23 November 2014

FWS Topics: Orbital Bombardment

FINALLY! FWS is updated! It has been said that outer space is the ultimate high ground for military engagements, and if we examine orbital space-based weapon platforms seen in sci-fi, it seems that our future will include orbital space as a future battleground. Currently, orbital space is used by military organizations and intelligence services for all manner of satellites that watch and listen. But, could orbital space be militarized? Could we have orbital artillery as predicted by science fiction and the cancelled SDI program? In this blogpost of FWS, we will be discussing orbital artillery and orbital bombardment.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and Space-Based Weaponry
The idea of the militarization of outer space was a real fear in the heady days of the Space Race between the USA and USSR. The Soviets had put up military space stations and a few of them were armed with an 23mm cannon. There was also worry that the arms race would continue into the void of outer space with orbital nuclear missile platforms. In 1967, the United Nations passed the Outer Space Treaty that established legal frameworks on the ownership of celestial bodies, like Luna and Mars. One of the elements of the treaty was preventing orbital weapon platforms that bore nuclear weapons and othe r WMDs. This treaty shaped the research on orbital weapon systems.

The Types of Orbital Artillery

Directed Energy
One of the most common type of orbital bombardment/artillery is directed energy beams that can be used more like knife than an club or even a shower of directed energy death-laser-beams that tear through the planetary surface. Shooting freaking laser beams on the surface of Luna is much easier than shooting them down to Earth or Mars, due to the atmosphere. Any military-grade lethal DE beam would have to be powerful enough to punch through the atmosphere and hit the target with enough energy to be lethal. It is unlikely that lasers will be the orbital DEW system of choice, instead, it is likely that particle beam DEWs would fulfill that role. The use of DE is common in science fiction "kill satellites" as seen in works like Akira.

Kinetic Projectiles or "Rods from God"

Unlike orbiting nuclear weapons, kinetic projectiles are legal under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (as well as space-based lasers) and instead of those dirty nuclear weapons, these rods from god are able to delivery some serious punch without the nasty after effects of nukes. If we examine the USAF's proposed  kinetic bombardment system, these six meter long tungsten rods impacted the surface of the Earth with the road going at MACH 10 (7,700 MPH). The impact of the rob was equal to between 10 and 120 tons of TNT, less than the 2,000 tons of TNT that the Fat Man and Little Boy Atomic bombs produced when dropped on Japan. Unlike long-range bombers like the B-52 and B-1, the tungsten rods at able to reach their Earth-based target at between 10-15 minutes, and are extremely difficult to intercept like ICBMs or bombers. While this form of orbital artillery is not as effective as nuclear weapons, they can be used in more of combat supporting role and even pre-invasion artillery softening up operations, along with being a effective "bunker buster" system. The data for this section, comes from the Game Theory video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rx5XyspHldk  

Reentry Vehicle
On current ICBMs, re-entry vehicles are used to delivery the nuclear payload safety through the atmosphere and blow the holy jesus out of your enemy. This could be another way to delivery orbital artillery rather than kinetic rods, especially at longer ranges than just orbital space. Reentry vehicles could also pack more countermeasures than just speed to defend themselves. While the RV would be good method of delivering nuclear weapons and other WMDs, they would make for a poor orbital artillery method.
Controlled Meteors
From the Centauri mass driver bombardment of Narn to the Fithp "foot" being shot into the Indian Ocean by rocket motors, meteors have been an excellent form of orbital bombardment, and the oldest...after all, humans are only around due to an meteor strike. Some science fiction works, like Babylon 5 and Starblazers space fleets use controlled meteors and asteroids as a form of orbital bombardment. However, this comes with certain risks...any space rock too big, and you could completely wipe out all life on the planet along with the ecosystem...unless that is your goal, then have at it, and bombing into extinction!

The Dangers of Orbital Artillery/Bombardment
There is nothing more devastating to soldiers than when supporting artillery from field guns to CAS goes wrong. Despite the advancement in battlefield technology, artillery fire can go horribly wrong, and your own forces pay the price. That is the danger today, and that will be a danger tomorrow. Even in video games, nothing is worse than calling down a strike and it wiping out friendly forces. If and when orbital based weaponry becomes a reality, the risk of troops calling down artillery could go horribly wrong, and given the power of rods-from-god, a miscalculation by the director, and an entire city or taskforce could be wiped out. Then there is another risk: overuse. Some orbital bombardment systems have been projected in science fiction as pinpoint laser DE beams able to slice-and-dice enemy tanks and infantry formations. However, the reality is that kinetic bombardment systems would be very powerful, and their overuse or misuse could bring about massive destruction and even nuclear winter conditions. This applies more so to the use of asteroids and meteors as a form of kinetic bombardment, too much and you ruin the planetary ecosystem, and affect global climate change.

Defense Against Orbital Weapon Platforms
Oddly, most military organizations and weapons manufacturers have already put weapon systems into place to counter satellites and the possibility of orbital based weapon platforms. The anti-satellite missile that can be deployed from strike fighters like the American F-15 Eagle, or land based launcher systems, or even submarines/naval vessels. These kinetic-kill warheads are fitted to small multi-stage rockets have proven effective against satellites, and could be effective against orbital weapons platforms as well. While an orbital weapon system could be camouflaged as something else, the moment it began firing, the game would be up, and ASAT weapon systems would be utilized. Of course, one way around this could be the assumed role of the X-37B USAF drone-shuttle: an mobile launcher system based around an space plane design. In the end, one of the best defenses against orbital based weapon platforms is wiping out their command & control system back here on Earth. Whether by direct action, like we saw in Call of Duty: GHOSTS or an EMP blast, any would be effective in taking out one method of controlling orbital weapon platforms.

Real-World Examples of Orbital Weapon System

The THOR Project (USA 1950's-today)
Boeing in the 1950's became working on a kinetic bombardment system called THOR. The idea was to have an orbital artillery system that could not provoke a nuclear exchange, and THOR later would conform to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The heart of THOR was long tungsten rods that were the size of telephone poles and could delivery a punch without the risks of nuclear or conventional explosives. Even today, the US Air Force has been continuing the work on THOR as late as 2003. While Project THOR is technical possible, there are challenges with controlling the rod through atmospheric reentry, the cost of putting the system in space, the political heat for having orbital weapons system, and lastly, maintenance. A massive military orbital weapons system would need maintenance, and with the Space Shuttle fleet gone, it would require something like what was seen in COD: GHOSTS to keep the system running. 

Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (USSR 1968-1983)
Leaving it to the Soviets...their space-based weapon system was known as the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, and basically was putting nukes into space that would be waiting for the order to hit America. Lovely. Th heart of the plan was to put ICBMs into low-orbit, and if the call ever came, the missiles could avoid NORAD and could cut down on flight times, hitting the USA before they could launch their nukes. Of course, the plan is banned under the Outer Space Treaty and the SALT II treaty. While the plan was never carried out, it did lead to Soviet rocket developments, and the entire program was scrapped in 1983.

The Rumored X-37B Space Drone Orbital Weapon Delivery System
For years, there have been rumors of a "secret" space program with their own Space Shuttles and even a space station. In 1999, NASA began the X-37 robotic mini-shuttle program, and in 2004 the USAF took over the project, and began flying the X-37B mini-shuttles on long-term missions for reasons unknown. Recently, X-37B OTV-2 spent 469 days in space, also for reasons unknown. There are some that believe that the X-37B robotic space shuttle is an delivery system for orbital weaponry or an orbital anti-satellite weapons platform that could be using kinetic-based weaponry or even a laser to knock out or fry hostile satellites.  


The 3rd Reich "Sun-Gun"
After the defeat of the 3rd Reich in 1945, the allies began to understand the depth of the scientific knowledge of the Nazis and how much they were pushing the envelope of technology. One of those projects was an orbital weapon system called "Soonengewehr". The Sun-Gun called for a massive 100 meter wide mirror that could focus the sun's light into a directed energy beam that could target any portion of the Earth. This would have orbited at 8,200 kilometers above the Earth, and would have been constructed into portions by the stillborn Nazi space program. The sun-gun would have been manned and possible used Nazi space stations to help construction and maintenance. The Sun-Gun was seen as a tool for 3rd Reich domination of the Earth and a way to keep themselves in power for a 1,000 years. Of course, the allies began winning the war, and after Operation: PAPERCLIP, the Americans felt that the Sun-Gun would have never worked.

The Role of Orbital Artillery/Bombardment in Future Warfare
If humanity is able to escape to the stars and construct off-world colonies and fleets of combat spaceships to protect them, orbital bombardment will be a factor. If there is a armed contest over a settled world, the invading force will need to support the planetary invasion force going dirt-side. While it is likely that any invasion force would carry means of heavy weapons support, the invaders would need time to get the cannons from star-side to dirt-side, and time to setup the field artillery along with any aerocraft.
This is were the orbiting warship comes into play. Any planetary invasion would be first conducted via control of orbital space, much like air superiority. Once that condition has been met, the warships could soften up the planetary defenses via some form of orbital artillery. That could be kinetic rods-from-god or DE weaponry, but either way, the weaponry of the warship would be used in a similar manner to the US Navy using their battleships in World War II to shore bombard prior to an ambitious invasion force landing. After the planetary LZ is secure, and field artillery and CAS are being established, the orbiting warship could be setting up so-called "kill-satellites" to further support the ground forces. This Kill-Sats could be dual-role as well, supporting ground planetary operations with support fire and protecting the planet from any counter-strike.  

From the Fox Mulder Corner...
One of the most infamous video footage of UFOs (or something) in Earth orbit being engaged by some type of weapon systems came from Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery during STS-48 in September of 1991. Some believe that the amazing footage shows an Earth anti-UFO defense system being use, and missing the alien craft. Of course, NASA and others claim it is ice particles. Even before this, there were claims that the US maintains an orbital weapons system that was piggybacked on the old SDI program. Why does the US military maintain an secret orbital weaponry program. Aliens. Some believe that the US and other nations are fighting a secret war with an alien intelligence.

Orbital Bombardment and Science Fiction
As with many elements in Sci-Fi, EE "Doc" Smith did it first, and this includes orbital bombardment, but it would take the Cold War and the Space Race for science fiction to develop orbital bombardment that was more hard science based. Of course, human beings have been always seen and experienced the power of meteors, and this common human fear is linked to orbital bombardment. During the Cold War, the idea of orbital weapon systems and asteroids-as-weapons took shape with Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress from 1966. Given the popularity of that work, the idea of orbital bombardment entered more of the minds of sci-fi creators. It also helped that during the Arms Race and the Space Race, that Boeing was working on the rod-from-god Project: THOR.
During the 1980's, with the rise in science fiction and war gaming, and SDI; orbital bombardment became a hot topic. This fueled a number of examples in sci-fi, and one of the greatest lines fucking ever in a sci-fi film: I say we take-off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. In 1986's magnum opus, ALIENS, the idea of orbital bombardment was wrapped into one of the best lines of the one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, and that triggered a number of other sci-fi creators to include orbital weapon systems, including nuclear, into their stories and creations.
This was especially true of anime and manga, as seen in Gundam and Space Cruiser Yamato, and later, Bubblegum Crisis. Today, orbital bombardment is common in science fiction works, especially in the realm of video games. When video game technology improved in the 1990's, creators could place more complex elements graphically into the game, and one of those items was orbital bombardment. Today, you can see examples in games like HALO, Mass Effect, and of course, Call of Duty: GHOSTS.


Examples: 

The Attack on the Founder Homeworld from Star Trek: DS9

There are times when I respect the storylines and plots in Star Trek, and one that left an impression on me was the 3rd season 21st episode called "The Die is Cast". In the 1995 episode, the Cardassian and Romulan intelligence services unite for a clandestine mission to orbital bombard the homeworld of the Founders, and attempt to end the threat of the Dominion to the Alpha Quadrant once and for all. A small taskforce of top-of-the-line warships from both powers arrived in the Omarian Nebula, the location of the Founders' homeworld, and the seat of power of the Domination. Also, their intelligence indicates that the Founder homeworld is the main production site of the Jem'Hadar's life-giving Ketracel White.
It was hoped that this assault on the heart of the Dominion would produce its collapse, however, the Battle of the Omerian Nebula was the result. At first, the combined fleet was able to pound the homeworld with torpedoes and directed energy fire, it seemed too easy, and that was because the Founders learned of the plan, allowed to be carried forward, and setup a trap for the combined fleet. The Founders left their world, and allowed the fleet to destroy 30% of the planet's crust, and during this moment, 150 Jem'Hadar warships descended on small attack force. It was a slaughter, and wiped out the majority of these intelligence services power and influence, allowing the Founders to have an easier time subjugating the Cardassian Union and the Romulan Star Empire.

The Fithp Invasion of Earth from Footfall
One of my favorite sci-fi novels of all time is Footfall by the dream-team of Niven and Pournelle. The elephant-like alien race, the Fithp. The Fithp are a young race from Alpha Centarui that used technology and knowledge left by another species that shared their world. The aliens construct a interstellar vessel and spend nearly a hundred years traveling to Earth in cryo. The goal is conquest and subjugation. Throughout the book, the Fithp use in-orbit lasers and kinetic bombardment to soften up Earth for the invasion or just surrender. When humanity uses nuclear weapons at the site of the Fithp invasion in Kansas, the aliens responses with dropping a massive asteroid into the Indian Ocean, nearly wiping out India, and allowing for the aliens to control the bulk of Africa. Given the popularity of the novel and that Pournelle worked on Project THOR, Footfall would influence a new generation of sci-fi creators to include some of the concepts in the novel. If you have not read it, please do so...now.


The Covenant "Glassing" from the HALO Universe
It just has to be said...the Covenant are just dicks. It is not enough for them to destroy human colonies and kill everyone there, but then they have to go and burn the world black with ship-mounted plasma artillery. The massive plasma cannons on Covenant warships are altered to allow them to project plasma in linear beams that hit the surface of a planet with vastly intense heat, alter top soil to lechatelierite, a form of silica glass. It takes the aliens days to glass an UNSC colonial world. The world suffers global environmental damage that forever alters the planetary environment and leaves the atmosphere in a state of nuclear winter. Covenant glassing operations can be conducted from orbit or even endo-atmospherically. It is believed from some footage from the end of Reach, that the future UNSC has a slow method of reversing the effects of glassing.

The Zentraedi Holocaust from the ROBOTECH Universe
In the final battle in the First ROBOTECH War, the SDF-1, the UN Spacy Forces, and the rebel Zentraedi forces under Breetai all attempt to stand up against the invasion by the Zentraedi Central Fleet, and force of 4.8 million warships. Supreme Commander Dolza fully intends to wipe out humanity, the Earth, and the inflected rebel Zentaedi for good. During the battle, the central fleet pounds Earth with laser and particle beam fire that renders the surface of the planet a wasteland, killing billions. While the central fleet was destroyed, by the SDF-1, humanity was nearly wiped out. The Zentraedi Holocaust, as it was later called, killed over 5 billion humans, and altered the course of the species for all time. Only a few million survived, along with the off-world human service-members, and the civilians of Macross.

The USAF ODIN and the Federation's LOKI Space Platforms from Call of Duty: GHOSTS
While fans and players of the Call of Duty franchise were very unhappy with the online play of Ghosts, the campaign was rather solid, and had an original "Invasion USA" storyline that involved real-world orbital kinetic bombardment by hijacked USAF "roads from god" satellites by South American forces. The ODIN Space Platforms, or Orbital Defense Initiative were satellite launcher platforms that fired  six meter long tungsten rods from orbital with great accuracy. When the Federation took control of the ODIN space station, they bombarded main cities of the United States as a prelude to their massive invasion. Only through the brave actions of USAF personnel did the full might of ODIN was avoided.
To finally end the US, the Federation takes survives elements of the ODIN space station, and creates their own space-based weapon platform, LOKI. Unlike ODIN, LOKI could be controlled by a ground based operations center, the robds were smaller allowing for them to be used in a close  fire support role, and there were more platforms, allowing the Federation to carryout further offensive operations. During the apex of Ghosts, the USAF space warfare team, LCARUS, mounted an assault on the Federation LOKI space station, and turned the Federation's weapon against them, wiping out the ground-based control center, and the Federation naval force. LOKI was destroyed by the USAF LCARUS team. ODIN and LOKI may be one of the most accurate real-world examples of space-based weapons platforms in popular media.

The Centauri Mass Driver Bombardment of Narn from the B5 Universe

During the Narn-Centauri of 2259, the superior Centauri Republic gained the upper hand, and finally arrived at the homeworld of the Narn. When the Narn refused to surrender, the Centauri did not mount an invasion of the planet, but instead used retrofitted mass drivers on their Primus class battlecrusiers to propel asteroids. This form of planetary bombardment is illegal and ban by the League of Non-aligned Worlds, but te Centauri gave zero fucks, and did it anyway. For four days, the Centauri warships bombarded the surface of Narn, and finally, the Narn government gave in and surrendered to their former masters. Narn was already a world still scarred by the Centauri strip-mining efforts during their occupation, and the pounding from space didn't help. For over a year, Narn was a world under a nuclear winter, and it would take over ten years with the help of Minbari atmospheric processors to clean most of the air.

Here is the dialog from the episode:

Londo Mollari: Refa, any force attempting to invade Narn would be up to its neck in blood—its own!

Lord Refa: We have no intention of invading Narn. Flattening it, yes—but invading it? We will be using mass drivers. By the time we are done their cities will be in ruins, we can move in at our leisure!


Londo Mollari: Mass drivers? They have been outlawed by every civilized planet!

Orbital Bombardment from DUST 514
In the EVE Online military sci-fi shooter, DUST 514, players can call down three types of orbital strikes as fire support and even turning the tide in the online gaming arena. The first type of orbital strike is the Pulse Laser Strike that fires a high damage laser beam, but it only covers a small area. Next is the EM strike that used electro-magnetic energy blast to strike an larger area, but is a non-lethal strike, bring down shields and electronics. Lastly, there is the Hybrid Strike that combines lasers and other times of ammunition that the most devastating. Of course, giving the offensive power of the orbital strike, it is harder to achieve battlefield reward.

The Lunar Catapult from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heinlein's famous 1966 book is often praised, cited, and still read today, and does have a kick ass title...but, I've never liked it. I've read it several times to see what the fuss is all about, but much like Starship Troopers, Heinlein seems to suck the excitement and joy out of the basic plot. However, I do respect some of the themes, ideas, and of course, TANSTAAFL. In 2075, Lunar colonies are populated by the unwanted of Terran society, and computer technician Manuel Garcia befriends the Lunar colony computer system, HOLMES-IV. Due to Earth's demands, and the limited resources on the Lunar colonies, the export of wheat from Luna to Terra must be stopped, or less the Lunar colonies will descent into madness and cannibalism. Lovely. The computer, Manuel, and others in the Lunar liberation movement use the catapult launcher system to throw large lunar rocks at unpopulated areas of Earth, resulting in kinetic bombardment terrorism. The effort is successful, and Lunar becomes a free republic. Some falsely believe that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to be the first real example of orbital bombardment in sci-fi, however E.E. "Doc" Smith takes that cake.   

The Xindi Probe Attack from Star Trek: Enterprise "The Expanse"
In the opening to the 3rd Season of much maligned Star Trek series Enterprise, the Xindi use an sphere-shaped weapons probe to test the design for their "super-weapon" that was designed to destroy the Earth. This one-man probe was a scaled-down prototype of the larger planet-killer particle cannon, and was designed to real-world test the weapon against conditions on Earth. While smaller, this particle beam sliced a canyon from Florida to Venezuela, killing seven million. This fuels the Federation and the Earth Military to rearm the NX-01, and sent on a hunt for the Xindi.


The USSD Particle Satellites from Bubblegun Crisis: 2033
The United Nations Strategic Space Defense Force of USSD is a branch of the United Nations has a network of  200 of these Kill-Sats, the VA-61 that are constructed around a particle beam emitter that has the destructive power to scar 100,000 miles. The role of the USDD is to enforce global peace, but some have been able to hack into the satillites, and use them for their own purposes, namely the evil megacorporation of Genom. Genom helped developed the "killer doll" Boomer project for the USSD, as a ground-to-space link to help target their kill-sats on more of a pinpoint target.

The Slug's Rod Attacks from Orphanage by Robet Buettner
In the excellent first novel by author Robert Buettner, Orphanage, the world had moved away from war, until the kinetic rods began dropping onto the Earth from Joviah moon of Ganymede. These aliens, called Slugs, are an advanced alien race very different from mankind, and their goal is to soften up Earth by using massive kinetic manned rods from Ganyeme. Earth quickly becomes a mess, cities are gone, economies are a wreck, and there are orphans...lots of orphans. Some rods are intercepted by armed space shuttles, but most get through. Earth is near collapse, and a despite plan is put into action, orphan-soldiers using old equipment and a advanced warship travel to Ganymede and assault the Slugs at their homebase. The destruction of the Earth by the alien rod attacks are nice touch and how it effects all levels of society. If you have not read Orphanage by Robert Buettner, than do so. This one great military science fiction book!





The Hammer of the Dawn from the Gears of War Universe
One of the more famous orbital bombardment systems in modern video games is the Hammer of the Dawn. The Dawn is an Imusion-powered laser DEW platform, developed by the COG during the Pendulum Wars, prior to the Locust invasion. During the Locust Wars, the Hammer of the Dawn became key to supporting COG missions and was used to destroy much of the surface of Sera. While the Dawn was extremely effective, it also took forever to boot up, and it was out of range more than it was in range. The games never make mention on how many Hammer of the Dawn satellites there are, but by the 3rd Gears of War game, the Dawn Kill-Sats were breaking down and taxed by overuse.

The AEGIS Orbital Defense Platforms from Babylon 5 "Endgame"
In the final showdown between the forces loyal to dickhead President Clark and B5's liberation force, Clark was losing and decided to turn the planetary defense grid of orbital weapons platforms called AEGIS back onto Earth. AEGIS platforms were equiped with missiles and heavy-duty particle cannons that could level wide areas of the surface. The liberation fleet destroys the AEGIS platforms and saves 40% of Earth's population from certain death. The AEGIS defense grid is rebuilt just in time for the Drakh attack on Earth in 2266.

The SOL Weapon Platforms from Akira
In the landmark manga and anime work Akira, there is an directed-energy orbital weapons platform called SOL or Satellite Orbital Laser. This large orbital weapons platform was developed by the Japanese for World War III. This was seen in the anime, and the American laser satellite called FLOYD was seen in the manga. During the end battle between Tetuso and the whole of Neo-Tokyo, the SOL is used for an attempted assassination of Tetuso, and the SOL first projects a aiming beam that focuses to an DEW beam of some power.  The SOL was destroyed by Tetuso in the Akira anime. Given the number of the SOL platform seen in Akira, 740, there is a possibility of more SOLs.

The Alien Relativistic Missiles from The Killing Star
One of the saddest books about alien contact is 1995's The Killing Star. A swarm of relativistic missiles from an alien intelligence hit Earth hard, killing the bulk of humanity in the first strike that rates as an extinction level event. Only because a few humans were off-world, could complete extinction be avoided, plus the aliens' took one male and one female human for their zoo, and the squid-like aliens tell the humans that once humanity was about to master relativistic travel, than they were a threat to them. The concepts in the novel are hard science fiction and this book rates among my favorites. It is such a sad story though.













Imperial of Man's "Exterminates" from WH40K
There several methods that are used by the Imperial Navy to attack and overwhelmingly assault the surface of a planet. This order is called "Exterminates", and the shipboard weaponry of the Imperial warship can be used, along with virus bombs and cyclonic tropodes. Few sci-fi works have ever shown the level of death assoicated with orbital bombardment than WH40K.  Exterminates is used through the various WH40K media, from books, video games, and the RPG. I became aware of orbital bombardment from the older PS2 WH40K video game Fire Warrior.

The Nerve Gas Orbital Modules from Moonraker
In the outlandish bat-shit crazy 1979 Bond film Moonraker, humanity was nearly wiped out by evildoer Drax and his nerve gas orbital bombardment. In the film, evil genius Drax of Drax Industries plans on wiping out all life on Terra by using nerve gas orbital module deployed from his space habitat station. Once human life is gone, Drax and his handpicked colonies will reseed Earth and Drax will become supreme ruler of the new human race. Of course, James Bond and Holly Goodhead take to an orange and white space shuttle and stop his evil plans. It is believed that Call of Duty: Ghosts used some of Moonraker for their own orbital space combat scenes. This marks on of the few times FWS as ever talked about James Bond, despite me being a huge fan of the Bond films.

HERCULES and PETER the GREAT from Meteor (1979)
In the much panned 1979 disaster film, a massive asteroid is headed to Earth that will produce an extinction level event, and there seems to be little to stop it. But wait! The United States and the USSR both have secret nuclear weapon platforms that completely volatile the Outer Space Treaty. In the film, Sean Connery was the developer of the American HERCULES weapon platform, he is brought on to help with redirecting the asteroid from hitting the Earth and killing everyone. The Soviets have the PETER the GREAT nuclear weapon platform.

10 November 2014

FWS Movie Review: INTERSTELLAR (2014)

The Earth is dying, and the future of mankind rests on a band of intrepid explorer-astronauts to locate an atmospheric standard world. Sound familiar? It is not just the plot of the latest Christoper Nolan film, but also one of the most recent newly-common tropes in science fiction, and works like Virtuality, Earth 2, After Earth, and Titan AE. As I've said before, science fiction is a collective social cathartic experience, and it seems that we, as a species, are concerned about the future of our little blue world. Much like the film that Interstellar is patterned after, 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film could become the standard by other future science fiction films are set by. Interstellar is directed by the peerless Christopher Nolan, with the script written by Nolan and his brother with help from noted theoretical physicist Kip Thorne. Given that and the subject matter, I went to see Interstellar late Saturday night after my first week of teaching at an local Dallas IMAX theater, It is my hope that this blogpost signals the return of FWS back to regular traffic. On with the SPOILER-FREE review. Oh, and I ended up seeing Interstellar and Big Hero 6 in the same day. Very different films.

The Spoiler-Free Plot

The future is not pretty, and Terra is not a happy world. Humans and all life on Earth are suffering through an environmental collapse that has left human civilization in an emergency agrarian society mode, with governments and society at large, just hanging on. Added to this that the bulk of the food crops are failing all around them, and human life on Earth is about to go out. Hope arrives with an unknown wormhole forming near Saturn that could allow humanity to explore the cosmos to locate some vacant real estate in another galaxy. The only thing is that the US government axed NASA years ago due to budget issues. However, some rouge underground scientists have been constructing an space vehicle called Endurance to travel through the looking glass, the bulk of the film starts, the major plot points are revealed along with other weirdness. What will the crew and LEGO robots of Endurance see on the other side of the wormhole?
A small team is assembled to investigate to several likely planetary locations that have been selected by previous 12 manned probes called Lazarus Mission. This colonial survey mission is led by former-NASA test pilot-turned-farmer Cooper, played by fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey. Cooper struggles with leaving his family, given the grim realities of interstellar travel and conditions on Terra. Yep, temporal dilation...and it is a real bitch. After the good FTL ship arrives into the other galaxy, events unfold that will change the course of human history.

The GOOD
Without a doubt, Interstellar is a beautiful film with an impressive cast, realistic designs, wonderful (and impressive) actors, outlandishly great effects, and haunting music by Hans Zimmer. At those levels, Interstellar is firing on all cylinders. The film also touches on our place in the universe, what and who we really are at our core. It also discusses the perils of FTL travel and the connection that love forges, especially between parents and their children. The dying Earth is much different that shown in other recent films, and future Earth of Interstellar appears more similar to Dust Bowl Oklahoma than Mad Max.
To add that layer, Nolan mines the PBS documentary on the Dust Bowl (which I watched), and uses it with great effectiveness. When it comes time for the time to travel millions of lightyears away, the distance and the nature of deep space is surprising realistic that allows the audience to travel emotional and mental to those very distance points of light, The two alien world environments seen on-screen are very well designed allowing the audience an instant and real alien vista to look upon that seems alien and hostile. I wish there more. The ship, Interstellar, and the Ranger landers are also done with real-science and real beauty. This is also applied to the oddball robot designs that appear to be out of the video game Minecraft, however they work on-screen and are impressive in an odd way. However, the greatest moment of the film comes when the Endurance enters the wormhole. It is an moment that needs to be experienced on an IMAX with the speakers pumping. Truly, one of the great moments in science fiction cinema. All-in-all, Interstellar is one hell of an visual/auditory feast that has a creepy air to it.

The BAD
If you notice what I said about the good of Interstellar, it was not the script or the overall story nor the dialog. Where Interstellar falls flat on its face, is the story, where it goes, and what the actors say between them. The scenes back on Earth are much better than once the action switches to the Endurance. Often I felt that the dialog fails to move the plot or the central ideas forward, and they often discuss other things in oddball ways. It also doesn't help that the music simply overpowers the dialog audio track, and drowns out the spoken word, especially at critical points. Then there is the editing. Not since that French Special Forces movie have I seen a jumpy mess of a film. Scenes snap at the pace of an caffeinated kitten, leaving the audience jumpy and felling like they fell through an wormhole. While this may work for a few scenes, it robs most scenes of any kind of gravity, and creates plot holes. While I did praise the music, it also made me very intense...

The UGLY
It is the end. I am so tired of film that go rouge and gets mind-fuckery weird at the very end. The connection for Interstellar to 2001: A Space Odyssey becomes more apparent when the end 15 minutes unfolds, and the story and film suffers. There was a better film under the bullshit that the Nolan brothers laid over the basic story. The film should have about the journey and the race to find another world, not a "ghost" or the role of gravity in space/time. Interstellar is a little like Chinese food. You could pick around the ingredients you don't like, but the dish is incomplete without it, even if you hate celery. I liked the hunt-for-another-world storyline and the father-daughter-in-a-dust-bowl situation, but there is there other parts that I cannot discuss in an spoiler-free review, and they drag down a much better move into the deep dark water, and murder it.  

The Bottom line on the film and Should You See Interstellar?
This film is getting wildly mixed reviews by professional critics and word-of-mouth, causing some to doubting a trip to the ole cinema. So, should you it? Yes. I think so. The power of the images coupled with elements of the story are worth the IMAX experience and your cash. However, at the end of this film experience while walking back to my Toyota, I came away with this: Interstellar is one part 2001: A Space Odyssey, another part, Field of Dreams, and another part Gravity, and it mostly doesn't work...it is like when your Hollandaise sauce breaks after you worked so hard to create it.


The Forever War/Interstellar Connection

While watching this space trek through the corn fields of the future, I could not help but wonder if we are seeing what The Forever War film might look like in Nolan's Interstellar. Both deal with aspects of the horror of FTL travel, how deep space alienates our space travelers from the bulk of humanity, and how this long strange trip alters human behavior. Honestly, some of the visuals should have saved for The Forever War movie...but, if this is what The Forever War movie will look like, we could be in for a real treat. 

02 November 2014

FWS News Feed: What the Frak is Up with FWS?!

 Before things get too crazy or out-of-hand, I wanted to inform the loyal readers and commenters of FWS about the future of the blog. Rest easy, FWS is not going anywhere...the work of exploring and explaining the world of Military Science Fiction will continue. However, I was just hired as an High School Social Studies teacher, and the leaving teacher is leaving with no lesson plans. I quite my hospital job of 12 years, and used my "week off" for designing lesson plans and games for three subject areas: World History, World Geography, and American History II. At the moment, I am building and designing an custom RISK game board about the Crusades. With some much of time devoted to getting my classroom up-to-speed and learning the ropes on a brand new jobs is leaving little time for FWS at the moment. My hope is to get a rhythm going, and work on FWS in the evenings and late weekend nights. We could see FWS move to monthly "big" blogposts and smaller ones throughout the month, I am hoping not. FWS is one of my great joys and I love to work on the blog...and if I ever win the lottery, FWS will become central to my life and work...however until then, I gotta pay the bills and eat. Two blogposts are in the pipe: the book review of the Chimera Vector and Orbital Artillery and Bombardment. Now, back to my RISK board.

Stay Frosty!
-William


29 October 2014

FWS News Feed: Terminator 5: Genisys...Oh Dear God.

I really want to believe that the news that broke about the 5th film of the Terminator  is fake, and someone out there is just fucking with us. But, alas, that does not seem to be so. The basic idea of a film chronicling the backstory of Kyle Reese and the T-800 being sent to 1984 to find Sarah Conner has been around since the late 1980's, and it was believed to have been the planned third Terminator film by James Cameron. The original cast would have been in the film, and it was believed to be planned around 1995. Yeah...that didn't happen. Instead, the 3rd film was complete and utter dogshit and the 4th was somewhat better, but now the studio is going to semi-reboot the Terminator universe. Fuck me. According to the Entertainment Weekly article, Sarah Conner will not be a hapless waitress, but an orphan living with an T-800 she calls "Pops". No shit. She has a Daddy T-800 that has been her protector since the age of 9. Fuck me..again. The T-800 trains Sarah Conner to be an antisocial warrior chick or something, and it seems that Kyle Reese will have his work cutout for him to create little John Conner. To top it all off, the title is going to be "Genisys". Genisys?! GENISYS! Oh, fuck you! That is an insult! It sounds like a bad stripper name who works the Tuesday lunch shift. This is the best that Hollywood could come up with? Why couldn't everyone leave this embattled franchises alone to die on its own? I can't...I just can't. At one time, Terminator was a grim dark vision of a robot apocalypse...but then the studio milked it for cash, and transformed Terminator into a comical whisper of its former self. If there are any time travelers out there, now is the time to stop this. Go back and prevent this abortion from taking shape. Do what Skynet could not...unwrite the future. For the sake of all humanity, warm up the ole Type-40 and stop this! Me? I'm going to pour some Jack-and-Coke and listen to the Spoony One's Betrayal Song. I weep for the future.