28 November 2010

Forgotten Classics: SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND

Forgotten Classics is a new series on FWS, that will explore military science fiction that have disappeared from the collective memory of the general public. I can think of no other better example of a forgotten classic that the subject of the first installment of the FWS Forgotten Classics of Military Sci-Fi: SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND (SAAB). This was a short-run military FOX TV sci-fi series that ran from September 1995 to June 1996, over  the course of just 24 episodes. The series was created by X-Files producers Glen Morgan and James Wong. The series originally was to run for a total of five season, only lasted one and ending on a cliff-hanger. The series was released in its entirely on a (very) basic DVD collection in 2005. For some fans of sci-fi, this was one of the open salvos of FOX cancelling promising science fiction shows before their time. This was Firefly before Firefly

The Basic Plot
SAAB takes place in 2063-2064 has mankind is struggling with wounds from the bloody A.I. Rebellion, and attempting to colonize deep space. The pilot opens with the United Nations and the massive Aerotech corporation establishing the most distant settlement from the Sol system, the Vista Colony around Episilon Indi (11.8 LYS from Earth). Shortly after, the colony is attacked by a hostile alien force. Another colonial ship is being readied to send to the Tellus colony with young Aerotech colonists and lovers, Nathan West and Kylen Celina. Nathan is thrown off the mission due to a movement on Earth over In-Vitro rights (In-Vitros are artificially gestated humans bred for a war against the AI rebels). Nathan, out of desperation joins the USMC to become a colonial sentry on Tellus.
Nathan qualifies for Marine Space Aviator training in Alabama, where he meets the rest of the regular class, including a In-Vitro sentenced to the USMC, Cooper Hawks. During their training, the colonial vessel bearing Kylen was attacked and crashed on Tellus. The UN informs the world that not only does life exist outside of Earth, but these alien wiped out Vista and Tellus. Nathan and the rest of the 58th are rushed through training and mobilized to the front in their He3 burring SA-43 Hammerhead dual atmospheric fighters The 58th Squad, now named "the Wildcards" is led by Colonel T.C, McQueen (one of the best sci-fi characters!), an In-Vitro Special Operations attack jet pilot, wounded in the opening battles of the war, and now assigned to the United States Naval Space Carrier Saratoga. Throughout the rest of the series, the core characters personal struggles are highlighted against the backdrop of the bloody war with the "Chig" aliens. The series ends on a bittersweet note, a cliffhanger coupled with death and hope.

The Impact of SAAB
Up until SAAB, there had not been a show firmly centered around a future war on a space carrier since the classic Battlestar Galactica. This show came at a time when Star Trek and it's clean vision of the future dominated the sci-fi landscape, while SAAB showed the grittier, darker side of a future in space.While the show is not well known today, due to the infancy of the Internet at the time of its TV run, it has impacted people creating sci-fi today, with its more realistic air. All one has to do, to see the impact of SAAB is by watch the new Battlestar Galactica, if it was not for SAAB then the new Battlestar Galactica would not have been as breathtaking and groundbreaking. 
While CGI effects were featured on other sci-fi shows like Babylon 5, SAAB aired on a major network with a healthy budget allowing for then-cutting-edge CGI. These effects were one of the most expense elements of the show. While I cannot confirm this, it is my firm belief that SAAB influenced the first HALO game. One just has to look at the M590 and the MA5B, the Pelican dropship and ISSCV to witness that Bungie mined the series for their games. In addition, SAAB,was one of the few military science fictions to use conventional weaponry and not energy based weapons, and shortly after this, the trend in military science fiction was to use conventional bullet-firing kinetic weaponry. Consider the USMC 7.62x51mm M590 of Space:Above and Beyond and the UNSC 7.62x51mm MA5B of HALO: Combat Evolved. Along with the ISSAPC from SAAB and the Pelican from HALO.

Why SAAB is a MSF Classic?
The reason that Space: Above and Beyond (SAAB) is a classic of Military Science Fiction is for it being unique and filled with, what I can only describe as, dark poetry. The last sci-fi property to be set in such a world was ALIENS in 1986. Unlike the Star Trek films and shows, this series did not always project humanity any differently than today, they drank, used drugs, wanted sex, had dirty-minds, along with  racism being alive and well in 2063, and this gave the series an edge not seen in main-stream sci-fi TV show before. Watching marines fight in the terrible conditions of an off-world battlefield while people die, and not just the "red-shirts". 
Another way that it is a classic, is that SAAB setup things to come, namely Battlestar Galactica with its dark tone and realistic military portray. Another reason for me, that SAAB is classic, is that it was original. The concept of marines in space fighting an aggressive unknown alien species is not new, but how they showed the world of 2063 is. The USMC is showed much like it is today, the Chigs were shown as complex and brutal, all while preserving an air of mystery. The show's producers, Morgan and Wong, were able masterfully incorporate elements like Johnny Cash, Imperial Japan war-time poetry, Shakespeare, the band X (I kid you not), and humanoid robots that rebelled, all in the same show without making it looked forced or alien to the overall concept. Only Battlestar Galactica has been able to perform such a task recently.  

The Historical Context of SAAB
When SAAB premiered in 1995, the landscape of TV sci-fi was much different than today. Science Fiction was popular on the major networks and this was around the same time as the launch of Sci-Fi network. Star Trek ruled the airwaves with no less than three shows. Added to the mix, was Babylon 5, Xena, Hercules, and other cheaper sci-fi shows that allowed for viewers to enjoy a variety of science-fiction every night of the week. So, fans of sci-fi were given the choice between low-budget, often cheesy shows, or the clean, holy-than-thou environment of Star Trek, until this dark military science fiction show came along.The mid-1990's were not today, there was peace, a good economy, no social-media, along with an infant world-wide-web, the realistic vision of future warfare was not hopeful, like the 90's were. While the new Battlestar Galactica is very much a product of our dark time, SAAB was calling back to the time of World War II and Vietnam, which a number of people didn't want to see..after all, it was the 1990's, which were a much happier time.

Why Did It End?
SAAB suffered from the same decisions that also killed Firefly, being jerked around the TV schedule, not enough promotion, and a lack of faith in the show itself. In addition, FOX aired SAAB on Sunday nights, after football, and often the show was delayed, losing the audience or like in my case, your VCR would only tape half of it! Also, FOX believed that the producers of the X-Files could create another mega-hit in this dark-sci-fi war show. However, the sci-fi nature of SAAB did not attract the legions of X-Files fans, nor did the dark dirt hard atmosphere of the show attach fans of the happier Star-Trek universe. The other reasons for the canceling the series was money and rating. If SAAB had the pull of the audience , then the ad money would have flowed in, and the rumored one-million-bucks-an-episode production cost would have been justified. It is my belief, that only because of the X-Files success and the connect of  SAAB to that show was the only reason that the remainder of the season completed, if it had not been, then it would have ended like Firefly.

Is There an  Future for SAAB?
I have read a few rumors that Ronald D. Moore, the god of the new Battlestar Galactica, original approached the Sci-Fi Channel about a remake of SAAB, his second pitch wa BSG. If this is true, than it is possible that a remake is in the future. However it took 20 years for BSG to get a remake. At the moment, SAAB is fondly remembered by fans like me who forge a spot for their beloved show in the old interwebs. Sadly, I do not think there is much of a future for this show, but its influence will live on in the hearts and minds of fans.

The 2005 DVD Release and the 2012 Release
In 2005, SAAB  was finally released on DVD in a 10 disc box set, and while it is nice to finally have the complete series on DVD, the release was disappointing. Little money was spend on it, and there is no special features, no interviews, and somehow the Babylon 5 space station makes an appearance on the title menu screen! I really believed when the DVD collection was released, that Space:Above and Beyond would get some respect and notice, but given the bare-bones nature of the release, it looks like more of the same for the series. In 2012, a United Kingdom media company released a Region 2 PAL DVD set that included all of the features missing from the barebones 2005 release: new interviews, deleted scenes, galleries, some commentary on the epsiodes. Sadly, this was not released on a format for United States DVD players, leaving us out in the cold. 

The Best Five Episodes of the Series
  • The Farthest Man From Home (episode#2)
  • Ray Butts (episode #5 and my personal favorite)
  • The River of Stars (episode #11. this is the Xmas story that uses a great WWI historic event)
  • Who Monitors the Birds? (episode #12, the original of Hawks and an sniper assassination mission)
  • The Angriest Angel (episode #15, the single best episode of SAAB)
this is the best website for SAAB.

25 November 2010

Behind the pages of CUSTOM

After each posting of my writing, I plan on giving an inside story on the creation of the work. I always wondered how authors came up with their stories, so I plan on telling you, reader how these stories are forged.

Custom  was born out of watching HBO's The Pacific, while trying to come up with an idea for a flash fiction website submission. At the time, I was trying to publish a short story and not having any success at that, I tried my hand at flash fiction. The idea came suddenly and within a hour the first part was done, after two hours, I had the complete story arch. My plan was to sell Custom as a serial, but no one went for it, so when we opened FWS, this was the natural place for it.

  • The Nix are born out of episode of the Pacific were those crabs were everywhere, and mixed with the nightmare of the Warhammer 40,000's Tyranids.

  • The concept of the Customized soldier is nothing really new, but I wanted Jamie to be fighting for her survival in different way, not just her life, but the very soil. The name Jamie Jaren comes from...no...you're going to have to google that one.
The .410 Shatter handgun is a semi-real thing, my father talked of buying a Taurus Judge Revolver, and from the damage that it can do, it seemed prefect for dealing death at close range. While the Reaper rifle that fires flechettes is a nod to the Steyr ACR concept rifle from the mid-1980's. Flechettes are something that I would want in my hands during a war, they are nasty and during the 1980's it looked we (USA/NATO) might be going that direction. Well, that didn't happen.

  • The hardsuits are a nod to the great cyberpunk Anime epic, Bubblegum Crisis, one of my favorite Anime series. I didn't want the Custom soldiers to be in armor powered suits, been writing too much about them lately
  • My concept was for a story arch of the desperate of the situations were you are just hanging on to survival, then in one moment, you just don't frakking care anymore.
  • The Jeep was nod to the epic Jeep Unlimited Rubicon and the WWII Willys Jeep that helped us win the war
  • Wireless Ridge is a reference to the Falklands War, and Vickers is a nod to the Vickers Machine Gun.
  • BTW-Anyone catch the Portal reference in part Three FOB? That took some doing, but it makes me smile every time I read it!
  • The Atchisson Auto-Shotgun is the AA-12 in the real world, and I put this in the serial due to watching the Future Weapons Video on the AA-12 and it's steer destructive power left me speechless.

19 November 2010

CUSTOM: Part 11-Dead Man's Trigger

She woke up to pounding on the hatch. In an alcohol soaked fog, she scooped her flechette rifle, and stumbled to the airlock.

Who the hell was this?!

Pounding on the small pothole was a blooded fist, and Jamie shot back with weapon trained on the pothole.

“PLEASE LET ME IN! FOR GOD’S SAKE, PLEASE!” That sobered her right up, with one hand on her weapon, she keyed opened the hatch. The wounded soldier fell into the airlock, flipped around and sprayed the Nix that chased him. Before he could put one of them down, it sliced leg, cutting it into a jagged bloody spraying wound.

Jamie re-sealed the hatch, dragging the wounded Custom into the command room. He begged for his mother and morphine with howling screams that echoed throughout the empty room. Jamie injected the morphine, applied a pressure bandage on the spraying wound, and held the trooper.

She held him until he stopped screaming, until he stopped breathing…until he was cold.

Then the pounded started again. This time it was not a human fist that bashed on the airlock, and she knew it was just a matter of time now. Waves of deep sadness washed over her, for the Nix to be at the airlock, meant that every defense lines were crushed.

Then one thought bolted through her: I’m last Custom on the entire Honiara Moon and here is was the final ground,

With the last of the General’s Scotch, she honored the soldier under a sheet on the cold metal floor of this domed building. With the last drop of the harsh drink, the full weight of the situation fell on her. The Nix had taken Vickers, and the compounds robot cannons were dry, the shuttles were gone. The airlock doors were fortified with every goddamn piece of furniture in the dome. She prepared with every weapon locked and loaded around the room for the moment when they broke though.

It only took them an hour to punch through both doors. Jamie was ready with are automatic shotgun. When the door collapsed from the body slams of the Nix phalanx, Jamie fired, jammed up the door with bodies, trapping them inside the corridor. Dozens died before they could even enter the room.

She could not hold them off forever, and when they spread out, she tossed grenades, and laid down buckshot. Their death-wails indoors nearly shattered her helmet.

When one weapon was dry, she rushed to another stashed around the command center. Each time, Jamie was sure that the Nix would get her, and perform their horrific slice-and-dice.

When every weapon was depleted, she drew her last weapon, her trusty pistol, and unloaded on the nearest Nix.

But one outflanked her.

The claw swept up, tossing Jamie’s .410. It was gone. The creature followed it up by another claw sliced to the inside of her legs, sending her down. That was normally the end of a Custom trooper, but she fought back with a knife in one hand slashing in blind terror and the dead man trigger in the other. But another claw savagely diced her armor, and spilling out her large intestine into her hands.

Death was near.

“This is my world, asshole.” She pushed down the trigger.

The Bashar saw the nuclear mushroom cloud while waiting in low orbit. The Captain scrolled around her expansive bridge, looking at the banks of projected holo-screens.

“Report, Mr. Hikaru.”

“Total loss, Vickers is a smoking hole.”

“Any sign of survivors?” The Captain had once been a hot-stick dropship pilot; she had pulled many asses out of the fire. That made her always had concern over the Customs that were left in the field.

“Couple of fruit-flies are fighting in an outline jungle station.”

The Captain spun around and leveled a finger at the sensor officer. “Customs, Mr. Hikaru! Watch your tongue!” He looked down sheepishly.

“Sorry, Ma’am.” Hikaru was red from embarrassment.

“Have a couple of supply modules dropped.” She knew that it would not do much good, the fight was lost on the ground below, but she felt if anyone was left down there, than food, water, and bullets was the least she could do.

“Ms. Hughes,” Spoke the Captain with a grave voice while checking her watch. “All shuttle accounted for?”

“Yes, Ma’am, everything is locked down for departure.”

“Break orbit, Ms. Hughes, spin up the drives, the Nix has won here.”

“Course, Captain?”

“Plot a jump to Rub' al Khali.” She tapped on her PDA and signed when she saw that the fresh batch of Customs in the cryo-bay. They had never been deployed per her judgment of not sending more lives into a lost battle on the moon.

“The Nix are hitting us hard there, so have bio-med adjust the cryo Customs’ genes for desert warfare.” The Captain ordered to Ms. Hughes.

“Sir!” The Captain starred at the lust jungle green covering the small world, and their retreat from another battlefield, as the Bashar broke orbit. She was all too aware that this could not continue, losing planet after planet to them. Soon, her side needed a victory.

Maybe at Rub’ al Khali will be a victory…she thought as the massive warship leaped away.

13 November 2010

The Battle: Los Angeles Trailer

The Alien Invasion is a been a sci-fi classic theme since the original War of the Worlds, and in modern times, since around the time ID4 was released, filmmakers have tried to make the genre something epic coupled with a more realistic story.

The first Alien Invasion movie that I felt lived up to that was the 2005 War of the Worlds, which tapped into the post-September 11th emotion element. Then came Half-Live 2, and now it seems, Battle: Los Angeles will be the premier realistic Alien Invasion film.

The concept has been described by the film director Jonathan Liebesman as “like Black Hawk Down with aliens.”
All I have to say is it's about time.
Finally, Military fighting back against the alien invades in a major urban setting.
This morning, while checking in around my normal sites, io9 posted the new nearly two-minute trailer and the odd haunting music, coupled with the hard realistic combat felt me speechless...and that takes something for me.

Here is a shot from the new trailer, and you can see the attention paid to construct a  realistic military film set within an alien invasion. My hope is that this film does not tease us with a great trailer, like Skyline and then not delivery the goods when the film drops.

Here is the link to the io9 post and the original music video to the music in the trailer

And here is the offical website to the film:

And here is the IMFDB page on it: