27 September 2011

FWS TV Review: TERRA NOVA

Terra Nova finally premiered last night, and FWS is here with the review. This one was done fast, so I fully apologize for the errors.

The Plot of Terra Nova

We finally have some answers to the questions, chief among them of why the massive time machine was opening portals omly to 85 million years ago and not a friendlier time period. From the very brief information presented on screen, Earth scientists opened a "fracture into time", while attempting another experiment...maybe FTL wormhole travel? A probe that looks straight out of Portal is send over with a beacon that could allow people in the present to find it...but they never did, making the portal opening to alternative universe, just one is set 85 millions years ago with Earth-like Dinosaurs. The world of 2149 is not happy place, massive overpopulation that restricts two-children per family, drying up oceans, nothing green...waitaminute, where have I heard of this before? Desperation causes Earth to invest in settling the past of this alternative Earth with the best and brightest of the dying Earth. The pilot orbits the Chicago-based Shannon family, three kids, the husband's a cop, and she's a doctor with a tons of specialities, when someone tells that they have an illegal kid, the Dad, Jim Shannon hits a few cops and is placed in a nasty prison for two years. During that two years, the Terra Nova project is heating up, and his wife as been selected to go on the "Tenth Pilgrimage". Suddenly, Jim breaks out, gets the third kid past impressive security and arrives in the rain forest...goodbye 2149. Yeah, it happens that fast.
The new colony site is lead by Nat Taylor (Planet of the Apes anyone?), the first man through the portal, and general all-around badass, and all is not well in paradise....there is a breakaway colony from the sixth pilgrimage, called the "sixers", similar to the Others from Lost, and then there are the deadly CGI dinosaurs.
When the Shannon arrives into the settlement the plot point switches to the teenager son of the Shannon clan, Malcolm, who is a serious asshole, and displays that at every turn with his mouth, and  by sneaking off with some damn teenagers to explore the jungle, swim, and drink moonshine. Along the way, Malcolm finds the local secret, strangle geometrical drawing that are older than the Terra Nova settlement. Lost anyone? Of course, the Sixers find their battery operated Jeep, steal the batteries and even them with no way out and night falling...and there is a rescue operation with all the main characters, and family fun with gunfire ensues.


The GOOD

Nat Taylor should drink Dos Equis 


Visually, Terra Nova is impressive, from 2149 to the Terra Nova settlement, the medical station, one can easily see where the millions went to: special effects, and location rental (certainly not actors).
The reaction of the Shannon family to their new surroundings was one of the better points, and how different the new world of Terra Nova was over 2149, especially when one considers career, education, and daily life, which all brought up during the pilot, and even the perials of using green technology (cold showers anyone?).  
The odd thing is, for all of the work on the Terra Nova settlement,the world of 2149 is much fleshed out and interesting than the Terra Nova settlement. With the plot element of two-children-limit is a good plot device, the characters (and actors) seem more genuine here than at the settlement, and even Obama being on the money in 2149. The CGI visuals of 2149 are right out of Blade Runner, Brazil,and Max Headroom (yes, I watched it in 1987, and I kept waiting for him on a billboard in 2149 pitching New Coke...serious lost opportunity), and were better than the future Earth scenes from Avatar.
In addition to the visuals, world of 2149, there are certain concepts that the writers hit a home run with the probe, the introduction of the sixers along the odd geometrical symbols on the rocks. One of my favorite little bits of Terra Nova was Taylor's dinosaur skull desk...what a conversation piece!








The BAD

Where to start? First off, Terra Nova samples more than a Beastie Boys song, but, unlike those sonic masterpieces, Terra Nova fails to draw anything original from their sampling of Earth 2, Lost, Sea Quest,Jurassic Park (book and movie), A Sound of Thunder, Avatar, The Land of the Lost. So, it pains me to say this, but most of the two hour pilot was bad...from the acting, the basic plot, the lack of imagination with futuristic technology, and the oddly bad CGI dinosaurs.
I grew especially tired of the pissy teenager-act from Malcolm Shannon, the protector-family man act of Jim Shannon, and the laissez faire attitude of the other kids when they were outside the wire with things running around that could make a quick meal of you.
But the real piece de resistance? The painfully recycled find-the-lost-kids-while-their-being-attacked-by- dinosaurs plot point, included is the horror flick standard of one chick running out of the armored vehicle and getting chewed up. Really? It that the best these writers could have come up with?
I also have to bitch about the guns and technology of Terra Nova, most of the 22nd century weapons are badly redressed real-steel firearms, the carbines seem to be traditional bullet-firing bullpups, but the magazines are in a "upright" position. There seems to be some sort of advanced less-lethal DEW systems, which is rare on-screen, but they are not explained enough for the audience (especially me).
One of the missed opportunities with character development was with Nat Taylor, in the pilot episode, he tells Jim Shannon that he was the first one through the portal, and for 180 days, he was on his own, until another team showed up (the portal machine sent them at the same moment, but they still arrived months apart...future story in the works?). I would have written Nat Taylor as an world renowned hunter, explorer, adventurer, like the first man to scale Olympus Mons, or the most interesting man in the future (or past?).


The UGLY

The sign worst sin of Terra Nova is the pacing of the entire show. In the pilot episode rushes the audience from 2149, skipping over massive plot holes like they're playing Pitfall, shoots them off the Terra Nova settlement, then it slows way down, revealing too much of the mysteries in the first epsiode of the show. As I said above, if this show is going to borrow from Lost than it should learn about revealing mysteries slowly, keeping the show interesting.




Will Terra Nova make it?

In a word, no. It's just too expensive, and its not breaking any new ground to attract the Lost/X-Files crowd to a firmly sci-fi show. I give it four to five episodes...hey FOX could always bring back Firefly for much cheaper.








23 September 2011

FWS: Armory- Personal Defense Weapons

At present, personal defense weapons (PDW), are replacing the traditional submachine guns in Counter-terrorism units, SWAT teams, and close protection units (Secret Service) on a global scale. The term "personal defense weapon" is muddy, and leads to different interpretations, some believe that PDW refers to weapons like the P90 and MP7 only, while others believe that it is a wide term, encompassing everything from pistols, to submachine guns, to the P90. Things are just as confusing when it comes to PDWs in sci-fi.
The first weapon to be called a "personal defense weapon" was the FN P90, while some historians believe that the US Army M-1 Carbine (.30 caliber) was the real first example of an PDW, because it replaced pistols for noncom officers, and allowed mortar crews, and paratroopers to defend themselves against threats that a pistol could not, while still being light and portable.

The Difference between PDW and SMG
9mm compared to 5.7mm
According to several sources, PDW and the good old submachine gun (SMG) are only separated by their ammunition. The SMG shoots common pistol ammunition like the 9mm, .45, .40 S&W, and even the rare 10mm, in contrast the current crop of PDW is armed with specially developed armor-piercing rounds that are normally just used in that specific gun, like the 5.7mm for the P90 and the  MP7's 4.6mm.
For example, the apex of the SMG world is the H&K MP5 that fires the uber-common 9x19mm NATO pistol round, that most current body armor stops, the FN P90, fires a specially designed high-velocity 5.7x28mm round that is designed to tear through body armor.
Recently, to capture more market share, the FN and H&K have developed high-capacity pistols that fire the small PDW rounds, like the FN Five-seveN, and the H&K P46 (if it is ever made).

The Death of the H&K MP5 and the Rise of the FN P90

The second world war opened military thinking to the use of SMGs, and by the 1980's, every military, SWAT teams, and action stars were using SMGs for counter-terrorism operations, VBSS, hostage rescue, and saving the day.
Despite the massive popularity of the SMGs like the patriarch H&K MP5,  are being replaced with PDWs like the FN P90, and "commando" short carbines, like the Colt M4 CQBR and the AKS-74U. The fall of the traditional pistol-chambering submachine guns was caused by the rise in body armor that pistol-ammunition cannot penetrate within a few shots. This is critical in the close-quarters combat role that most SMGs operate in, where life-and-death are separated by a few heartbeats.
While the PDW fires specially designed high-velocity ammunition that defeats body armors and hits the soft stuff in a controlled burst of about three rounds, taking out and killing the target. T
his video from Discovery Channel's Future Weapons, shows the difference between the old 9mm H&K MP5 and their new 4.6mm PDW, the H&K MP7:





PDWs...pistols, carbines, or next-gen SMGs?


The term "personal defense weapons" is filled with ambiguity, does it refer to the modern upgraded SMG concept that fires special ammunition, or to pistols, or even carbines? If we examine historically, pistols were the developed as personal defense weapons that were much shorter range than rifles, and typically were carried by officers, artillery, and horsemen. The best example of pistols being used as PDW was the pilot's special .38 revolvers.  This trend of pistol being used as PDWs continues today, if we look at pistols in the military, police, or even civilian life, they are used to defend yourself, and not a tool of offensive warfare, well, unless your Jack Bauer. The subject of pistols became more muddy when the development of fully automatic pistols, like the Glock 18 and Beretta 93R, which can also be concerned PDWs.
Then, there is the compact "shorty" or "commando" carbines, like the AKS-74U, the old CAR-15, and the M4 CQBR, which have been used by military personnel like a personal defense weapons over the 9mm pistol or .38 revolver, like the helicopter pilots during Vietnam, and today, after the 1993 Blackhawk Down incident. These commando carbines are also used by Special Forces units for CQC operations, like the killing of UBL or street-fighting in Mogadishu during Blackhawk Down. This allows these commando carbines to be extremely flexible at performing both defensive and offensive operations.
Then, we come down to weapons like the MP7 and P90, which are the very definition of the personal defense weapons;compact weapons that fire specially designed ammunition. But are these PDWs really just the continuation of the SMG concept for the next generation of firearms?
Bottom line as someone told me today at work, every weapon, even helmet or shovel, can be used defensively or offensively.
Now...where's my tomahawk? 


PDW in Science Fiction

The vast majority of sci-fi creators spend little or no time, effort, imagination, or creativity on their weapons. If I had a dollar for every time I read or saw a raygun or blaster, I'd be at the Porsche story ordering an 911 C4S! That brings up major problem to this lover-of-sci-fi-guns, and this blogpost. Do I count every use of the FN P90 in sci-fi as a PDW in sci-fi? Were the producers of Battlestar Galactica or Stargate SG1 intending for their futuristic and cool-looking P90's to be used as a personal defense weapon?
Is every raygun, phaser, and general pistol used by spacemen, explorers, or away missions personal defense weapons, or just were they just designed to look cool and futuristic? These are the questions I have dealing with when in comes to PDWs in science-fiction. So, below, I've compiled a list of guns being used in the role of personal defense weapons....just because a creator of sci-fi uses a P90 or MP7, does not mean its being used in a role as a PDW.



Examples of Real-Steel PDW 

M1A1 Carbine

Before the start of World War II, the US Army discovered a need for a "light rifle" that could be used by crew-served weapons, vehicles, and officers to defend themselves, possibly making this, the first purpose built defensive gun. The M1 Carbine had smaller .30 caliber bullet specially developed that allowed to hold 20 rounds, but had a lower lethality than the .30-06 of the M1 Garand, issues with .30 caliber round would pop up during the Korean War, but would remain in use until Vietnam. My grandfather carried one of these during the Pacific Campaign and Korean as an Army infantry officer.



H&K MP7

Seeing the end of their SMG workhorse, the MP5, H&K was not going to be undone by the likes of FN, so they developed their own PDW, the MP7. This pistol-like PDW fires the exclusive 4.6x30mm round that is similar in role and purpose to the FN 5.7x28mm bullet. Counter-terrorism units in the German Army have bought the MP7, along with some international SWAT teams, and (rumored), DEVGRU.



H&K MP5 PDW

The "K" or Kurz version of the MP5 9mm SMG was modified with a foregrip handle, and retitled a PDW in  1991. This became a favorite among close-protection units in the 1990's, until commando carbines and the FN P90.   



FN P90

In the late 1980's, NATO requested a replacement for the 9mm submachine guns, and this replacement was to be used tank crews, SOF units, and crew-served weapons. In 1990, the FN 5.7x28nn P90 PDW was introducted to the world, and sounded the death note for the traditional SMG. The P90 and its massive 50-round magazine of specially designed rounds  allow for vehicle crews, SWAT teams, and close protection guards to have a great deal of firepower at their hands without having to change magazines or even if they are left or right (shells inject from the bottom). The first time I'd heard of the FN P90 or the concept of PDWs was from an issue of Marvel's Punisher War Journal around 1989.  

Magpul PDR
This concept next-gen PDW from Magpul, called a personal defense rifle (PDR) is a futuristic bullpup that chambers the 5.56mm NATO round, it is another hybrid of the carbine and PDW. It does seem to borrow heavily from the FN P90 and H&K G36.


Beretta M93 Raffica

This fully-auto machine pistol based around the Beretta 92 series 9x19mm pistols was developed for military and police use. The raffica was a sales failure in the world of firearms, but is a favorite for Hong Hong shoot'em and shooter video games, like COD:MW2.






VBR PDW

This is a prototype pistol-like PDW that fires the unqiue 7.92x24mm round and borrows elements of the Beretta 92F and Glock pistols.







KAC PDW Concept

Knights Armament Company built their own PDW concept in 2006 based around the Colt M4 carbine, but being a full ten inches short, to allow users to be instantly familiar with the PDW. This eight-inch barreled PDW burls the line between PDW and commando carbine with its design being proximal to the M4, but having a custom designed body armor defeating 6x35mm bullet. The KAC PDW failed to be approved for wide US military usage, and is not going to be released to the general public.  



Examples of PDW in Sci-Fi


Star Trek: The Next Generation

Starfleet, per Mr. Phoenix, is an schizophrenic organization that attempts to combine defense with space exploration. Per this mandate, the weapons of Starfleet are designed to appear less "gun-like" than weapons used by the Klingons or even early NX-01 crews, to allow more relaxed and peaceful contact during away missions. This role was normally filled by the handheld Type-I phaser, and due to the micro-size of the Type-I phaser, it could be tucked into the uniform, becoming  a concealed PDW. Unlike other sci-fi shows that hinted at their PDWs, Star Trek presented the Type-I on-screen and in print as the personal defense weapon of ST:TNG. Okay, I really hate to say this, but the tiny Type-I phaser (sometimes referred to as "the cricket") used in the ST:TNG may be the best example of a sci-fi PDW

Battlestar Galactica (2003)

In the 2003 miniseries of Battlestar Galactica, when the Galactica arrives at Ra several of the crew and Leoben  carry an odd-looking PDW, that is actually an Seburo MN-23 developed for the Shirow Dominion: Conflict  This gun is never seen again in the series, and replaced with the FN P90, yet another PDW. So, the question begs itself, is the FN P90 in BSG being used as an PDW or just a cool-looking gun? If I was on the Galactica, I'd want a P90 for CQC. Even odder is the fact, that FN Five-Seven pistol is used as the main sidearm, which also could be concerned a PDW. Odd.  


Ghost in the Shell

The fictional firearms company of Masamune Shirow universe, Seburo , outfits most of the characters in Ghost in the Shell and Apple Seed special police units with rapid firing, small HV caliber PDWs...mainly the C25 5mm PDW. For many of us, Mr. Shirow was our introduction to the concept and usage of PDWs in sci-fi.





HALO\


In the HALO universe of 26th century, the UNSC uses the "C" variant of the Misriah Armory M6 12.7mm Magnum as a PDW. This is the stripped down verison without the 2x scope, and is mainly seen in HALO 2, HALO WARS, and HALO LEGENDS: Homecoming. The idea that a .50 caliber pistol is being used by normal humans as a PDW is nearly funny. I've fired a .50 caliber Desert Eagle, and I would not carry this into combat, despite the fact, that I use a Tiberius T8 paintball pistol (similar size). The 12.7mm round is massive, heavy, and wears down the shooter after only a few rounds. I would much rather have my SIG SAUER P229 .40 S&W than a Desert Eagle .50 caliber, unless I was facing an pissed off Elite.


Appleseed

Much like Section Nine in Ghost in the Shell, the ESWAT police force of Olympus, outfit themselves with Seburo made PDW-like weaponry that fires specially developed ammunition.   







Avatar
The Cellular Ammunition Rifle Base or CARB are the modular caseless firearm system of the RDA on Pandora and manufactured by Matanza Arms Corporation. Among the dozen or so verisons of the CARB is the PDW, which fires the same 6.2x35mm caseless round, but is fitted with a eight inch barrel. This is used by "inside the wire" personnel and crew-served vehicles (possibly the AMP suits.) The odd thing is, besides the blue people, the Avatar Wiki refers to this as "submachine gun".  



Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis

Jack O'Neil said this of the FN P90: "this is a weapon of war. It's made to kill your enemy." This weapon replaced the H&K MP5 to deal with the body armor that is worn by many of the aggressive species that SG1 and Atlantis personnel are forced to deal with. Since the SG1 and Atlantis personnel mount off-world expedition missions, similar to the away missions in Star Trek, the usage of the P90 could be in its role as a PDW. However, other times, the P90 is used on purely offensive combat operations, where a carbine would have been better.
First appearance of the P90 was the SG1 episode: The First Ones.


Gene Rhoddenberry's Andromeda

The personal weapon of choice for the Systems Commonwealth was the Force Lance, a small rod-like weapon that fires both defensive or offensive munitions, and can be extended to two meters and used as a melee weapon. Give the small size, portability, and limited range, coupled with interception munitions, its a good bet that the standard Force Lance are a futuristic PDW. During the Magog boarding of Andromda, Hunt gets to a arms locker, and seems to take a different Force Lance, this could be a more offensive model than a standard F-Lance.   


Enemy Mine (1985)

In this forgotten sci-fi classic of 1985, 21st century pilot played by Dennis Quaid fighting in an deep space war with the Dracs. During a fighter battle, he crash lands on a planet, and hunts a downed Drac pilot with his silver PPK, a great sci-fi example of pilot PDW, and one of the few I know.




Babylon 5

The PPG pistol of the Earth Alliance could be counted as an DEW PDW, it seems from the examples of the PPG being used in the series, could be counted as a defensive weapon.



17 September 2011

FWS Flash Fiction Empty Places: Part Two "Volunteering for Suicide "

We waited around for hours in the heat for the rest of the recruits, isolated from the rest of the market. I wondered if Zinc knew what I had done, and what these off-worlders would do when he showed up threatened them. Would they shoot him? God, I hoped so.


A man in a brown jumpsuit appeared and studied each one of us sitting against the mud-brick wall “Sandoval?!” He called out.

“Here” He motioned for me to follow him, with a guard followed close behind me into a building, it smelled strongly like cleaners. It was nice. The Foreign Service recruiter wore a mask, rubber gloves, and he didn’t shake my hand. When I repeated my desire to sign up the small thin off-worlder looked at me with genuine shock, as he scanned me with some type of portable medical device.

“You know what you’re signing up for, right?” I nodded and kept my fingerprint on the PDA. “Abaddon is not a nice place. You’re not a dusthead or nuts, right, dude?” I wasn’t even sure what ‘Abaddon’ was. I shook my head. Drugs, booze, fornication…none was a relief for me. I wanted closer not just an escape.

“Look,” I waved my hand to his comments, “what’s the deal here, are you for real?”

“About what?”

“Getting me off this shithole… forever.” He smiled and flashed a picture handing in the air; I jumped back, causing the guard to laugh.

“This is Elysium…” he clicked to green fields being pushed by gently winds. I’d never seen anything like it, but I wanted to be here. “And we are giving you forty acres and servant automaton.” He adjusted his mask and seemed to smile, but I couldn’t tell, “if you survive that is.”

I tried to look unimpressed, I’d been in my share of firefights, “You mean survive war you’re so on about?”

That got the recruiter, the smile dropped, and he switched off the projection of Elysium. “The war as to be over before you discharged out of the Foreign Service! Only then can you take up residence on Elysium!” He clarified strongly, but I was undeterred, I wanted off and away from this place.

I shrugged, I’d seen bad shit, and done some bad shit, “I’m still here.” Then the recruiter, who looked like he was still a virgin, said something that really pissed me off.

“Ever kill anyone?”

“What kind of dumbass question is that?!” The guard pushed me back down into my chair, as the recruiter leaped out of his.

“We… we have to ask… you know…” I never answered his question; I just returned a hard stare. “Okay… thumb print, and we’re done.” Before I touched the little computer, a shot of pain jumped at my neck, I leaped up, only to fall, then darkness.

* * *

I woke in the cleanest vehicle I’d ever been in. There was cold air blowing on my face, and I tracked it to vents. Never had I experienced A/C, or a vehicle that was all original and not covered in rust, sand, or blood, or all three. When I rode with Zinc, I had to be half-asleep; rifle-ready for anyone trying to take what was ours, or take back what was theirs. Zinc preferred me to draw guard duty, so sleep was often a short affair.

Surrounding me in the cargo bed of this vehicle was others like me, most were asleep, and a few seemed to be watching the two guards watching us. Their fingers were not far from the triggers. More than an hour later, the vehicle stopped at a gated complex surrounded with guards and heavily armed vehicles protecting a runway. Parked at a tarmac were three white shuttles, ready for my exodus. Off-World workers descended on the truck when we stopped, through the thin walls I could hear them:

“How many in this one?”

“About a dozen from some trading post on the outskirts of the Tanami Desert.”

“Not enough...this brings us up to barely five hundred! We need thousands!”

“Hard to get people volunteering for suicide.” Volunteering for suicide? I told myself, it would be all worth it, whatever I had suffer through, it couldn’t be worse than what I had been forced to live through.

The doors opened with a jerk, the bright desert light flashed all of us blind. “Scrub them hard, burn every bit of clothing, and shave them bald!” Hours later, I rubbed my shiny head, still confirming the odd fact that I was newly bald. We had been piled up into a empty common room, in white thin cotton garments, I never felt so naked in my whole life. None of knew what to make of the situation, and the guards weren’t saying a damn thing.

Without warning, the white walls lit up with LED words in bold green letters and arrows pointing to wall slots: FOOD. COFFEE. WATER. Every one of us got a smile. “It’s chow time.”

Night overtook the land, and the temperature dropped, we hurtled together for warmth, despite the coffee and fresh chow. The power of these people amazed me; they had machines that produced hot coffee, something called espresso, then trays of hot food, endless amounts of food, too. All of us got two or three trays and nothing was said! Zinc never let me have that much! Never in my life was mealtime this great. The real symbol of the real power of these colonists was waiting for us on the runway, their black and white VTOL shuttles.

The woman next to me bummed the last of my cigarette, “I keeping thinking this is a dream, you know?”

“Yeah, I feel like I died and got to heaven after chow.” She twisted out the cigarette under her boot.

“What do you think about this war?”I looked at the bald female, and shrugged.

“I don’t know. Never seen a big war, mostly just raids, but it’s gotta be better than here…right?”I wandered if this cute bald girl huddled next to me was like me. Taken from her mother and forced to do horrible things.

She looked up at the star fields that lit up the cold desert night, “Maybe, but I heard rumors that it’s a war against aliens,” She noticed my facial expression and slapped my shoulder. “I’m not crazy!” Before I could response, more guards appeared, spinning up the nervous energy level among us. If you lived on Earth, then you knew the Golden Rule by heart: when someone pointed a gun at you, you pointed yours back, or you were a dead man. None of us were armed, and that only added to the unsettled feeling rolling around my stomach.

Following close behind the guards, were medical-looking people. Someone down the row exclaimed, “Here it comes… Needles.”

“Damnit!” Another spoke up.

“Shut up and relax recruits!” Spoke one of the guards, "Pills. Then boarding the shuttles for the transport.” The gas-masked guard shouted, who looked vaguely human, pointed the barrel to the little medical cups, “and you will take’em!”

And just like that we did, but fifteen minutes later I was dazed. Like my head was filled with sand. The guards shoved us on the shuttles onto retrofitted jump seats in the long cargo bay. I could barely utter a word, but fell into the seat and was thankful for it. I've never liked drugs or their effects. The drugs were ruining my experience of the launch into space, and the docking to a brittle-looking spaceship. More guards moved our zombified asses in zero-gee until we were locked in a room; the flux in gravity and the recycled air played hell with our bodies, floating vomit become a common site.

After hours, and the drugs wearing off, floating med-techs with small robots made their way around us, directing us into small pods. Some put up a fight…it ended quickly. I resigned myself to the thought if they wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble to kill me, they could have turned me over to Zinc.

I only learned this later that the colonies had eliminated basic training, via some sort of implanted education; however, the ritual of shaving of the head was maintained. Once loaded into the pods, we were clinical stripped, washed, and re-shaved, with the efficacy of machines, then injected with all manner of nanobots, and medical wires were attached to our bald heads. Only by a dose of another drug made the process tolerable.

During this indoctrination process or torture, as I couldn’t figure out the difference, we were in and out of conscience. There seemed to be no flesh-n-blood person beyond the veil of our pods. Another chilling fact I learn later was that the transport ships used by the colonies were completely automated. I thought back to the stories my mother told me about my great-great grandparents that fought in the AI Wars, I wondered what they would have said. But they didn’t live to see the nuclear war, and this new bloodthirsty enemy. I fell asleep as my pod was locked into place; I never heard the screams of people that were awake when the gel filled their tubes. I was glad for that; I would soon hear enough screams on Abaddon.

15 September 2011

US Navy Laser Test: Beam vs. Boat

In April of this year, the US Navy tested their maritime solid state laser against a small motorboat. This DEW system was developed by Northrop Grumman at a cost $98 million dollars, and is aimed at the changing role for the US Navy, instead of Russians, the Navy is forced to deal with pirates.
The interesting note about this live-fire test, is that high-energy laser (HEL) was mounted to a US  naval vessel (the USS Paul Foster) and fired at a small motorboat during realistic ocean conditions off of the coast of California.

Lasers and the US Navy

The Navy envisions these types of DEW systems being mounted on most naval vessels for defensive operations, a sort-of-energy-shielding if you will, the HEL would be used to intercept incoming missiles or shells, and to knock out small pirate boats. 
The laser itself is concerned a high-energy solid state laser, which means that the laser beam is 15 kilowatt, however when you watch the test firing, it seems too slow to be an effective defensive system. To solve this, the Navy hopes to boost the power output 100 kilowatt, which would damage the motor within a second, rather than eight to ten, and arm eighth classes of warships with the HEL.

The roles of the Seaborne Laser

Given the HEL accuracy, it would highly effective in both offensive and defensive roles. When used as an offensive device, its ability to be targets on a specific small target, like the motor of a boat, incoming attacker, like radar dish, communication systems, weapons, and propulsion. This, unlike the current Mark 45 Mod 4 127mm naval gun ,the HEL allows for role flexibility, and can deny the enemy. Another useful element is the invisibility of the beam, this allows for the US Navy to get the drop on a target without the telltale signs of traditional gunpowder weaponry.
The invisibility of the HEL would take a  psychology toll on attackers, especially ill-educated pirates, and this could dismay future attacks.  In its defensive role, the HEL could knock out incoming missiles, aircraft, and warning smaller vessels to stay away with a more low-powered heat beam, (like pirate vessels.).


VIDEO

Here is the video of the US Navy testing the laser against a small boat motor.



13 September 2011

FWS Flash Fiction: Empty Places-Part One: "Off-Worlders"



I never told my mother about the number of times I slipped out of the tent, past the guards, and out beyond the fencing. There, in the cold desert air, with the star beaming down on me, I felt the vastness of the universe, and knew in my heart, that one day, I would go out there. While we lived there in the desert camps, I learned all the stars with human colonies orbiting them, and didn’t listen to what people said about how the colonist abandoned Earth after the mushroom clouds. I wrote off most of these people, like my mother, as religious nuts. I didn’t realize these were the good days of my life.


When I asked about colonists, my mother spit on the floor of our tent, “they don’t need us anymore! Left us to rot!” She made a weird sign with her hands, and ordered me never to speak of it. Three days later, a raiding party from the city on the edge of the desert hit our encampment, slaughtered the ones who resisted, took what they wanted, and left the rest to die in the heat. Scavenges picked me, gave me a gun, and told me that if I wanted to live, than I worked for them. For years after, I did what they told me, and those terrible deeds were beyond my imagination. It was a forced hell that lived in for years, but you get used to it, but then one day we rolled into market with a fresh haul, and everything changed.

The ‘market’ was actually an abandoned cattle ranch complex that be converted to a neutral zone for trading in mostly stolen goods and people. I hated place like these, it was a stage for trading on human misery, and we were loading down with misery in the trailer. It was hot, filling the dense air with smell of sweat, grease, and sex; it seemed to me to be the correct odor for a den of organized sin. If only my mother, the godly women she was, could see me now…with a weapon I my hands, and blood my fingernails. Weapons were allowed in the market, but one magazine only, and once we surrounded our ammo, the boss of the outfit started in on me…

“Listen to me, you little bastard,” Zinc, the boss of the outfit spit dust and terrible breath at me as we cleared the checkpoint, “no wandering off, you hear me?! You do, and I’ll shot ya, skin ya, and sell your marrow to the grill.” Then his half-fingered gloves pawed at my chest. “Give me your rifle” I surrounded it without a fight, but my hand was on my knife, “no gun no work…bastard.”He smiled with his three teeth, slung the gun, and jumped out of the ramshackle SUV, dust clouds whipping off of his faded overcoat. “Sandoval,” another one of the dirty raiders pointed to cages we hauled over the last forty miles, “get the women to the dealer.” I sighed, resigned myself to my grim duty, the hauling of captured women to a slave dealer, then taking the pay slip to that greasy bar, where they spend Zinc & Company spent it on one day of drinking and fucking. That was the way it had been for the years I served with Zinc, raiding, stealing, then blowing it all. I normally volunteered for guard duty on the trucks, and it allowed me to see the stars…that’s all I needed.

“No sandbagging, boy,” Zinc pointed from the bar’s door, “I want my money, or I’ll whoop’ya!” He threw the keys to the cage directly at me; I moved and allowed them to sail into the sand. They turned, laughing as disappeared in their cave of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The women always begged me to free them, most cried, offered me all manner of sexual favors, but a few, who were brandings with the marks of other owners, wore blank, lifeless expressions. They just entered the cages, waiting for the bidding to start with dead eyes. I wondered if my mother was like these women now. A women that was broken and waiting on death. I processed them as quick as possible with Oz, she knew us, and Zinc’s ways. Oz didn’t even blink when she had her boys shove the captured women into those dirty pens…’cause she had the same eyes…soul-less, like a doll.

Oz wrote out a payment slip while swatting away the flies that swarmed her tents. I, oddly had gotten use to the smell of dirty pens and bodies. “Damn, I wish they’d shut the hell up!” Oz cursed at a gathering down the street.

“Snake-oil?” I asked looking at the elevated stage, as a man paced and spoke to the gathering of townspeople and raiders. It didn’t look friendly, I could hear that much, but the man was unlike anyone I had seen. He was dressed in a crisp, clean suit, I’d seen those only in pictures.

“Off-Worlders…been here two weeks.” Oz blurted. I turned my neck so hard to Oz, I felt a pop.

“Off-Worlders?!", My eyes bugged out and she looked up, “like from the stars, right?!”

“Yeah… what the hell, Sandoval?! She probed me, but I ignored her, shocked at the fact that an honest-to-god colonist was standing a few hundred meters from me. “Why do you care?” I couldn’t hear the speech, but I heard the mob booing and cussing. I watched as several well-armed, armored guards leveled factory-fresh carbines at the hissing crowd. Their gas-masks obscured their humanity, but they didn’t need the unwashed masses to see their eyes to know that they were serious like a heart-attack.

“What do they want, Oz?”

She walked up behind me, “seems the colonies need our help.”

That caught my attention more than the alien-looking colonial soldiers. “Help?” I repeated, trying to listen.

“Yeah, they didn’t help us one bit after the nukes!” I blocked Oz out, and strained to hear pitch from the stars, while recalling my mother telling me about the day of red skies and black rain. How the great cities and important people got swept away in great nuclear fires. Not a single colony came to help us… but now… they needed us? My mind spun.

“War up there, like down here, Sandoval.” She hinted, I uncross my arms, and dug at my belt, searching for something while Oz painted the scene for me. “That man’s been talking about someone trying to wipin’em out… He says they’re coming here, next.” She laughed and took a drink, “My worn ass that someone wants to come here!” She smacked it with a free hand, “But that’s what Mr. Fancy been saying, they been gettin' their ass kick. So they figure they come down here, and get some real warriors, ‘cuz we’ve been killin’ each other since the mushrooms!”

“What’s they been promising?” I turned towards her good eye, and unbuttoned my pants. “Gotta be something big, right, Oz?” She laughed again, and turned to hand me the payment slip that would pay for Zinc’s whoring.

“If you fight, and they win, you never have to come home,” She watched me dig out something from my pants. “Like some green farming colony or some shit like that.” Green, I though, it’s all dust here… I refused the slip, and handed Oz a small leather bag.

“For my sins.” I said as she opened the small pouch and dumped out some wedding rings and loose stones. She wore surprise as she fingered through the jewelry that I collected in secret from Zinc and the raiders. I wouldn’t need money where I was going. “How many?” I asked as watched the platform.

“Women, Sandoval?” She questioned, “goin’ to start a whore house?” She laughed, but I smashed down my fist.

“Fuck, Oz!” I pushed the rings and stones towards her, “free as many as you can!” She was clearly bewildered.

“Where the bloody hell are you going?”, I bolted from her tent, before she could react, I was running at full-clip directly to the stage, the off-world soldiers saw the movement, and trained their compact weapons on me as pushed my way through the crowd. Laser bounced around my forehead, I stopped dead and shot up my arms. The thin man in the suit walked over, hand on a pistol, brushing aside his guards,”you wanting to sign up that bad, eh, boy?” His glare looked deep into my eyes. The mob hushed as I looked back this flea-bitten dust town, then back to the flawless pressed uniform.

“Ready to go, sir.”

09 September 2011

MSF Oddities: STARCOM: THE U.S. SPACE FORCE

In another segment of the oddities of the world of military sci-fi, we have the fusion between a toy line, cartoon series, realistic science and strong story, that was called Starcom: the U.S. Space Force.
STARCOM was created by Coleco Toys (who also made the misguided Rambo line) in the mid-1980's and was intended to be entire line of figures, vehicles, and playsets, along with other tie-ins, packaging all of this was Saturday morning cartoon. The STARCOM cartoon ran for all of 13 episodes around 1986 in the US TV market, however the toys lasted about two, both failed to attract ratings or sales. STARCOM quickly disappeared, but thanks to the internet and ebay, it is possible to remember elements of one's childhood. When FWS was started, I wanted to display all elements of MSF, including the odd-ball of military sci-fi, and STARCOM is certainly that, odd.

The Story of STARCOM
It is around the year 2050, and the nations of Earth have begun to colonize the Sol system, chief among the colonizing nations is the United States , and their military/exploration arm is Star Command or STARCOM. Earth as colonies on most of the worlds closest to Earth, and an L-5 space station. STARCOM itself as bases throughout the Sol system. In addition, research stations operate around the system, are protect by STARCOM's second HQ, constructed on asteroid in Saturn's rings. The actually military of STARCOM was highly developed, with fighters, fighter-bombers that could dual as transports, air-lift armored vehicles, the Astro Marine Corps, and even the ability to more supplies. It was clear that  STARCOM was intended to a complete combined arms approach to waging war off-world.
If one reads the STARCOM series bible than you get the scope and level of work that went into developing this kiddy cartoon into something more akin to Anime than typical 80's American cartoons. Just read their workup of the FTL system:
Transtar Warp Drive, which allows them to open a tunnel in hyperspace, allowing travel through a universe in which the speed of light is much faster than it is in this one. This provides faster-than-light travel without the problem of relativistic effects. This capability cannot be used among the innermost planets, because the strain on the space-time continuum too close to a star could cause the star to go nova, destroying all of the innermost planets. The safest distance for use of the Starbridges is outside the orbit of Mars."
So who was STARCOM fighting? Pirates? Yes, in the asteroid belt, but I don't think it was shown in the series, though.  Russians? Chinese? Aliens? Not as far as I can recall, no other spacefaring nation was shown in the series, and real enemy of STARCOM came from a disgraced scientist...

When it came to the main enemy of STARCOM, it was not rival nations, but a mad scientist who named himself "Emperor Dark", and operated from a mobile carrier-like vessel near Saturn. Dark, was a scientist working out of an underground lab on Mercury studying the "Obelisk", alien artifacts left by a race called "the builders." However, there was an accident, and Dark, the only survivor was forced to tunnel is way out. He blamed STARCOM for not mounting a rescue. This created Dark and his thirst for ruling over the Sol system, to accomplish his life goals, he hired goons, built robots, created the "Shadow Empire". and used several of these alien Obelisk...according the series bible, all Emperor Dark have to do was get several more to achieve power of the Sol system. While Earth's colonial ventures around the inner colonies, Dark rules most of the edge of the solar system, and his terrorism was preventing deep space colonization.

Why is STARCOM an Oddity?
 
Okay, keep in mind that STARCOM was intended as a kid's show when I explain this, the fictional US Space Force, STARCOM fielded a vast, combined arms forces, that was even divided into different branches, like the Astro Marines, the Star-Wing, Starbase Command, Star Artillery. These elements were shown on-screen, in the toys creating a highly developed combine arms and command structure, and was defined more than the archetype of military toys: G.I. Joe.
Coupled with this combined arms off-world military is the realistic scientific portrayal of  the solar system and planets were shown as science understood them in the mid-80's. The show attempted to balance the space combat with scientific missions. Several of the episodes depicted alien animal life in the icy oceans of Europa and airborne creatures floating in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter.  
Next to the science was the new age theories of ancient astronauts known as the Builders, coupled with the rumored aliens structures on Cydonia, Mars.
So, to recap this, we have a kid's show that shows old aliens, Obelisks that could rule the Sol system, a highly developed off-world military, science outposts, alien animal life on Jupiter and its moons, all set with a mad scientist and space battles....yeah, that's odd.   



The NASA/STARCOM tie-in

The 1980's were a great time for NASA and its public relations, the Space Shuttle captured the imagination of kids like me, and NASA used this to further development of math and science among young people (Didn't work too well, I'm a history major). This came in the form of the Young Astronaut Council (yes, I was a member!), and it supported STARCOM with PSA tie-ins that were similar to the GI Joe PSA's (knowing is half the battle, and the other half is superior firepower). This relationship can be seen in the manner that scientific research is shown with a balance to the space battles, and how the planets of the solar system are shown from a realistic way, also, the perils of operating in space.

THE TOYS of STARCOM

It seemed like during the Reagan 80's that every toy marker was after your parents' bucks with a two-fold campaign of the toys and the extended commericals, or also-known-as, the Saturday morning cartoons like Transformers, G.I. Joe, RobotechGobots, Captain Power...and so on. 
STARCOM was no different, it was created a toy line with a cartoon vehicle to market directly to the young viewers.
 Here is some of the reality of the toy verse the fantasy of the STARCOM universe. One of the cool elements of the toys was their MAG-LOCK...little magnets in the vehicles and figures...the series used this to allow our heroes to hold on in Zero-Gee.

The Reality of the Astro Marines  (Left)
The Fantasy of the Astro Marines (Right) 
 The Reality of Starmax bomber (Left)
The fantasy of the Starmax bomber( Right)








What happened to STARCOM?

There is limited information on the series, and since I lived through its TV run, I'll take a guess what occured to end the show only after 13 espoide. Here are, I believe, are the reasons that STARCOM series ended.




  1. When STARCOM hit the airwaves in 1987, it was the apex of the toy-driven Saturday morning cartoons, and this led to problems for STARCOM. My personal experience with STARCOM was that it was shuttled around the time slots, I often had to hunt down the series. Since the series was a bit of an oddity, broadercasters tried to fit in somewhere on the cramped schedule.
  2.  So go the toys, so goes the TV show. Like Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future before it, the toys were reason the show was developed, and if the toys didn't sell, then there was no reason for the show. The issue was that the STARCOM toys, in my personal experience were rare. Now, where I grew up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma was not a mecca for high-end toy retailers, but I lived near Tulsa, and I saw only the figure. Only two of my friends had some of the vehicles, mainly the Starmax bomber. I only saw the entire STARCOM toy line in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Windrock mall. They had this epic display with a mock battle between STARCOM and their enemies, the Shadows. But in the end, if you cannot find it, you cannot buy it.
  3. The size of the figure. This seems stupid, but if a child cannot play with it, than its of no use. STARCOM figures were smaller than the standard G.I. Joe size. Making it hard to intrage it into your other toys. I had visions as a kid, about waging war between my G.I Joe's and STARCOM, but because of the size difference, that was impossible. So, then you had to bug your parents for the entire line to play...and STARCOM was expensive...I have never seen how much they cost back-in-the-day, but I remember that were pricey, and if my parents were going to spend the bread on some toys, I wanted Legos.
  4. The overall tone of military and space warfare, especially seen in the toys, put some parents off, especially if they had to buy G.I. Joe and Transformers, than it seemed they were overly militarized their nine year-old into a junior stormtroop...and that's what to me.  


My STARCOM Memories...

Notice that his weapon? Portable Rail Gun...sweet!
 1986 was a good year to be a kid, and during those golden years, I watched STARCOM, but I never owned the toys, for the reasons above, and if you saw the toys among the dozens of war-toys stuffed into Toys R Us shelves, frankly, they looked unimpressive, due to their size being only two inches, next to nearly four standard size action figures. The cool things about the toys, was their Mag-lock feature, which allowed the magnets on the figures to attach to the vehicles and playsets, along with them being motorized. However, it was the TV series that has stuck with me for the last 25(!)years.
It was an military science-fiction cartoon with some real science elements, a well-thought off-world military, and added in some alien mysteries that hit all cylinders for me. Thanks to the internet, I've sat down a watched a few...and...well...Things are never as you remember them, and STARCOM lives up to that. It is 80's product with firmly unrealistic battles, and cheesy dialog worthy of tortilla chips...but I can see the promise of the series and why I kept in alive in my head for all these years.

LINKS:

Simply, the best site for STARCOM:

Watch STARCOM online: