State of the Sector’ address, where I share with you all the stuff going on at Sector M for the coming year. So without further ado, here’s what’s going on in 2017!

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First, all the stuff for you guys:

Sector M Fan Group: A longtime fan created a Facebook discussion group for fellow fans of my various geeky endeavors. It’s my hope to build a community over there where Sectorians can gather together to chat, get know one another, and share passions for fandom and geekiness, in general. If you want to join, just friend this guy (don’t worry, it’s just a proxy account), and you’ll be added to the group posthaste.

Website Revamp: I’m in the midst of a revamp of the Sector M website. This will include migrating all of the ‘merch table’ to the website proper. I also want to expand the available merch options out there. This one has a lot of moving parts, so I will announce more as things progress.

Goodreads: I’m on Goodreads.com now! I’ll try my best to keep you guys up-to-date on what I’m reading. Also, The Backwards Mask is on there, with a fair amount of ratings. If you’ve read my book, I urge you go over there and give it a rating and/or a review. Also, feel free to ‘friend’ me on there.

Now all of my author-y stuff:

Finish My Current Novel, Start The Next One: I’m about 70% of the way through the initial draft of my current novel. My goal is to have the draft completed by June 1st of this year (my birthday, as it happens). I’ll do edits and rewrites over the summer to hopefully have a presentable draft by Labor Day. Chances are, I’ll begin my next novel around that time as well. I’ve enjoyed my foray into fantasy, but my next book will be a return to science fiction.

Short Story Anthology: I’m collecting a number of my short fiction pieces into an anthology that I’m tentatively calling, Strange Reports from Sector M. More on this as it develops, but I hope to release this in July or August.

Blog Posts: In 2016 I was pretty inconsistent about when I released blog posts. I want to be more reliable about it, so my plan is to release at least one a month on the third Friday of each the month. There could well be more than that, but at least one per month. Mark your calendars.

Writing T-Shirts: This started this off as a sort of geeky in-joke on Instagram, but it seems to have caught on. I will be continuing this bit in 2017, though intermittently. While I own many, many geeky T-shirts, I did burn through quite a few of them this past year, so it won’t be every Sunday. But I will try to do it as often as I’m able. If you have a suggestion for a writing shirt, feel free to post it on Facebook, send me a tweet, or email me at: TheSectorM@gmail.com. I’ll be sure to give you a shout-out if I wind up picking one that you suggest.

How you can help:

If you’d like to support Sector M in its ongoing geekiness, you can follow me on any of these platforms:

Facebook

Twitter and Instagram: @TheSectorM

The Sector M Blog 

My YouTube Channel

You can also download my novel, The Backwards Mask, from Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com. If you do, please make sure to leave a review. And if you’ve read it already, please (pretty please with a cherry on top) leave a review. That is the best thing you can do to help me as an author.

 

I can’t thank you guys enough for your continued support! Full speed ahead for 2017!


Fanboy Review #6 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Before I get into the particulars of the movie, I wanted to say a few words about Carrie Fisher. Like so many, I was shocked to hear of her passing. First there was the news of her heart attack, then her death, AND THEN her mother’s death. I can only imagine what the family is going through right now, and my heart goes out to them.

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To me, she’s royalty.

Of course, growing up with Star Wars I had a huge crush on Princess Leia. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and it actually wasn’t her slave-girl outfit that did it for me. The moment that I think I truly fell in love with Princess Leia is when she removed her helmet after thawing Han out of the carbonite. “Someone who loves you,” she said, and there were anime-style hearts in my eyes. And if that didn’t really drive it home, the moment when she turns the tables on Han on Endor, stealing his own line of “I know” just before she zaps a Stormtrooper cemented in my mind that she was no wilting daisy. True, she was the damsel in distress in Episode IV, but her sass and overall attitude showed us that she was anything but the standard-issue screen heroine of the day. Bear in mind that is was 1977, a time when the changing role of women in fiction, particularly science fiction, wasn’t even a conversation we were having as a society.

But fan worship aside, I respected Carrie Fisher for her abilities as a writer, and for her outspoken stances on mental health and substance abuse. Unfortunately (for me, at least), in all the sci-fi conventions and events that I’ve attended over the years, I never had the privilege of meeting her. From what I hear, she was quite a lady. And though Leia Organa may be the role she is remembered for the most, I appreciate the real person who brought her to life, and the lasting impact her work has had on the world. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.

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Now, to the review. Roll the standard spoiler warning:

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

The first of what could be an endless series of standalone Star Wars movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theatres a couple of weeks ago. In that time, it’s made over $650 million worldwide. With the original extended universe cannon gone, Rogue One steps up to fill the gap of how the Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans. With a new cast of characters, we embark upon the first of the non-episodic Star War stories.

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The ‘One’ and only. Trust me.

First Impressions:  Despite my damaged-but-still-intact love of the franchise, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. It felt unnecessary, like an obvious attempt by Disney to milk their purchase of its revenue potential. The trailers didn’t do much to change that idea. Still, it is a return to the era of Star Wars that I love the best, so it’s not like I wasn’t going to see it. (Let’s be real here.) I liked but didn’t love The Force Awakens, so let’s see how it goes.

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LIKE. A. BOSS!

What I Liked:

DARTH FRIGGIN’ VADER! I thought he really was going to be a minor cameo in the movie, but Great Scott…that end corridor scene. Why do people fear Darth Vader? This is why. Plus, it also seems to give us an answer to why Vader is so angry when he first boards the Tantive IV. He’s calm and collected the rest of the time, but I now see why he wants to ‘tear the ship apart’ when he finally catches up to it.

– The Battle of Scarif. If you’ve read my sci-fi, you know I’m a sucker for a ground battle going on while a gigantic space battle rages overhead. We got that in Return of the Jedi, and the climactic battle sequence here is pretty much everything I could have hoped for, and more.  This definitely puts the ‘wars’ back in ‘Star Wars.’

– Perhaps a better name for the movie should be ‘Suicide Squad.’  The movie pulls no punches. I had thought that perhaps our band of misfits might be return for a sequel, but that will not be the case. One of the problems with an epic story like Star Wars is that the death of a major character will be rare. For a one-time cast, each of our intrepid heroes steps up, does their job, and goes down like a boss. When the bill came due for Imwe and Malbus, I genuinely teared up. I am one with the force, and the force is with me. I am one with the force, and the force is with me.

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– Seeing Biggs and the Red and Yellow squadron leaders back in action through unused footage from Star Wars. Now we know why there was a vacancy for Luke in the form of Red-5, and why there was no Blue Squadron attacking the Death Star around Yavin. Plus, seeing some minor characters like General Jan Dodonna  and Mon Mothma recast so that they can still be a part of story was cool as well. And that leads me to my next point…

– CGI Characters. This is perhaps my most divisive opinion on the film. Bringing characters back to life was handled pretty well and with respect, I thought. When I first saw Governor Tarkin, I thought he would be a brief cameo. Nope. He plays more of a part in the story than I would have thought. While we’re not quite there yet with the technology, we’re still better than we were with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. I do wish the voice actor for some of Tarkin’s lines had stayed more with Cushing’s sharp British delivery, but that we got as much as we did was great. CGI Leia was a bit less impressive, but hearing Carrie Fisher say “Hope” was moving, especially now.

– The Score. John Williams didn’t do the soundtrack for this movie, but Michael Giacchino does a pretty good job at capturing Williams’ trademark Star Wars style. I do wish the main theme had been used a bit more, though. It’s not just for Luke!

– Expansion of the New Lore. From the Guardians of the Whills, to reaffirming Kyber crystals while establishing that this is what powered the Death Star’s planet killer, this story does a lot to fill in the gaps of the continuity, particularly since the old lore is dead, dead, dead.

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Cool shot. Too bad it’s ‘Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.’

What I Didn’t Like:

– The TRAILER. Part of the reason I wasn’t excited about the movie was because of the trailers leading up to it. It felt like one big warning that Jyn might somehow betray the Rebellion and join the Empire, that she should remain true to herself no matter what came her way. Well, almost none of the footage or lines from the movie trailer made it into the final movie. Jyn’s dramatic turn in an Imperial uniform while the lights in the corridor go up? Nope. Any hint of her joining the Empire? Nope. Cassian and Jyn on the beach fighting AT-ATs? Nope. Vader talking with Krennic on the Death Star? Nope. Jyn’s whimsical line of “It’s a rebellion. I rebelled”? Nowhere to be found. I understand that footage can be cut different ways to dramatically change its meaning, but the footage they used is not even in the movie. Not just a scene here or there, but a sizeable chunks of what was shown just isn’t there. It’s too bad, because I enjoyed the movie that I got a whole lot more than the movie the trailer previewed.

– No Title Crawl. Yeah, I know that it’s not part of the trilogies, but I still missed it. The slow scroll of words while the Star Wars theme blasts is an essential part of getting me hyped for what’s to come. It wasn’t there at all, and its absence was ringing.

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Yaaaaas!

– The Names. Aside from Krennic, Jyn and Galen, I had a hard time remembering the names of the characters. Maybe it’s just how long the Star Wars universe has been around, and the memes that go with it, but the names sort of went in one ear and out the other. They also didn’t seem to use them in dialogue very much, so that part made it even harder to catch them. If you don’t know a character’s name, I think it’s a little harder to sink your teeth into them, figuratively speaking.

– The Beginning of the Film. It felt slow and overly complicated. To be fair, there were a bunch of characters to introduce, but it seemed like a lot of explaining on a theme that we likely already know going in. We get to Jedha and things pick up, and then sort of fades again at Eadu. Scarif is pure joy and awesome, however.

– This is kind of a weird one, but important to me nonetheless: I know that having the Rebellion do shady and horrible stuff is a way to make it more realistic, but I like the clear dichotomy between the good guys and bad guys in this franchise. I generally prefer more morally ambiguous stories…just not in Star Wars. It’s for all the same reasons why the ‘Section 31’ episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 don’t work for me. Yeah, that’s great for another sci-fi property, but keep it out of this one.

– A Nerdy Nitpick: I realize that Diego Luna was using his normal speaking voice in his portrayal of Cassian Andor. While he is from Mexico, his accent came off as French (which struck me as on-the-nose considering he’s in the resistance against a jack-booted fascist regime). We’ve never had much variance of accents in Star Wars, just the occasional British accent, so that was a little distracting from his performance.

– A REALLY Nerdy Nitpick: Galen’s farm at the beginning bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Owen’s farm on Tattooine. The equipment, the interiors, even the layout all have a similar look. The thing is, Uncle Owen wasn’t into growing crops — he was a moisture farmer. Tatooine has so little moisture that a whole industry had to spring up around coaxing moisture from the air and turning it into usable drinking water. The planet Lah’mu, however, is wet. Really wet. So wet that Krennic walks through a puddle to get to it and it’s sprinkling while they are talking. So what kind of farming was Galen doing?

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Questions you have. Resolution to them we have not.

Unresolved Questions:

If anything, Rogue One does a pretty good job of tying up loose ends, especially with its rather Shakespearean ending. If Galen thought that the Empire would never find the hidden weakness he installed, why was it found so easily in A New Hope, leading to Tarkin’s “moment of triumph” speech? Also, why would Leia even pretend to be on an ambassadorial mission when it was clear that she had just been at Scarif? Vader would be like, “Dude, I saw you take off from that Mon Calamari ship like 30 minutes ago.” Deny it to the end, I guess. And would Leia be surprised that Darth Vader was on her tail when she says, “Only you would be so bold.” Or was that, again, for some sort of deniability?

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So what’s your point, Matt?

Conclusions:  I realize that it might be hard to know whether or not I liked this film based on what I stated above. I like this movie, I really, really do. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was far better than any one-off film had any right to be. Believe it or not, it reignited my love for the franchise far more than did last year’s The Force Awakens. While I still worry that the anthology stories may overstay their welcome in the future, this was a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe, and a pleasant surprise to this very jaded and cautious fan.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Garden of the Gods: An Interview with Author Stephen J. Stirling

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen J. Stirling about his latest novel, Garden of the Gods. I was lucky enough to read it early and found it to be an concise and poignant thriller. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes what I call ‘introspective action.’ That is, the kind of book that is action-packed, but keeps you pondering its message and themes for days afterward.

This is something of a first on this blog, but it has given me the idea on having other authors on to talk about their work. For now, though, let’s talk to the man himself about Garden of the Gods!

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Hello, Stephen. We’re so glad to have you on Sector M! I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with another author about their methods and body of work. So, if you’re ready, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Thank you for having me! I always enjoy my chats with the leadership of Sector M and our glimpses into the future.

Let’s talk about your latest book, Garden of the Gods. Without giving too much away for readers, what can you tell us about the story and your influences for it?

The story itself revolves around a Native American tribe in the northeast Arizona desert. But Garden is largely a statement about worship—any worship—how it enriches our lives and what belief for each of us is really all about. The fact that we live in an age that needs religion so badly was the driving force behind writing this story.

I remember that Alan Moore used to say that the plot of a story is wholly different from what it’s about, meaning the themes, allegory, morals, and all that good stuff. So, what is Garden of the Gods about?

Well, Garden of the Gods is about Native Americans, their rich heritage, their connection with the past, and their hope for the future. . . (and it is also about monsters). But to call it a simple action/adventure would do the story a disservice. The story’s subplot proves that every resolution within this book was motivated by faith, or the lack of it.

The book is a period piece, in more than one sense of the term. What kind of research and preparation did you do about the time period, the various species you include, and native tribes when writing it?

The American southwest is a treasure of unique people and, as of yet, not wholly discovered zoological life. It is a human and animal ecosystem in constant flux, breathing and pulsating with the drama of life. Writing is a funny thing. You begin researching one topic, and end up somewhere entirely different. The Native American people against the backdrop of wartime America was where I tried to focus my research—I wanted to do them and their heritage justice.

When you are writing a book, what is your method? Are you more of a ‘planner,’ who outlines everything in great detail ahead of time, or are you more of a ‘gardener,’ who throws characters into a situation and lets it develop organically without preconceived notions of the outcome? Where you do you fall in that continuum, do you think?

This question is very important, and my answer is—yes. You think you’re one kind of writer who has all the characters lined up and ready to do what they’re told, and suddenly they turn on you. They come out fighting and you’re left to clean up their messes. I guess you could say I fall somewhere in between the two methods.

Let’s talk about your main character, Matt Hayden. He strikes me as being cut from the same cloth as many two-fisted pulp-era adventurers, like Allan Quartermaine and Indiana Jones, and perhaps even a hint of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. What were your influences and thoughts when creating your leading man?

Hayden is a hero cut from whole cloth, at the same time with a huge wrinkle broadening him into a sympathetic strength that is instantly likable. I did craft him between literature’s Allan Quartermaine and living legend Bring Em’ Back Alive Frank Buck, and yet the combination makes him unique among American characters.

And what about the secondary and/or support characters? What were their roles when placing them into the overall ensemble?

Read the book carefully and you’ll discover that every character has a religious angle. Every character worships something. Every character (even “non-believers”) believes in something. Every character has to fight for something, and every character has to abandon something in the process.

The Nyah Gwaheh, the armored bear, has a very complex role in the story. In some ways it serves as the primary antagonist, but it’s clear that it has a deeper, more symbolic role to play within the narrative. What sort of metaphor does it represent?

The Nyah Gwaheh is a living parable of religious value and the things that we worship, whether we know it or not. He is the driving force of the book.

Any chance or thoughts on a sequel? No pressure…

Oh good, because I don’t see a sequel in the future. I think I’ll leave the characters to their own devices for a while.

This last question is pretty free-form. What would you like the readers out there to know about your book? Anything you like. Here, I’ll hand you the proverbial megaphone.

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Well thank you! I’ve never used a proverbial megaphone before. I’d like to leave you by saying I hope others will find as much joy in reading this book as I found in writing it; and if they find an introspective moment—or two—to contemplate their own spirituality I will have accomplished even more.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat, Stephen! It’s been a rare pleasure.

The pleasure is mine! Thank you for your interest in my project and your insightful questions. Talking with you has been a rare treat.

Take care now, and don’t be a stranger!

 

There you have it, folks – right from the source himself. Garden of the Gods is on bookshelves now at Deseret Book stores. It’s also available in print or digital format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.

CHECK. IT. OUT.


My (Most Recent) Trip to the National Museum of the Pacific War

Down in the south Texas hill country, situated between vast open green fields and numerous vineyards, sits the picturesque town of Fredricksburg. Many of the buildings are built of white stone flecked with streaks of orange. The people are friendly, and the whole place just has a good vibe to it, with rows of antique shops, restaurants, and boutiques along the main strip. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend stopping over there.

Fredricksburg also has the distinction of being the hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II.  In fact, there’s a large bronze statue of him right next to the old hotel where he grew up, which is now the Nimitz museum. Just look for the distinctive ‘steamboat’ structure off the main street – you can’t miss it.

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The man himself.

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The Old Nimitz Hotel (Now the Admiral Nimitz Museum).

If you circle that block, you’ll also find that the town is home to the National Museum of the Pacific War. The place is enormous. It contains hundreds of displays and exhibits, models of ships, uniforms, presentations, and mini-featurettes. It starts with the roots of the conflict between China and Japan, and then takes you all the way through the Pacific War, from Pearl Harbor to the U.S.S. Missouri . Every major engagement and landing is covered here, and in pretty extensive depth. If you tried to read every panel and display, it would take you days to get through it all. Believe me, I’ve tried.

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Just around the corner.

Full disclosure: This latest outing to the museum is my fourth trip there. Each time I go, something new resonates with me. The last time I went was when my son was two. The thing that moved me the most then was the famous “Bloody Saturday” photo of a baby crying amid the ruins of a bombed out train station in Shanghai. It’s still a powerful photo, and indeed the entire museum is a moving experience. It’s hard to look at the dizzying scope of the conflict, along with the countless examples of courage and valor, and the loss of so many lives, and not feel something.

Case and point:  Just after the presentation about Pearl Harbor, there is a little alcove that contains a rusty metal hatch. There is a noticeable black stain across the middle of it. Above those black lines is an egg-shaped hole cut into the metal.

At first, it might seem an odd artifact – that is until you realize that it is a hatch from U.S.S. Arizona. The black line is where the oil floated at the waterline. The hole was cut by Navy divers to see if there any survivors in the compartment. Powerful stuff. Just seeing it is enough to make me tear up.

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Every. Time.

We see it all in black-and-white photos and newsreels, but the time that has passed disconnects us from it. This one piece of rusted metal has a way of bringing me back to one of the darkest days in U.S. naval history.

I hasten to add that, though the museum does present the war from the USA’s point of view, it does not balk at showing the devastation and loss that Japan endured. There’s always the temptation to downplay that aspect of the war, but the museum does not. When a warship went down in the Pacific, several hundred people died, regardless of which flag it was flying, hundreds or thousands at a time.

Horrific.

In fact, on this trip the image that struck me the most was a photo of two dead Japanese soldiers washed up on the shore Guadalcanal. Both were half-buried in the tide, and looked painfully young. I can’t imagine they were older than 18 or 19. I won’t display it here, but you can find it easily enough on Google.

Now I’m not trying to diminish the impact of those photos of dead American soldiers, such as those taken from the Bataan Death March, just simply reflecting that wars have a cost on both sides. Every one of those boys that didn’t go home left a hole in someone’s life. A mother, a father, wife, son, daughter – you name it. You don’t have to go much farther than the exhibit about the five Sullivan brothers aboard the U.S.S. Juneau to see what I mean.

But, as an anodyne to these feelings of loss and pain, there is one other feature of the grounds that is a ‘must see’ as far as I’m concerned. Just behind the Nimitz museum, there is a Japanese peace garden, a gift to from a group of retired Japanese admirals.

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May peace endure.

It is absolutely stunning. There’s a koi pond, with a flowing water course that winds around the periphery to a replica of Admiral Togo’s study. In the middle of the garden there is a zen garden made of raked white stone.  It’s…pretty sublime standing there, a place of tranquility and introspection.

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Profound.

If you’re ever at the museum and things get just a little too intense, stepping into the garden is a good way to reaffirm the beauty that people can create, even between those who were former enemies. I always like to end a tour of the museum with a stop here. Just my personal preference.  It’s the cleansing breath that brings you back to center.

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Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Again, if you’re ever in the area, I can’t say enough good things about Fredericksburg and the Pacific War Museum.  I hope that you find it as illuminating, emotional, and powerful as I have.

But don’t take my word for it…