27 January 2012

FWS Topics: Future weapons and Future gun control

I was on another forum last weekend, and there was a thread about the 2nd Amendment, and there were people (me included) arguing about how people of the 18th century viewed firearms is completely different than here in 21st century. I also argued that when or if science deliveries laser blasters or plasma pistols, it is likely that governments will ban their sale to the common people. That got me to thinking about the future of civilian-owned personal weaponry, and a subject that sci-fi does not talk about much: future gun control.
Will the future generations be able to walk  into a sporting goods store and buy a Phased Plasma Rifle in the 40watt range? Will there be a difference between the military-grade DEW or HV KEW weaponry that the future soldiers use and the firearms that citizens could buy? Will guns be banned on Terra, but legal in the off-world colonies, like Replicants? Will Guns & Ammo change its name to Blasters & Batteries?
What about ship-based weaponry, would civilian haulers be unarmed like in Firefly or Cowboy BeBop, or would they be limited power output? One can imagine the horror a single vessel would reap with kinetic projectile.
Most sci-fi works are mixed on the subject, in the golden age of sci-fi, every explorer had a trusty raygun, and later, with the influence of Star Wars, every badass carried a blaster. In the Star Wars universe, blasters seem legal enough, Han walks around with a blaster like Clint Eastwood, and Mal and his gang from Firefly stroll around the planets with their weapons mostly out. But in the Star Trek universe, the only time I saw a DEW in the hands of non-Starfleet that wasn't a evildoer was in the pilot episode of Enterprise when some farmer from Broken Bow, Oklahoma shoots a Klingon with a plasma rifle, and later in the series, we see civilian cargo haulers equipped with the Starfleet issued EM-33 Plasma Pistol. However, most, if not all civilians in the Star Trek universe seemed unable or unwilling to buy a handheld phaser. And if they did, would it equipped with a "kill" setting? After all, in the ST:TNG epsiode the most toys the Federation banned the ownership of the Varon T-disruptor. In the book the Forever War, when Mandella gets back home the first time, he tries to buy a C02 laser, but the gun shop tells him that they are "legal" store, instead, he buys a .410 Revolver.  

I would like your opinion on the subject! Please comment below!

21 January 2012

FWS Forgotten Classic: The ROBOTECH Saga

In 1985, my world changed. I was 9, living in Oklahoma, outside of Tulsa, and one day, after school, I witnessed my first episode of the Robotech Saga. It was Blue Wind from the Macross-era, and I could not believe what I was seeing. From that moment on, ROBOTECH was one of the foundations of my life. I was more used to Anime the average kid, I had seen Starblazers, Gundum, and Battle of the Planets. But nothing prepared me for the 85 episodes of ROBOTECH.

The history of ROBOTECH

In 1982, head of Harmony Gold studios, Frank Agrama, was looking to get into the up-and-coming market of Japanese Anime. During a trip to an art studio having expo on Japanese art cells, Agrama met the art studio manager, Carl Macek. Agrama brought Macek over to Harmony Gold studios to look at which series to import for the syndication market. The primary issue preventing the importation of most Anime series was that most did not last for the required 65 epsiodes for the syndication market. So, the staff at Harmony Gold took three non-related giant mecha/space war Anime series all done by Tatsunoko Production, and redubbed the entire dialog, connecting these three "Super Dimension" series into a multi-generational space opera/war spanning 85 episodes.
There were problems along the way, while the original Japanese Macross ended properly, the Southern Cross and Mospeada were cancelled early, resulting in writing issues, plus Harmony Gold had to edit out an extra moon for the Southern Cross series, and develop a "connector" episode between Macross and the Robotech Masters.
By 1984, Harmony Gold was shopping ROBOTECH around conventions and trade shows, and in 1985, ROBOTECH would hit American airways. It would become an pioneer for Anime in America, creating legions of loyal fans and being one of the most beloved Anime series of all time. However, by 1988, ROBOTECH was running its course, and TV stations were looking elsewhere, forcing Harmony Gold to look at creating a sequel. With the success of ROBOTECH, Matchbox Toys made a massive toy line based on the series (yes, I bought them), and was the first American toy company to make toys for an Anime. These toys, which were just okay, resulted in fan alienation, especially for older fans when the girl doll line came out, resulting in poor sales. ROBOTECH would re-air in 1993-1995 on the Sci-Fi channels morning program, but they were re-edited for time conmsiders from the originals. Toonami aired only part of the series, a few random stations air the series from time-to-time on odd TV station, like a California public TV station.  

The basic plot of ROBOTECH

In the year 1999, humanity is locked in a Global Civil War that could mean the end of life as we know it, then an UFO of massive size crash lands on a small island in the South Pacific, called Macross. This unites the human race under the newly reformed UN, and the advanced science of the alien craft consumes the world as the UN rebuilds the alien mile-long ship. Secretly, the UN has formed the Robotech Defense Force to use the new science of Robotechnology for a means to defend the Earth, if and when the owners of the SDF-1 show up. In 2009, the SDF-1 is finished and during the party to celebrate the launch, the alien Zentraedi taskforce launches an assault on Macross Island to recapture the SDF-1. To attempt to put as much distance between the SDF-1 and Earth, they use the untested Space Fold system, and wind up near Pluto, along with Macross Island and the 70,000 civilians. For over a year, the SDF-1 and the newly reconstruction Macross City inside of its steel belly make the journey back to Earth, while the stories of Rick Hunter, Lisa Hayes, and Lynnn Minmay unfold. In 2011, the situation comes to head, rebel Zentraedi and the SDF-1 make a final stand against millions of loyal Zentraedi warships. The battle is won, Earth is scarred and billions are dead. The SDF-1 lands, and the survivors attempt to rebuilt. 2014 is a critical year for the Earth and the RDF, the newly built SDF-2 and stranded SDF-1 are destroyed by a last loyal Zentraedi strike. Rick and Lisa vow to built another SDF. In 2022, the newly constructed SDF-3 heads the Robotech Expeditionary Force that will attempt to go to the homeworld of the Robotech Masters, Tirol, and sue for peace. Earth is left in the hands of the military government of the Southern Cross.
While the REF is on the other side of the Milky Way, the Masters' show up around Earth in 2029, to claim the last of the Protoculture Matrixs, resulting in the Second Robotech War, while the REF is involved in a war with the Invid and forming the Sentinels Alliance. After one year, the 2nd Robotech War is over, and a battered Earth readies itself for another alien invasion, this time, in the form of the Invid, coming to claim the last Flowers of Life in the galaxy. Earth's resistance only lasts a few months. The REF attempts several taskforces to wedge the Invid out, but all met with defeat. When the 21st Mars Division of the REF, is defeat, one of the survivors, Lt. Scott Bernard, spends nearly two years travelling around the Americas gathering freedom fighters for the strike on the homebase of the Invid on Terra, Reflex Point. In 2044, The entire fleet of the REF enters the Sol System to end the war once and for all, however, the command ship, the SDF-3 with Rick and Lisa Hunter never appears.
 The battle over Earth finally ends when the Queen-Mother of the Invid is signed that the Flower-of-Life is regrowing on Optera, and they consent to leave. This battle to liberate Terra costs most of the REF ships, and millions of lives. At the end of the original saga, Lt. Bernard climbs into his Alpha Fighter, and vows to find the SDF-3. Just after the final battle, the remains of the REF limp back to various space bases for repairs, while the search for the SDF-3 is planned out. It is during the this moment in the storm, that the Haydonites, former members of the REF's Sentient Alliance move to strike at the users of Protoculture and purge them from the galaxy creating, another Robotech war.


  • 1999-SDF-1 Crashes
  • 2009- The Zentraedi Invasion of Macross, the beginning of the 1st Robotech War
  • 2011-The entire Zentraedi Fleet arrives, millions of ships, attempts to end the war, they lose, but Earth is nearly destroyed resulting in billions dead and Earth scarred.
  • 2014-The last "loyal" Zentraedi stage one final battle, the SDF-1 and SDF-2 are destroyed, Rick and Lisa vow to rebuilt.
  • 2022-The Robotech Expeditionary Force leaves Terra for the Masters' homeworld, Tirol
  • 2029-The Robotech Masters invade Earth.
  • 2030-The Southern Cross barely wins, but the resulting final battle, spores of the Flower of Life are let loose across Earth, signing the Invid to come to Terra
  • 2031-The still recovering Southern Cross is unable to withstand the Invid invasion, within months, the war is over, several ships abandon Terra and RV with the REF.
  • 2031-2042-The REF mounts several attempts to liberate Terra, all with bitter defeats. When the 21st Mars Division is destroyed in Earth orbit, one of the suvivors, Lt. Scott Bernard, forms a guerrilla force to destroy Reflex Point, home of the Invid on Terra.
  • 2042-2044, Scott Bernard's rebel group makes their way across the Americans, as the REF sends its entire fleet to end the occupation of Terra. The SDF-3 never arrives as the final battle is waged. During the battle, the Regress learns that Optera is re-flowering, and they consent to leave, but not before massive losses of life on both sides, along with most of the REF armada. 
  • 2044-The "current" time in the ROBOTECH Universe, the events of the Shadow Chronicles.  

Protocultre? Invid Flower-of-Life? Robotechnology?

The Flower of Life is the key element in the ROBOTECH Saga, and the genesis of the Robotech wars. The plant was only native to the Invid homeworld of Optera, and used as their primary foodstuffs along with a key element in their religious life, it would later became a key element for a thousand years of galactic crisis and war.
When Zor, a explorer from the planet Tirol, discovered Optera, and the Invid society, he also discovered the amazing abilities of the Flower of Life. In its seed state, the Flower of Life can be used as an vast clean energy source when the process of cellular division is held in mid-stage. Zor seduced the Queen-Mother of the Invid, the Regress, and left Optera with samples of the Flower of Life. After returning to Tirol, this new energy source, called Protoculture, was able to fuel a vast interstellar empire and a new bio-mechanic science that led to the mecha seen in the ROBOTECH series. The society of Tirol transformed into the Robotech Masters, and using their giant mining slaves, the Zentraedi, to razed Optera clean of the Flower of Life. This twisted the entire Invid race onto a path of vengeance for the destruction of their way of life.The entire population of the Invid species, for hundreds of years, was devoted entirely to the war against the Robotech Masters.
In response, the Masters turned to cloning their own people and the Zentraedi to pilot their the new Protoculture-fueled war machines towards finally defending the Invid.
This war was over and run by the Protoculture, and Zor began to deeply regard his decision of bringing the Flower of Life to his people. Zor, using his own heavily armed science warship, the SDF-1, began seeding planets away from the conflict with the Flower of Life, it was during on of these operations, that the Invid got the jump on Zor and his Zentraedi bodyguards, led by Doza. During the battle, Zor sent the SDF-1 away to a small blue planet, known as Earth, then was killed by an Invid Shock Trooper (see ROBOTECH: Genesis, by Comico Comics, 1986). The body of Zor was taking back to Tirol, and the brain was probed, allowing the Master to locate the mental imagine of Earth, but not where it was located. Doza sent Breetai on a recovery operation that would forced the fleet to play hunt-and-find through a portion of the galaxy.
Why was the SDF-1 so important to the Masters? Zor had taken the last of the Protoculture Martixs with him, leaving the entire Robotech Masters' society and empire with the supplies they had, robbing them of the ability to create more.
Robotechnology was the human word for the creation of transforming mecha, and it wasn't until the REF that humans began using Protoculture to fuel their mecha, the war machines of the first two Robotech Wars were power by more traditional means.
The Invid Flower of Life and the use of the byproduct Protoculture fuel within the ROBOTECH saga draws similarities to the Spice-drug Melange from the DUNE Universe and its uses to fuel empires, near-immortality, space-travel, and wars that bring near destruction of civilization.

The historical context of ROBOTECH

ROBOTECH came at the intial wave of Anime/Manga interest in America, and its saga would fill a gap left open by independent TV stations who stopped running Battle of the Planets, Gundum, and Starblazers. At this time, there still were independent TV station outside of the Big Three networks, and they depended on interesting and unique material to bring eyeballs to the screens. Often, these were the stations were Anime was aired, and that was the case for me living in Oklahoma. ROBOTECH offered Television stations a long-term additive program,creating a market for comic books companies, robot models, and later, Matchbox Toys.
ROBOTECH did have a beachhead in the Japanese robot market, and it was not only the previously Anime series that aired on TV, it was also the 1980's Robotech Defenders model line from Revell. The original Japanese Super Dimensional series that ROBOTECH was based on had been in Japan since 1982, and the models were extremely popular. Seeing the new market for big Japanese robots, Revell bought the rights to sell and market the Macross and the Fang of the Sun model line in America, and they used the Robotech name. This could have bad news from Harmony Gold, but they reached a co-licensing deal. How I first heard of ROBOTECH was in 1984, via the models, and I even owned the DC Comics two-parter that forged a story for the mecha models independent of the Harmony Gold created universe and/or the original Macross. While the Macross and ROBOTECH endure to this day, the Revell line has disappeared into the realm of memory. 

What happened to ROBOTECH II: The Sentinels?

When ROBOTECH was at its height in 1986, Harmony Gold decied it was time to forge a true sequel to the saga, and it seemed logical to tell the story of the Robotech Expeditionary Force (REF), and what happened to Rick, Lisa, Max, and other beloved characters from the Macross series, and the originals of characters in The New Generation. The REF mission was to find the homworld of the Masters, Tirol, and reach a peace deal with them before they launched their own invasion of Terra. But they were too late, the Invid had invaded and captured Tirol, forcing the Masters to seek out the Protoculture Martix inside the SDF-1. However, what the SDF-3 (rigged up to look like a Zentraedi warship) did find was six former slave races to the Masters fighting the Invid. The REF united with them to fight the Invid, and rise an fleet to liberate Earth later.

The SDF-3
Harmony Gold's plan was to create a 65 episode story arch for syndication market, Matchbox Toys to create another line of toys and other items, and for the Tatsunoko Productions to animate and script  the new series, visually linking the Sentinels to the original saga.
Then everything went wrong, Matchbox's ROBOTECH toy line was not doing the numbers that Matchbox had projected, and they could not see that ROBOTECH II: the Sentinels wasn't going to be any different, causing Matchbox to pull out, who were the main backers of the project. However, Carl Macek has said repeatedly that the "crash of the Dollar-to-Yen exchange rate"  caused Matchbox to pull out of the project. Another roadblock was the major differences between the Japanese series that composed the American ROBOTECH saga, which the Japanese animation studio had difficult with, causing delays, continuous meetings in Japan, and scripts to be done in America then shipped over.
With the pullout of Matchbox Toys, and rising production costs, Harmony Gold was forced to cancel the project all together with only three episodes completed. ROBOTECH II: the Sentinels did live on in the five-part book series by Jack McKinney, an attempted full (lackluster )comic adaption, but died after 80%  completion by two comic companies, the Palladium Book RPG manuals (which are excellent!), an 1988 Starblaze Graphics Art book, and finally, the 1990 VHS release of the first three episode that shows the launch of the SDF-3, the Invid attack on Tirol, and the Hunters' wedding. One of the discs in the Protoculture edition DVD boxset by ADV Films is devoted to the Sentients.  We fans of ROBOTECH have a theory on what really killed the Sentients, the poor quality of the series, both in script and animation. This theory came about after the 1990 VHS release of first three epsiodes of the Sentients, and we fans got to witness the 1980's horror that was the sequel to our beloved ROBOTECH, and how it simply did not live up to the original. Not was looking forward to seeing the Sentients than me in 1988, and no one has been more disappointed by its lack of development since.

What the Frak is ROBOTECH : The Movie?

*Sigh* No matter how great something is, there is dogshit somewhere in the mix of a fictional works' lifespan, Star Trek had Star Trek: V, Star Wars has the Holiday Special and the Prequels, and ROBOTECH has "the movie" from 1986. This redub of Megazone 23 aired in Dallas (where FWS is headquartered) for about a month in summer of '86, and then later at an LA animation con, and is not currently available on DVD, but there fan-copies. Despite being a massive ROBOTECH fan, I've never seen this, the trailer and music video by Three Dog Night was enough for me. ROBOTECH: The Movie was an attempt to tell the story between the launching of the REF in 2022 and the 2nd Robotech War in 2029. Much like the ROBOTECH series, Harmony Gold used the same tactic of taking an Anime series or OVA and redubbing it to fit within the ROBOTECH universe, this time it was Megazone 23. It has been said that Carl Macek was eyeing Megazone 23 to become another Harmony Gold syndication marketed series and that most of the Japanese staff that worked on the Super Dimensional series worked on Megazone 23, visually bridging the gap.
However, ROBOTECH: The Movie had a strangle plot that didn't fit organically into the main story-arch of the holy saga, where the Robotech Masters control a veteran RDF officer to steal some computer material that was taking from the wreckage of the SDF-1, among other subplots. To make the connection between the saga and this movie, Harmony Gold spliced in footage from the Masters to round this production.
The main issue with  ROBOTECH: The Movie is that the original Megazone 23 story is close in spirit to the Matrix films and not a space opera, in the end, this movie had too many issues and plot gaps that could not filled via dubbing or spliced footage. One website did talk about massive production and staff conflicts that plagued ROBOTECH: The Movie and may have doomed the production. Over the years, some rewrites of the movie's plot were attempted, one in Jack Mckinney book The Masters' Gambit and the other in the 1986 Academy Comic limited series. ROBOTECH: The Movie was released in English on VHS in 1988 and on laser-disc in 1991. To this day, ROBOTECH: The Movie is not considered canon, and regards as some akin the Holiday Special of the ROBOTECH Universe....of course we never had Lisa Hayes singing "life-day"!
Here is a link to the best site about the movie:

From ROBOTECH: 3000 to the Shadow Chronicles

After the loss of the Sentinels in 1988, Harmony Gold was at a loss on how to continue the series, and build on the legions of ROBOTECH fans. There were attempts to bring Megazone 23 to the states, along with Super Dimension Century Orguss, but at the end, fans wanted more ROBOTECH. To quell the hungry, various novelization of the ROBOTECH wars were released by author Jack McKinney, including the Sentinels, scores of comic books, some good, some complete dog-shit, and the RPG. What I remember that got us through the drought was playing the ROBOTECH RPG, Battletech, and the assembling the endless stream of models from Japan.

Then in 2000 came ROBOTECH:3000 (As known as RT3K), and quickly, our hopes were dashed for a new series. The proposals all CGI series (similar to the Roughnecks) was to take place in the year 2999 (shocked!), when humanity (and maybe other races) have formed the Federation (where have I heard that one?), and been at peace for six hundred years, during this time, they have used Robotechnology to explore the galaxy. Onboard the Federation starship Corsair is sent out to check a distress signal from a mining colony, and the landing party is attacked by some sort of mutated friendly mecha. It seems that all Robotechnology is being turned against their masters.
The three-minute trailer was widely panned by fans, and it didn't help that the CGI SFX team that was behind Babylon 5 made ROBOTECH:3000 causing the "possessed" mecha to sound and look like the Shadows. What the fans wanted was Anime styled Mecha and characters that looked and sounded like the ones from the original saga that they remembered. One of the risks that Harmony Gold was running at this time was ROBOTECH was entering the realm of nostalgia territory, they would need to create a product that would bridge the gap between the original saga ans, and the up-and-coming generation of Anime fans.
The good news that came out ROBOTECH in the 2000s was the release of two, well-made, video games, ROBOTECH: Battlecry (2002) and ROBOTECH: Invasion (2004) that gave fans something to do while waiting for Harmony Gold to come up with the vehicle for the future for the saga. Then there were a variety of comics that covered the stories unseen in the ROBOTECH universe, like Colonel Wolfe's taskforce to Earth, the Global Civil War of the 1990s, the beginnings of the RDF (From the Stars), and the prelude to the Shadow Chronicles.
 That vehicle was the ROBOTECH: The Shadow Chronicles. The studio as now under FUNimation and a new creative director that brought in script writers that were fans that grew up with the original saga. One of the first things that did right was casting as many of the original voice actors as possible, along with marrying the new style of Anime with the old via a Korean animation studio, DR Movie. They did bring new characters into the mix, ones from the old saga, and others from the aborted Sentinels storyline.
Shadow Chronicles picks up where at the end of the Invid War, and allows fans to see what happened to Scott Bernard, Ariel/Marlene, and Admiral Hunter. As a fan of the original saga, that holds ROBOTECH in a near  realm, I liked the Shadow Chronicles, and integrated several of the concepts and rounded them out. The only negative element was the enemy of the Shadow Chronicles, who are the Haydonites, one of the original members of the REF/Sentient military alliance to destroy the Invid, but the Haydonites are a cybernetic race ruled by the central "Awareness" computer matrix, and they hate Protoculture! This causes a new war for the weary Earth, but will led to a new series?

The Future of ROBOTECH: Now What?!

There was a great deal of hope for us fans that a new era for ROBOTECH was on the horizon in 2006/2007 with the release of the Shadow Chronicles, then nothing...Even today, nothing seems to be happening with the ROBOTECH legacy. Yes, the website is active and keeps bring new badass toys into the fans, but there seems to be no movement on bring fresh ROBOTECH onto the current crop of American Anime lovers, and its original fans (like me) are starting to push 40 (not like me). The dream of a new ROBOTECH series was soon dashed by nothing coming out of Harmony Gold or FUNimation, and it seems that 2012, nothing will continue to happen. *Sigh*
Yes, there are rumors of a live-action ROBOTECH movie in the style of the Michael Bay's Transformers, but I didn't know if I want that...the live-action Space Cruiser Yamato was uneven and I'm worried that a live-action movie will destroy the dream that is ROBOTECH in my heart.
I wish the future of ROBOTECH was in my hands, and if I ever win the lottery and have a spare ten to twenty million, I'd make ROBOTECH II: the Sentient, and then end the series for all time. I think ROBOTECH is one of those stories that has an end, and since no one is able to write a good conclusion to the mystery of the lost SDF-3, then we leave it to the mystery, and allow our minds to chew on it.

14 January 2012

FWS Topics: Hard or Soft?

How do you like your science-fiction? One filled with near fantasy, but lean on the science, or one that keeps a hard line with being textbook correct. That question that the vast majority of science-fiction creators asked themselves this about the type of science fiction they are developing, and the fork in the road is: Hard or Soft. This seems to be a question raised about how you like your eggs, or martial arts, or even a dirty joke, but what the author or creator chooses will define his fictional work. To illustrate the difference between the two paths, just examine the 1979 Battlestar Galactica and the 2003 Ronald Moore relaunch, while one took their look and soft-serve science from Star Wars, the new BSG was under the commandment "Thou shall be real", in the series bible, Ron Moore called it "naturalized science fiction". To be clear, I'm not saying that one type of sci-fi is better than another, some of the most successful sci-fi works are as soft as frozen yogurt, like Star Wars and Stargate SG-1. Some softer science fiction works can just or even more compelling than 100% hard sci-fi, like  DUNE, and one can see in the 1968 2001 how boring hard sci-fi can be, or how great in 2009 Virtuality pilot or the 1972 Soviet Solaris.
We discuss the subject of realism, while I am working on a blogpost about realism and MSF, it would seem that realism would be firmly in the realm of hard science fiction, real science=realism, right? Well, not really. One of the more hard sci-fi movies 2001: A Space Odyssey, is frankly, a bore, the humans characters are woody, and the best character of them all is the HAL-9000! Then we take the example of ALIENS, the futuristic military and space travel is all realistic, the atmosphere processor seems like real science, but overall, its quasi-soft sci-fi, and one of the best science fiction movies ever made. It's not just with machines or technology that a creator gives realism to a fictional work, its with the characters, the situation, and how they conduct themselves. Here is my rubic for the requirements and their examples of the science seen in science-fiction.


Real, one hundred percent hard science fiction were the creator puts Sir Issac Newton in the driver seat, is rare. Partly this has to do with the extreme popularity of Star War and Star Trek, coloring the pool of future writers, along with the extreme amount of research needed to generate a hard science fictional space tale that can pass the acid test (just look at the atomic rocket website!). To maintain the "hard" label, these fictional story must conform to the current understanding of science, which means in short: no aliens, no FTL, and starships that use heat radiator.
Most works that are considered hard sci-fi often revert to fast-than-travel devices or space aliens, and this rules them more to the quasi-hard sci-fi section, because Dr. Freeman nor Dr. Kaku have discovered hyperspace or xenomorphs living on LV-426. Some might consider the films 2001 and 2010 hard science works, however, the Hubble telescope as yet to discovery any floating menacing black monoliths near Jupiter...or maybe NASA is covering them up?  


Hard science fiction exists more in the realm of the printed word than movies or TV shows, however, the few that do are well worth the time. One of my favorites is the failed 2009 pilot for FOX by Ronald Moore called Virtuality, where Earth's first nuclear pulse propulsion vessel (one of the rare examples), the Phaeton is about to break away from the Sol system towards Epsilon Eridani to search for a habitual planet since Earth is dying. The crew is realistic in jobs, and daily life is shown along with spinning sections to provide gravity. to relax the dozen members of the Phaeton jack into a VR program. This show could have been one of the best ever made for the idiot box, but was never picked up, the two-hour pilot is on DVD, and is worth picking up.
One of the best known, and not really thought of has hard science is the much loved Firefly, where space as no sound, there is no aliens or FTL, and colonized worlds of the 'verse are products of Terraforming. We also see the good crew of the firefly class vessel, the Serenity, concerned over fuel, finding work to pay for their next meal, and not crashlanding. Truly, Firefly was one of the most enjoyable hard sci-fi series ever.
Another rare example comes from Anime, which is not known for scientifically accurate sci-fi program, but Makoto Yukimura's 26 episode epic called Planets is concerned 100% hard science, even having the Japanese space agency involved with the series, which even has the medical impact of long-term zero-gee exposure. The story itself is about in orbit space junk clean-up crews, the exportation of Jupiter and space terrorism. In 2004, another small-screen work by the BBC, called Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets followed a group of astronauts on a tour of the solar system in a nuclear thermal rocket called the Pegasus. Here is the opening to the BBC Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets (2004):


To most consumers of sci-fi, the works that fall into quasi-hard science fiction seem like scientific accurate works, however they normally involve the story containing aliens, and/or faster-than-light propulsion, or some other small element that makes no sense to laws of physics. Most of these works are 70%-90% scientifically accurate, but are forced to hand wave certain elements, like ET life and/or FTL to make the story happen as the author sees it. Two of the real-science technologies left out regards starship design: artificial gravity via spinning sections, and heat radiators.This is the same reason that Avatar, while presenting one of the most scientifically accurate starship ever seen onscreen and realistic future ground forces didn't make the hard sci-fi cut: big smurf feline smurfs.
One of fine example is the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, where 80% of the science is correct, but there is still unscientific elements, like the use of space fighters (most hard sci-fi sites, like Atomic Rockets says that fighters are a no-no in hard sci-fi), FTL, no heat radiators, and unknown methods of generating Earth-normal gravity, however, to credit, BSG, they present the FTL with more much realism than most works, especially ones on TV. In Ronald Moore's Battlestar, the Galactica must use maps, telescopes, and scouting expedition to pick jump-sights, to avoid jumping into a solid mass. The fighters of both Cylon and the Colonies use chemically propelled 30mm cannons, and mostly of the ACM tactics seem geared to the reality of outer space than retrofitted Earth-bound dogfights. 
One thing I noticed to day, while watching BSG, is that the Galactica and other members of the ragtag fleet always have their Tylium-fueled engine motors on full. Why? It seemed that Mr. Moore forgot about the law of motion as it applies in space.
 It's these little elements that keep shows like BSG and ABC's 2009 more-or-less hard science Defying Gravity from being 100% hard science. Where it was space fighters and FTL that kept BSG from hard science fiction rating, it was a mysterious life form that picked up on Mars that was hitchhiking on the hard science designed Antares space ship on its cruiser around the solar system. An interesting note, the hard sci-fi BBC Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets that inspirited the creation of American Defying Gravity.  


One of my favorite quasi-hard sci-fi novels, is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, where the alien music is picked up and the Jesuit order decides to fund an expedition to the Alpha Centurai system, to get there, a hallowed asteroid is used as the basis for a starship. Along with this, the alien species is realistic designed and novel is one of the finest sci-fi novels written. In the realm of military science fiction, the first book by Robert Buettner, former CIA employee, The Orphanage is more or less hard science, save for the "slug" aliens that attempt to wage a distinct war with the Earth via kinetic projectiles that wiped out cities.
The Earth was at peace until the Slugs showed up, and military technology along with space exploration has all regressed. The novel details an emergency military expedition with modified Vietnam-era kit to Ganymede, the home to the Slug's bomb base. Then there is one of the finest sci-fi writers and his best-known novel, Stanislaw Lem's 1961 masterpiece Solarius,which is one of Nigel's favorites as well, details are more realistic encounter with alien life and shows realistic space travel.


This type of science-fiction normally has its fans or even the show itself insisting on its hard scientific credentials by the creators' using some scientific theories, consulting with NASA, and of these, none meet the title as justly as Star Trek, especially, The Next Generation. This quasi-soft science fiction, like most, uses some elements of real science,Matter/anti-Matter energy generation, or deflector arrays to protect the Enterprise-D from micro-meteors, and even the ingenious inertial dampers, to avoid, as the technical manual put, "turning the crew into chucky salsa". However, at its heart, these quasi-soft sci-fi works do not obey some basic laws of physics, like Star Trek using weapons at supra-light speeds, and lack of time dilation, for the sake of the story. This makes quasi-soft science fiction and its relationship with hard science a marriage of convenience.


Along with the entire Star Trek saga being relegated to this rating, there is another science fiction series offer boasts about being hard science, Babylon 5. While its true that B5 did use real science and scientific theory in designing the Babylon Five O'Neil station, the warships of the Earth Force that seem use the USSR Leonov from 2010 as a template, especially the Omega class. Then there are the Earth Force Starfury fighters, which could be the most hard science design for a space fighter seen on screen. But, that is where B5 ends its brief love affair with hard science, because if we look at the more advanced races of the Babylon 5 universe, the Minbari and Vorlon and their advanced technology, it seems to say that you can overcome the laws of physics via higher knowledge. When the series and the wars came to end, we see the Earth Force use new technology in their Warlock warship to "overcome" those pesky laws.
Another example is from wayback in 1988, called Earth Star Voyager, this Disney/ABC production was a sci-fi series plot, turned into a movie for young people (like me! Well, in 1988) to show how cool science was so we would major in it, and then kick collective USSR ass later in the future. The basic plot was similar in some aspect to 2009's Virtuality where a dying Earth sends out a long-range explorer vessel to a relatively nearby star system to hunt for a Goldilocks planet. The kicker was that most of the crew was beyond 18 years old, due to the length of the journey there and back again. During the several hours of bad 80's writing, and model SFX, the pimple-faced crew of the Earth Star Voyager construct a homebrew magnetic gun and "solar laser".    

Some of the most familiar science fiction works, especially those on the big and small screen, are scientifically hard as frozen yogurt, and chief among them is Star Wars. Within soft sci-fi, there are works that break the most basic laws of physics and nature, I've seen people survive the vacuum of space (see Robotech), and destroy entire worlds with ancient Imperial Japanese battleship.
As I've stated above, just because a sci-fi work is mushy on the science, doesn't translate to the story being bad, or unworthy of praise. Some of the greatest sci-fi stories are soft science, like the Star Wars saga, HALO, Doctor Who, the Fifth Element and the greatest science fiction novel of all time: DUNE. For a story to bridge the gap between the textbook and the realm of fantasy that the audience can believe, than that is up to the story teller to weave a great tale, and it seems to help if they have kick ass toys as well.


There can be no better example of soft-serve sci-fi than mystic Samurai-like warriors that wear flammable robes using an energy sword to intersect and counter incoming laser blaster bolts. There is simply no spiritual training or secret martial art that can enable the human body react fast enough to block a laser beam, even if it's not going lightspeed, but of course, Lucas as trouble remembering what a parsec is! Then there is another popular sci-fi saga, Stargate, which also throws out the science textbook to have some portal-jumping fun! I've never really liked any of the Stargate series that much, never felt like they lived up to the promise of the concept.
Of course, it does help that when they use real-science weaponry, like railguns mounted to the Daedalus Earth battlecruiser, and fail to do the research. When I applied the rubric of types of sci-fi, I was forced to put a few of my favorites on this soft-serve list: Robotech, Space Cruiser Yamato,and HALO.   

07 January 2012

FWS Review: HALO Combat Evolved Anniversary

In 2001, the new high-powered video game console, the Xbox seemed like a stillborn property, that was until we gamers discovered one of the finest games ever made: HALO: Combat Evolved. Now, a decade later, the spin-off of Bungie, 343 Industries, has visual reconstructed the journey as a love letter to the fans and future fans. This was the only game I ask for Christmas, and I have been spellbound replaying the campaign and the new Firefight level, giving ,e a back from Call of Duty: MW3. So, here is the FWS review of HALO: Combat Evolved Anniversary (HCEA).

What they changed and what they didn't change

Let me clear something up, HCEA does use a modded version of the HALO: Reach engine, but Anniversary looks nothing like that game, it appears more like the 2001 original, like a visual retrofitting. In a majority of the ways, HCEA has been tweaked in small ways, adding up to a more more detail, rich, smoother gameplay experience. This doesn't take away from the original experience of the game. In comparsion between the 2011 HALO: Combat Evolved and the original classic 2001 edition, is the way that the Aston Martin DBS is slightly better than the Aston Martin DB9, or the Porsche 911 Carerra S is slightly better overall than the standard 911 Carerra, however, the original standard version of these cars are epic in their own way.
The gamer developers did not add HALO: Reach weapons, nor the alien enemies, or the melee Assassination system, everything is as you remember it, only much frakking better.
Rest assured, the vast majority of weapons from the original are still the same, UNSC MA5B still is like it was in 2001, along the M6 .50 pistol, but the alien weaponry as been visually improved, more so than the UNSC weaponry, like the plasma bolts being smaller. What has been changed, in terms of weapons, is their sounds, and this is for the better.
The tweak that I was the most disappointed with was the Warthog, in HCEA it sounds like a diesel, when it actually runs off of hydrogen, and is  much slower to get moving, and slower overall.
 Two welcome addition to the HCEA disc was the Installation 04 Firefight map, and the Terminals. This new Firefight map does have NPC ODST soldiers to help you, and fully uses the HALO: Reach weapons, enemies, and mechanics, but be warned, this is crack-like addictive. The other new addition elements, is the Terminals, which you hunt and find around the levels of the campaign. This are pieces of the story from the POV of monitor Guilty Spark 343, its life onboard Installation 04 after the Forerunners all die off, the appearance of the humans and aliens to the ring, and hints of something else. Some sources have said that these Terminal stories are hints at the storyline and main enemy for the new HALO trilogy coming in Holiday of 2012 (most likely November).
Here is video of a comparison of the 2001/2011 weapons:


It had been a about a year since I played the original HALO campaign, due to playing realistic military shooters like Modern Warfare and Medal of Honor, then after playing Reach, it seemed that the old game was going to be pushed further back in the game cabinet. What HCEA did was rocket one of the best video games of all time back in the hands and minds of gamers, and re-lit the love for the game that started it all. The one of the best parts of HCEA is that 343 Industries didn't frak with it, they visually updated it, making it more of retrofitted game by keeping the positives and negatives. I had been worried when I read that the Reach engine had been used for the game, which would have altered HCEA into another game, resigning the 2001 original edition to the archaeological status. But what they did instead was polish an already legendary game.

The issues and problems that existed with the original HALO: Combat Evolved crop back up in this update, like the repetitive enemies types, walking through the Installation 04 over and over, the helplessness of your marine allies, and so on. But, the 2011 update itself, there is nothing bad here, in fact, I loved HALO more after playing it.  


The only ugly portion of the entire HCEA is the cutscene face animation, which I never had a problem with in any of the HALO games, but somehow, 343 Industries made everyone look like they have buck teeth...or maybe the UNSC's dental plan is lacking or dental technology of the 26th century has taking step backwards. I am honestly shocked that 343 Industries would allow this flaw to make it to the final product.

Should you buy this Game?

That depends on how you reacted to the original HALO: Combat Evolved, if you hated the original game, than you should save your money for therapy, because this game is still the same game, just visually updated. The same issues and problems that people had with the campaign still exist in HCEA. If you loved HALO, like I do, than you must likely own this game and are playing it now.