Sunday, May 15, 2022

My Star Trek time travel theory

    I admit I am a huge Star Trek fan, no duh, but I also am a huge fan of continuity. So I did this interesting little write-up for my Star Trek Adventures campaign where the player characters were time cops who were trying to figure out what had happened to the timeline. They came up with this information that explained away inconsistencies in the shows, which didn't NEED to be explained, but I was amused to do anyway.

The Original Series 

    Historically, the original timeline of humanity was TOS and that was how the Enterprise appeared before time was altered. Starships were big, blocky, and while sturdy they were not seemingly as advanced or visually appealing as before. Furthermore, Starfleet was significantly more militant and harsh. 

    Minor changes to the timeline happened during this period that were, despite Kirk's reputation with the Department of Temporal Affairs, relatively inconsequential to the timeline. The hobo phasering himself in "City on the Edge of Forever", the stealing of whales during Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and so on. The timeline's progression is largely without interruption, Edith Keeler's brief disastrous presidency in an altered timeline aside, despite Captain Kirk discovering time travel when he accidentally traveled three days back in time in "The Naked Time."

    Yes, in the original timeline, time travel wasn't discovered until that moment and was still in the realm of the theoretical. At least in the original timeline.  Events continue onward to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

Divergence 1# (First Contact)

    The first divergent point in Starfleet history is First Contact where Zephram Cochrane met Starfleet and became a significantly more idealistic figure who helped influence the United Earth Probe Agency to become more focused on exploration versus conflict. 

    This event actually has much larger ramifications but set the stage for the second divergence point (see below). Nevertheless, already things are changing greatly as the human race encounters the Borg much earlier in "Regeneration." While the episode hints at a predestination paradox, it's much more likely to me that it is an example of how the timeline has already been greatly altered by events and will only get much worse.

    Ironically, the biggest consequence of this event seems to be the fact that in an alternate reality, Zephram Cochrane was so impacted by events of First Contact that he slaughtered the Vulcan landing crew and stole their technology to build the Terran Federation ("In a Mirror, Darkly").

Divergence 2# (Enterprise)

    The second divergence point is far more dramatic due to the Temporal Cold War when the Suliban ROYALLY screwed up the timeline by accidentally diverting a Klingon to Earth in "Broken Bow." In the original timeline, Jonathan Archer was known as a test pilot and warp engineer who failed to get the NX-01 off the ground and the first Enterprise would not launch until the Constitution-class decades later.

    Due to the Klingon's arrival, Archer gets his chance and suddenly the Earth enters space decades earlier and mucks with the timeline. This is why Daniels is so surprised the Federation ceases to exist in "Shockwave" if Archer is removed because Archer SHOULDN'T be that important. Originally, he was just a random NASA guy but is now elevated to George Washington as well as Neil Armstrong.

    History proves robust and the Federation still unfolds much the same way as it did in normal history even with things like the Xindi War and a much friendlier relationship with the Andorians. The Federation forms out of mutual interest instead of a reponse to Romulan aggression. Technology gets a few decades leap ahead of itself and the USS Enterprise is now a much more advanced exploratory vessel with less focus on militancy.

    This notably affected the Kelvin timeline as well.  

The New Trek Timeline

    Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds are the result of this new and revised timeline as is the first Klingon War that happens before the events of "Errand of Mercy." Events are still eerily similar and ironically are probably due to Daniels and other time cops trying to make sure things still are broadly the same. This sadly includes making sure Christopher Pike ends up crippled by his experiences.

    Note: If you absolutely need an explanation, Robert April's father married another woman in changing timeline as well but is functionally the same man historically.

    Notably, in the original timeline, Michael Burnham's family lived a perfectly normal life due to the fact the Federation (or Section 31) never developed an interest in time travel or stealing Klingon time travel crystals. The theft of the time crystals that triggered Michael's parents' murder happened only because Archer discovered time travel a century earlier than Kirk and widely advertised it. This resulted in Sarek adopting her and her sudden appearance in Spock's life, resulting in him being slightly more comfortable expressing emotions.

Divergent 3# (Picard season two, Averted) 

    The second season of Star Trek: Picard seemed like it was hinting at a massive revision of the timestream but, in fact, actually doesn't change anything. Admiral Picard and his merry band of misfits are taken out of time when an encounter with the Borg goes disastrously wrong and transplanted to a dystopian version of the 25th century.

    This "Confederacy" timeline only exists for the time that Captain Picard and his company are removed from the timeline by Q due to the fact that their adventure in Season 2# *IS* a predestination paradox. Admiral Picard notes that the bullet holes from Borgified mercenaries are things he remembers from his childhood. As such, all of their actions in the past help lay the foundation for the Federation in the future.

     Does this mean the Confederacy timeline is the "original" timeline? Probably not. It is more like a bubble timeline that exists like the one in "Shockwave" where Captain Archer is briefly removed from time and a post-apocalypse Earth replaces it. It exists only as long as Captain Picard has been removed from the timeline until he goes back in time to save his ancestor.

     Some questions exist but Q's powers can paper over most and presumably Doctor Jurati-The Borg Queen want to avoid a paradox by interfering with the Borg timeline leading up to the 25th century.

     I hope this was educational!

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Star Trek: Picard season 2 review

    STAR TREK: PICARD Season Two is something that I was deeply looking forward to from the moment it was announced as I was a huge fan of Season One. My impression of that season was that it had an extremely strong start but stumbled due to episode length. We didn't get enough follow up on events and were left with more mysteries than answers. Basically, I wished they had done THE LAST BEST HOPE by Una McCormick as a two parter to open it and added an epilogue to follow up on what happened after the events of the tenth episode.

    Still, I was very excited for the return of the cast and seeing how they would deal with the consequences of the first season. Unfortunately, the answer to that is generally: not at all. I think Doctor Jurati being cleared of murder charges due to mind-control was the only subject matter that got addressed. What about the Zhat Vash? What happened to them? What about Admiral Oh? Narek? Is the Federation going to work with the Romulans tracking down the terrorists who burned both of them? How about the ex-Borg?

    Instead, the series focuses much more on an entirely new storyline. After rejecting his employee, Laris (Orla Bradly) when she attempts to start a romantic relationship, Admiral Picard (Patrick Stewart, duh) is requested by the Federation to help with a First Contact scenario: a new race wants to join the Federation. Except, it's not a First Contact scenario, it's the Borg and things end disastrously with Picard blowing himself along with the rest of the heroes up.

    Like a script editor, this will not do for Q (John De Lancie) and he restores Picard as well as his merry band of miscreants to life. He proceeds to put them in what appears to be a dystopian version of the Federation and from there, Picard must take Seven (Jeri Ryan), Raffi (Michelle Hurd), Rios (Osvaldo RĂ­os Alonso), and Doctor Jurati (Alison Pill) to the 21st century in order to somehow prevent things. Due to contrived but entertaining circumstances, they also bring the Borg Queen (Annie Wersching). Characters Sonji (Isa Briones) and Elnor (Evan Evagora) have vastly reduced roles.

    Generally, the show swerves between zany comedy reminescent of Star Trek IV (with several homages) to that story and deep traumatic introspection, which is not always consistent. Captain Picard remembers his father as an abusive monster to his mother and her as a saint but there's a trick his memory is playing on him. I feel like the episodes might have benefited from picking a lane as it sometimes feels like they undermine each other's tone. There's also some areas where the actions on screen contradict what we're later told. For example, Q seems to be trying to achieve one thing in one episode before revealing that he was doing the exact opposite later (which is, admittedly, not out of character for Q).

    On the positive side of things, I think John De Lancie has lost absolutely none of his touch and preserves all the things we love about Q. He's Loki, Satan, and God all in one with a wide eyed grin as he destroys everything for the greater good or saves everyone for his own twisted amusement. The few scenes he and Patrick Stewart have are fantastic and he's also a bright spot in episodes where he deals with Adam Soong (Brent Spinner) or Kore (Isla Brione). Speaking of Soong, he is a bright spot in the show once they cast aside any moral ambiguity and just make him a straight-up Bond villain. Not every Star Trek antagonist can be misunderstood and this transformation gives some higher stakes when the story has perhaps too many moving parts.

    Indeed, the storyline is a labyrinthine web akin to one of Fox Mulder's conspiracy boards and we even get an homage to said character in one episode. "We have to go back in time with the Borg Queen's help to find the astronaut who needs to be on the mission that will create the Federation but Q is causing her to doubt herself. If she doubts herself, this will create the Confederacy in which Adam Soong will be their spiritual leader. Oh and the Borg Queen is playing both sides. All of this is related to Picard's traumatic childhood. Somehow. That's not getting into every individual character's subplots." It actually is 99% explained by the final episode but weirdly reads like a George R.R. Martin plot despite being written for television not a book.

    Thematically, the story is all about trauma and how we can't lose hope that things will get better. That the current troubles we face in 2022 will be things that we eventually overcome and make a better world from as long as we're understanding and willing to forgive. Except Silicon Valley tech billionaires. Don't forgive or try to understand them because they're completely awful. Borg Queens can be persuaded and negotiated with but not those guys. It's an argument that I'm actually pretty okay with.

    Negatively, is just about anything to do with time travel. This is a mess even by the standards of Star Trek and I can't help the season would have benefited from stripping out a lot of the extraneous fluff. "Picard goes to bed one day with his crew and they wake up in Evil Federation. Q then meets with them and says he's let them keep his memories because it amuses him to see them try to fix things Days of Futures Past style. Someone how has gone back in time to muck with the past. Maybe another Soong creation or Borg victim. Stop him. *snaps fingers*). Ito Aghayere does a good job as young Guinan but it's confusing to explain away Whoopi Goldberg's aging but not hers. Also, the change from "Time's Arrow." I mean, it's an easy fix. "My people go through periods of aging and de-aging due to our life cycle."

    Overall, I liked Picard season 2 a bit less than season 1 but still significantly more than a lot of Star Trek. The overcomplexity of the plot and "prestige television" format is something that I feel is hurting the shows, though, because they don't have enough episodes to resolve all the plots. I also was disappointed with the ending for some of the characters. While I didn't always like what they did, I say that the crew of the La Sirena is the one I like the most since Firefly's. I wanted a spin-off show with Rios or Seven as captain. Instead, most of them are very likely no longer going to be doing Star Trek by the end and that's a shame.


Thursday, May 5, 2022

Halo: Infinite review

    HALO: INFINITE is a game that I was extremely reluctant to get into. HALO 5 was not just a disappointing game to me but I felt it derailed the entirety of my investment into the Halo franchise. Which is a shame because I'd played and beaten every other Halo game as well as read a bunch of its novels. It wasn't my favorite sci-fi franchise (Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon Five, and Mass Effect all beat it) but it was in the top five.

    Basically, I'm willing to overlook a lot of gameplay issues but the characters have to remain intact and the problem of Halo 5 was that it derailed Cortana as well as established a status quo that wasn't very interesting. The key components of a good Halo story are humanity is on the ropes, the Master Chief as the only possible salvation, and the relationship between him and Cortana.

    Halo: Infinite manages to redeem most of the problems with Halo 5 by wrapping up the "evil" Cortana plot off-camera. While some people may think this is a disappointment, I think the plot was better assigned to the dust bin of gaming history rather than trying to repair a fundamentally flawed concept. Here, the Banished, the villains from Halo Wars 2, have seized Halo Zeta as well as defeated the entire UNSC military. Worse, Master Chief is defeated by their leader, Atriox, in hand-to-hand combat.

    Having the best of humanity's forces defeated by the Banished, a group of pirates and raiders, helps reinforce that mankind is still centuries if not millennia behind the rest of the Covenant races. It was only luck as well as the Arbiter's revolt that resulted in humanity not being exterminated. Having them act like they're a superpower after their "victory" was always a mistake in the post-Halo 3 Expanded Universe.

    This is a nice reminder that we're a little fish in a big pond with the exception of the Master Chief. Well, Master Chief somehow survives for six months by going into stasis and floating in deep space. A Pelican pilot finds him and revives him, only to be bemused by the fact Master Chief believes it is his mission to continue the war against the Banished. Atriox is apparently dead (yeah, right) and Cortana deleted but a new Brute chieftain has taken control over the Ring. Given a Halo can destroy all life in the galaxy, stopping him is Master Chief's new priority.

    Halo: Infinite is, as is, a very small open-world RPG that still has most of the appeal from the original three games plus a few new things that are awesome.  It also is lacking the Forge and Multiplayer in the base game but "Season Two" is already fixing most of these problems. The best new addition is definitely the grappling hook and having Master Chief move around like Batman in Arkham City increases the game's appeal significantly.

    Mostly, the game players like Halo. You fight Grunts, Brutes, Elites, Jackals, and Hunters in various arenas. The open-world elements have you rescue Marines, assault fortresses, and take down high-value targets. The actual campaign is about twelve or fourteen hours long, which is about a typical Halo-game's length. There's some bullet sponge-y bosses but even those I didn't dislike that much due to the addition of the grappling hook adding some new combat options.

    The best part of the game is the relationship with Master Chief, Weapon, and the Pilot. They are simple characters but doesn't mean they're shallow characters. The villain, as played by Clancy Brown, is serviceable but a bit stereotypical. Even so, there's enough character development that I actually was invested in seeing how it all shook out. I'm not sure who the "Endless" are but they seem a decent set up for sequels, unlike the Prometheans.

    Overall, my opinion of Halo: Infinite is extremely positive but it's a game that shoots for the moon rather than the stars. There's very much a "return to basics" feel to the game and a casting aside a lot of what didn't work in the previous sequels. The storyline is good and I am satisfied with it ending but it certainly doesn't have the same epic level as the original games. It feels very much like it's waiting for more installments to finish off the story.


Monday, May 2, 2022

Tales of Supervillainy: Cindy's Seven is now available on Kindle

Hey folks,

I'm pleased to say that CINDY'S SEVEN is now available on Kindle. The eighth installment of THE SUPERVILLAINY SAGA is the latest work set in the Garyverse and shows us the perspective of his favorite henchwench, Cindy Wakowski AKA Red Riding Hood.

Cindy Wakowski aka Red Riding Hood is the second-most feared villain in Falconcrest City. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that is only because she's considered Merciless: The Supervillainy without MercyTM's favorite henchwoman. Determined to prove herself every bit her boyfriend's equal, if not superior, Cindy assembles a team of other villains to go after the largest treasure trove in the world: the hoard of the Dragon King.

Unfortunately, things start going sideways from the start. An ex-boyfriend of hers turned eldritch horror wants revenge, other villains don't want anything to do with her plan, and the Foundation for World Harmony has put out a death warrant on her head. Merciless has also decided to engage in a little friendly competition that Cindy wants nothing to do with. Can she steal slay the dragon and claim its treasure? Will she let her ego and impatience get in the way? Also, who is Red Sindi and what relationship does she have with our antiheroine?

TALES OF SUPERVILLAINY: CINDY'S SEVEN is the eighth novel of the best-selling SUPERVILLAINY SAGA series and the first from the perspective of its most popular supporting character!

Available here

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Batman (2022) review

THE BATMAN is a movie I approached with some trepidation because while I am a die-hard caped crusader fan, I even watched the Keaton movie as the date movie I proposed to my wife during, I had some issues for this one. It was a movie made without Ben Affleck, it was yet another "darker and grittier" reboot, and Robert Pattison was an unknown quality despite (and perhaps because of) his most famous role as Edward Cullen.

So, what did I think of The Batman? Overall, my impression is incredibly positive. Pattison chose to do a non-traditional version of Bruce Wayne that reminded me of the Crow than Batman but that doesn't mean it's a bad choice. He's an emo, reclusive, and disturbed man who is more Tim Burton's Batman than the actual Tim Burton's Batman. Admittedly, it does kind of make the humorous plot hole of, "Who would I think is Batman in Gotham City?" "I dunno, the obviously unhinged billionaire who looks like a vampire and acts like a serial killer."

The movie is perhaps a bit too long at three hours but this is one of those rare films that I will say benefits from fully realizing its vision. It feels more like a miniseries rather than a movie and that's not an insult. We get to experience a Gotham City that feels genuinely dirty, sleazy, and impoverished to the point that it needs a Batman. It has a strong 1970s New York vibe and yet manages to incorporate topical subjects like internet-based conspiracy theories.

The Batman is more or less a companion piece to the Joker and I really think they should get a crossover with Joaquin Phoenix. This is effectively the same city that draws on a lot of the same sources with Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and the more modern Seven to create a superhero movie that feels instead like an arthouse crime piece. If that's what you're looking for with your Batman, then that's definitely what you're going to get here. Those looking for a lighter-hearted MCU-esque take on the subject will be disappointed. This is darker than the Nolan Batman movies by a significant degree and closer to the Burton Batman without the cartoonish elements.

Part of the benefit for such a long movie is that we get to incorporate Catwoman, the Penguin, and the Riddler rather than focus on just one of Batman's rogues. It's always been possible to do this as we see with Batman Forever but the difference here is we get to incorporate them well. They're not even the sole villains as there's a decent-sized role for Carmine Falcone as well. Given I'm a huge fan of The Long Halloween, I always enjoy his incorporation into the Batman mythos, and he serves as a nice antagonist for Selina Kyle.

Speaking of Selina Kyle, Zoe Kravitz is one of my all-time favorite actresses and I absolutely love her in everything she's in. She even made The Crimes of Grindelwald tolerable for me. Here, she's a very humanized down-to-Earth Catwoman and I absolutely want to see more of her. Indeed, I would go so far to say that she's the first Catwoman I actually felt a romantic connection between Batman with. One I could believe in. She's not quite Catwoman yet but is certainly on the way to becoming her. 

Much has been made of Colin Farell's Penguin and he really does look like he stepped out of a classic Denny O'Neil comic book. The character doesn't get to do much but his slimeliness, corruption, and lack of threat in places reminded me of the one from the comic book. I've heard they're making a Penguin television series on HBO and I'd definitely watch it. He's also part of one of the best car chases I've seen on camera.

 The movie has a somewhat exaggerated but still-plausible financial crime about fake charities that feels timely without being heavy-handed. Much is made of the Wayne's philanthropy but there's plenty of people in Gotham who did their best to make sure none of the money ever reached the poor while using it as a tax dodge. It feels like something that happens all the time with billionaires and shows you can't just solve systemic problems by writing a check.

The Riddler's use in this movie is heavily inspired by the Zodiac killer, John Doe from Seven, and quite a bit of Jigsaw. Some viewers have mentioned that he also seems to be incorporating a bit of Qanon but people allergic to politics in their views can be reassured it's only surface-deep the way the Joker and Antifa was in Joker. The movie doesn't spell out his origin but it's easy to figure out how he ties to the central mystery as well. In that respect, he's more of a Hush and Riddler hybrid but without Thomas Elliot's suckitude.

I normally favor a Riddler who is not terrifying and more of an anti-villain but this version works extremely well. By the time they finally catch up to the Riddler, they find he's...a guy who looks like an accountant. It's very effective and does a great job establishing that he's someone who also has learned the lesson about theatricality and superstition that Batman has.

One element I really enjoyed about this movie is also the fact the movie is not afraid to interrogate who the Batman is and how effective he is. Bruce Wayne does his best to terrify criminals in order to make it so they don't commit crimes but he ends up inspiring people who don't have nearly his level of restraint or just think it's cool. "Escalation" as hinted by the Nolan Batman films but directly addressed here. The movie asks how much Bruce Wayne could do as a philanthropist and this version hasn't yet decided to be both the punching fist as well as helping hand.

Do I have some complaints? A few minor ones. As stated, the movie is written more like a television series and I feel like they could have tightened it up by about thirty minutes and incorporated details into the sequel. If your movie is three hours long, you frankly have two decent-sized movies already and maybe we should get back to that. The Batman also absorbs inhuman amounts of punishment that kind of hurt my suspension of disbelief in places. Unless the Batsuit is made of vibranium, it shouldn't absorb that much in the way of gunfire after all. Finally, the movie is literally too dark in places and could have been brightened so we could appreciate what's on display. But these don't really detract from my enjoyment factor.