Thursday, November 14, 2019

Brightblade is now available for purchase!

Hey folks,

Good news! We have a new book from me available for order! BRIGHTBLADE is the next installment of the UNITED STATES OF MONSTERS universe that includes the RED ROOM, BRIGHT FALLS MYSTERIES, and STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON books. This book, first of the MORGAN DETECTIVE AGENCY series is about the adventures of Ashley Morgan, PI and bounty hunter.

Psychic. Superhero. Spy. Detective. Bounty Hunter. Ashley Morgan has been many things and failed at all of them. The twenty-eight-year old has her whole life ahead of her but has already resigned herself to working a dead end job bringing in the debt-ridden supernatural criminals of New Detroit. A chance encounter with the vampire sheriff reveals a secret that motivates her to change her life forever: her long-missing brother Arthur is alive (in a manner of speaking).

"Not only does it fit into the universe, but charts in own course, adding new layers to what they have been creating in other books in the universe." - The Bookwyrm Speaks

Pick up your copy here

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) review

*Warning - Long drawn out political analysis*

    Let's be honest, Call of Duty's campaign mode hasn't been good for awhile now. It used to be one of the biggest franchises in the world but it got trapped in the yearly development cycle and then went in some odd directions. I don't think we have to explain that Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, and Infinite Warfare were not great directions to pursue. Each of them more or less ended without any resolution to their campaigns and weren't terribly great stories to begin with. Black Ops went from being a hardened gritty historical campaign to a near-future science fiction one (which was pretty damn good) to cyberpunk weirdness. Hell, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 didn't even bother with a campaign.

A hard act to follow.
    My opinion on this is that the developers have a desire to avoid any form of controversy or politics. This is a problem when dealing with frigging war. The aforementioned campaigns went to some absurd degrees in order to reduce their campaigns to their most asinine Saturday Morning Cartoon-esque level. These include creating a Nazi-esque South American Federation, fighting Martian Nazis, and using Kevin Spacey (which is all the evil you need). It bothers me that that the most "realistic" game I could play right now is Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which had Bolivia taken over by a Mexican professional wrestler obsessed with Santa Muerte.

    Modern Warfare wasn't a particularly realistic trilogy, even in the original game. You had a level where you stopped a nuclear attack on America, had America invaded by Russia, had the heroes EMP America, and a few more other Big Budget action movie set pieces. However, for all of its silliness, it was a game that had a few things to say: nukes are a terrible thing, the good guys don't always win, vengeance is a terrible motivation for war, and killing the "bad guys" doesn't often make the situation better. They are not deep messages but they were messages and political ones at that. Which is why I was cautious as well as optimistic about picking up Modern Warfare's latest installment.

    The premise of 2019 is that the United States is carrying out a proxy war with Russia and Al-Qatala ("The Killers") in the fictional nation of Urzikstan. Urzikstan is basically a combination of Syria, Chechnya, and Iraq. After a botched mission to recover some nerve gas being manufactured for illegal use by the Russians and an attack on Piccadilly Circus by Islamic terrorists, the SAS as well as American CIA are sent in to increase the pressure on both. Its very similar to the events of the original Modern Warfare yet strangely perfectly topical.

Urzikstan has seen better days.
    This is a smaller, more intimate war than the original Modern Warfare games but works well with the context of the story. The majority of the action takes place in Urzikstan and you get a sense of the place even if it's mostly a war-torn disaster zone. The set pieces are a collection of "ripped from the headlines" real-life events with the assault on the US embassy in Benghazi, the Highway of Death (more on that later), the London attacks, the waterboarding of prisoners, and Russian war crimes in Syria.

    There's a certain level of humor in the fact that this intensely politically charged subject matter has been said to be "not political" by the developers. It's also doubly funny because Time Magazine praised Call of Duty: Modern Warfare as the installment where the game franchise "finally grows up." My opinion on the subject is that a game that doesn't have any politics is a game that has nothing to say. Which, if that's what you want, fine but you're not contributing to the medium being art. It's why my favorite video games are Deus Ex, Metal Gear, and Bioshock that wear their politics on their sleeves.
Real life Kurdish rebel.

    Still, there's an argument over whether this game has anything to say other than "terrorism bad, war crimes bad, Bad Russians bad, Good Russians good." That's a fairly decent argument but I think the game has much to say simply by illustrating the complicated relationship between governments, partisans, and the troops on the ground. The fact that this is a game starring a Muslim woman resistance fighter, Farah (Claudia Doumit), says something even in 2019. Indeed, the game unfortunately has a plot "twist" that strongly resembles a real life event that the developers couldn't have predicted and doesn't pain the USA in the most favorable light.

     Generally, the game is just a action adventure that involves you fighting against bad guys but that doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't have anything valuable to say or isn't all the better written for it. So, I'm going to upfront say that this is probably my favorite Call of Duty game since Black Ops 2. There's some flaws in the game and ones things that I would have changed but the writing is enjoyable, the set pieces are well-designed, the graphics are gorgeous, and the gameplay is a vast improvement for reasons that I'll get into.

    The game is fairly standard first-person shooter fair in some levels with the assault on a Russian military base, chases in the street, and a few other missions that suffer for their typicalness. However, there's some genuinely genius pieces of level design that I appreciate. "Clean House" is a Rainbow Six-esque mission with night vision goggles that you have to go through, one floor at a time, in order to deal with a radicalized London apartment building's terrorist cell.

Big war set pieces are the series' bread and butter.
    Sometimes, you have to make choices about whether the women in the house are noncombatants or terrorists themselves. "The Highway of Death" has an extended sniper sequence that takes advantage of the original Pripyat mission's strike against Zakhaev. "Going Dark" is a massive map that allows massive freedom of movement even as it emphasizes stealth and using light to fight against overwhelming numbers of enemies.

    The role of civilians in this game is something that is handled very differently from previous versions as there's a lot of focus on the fog of war. While there's automatic game overs for killing too many civilians, there's many instances in the game where you can and get away with it. Indeed, they're deliberately set up to emphasize that it's not always easy to avoid civilian casualties and you can't always tell who is a threat. One of the most tense moments in the game is whether or not to let a car pass by when it could be carrying a bomb or reinforcements.

"Remember, no London."
     One of my favorite parts of the game is when you play the twelve-year-old Farah when she's caught in a bombing run by the Russian military, followed by their subsequent massacre of her town with chemical weapons. It's a harrowing scene and while some might find the idea of her stabbing a soldier as a little girl to be ridiculous, I found it a strong bit of writing. Violence has come to these people and they have nowhere to go to escape it. They didn't volunteer to become soldiers like so many other protagonists in the series.

    Despite this, I do have some criticisms of the game. The game's politics are for a fictional nation so that means the events they cite have frequently different contexts. The Highway of Death in real life was the United States bombing an Iraqi highway full of soldiers that happened to have civilians in it while in-game it was Russia bombing fleeing refugees. The Russians are occupying Urzikstan in-game and there's no sign of an Assad-esque puppet regime that would carry out the majority of atrocities that are similar to the ones on display here. I'm no fan of the Russian Federation or its RL atrocities as well as invasions of its neighbors but it gives ammunition to critics of this game as propaganda.

    In conclusion, the game is very strong and well-written in its single player campaign. The multiplayer element is more or less the same thing that we've always gotten with COD. The lack of a zombies mode will also irritate some players. Still, I'm going to say this is an impressive piece of work and that I'm very glad I bought it.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Another Life (2019 television series) review

    This is a very difficult show to review and I don't often say that. I've done something like two thousand reviews total in my career as an author, reviewer, and internet commentator. It's very easy to review shows you like or dislike. It's harder to review shows you have mixed feelings about. How, exactly, do you review a show that is objectively terrible but you love? Another Life is a gloriously trashy program and one that I strongly recommend people watch but they should do so with the full awareness it's terrible. Terribly fun too! I should warn you that there's going to be some mild spoilers here because you can't really talk about this show without sharing some of its dumber moments. I really recommend watching it for them, though. You need the context for how off the wall events in this show can be.

I like the Mobius Strip design of the alien artifact.
    The premise is that a mysterious alien object has landed on the Earth and proven that we are not alone in the universe. The United States assembles its best and brightest to send into space to contact this alien race using newly-developed faster-than-light technology. Simultaneously, experts attempt to communicate with the object below. Coincidentally, the heads of said teams are Captain Niko Breckinridge (Katee Sackhoff) and Eric Wallace (Justin Chatwin), a married couple. They will be parted for six months if all goes well on this journey and this is doubly hard because they have a young daughter.

    This is a perfectly fine hard-ish science fiction premise and a lot of people assumed that was what the series was going to be about. A bit 2001: A Space Odyssey perhaps but, ultimately, a solid premise about First Contact and dealing with something unknown. The thing is, that is not what this show is about. Not in the slightest. This is much closer to Jason X and Prometheus where a bunch of extremely pretty people are trapped on a starship before they die horribly every episode.

Star Trek: Enterprise levels of fanservice without the pretext.
    One of the things that I commented on with Prometheus is that it is a movie with a profoundly stupid cast. They have nothing on the crew of the Salvare, though. For an example, none of the crew wear uniforms because they've been abolished and, instead, wear sexy leisure wear including thigh-high boots as well as tank tops. One character also doesn't trust the captain, Niko, because anyone over twenty-seven is all-downhill professionally. There's are rules against fraternization but these get ignored as the crew hooks up repeatedly in a variety of combinations, including the A.I of the ship developing an obsession with the captain.

    The voyages of the Salvare consists of the crew having sex, getting high, and getting killed in roughly that order. Each episode shows another disaster that is caused by sabotage, mutiny, incompetence, or the vengeful hand of God that would take awhile to explain. Most of the crew are kept in stasis for the trip so whenever one of them dies, their replacement is promptly thawed out. The comparisons to a slasher movie are not unjustified or lightly made but a completely serious comparison. As a fan of B-movie science fiction and slasher movies both, I have no problem with any of this. When someone's nervous system rips out of their back and crawls away, I was entertained not offended.

The proper wear for outer space travel. Space Gap!
    I mean, I really can't overstate what a collection of morons this group is. Some examples are: they miss a moon while scanning a planet, they mutiny against their captain because she won't take an 11% chance of their ship being destroyed to shave months off their trip, they get take samples of alien plants to get high off of, they refuse to explain basic facts about situations (like, "the guy I killed was coming at me with a screwdriver"), and remove their environmental suits repeatedly despite previous infections. I mean, at one point, a character kills another character then de-thaws the dead character's girlfriend to replace them. Did we mention said character was recruited from a cartel that kidnapped people for ransom? By said person who de-thaws her? Earth's best and brightest here are apparently the kinds of people you'd cast for Big Brother 2077.

    The parts set on Earth are marginally less stupid but that's a matter of degrees rather than kind. Eric Wallace attempts to use pigeons to communicate with the artifact, leaks the details of the alien contact to the public at large through a Youtube celebrity, decides whether or not he's going to leak based on a bar bet, and has a politician decide to invade the artifact's TARDIS-like interior.

Blaire has probably the most serious plotline.
    On the plus side, it also has Selma Blair as said Youtube celebrity and I appreciate anything she's in. The aliens are being surprisingly obtuse when they understand human speech, ideas, and concepts fine enough to communicate when they feel like it. Unfortunately, the "clues" that Eric decodes are simple ones like communicating in binary or with music. They even screw that up because they choose one of the few things in binary that doesn't include any zeros.

    All ten episodes are one disaster after the other with an endless series of cliffhangers, melodrama, and twists. I had an enormous amount of fun binge-watching this collection of pretty people getting themselves in life-threatening situations or falling in love. However, if you're expecting a hard science and serious drama like The Expanse then run far-far away.


Monday, October 28, 2019

The Outer Worlds review

    Country roads, take me home, to a place--oh wait, wrong game. Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand. Ah, yes, that's much better. Outer Worlds is one of the three games I've been looking forward to with the others being Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2 and Cyberpunk 2077. Basically, the video game industry has all but killed my love of gaming with some recent disasters that seem utterly determined to remove anything resembling storytelling and nuance from the genre. I don't know what happened that caused so many developers to come down so hard on games as artistry but they've done an amazing job of squeezing it out from the medium.

I liked his original Doc Brown look even more.
    If you'll forgive a short rant: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Fallout 76, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and the increasingly theme park Assassins Creed games just left me feeling cold. Those are also games that I bothered to play. Ghost Recon Wildlands may have been a generic game but it at least had a plot that involved politics of some kind unlike Breakpoint. I didn't go in expecting the Outer Worlds to be the redemption of video games as a medium but that's what I got.

    The premise of the game is you are one of a generation ship's colonists, similar to Mass Effect: Andromeda, that have been frozen for decades. Awakened by an eccentric scientist, Phineas Wells, you are asked to help him free the other colonists that need a special collection of chemicals to waken them all up safely. I can't help but wonder if the premise is a bit of a jab at Fallout 4 but virtually the entire game feels like an extended "this is how you should have done it" to Bethesda. Frankly, while, I defended Fallout 4, this is well-deserved.

    It's difficult to describe what the plot is after this because you have an incredible amount of freedom post-awakening. You can turn in the scientist who freed you by the second hub and immediately go to work for the evil megacorporations that you've seen can't run a salted tuna factory without killing people. You can kill all of the NPCs, utterly derail the plot, and betray every faction you've aligned with multiple times until everyone hates you.

Its a beautiful system.
    The game world is a beautifully rendered, vaguely comedic retro-future that resembles a 1930s-esque vision of the future with corporate rulership mixed with Flash Gordon aesthetics. If I had to give an explanation of what it looks like, imagine Bioshock: Infinite's Columbia with none of the racism and all of the corruption but set it in space instead of the atmosphere. Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky didn't adopt a retro-future feel for the original Fallout games (that's more a Fallout 3 thing) but they take that here and run with it. It's like Firefly's Western feel updated by about thirty years.

    Each of the locations are well-done with lots of quirky townsfolk, fun little missions, and humor. There's a bit of a Borderlands 2 feel to the place with everyone some manner of idiot or insane but that makes sense since that was strongly influenced by Fallout. The maps are a bit cramped with none of the other games wandering and everything over the next hill but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Your character can also be a complete jackass with some incredibly witty dialogue from the protagonist. The fact they're a silent protagonist does little to take away from amusing they are.

The secret ingredient of saltuna is...people! No, not really.
    The Companions are quite well done with most of them resembling off-brand versions of the Serenity crew mixed-and-matched. You travel with a Vicar, a mechanic, a space pirate, and a couple of other fun characters that certainly liven up the game. There's no romance option in the game and I feel that's a shame. My favorite character is easily Parvati, the sweet as pie mechanic who is socially awkward to the point of being unable to even speak in the presence of her crush.

    What surprises me is that the game is as relentlessly political as it is. The corporations running the Halcyon system are horrifically bad at it. They cut corners on basic survival matters, deny scientiffic facts, and attempt to misuse the local religions to keep the masses quiet. They're also incompetant at running things so that the entirety of the colony project is on the verge of mass starvation. Not because they're being evil. No, it's worse than that. The fundamental problem is the skills of making money are different from caring for people. Charismatic slogans and victim blaming do not solve the problem. If anyone has read any of my books, no points for guessing what I think of these views.

I love The Unreliable.
    Gameplay-wise, this is basically Fallout: New Vegas with shooting and looting as well as skills plus perks. Given that Bethesda did away with all the RPG elements of their RPG shooter series, it's kind of ironic that this is basically an idealized version of the RPG-shooter that many fans initially complained about with Fallout 3. Given Fallout: New Vegas was awesome, though, I have no complaints. I also appreciate they've just completely done away with hacking and lockpicking minigames. If you have a high-enough skill for it, you can do it. If not, then you have to find another way around it.

    This is a game you have to take a slow and methodical approach to. The quests aren't easily marked and the game doesn't hand hold you to find them. A lot of people have speed-run through the game and missed hours of content. Overall, I think the game is about 15 to 30 hours long if you vary between a main-quester and completitionist. This is a smaller game than I'd hoped but it's got more content than may be initially apparent if you do bother to ask around and do every little bit. 

    In conclusion, The Outer Worlds is an incredibly fun game and extremely good. I'm not going to give it a 10 out of 10, though, because it feels pretty small for an interstellar game. The tight budget constraints and development time meant this is a AA game rather than a AAA game. That's not a bad thing and I got more than my money's worth. I just hope they do a bunch of lengthy DLC expansions and have a bigger sequel. This is a great single-player experience and its relatively modest size means I wouldn't mind buying a lot more in its style.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery season two review

    I binge watched Star Trek: Discovery with my wife and it's lent me an interesting perspective on the show, one that I might have not normally have had. I think this is one of those shows that lends itself well to binging with plotlines better appreciated in the serialized format over episodic content. Ironically, I feel like the Short Treks are doing a better job with the episodic writing and kind of wish they would have all be expanded to full episodes. There will be some mild spoilers in the review but nothing that is going to ruin anyone's enjoyment, IMHO. Consider yourself warned.

The alien here was VERY rude.
        As I mentioned, the problem with the show has never been its characters, its actors, or even its ideas: its problem has been that it jumps around so much that it never really commits to anything so audience investment is hurt. There have been three major captains headlining the Discovery by the start of season three and poor Saru gets replaced every time he thinks he's going to sit in the big chair permanently. I actually felt sorry for the guy by the end.
    The premise is that Captain Pike (Anson Mount), captain of the Enterprise in pilot "The Cage", has been assigned to temporarily captain the Discovery after the disastrous reign of two psychotic Mirror Universe nutbars. Pike immediately proves to be a popular, if out-of-step, officer who assigns them to investigate bizarre red lights that have appeared across the galaxy. Each of these lights appears over a crisis that our heroes have to involve themselves in. They also prove to be somehow connected to the recently incapacitated Lieutenant Spock (Ethan Peck).

    Here, the story and characters are much more consistent. The Red Lights storyline is all connected with the subplot about Section 31, Michael's past, her relationship with Spock, and other details. Indeed, it's a little too neatly connected as we get another example of "small universe" syndrome with Michael. She's not only Spock's foster sister and blamed for the start of the Klingon-Federation War but we find out her biological parents were incredibly important as well. Indeed, as game changing as the Spore Drive is, it is nothing to the invention they create. But more on that latter.

I ship it.
    Really, Captain Pike and Spock are the highlight of this season and that's something of a problem with this story as you shouldn't have your guest stars be the most enjoyable part of the story. Captain Pike brings a much needed TOS levity to his character and a lighter idealism that contrasts him sharply against the grimmer harder crew of the U.S.S Discovery. While Spock goes through a terrible crucible, Peck manages to give a dignified performance with several standout moments. My favorite is when he has Spock successfully deconstruct Michael Burnham's savior complex in what is probably the season's best scene.

    Ansom Mount's Pike also incorporates a good deal of the character's brief TOS history. This is post "The Cage" and we have scenes taken from the original episode. Pike longs for his lover from Talos IV while also being terrified of his future quadriplegic status (that he gets a glimpse of with some Klingon relics). He's an interesting character to put on the discovery, being of a slight mystical bent that isn't so quick to dismiss the inexplicable as Michael Burnham. I really liked him and am in agreement with those who say they would watch a Star Trek: The New Original Voyages series starring him, Rebecca Romijn's Number One, and Peck's Spock.

    The villain for this season proves to be Section 31, though it's not actually the ideological extreme of the Federation this time but an evil computer controlling it ala Person of Interest. A similar plotline existed in the Star Trek novelverse but this is apparently two people coming up with the concept independently. Control is not a particularly interesting villain and I'm not sure I buy his ability to wipe out all life in the galaxy. Did he gain control over the Omega Particle somehow? You'd think Q or the Borg would have something to say about that.

I also ship it. Even if it's wrong.
     I like Section 31 as a concept but purely in the context of being villains for our heroes to oppose. I prefer it to be more like James Bond's SPECTER or Mass Effect's Cerberus than treating it as Starfleet's black ops division. That's the way it's presented here with none of the previous series' secrecy. Of course, given how they nearly get the entire galaxy Skynet-ed, I'm of the mind that this would be a good reason to disband the organization. Another being Admiral Cartwright being its head during The Undiscovered Country but that's only true in my Star Trek Adventures campaign.

   Overall, I think this season is slightly better than the previous one. I didn't dislike season one but I felt that it suffered from an insufficient commitment to its Klingon Arc and having a problem with its main characters: Michael Burnham and Gabriel Lorca. The former suffered from going from multiple personality extremes while the latter had a very interesting character tossed out for the revelation he was not who he said he was.

I cannot be upset at Michelle Yeoh as a Space Vamp.
    Another matter is the story contains a fairly large bit of Empress Georgiou from the Mirror Universe vamping it up. I find Michelle Yeoh entertaining in just about everything she does and she's clearly having a ball. Yet, I'm not sure the characters would indulge her the way they do with her casually admitting to multiple counts of genocide (and she's the LESS racist ruler of her universe). Whenever Gul Dukat was entertaining on DS9 (and he was frequently very entertaining), Sisko could never manage more than tepid politeness since he knew Dukat was a mass murderer.

    Season two feels like the writers tried to address some of the fans' complaints. The Klingons have hair now, which looks better but makes the redesign even less necessary. We also get some explanation of the various bridge officers' backstory (some of which is quite good). The fact that the adventure is based around exploring strange new worlds and visiting new planets is also a welcome relief from the disjointed Klingon War and Mirror Universe episodes of season one. The horrible death of Hugh Culber in the first season is addressed, which is fortunate since that was a poor way of treating Star Trek's first gay couple (not counting Trill).
I love the remade Enterprise. Continuity be damned.

        Unfortunately, I do feel like the show is a bit too crowded as is with all the new characters to develop the cast as well as they could. Also, it all ends up being about Michael in the end as well. I like her but less is more sometimes. To use an analogy, Blofeld doesn't have to be James Bond's brother to make their relationship interesting and personal. Spock and Michael have some great scenes but their incredibly intense relationship and animosity comes from the fact the latter once called him a racist name once. I mean, seriously, Spock. Be like Elsa and let it go.

    The best episodes of season two are definitely "New Eden" which deals with the conflict between faith and science as well as the episodes dealing with Saru's homeworld ("The Sounds of Thunder" and "Light and Shadows"). Unfortunately, these are the episodes that have the least to deal with the actual main plot of the game. We also have the climax of the story deal with events using a character from Short Treks' first episode, which really should have been incorporated into the main plot.

Klingons have time-wizards. I unironically love this.
    I think it summarizes the problems with this show that the best part of the season is the individual personalized episodes as well as the guest stars. This isn't because Discovery's cast is bad or even underwhelming. No, I want more Tilly, Ash Tyler, Stamets, and Saru. Lots more. I want more bridge officers too. It's just that the show keeps throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the wall in hopes something will stick. It feels way too try hard. Why visit Talos IV? I dunno, because it's that thing you remember and liked if you're a hardcore Trekkie. Why is the ENTIRE UNIVERSE at stake? Because that makes the story bigger and this show is obsessed with bigger and bigger.

    Still, Discovery's second season is never boring. It's always entertaining. The fact there's too much stuff going on isn't the worst flaw for a space opera to have. The characters are entertaining, everyone seems to be having fun, and if Michael's history is approaching Chris Claremont's X-men's Summers Family Tree levels of ridiculousness then it's in good company. I just wish the writers would slow down and stop being so loud as Taylor Swift would say (my second musical reference in this review).


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery season one review

    I decided to do a binge watch of Star Trek: Discovery with my wife and enjoyed watching the first two seasons. I actually started by reviewing every individual episode on my blog but removed those because I wasn't able to follow them up. My opinion on Discovery is mixed despite my fandom. There's episodes that I absolutely love, episodes I don't feel much for, and choices I don't agree with.

    Generally, I definitely think this is a Star Trek series worth sticking around for but it comes with quite a few caveats. They aren't going to be the ones like, "The Klingons look different" or "It doesn't look like the time period." I have my own complaints regarding that. However, I will have some criticisms. I hope you'll stick around to reading them. If not, just know that it has my endorsement but it's a 7 out of 10 rather than a 9 out of 10 like I'd hoped. That's the short version. The long version? Well, that'll take a bit.

Absolutely beautiful special effects.
    The premise is that it is a prequel to the original Star Trek series and takes place roughly ten years before the events of "Where No Man Has Gone Before" but after "The Cage." Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the adopted daughter of Sarek and Amanda Grayson as well as foster sister to Spock. Having achieved Commander in Starfleet, she is the second-in-command of Captain Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) on the U.S.S Shenzou.

    The Klingons, under sinister cult leader T'Kuvma (Chris Obi), are restless and start a war that Michael is blamed for after a series of disastrous decisions. After serving a brief prison sentence for mutiny, Michael finds herself recruited as a work-release hire by charismatic but ruthless captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) on the top-secret Starfleet vessel Discovery. They are possibly the Federation's last hope against a warrior race that grows stronger the longer the war goes on.

    I feel like this is a show that had some definite rewrites and struggles behind the sets because it feels like there were multiple visions of the show that contradict each other. As I understand it, that's exactly what happened. The Klingon War is a factor in the series but not nearly the focus of the series you'd find in, say, Deep Space Nine with the Dominion War or even Babylon Five. It's a background element that is resolved in the first season and almost feels like the most interesting elements of it (T'Kuvma and Voq) are written out early on.

    Indeed, the best episode of Season One "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" has almost nothing to do with the Klingon War and is a standalone episode involving Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson). I'm not going to complain about the visual continuity but I am a bit confused about the storytelling continuity. Harry Mudd is a pimp and a con artist in the Original Series but it's hard to believe Captain Kirk would let him go if he knew he was involved in terrorist acts against the Federation during a time of war.

    On the other hand, I have to say that I genuinely like the cast of characters. Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is one of my top ten favorite Star Trek characters period and maybe has cracked the top five. I very much enjoy Saru (Doug Jones) and the fact that he's an alien who gives us an insight into the idea of fear the same way Spock did with logic. Fear dominates Saru and it is something that he finds both beneficial as well as debilitating. Both Michelle Yeoh and Jason Isaacs elevate the material they deal with to the point you kind of wish they were headlining the show for the indefinite future.

Jason Isaacs is awesome here.
    I feel like the show missed an opportunity to interact with both T'Kuvma and the Terran Emperor since both are set up as the socially relevant radical ethnic nationalist leaders of their peoples. Cosmopolitanism is the heart of Star Trek as is the idea of embracing people of as many diverse backgrounds as possible. Having the heroes confront that head on and the appeal of such things would have made for an engaging set of episodes, IMHO. Why do they fear diversity and change so much and what is the best way to confront such fear?

    I feel like the show also missed an opportunity to develop many of the characters that it established. The Discovery bridge crew is visually interesting and I very much would have liked to have learned about them all. On the other hand, the fact we've got a fairly large crew this time around means that we aren't really skipping out anyone. Security Chief Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Chief Engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) make a pretty good impression. In a better late than never situation, Paul and Chief Medical Officer Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) are the first gay couple in Star Trek. Well, the first gay main characters period. If I had a complaint about the characters, its the fact that it kills quite a few that are quite interesting.

I heart Captain Killy.
    If I had to summarize Discovery's storytelling problems, it's that it feels like it jumps around too much and has one foot in serialized television while keeping its other in episodic. I feel like this series could have benefited from a stronger commitment to one or the other. I think it's to the series credit that I actually do like its episodic content and serialized episodes both. I would have happily watched a less special-effects heavy 26-episode series of them investigating new planets while exploring their characters.

    There's also a couple of more problems that I do feel addressing. I like the character of Michael Burnham but I feel like the show doesn't know who, precisely, Michael is. She's an extremely emotional person when she's not extremely stoic. She's an idealistic Federation officer when she's not throwing the rules to the side completely. She's incredibly pigheaded and bigoted against Klingons until she's not. Contradictions aren't necessarily a bad thing to do with a character but she feels a bit schizophrenic like Captain Janeway did at times. Her best moments are when she's acting off another, more coherent character like Phillipa, Saru, Sarek, Tilly, or Captain Lorca. Indeed, that's the irony that the star really works best when being a supporting character.

James gets Vulcans.
    Finally, there's another element that I feel distracts from my enjoyment of the series and that's the fact the science is nonsense. I don't mean in the usual Star Trek way of warp drive, space amoebas, and salt vampires. No, I mean you might as well say the ship is powered by rainbows and imagination. Nothing about the spore drive makes sense to fourth grade science, not the least being that space is not full of fungus (that requires atmospheres to grow as well as water--it also doesn't give you the power to teleport). I'm generally very "soft" in my sliding scale of soft versus hard science fiction but this goes beyond my limits--and is done with the utmost seriousness.

    Nevertheless, this is a series that has a lot going for it. The show is full of action, amazing special affects, and some surprisingly good character moments. James Frain's Sarek is a surprisingly solid piece of recasting. We actually get a few moments that add to the original series like why he felt such a sense of betrayal at Spock leaving the Vulcan Science Academy for Starfleet. His episode, "Lethe", is one that does a great job of showing both the ups as well as downsides of the Vulcan race. Its not surprising when a show works better on characterization that pew-pew or big special effects but this is definitely one that does.

The only starship powered by pizza.
    If I had to make a judgement, I'd say that while "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" and "Lethe" are my favorite character episodes, the series mostly picks up in its second half. The Mirror Universe episodes are actually my favorite of that series. I never liked what Deep Space Nine did with the world-building and this take on them feels less sexist as well as just as goofy fun. I also loved how the Klingon War is ended in the grand finale as it shows the writers fully understood what Star Trek is about. 

    In conclusion, I recommend purchasing a month of CBS All Access and binge-watching buying the first season separately. It's not the best Star Trek but it isn't the worst by far. Disco just has a rocky footing and yet there's still plenty of good here. If nothing else, the solid actors on display here are able to compensate for a lot of the weaknesses in the storytelling. I'd rather have too much than too little.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

UPDATE ON WRITING- October 6th, 2019

 Hey folks,

I thought I would give folks an update about my current projects and what's going on in my attempt to write as many wonderful stories as possible before someone buys Gary then makes it into a multi-billion dollar movie.

BOOK SALE: Good news for people who may not have had a chance to enjoy my "serious" books with WRAITH KNIGHT and LUCIFER'S STAR are going to be on sale for 99c on Kindle, Nook, and other sources this month. They're two of my best works and I think fans of the other ones will find it tremendous.

99c Lucifer's Star ebook
99c Wraith Knight ebook

 AGENT G: I'm finally getting around to getting the physical copies of AGENT G's trilogy. I've long loved the adventures of my cyborg antihero and I am looking forward to once more letting fans have a chance to read it in paperback. I'm a little embarrassed that it's taken so long to make the transfer. I'm also debating a new set of covers.

BRIGHTBLADE: I'm very pleased to announce the imminent release of another series in my UNITED STATES OF MONSTERS world. Brightblade follows the adventures of Ashley Morgan, private detective and bounty hunter operating in New Detroit (City of Vampires). When her ex-boyfriend, Alex Timons (I was a Teenage Weredeer) shows up and a magic sword falls into her possession, she has to keep an ancient evil from coming back.

THE KINGDOM OF SUPERVILLAINY: I have plans to do no less than 12 volumes of the Supervillainy Saga. The Kingdom of Supervillainy follows Gary's less-than-spectacular attempts to be a hero in Atlas City. When someone kills the previous Splotch, he has a murder to investigate and all too much evidence it happened at the hands of an old friend. No cover art commissioned for it, yet.

LUCIFER'S WORLD: The third Lucifer's Star novel is one I'm working on methodically as I want it to stick to the high standards of the previous volumes. Cassius Mass and company end up on a quest for an ancient treasure ship that contains documents that may guarantee humanity's freedom under their new masters. Of course, everything they've been told is a lie.

BLACKEST SPELLS: The sequel to my very successful anthology last year. Blackest Spells will be a collection of short stories by wonderful writers like Allan Batchelder, Paul Lavender, Ulff Lehmann, and Matthew Johnson. Each story will talk of evil magic, curses, wizards, and other examples of foul sorcery. I have three stories in it myself.