Saturday, October 21, 2017

Video reviews of LUCIFER'S STAR and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER


Hey folks,

I'm pleased to say the good folks at Booknest.EU have done two reviews of my books LUCIFER'S STAR and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER. They really liked them, it seemed. Here's links to the reviews.

LUCIFER'S STAR

Review Link: http://booknest.eu/reviews/michael/745-lucifersstar


I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER

Review Link: http://booknest.eu/reviews/michael/850-iwasateenageweredeer


Enjoy!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery S105 review


   "Choose Your Pain" will go down as the Star Trek where the f-word was used for the first time and also, potentially, one where we've had prison rape alluded to. It's interesting, actually, because the first one is actually less exploitative than the second one as it may well be part of a character's cover identity but more on that later.

   Overall, this episode is one which feels the most like classic Trek as "The Captain is captured by aliens while the crew thinks about ways to rescue him before he escapes himself" is identical to a staggering number of plots. Indeed, I just watched "The Andorian Incident", "Day of Armageddon", "Judgement", and "Star Trek: The Final Frontier" in a row which all contain the plot in some fashion.

Captain Lorca may be genuinely crazy.
   The premise is, after attending a meeting of Starfleet Command where Captain Lorca is told to stop endangering their highly experimental teleporting ship, said captain is captured by the Klingons who intend to torture him into revealing the secrets of the Discovery. With Commander Saru left in charge, he makes several controversial choices to try to get the captain back. This includes putting "Ripper" in danger and potentially costing them their biological navicomputer. While in prison, Captain Lorca encounters Star Trek: The Original Series villain Harry Mudd as well as a POW named Tyler who has been held by the Klingons for months.

   I think the episode benefited from taking a break from Michael Burnham's character development. Which is, unfortunately, one of the big issues in the show. Michael is a workaholic idealistic Trek character but one who doens't make the decisions so she's not that dynamic of a character. Also, her guilt for her misguided mutiny and execution of T'Kuvma is somewhat crushing at times. Here, we get more information on Chief Engineer Stamets (he's gay and in a relationship with the ship's doctor) as well as Lorca himself.

Saru and Burnham make some inroads.
    It turns out Lorca is insane or at least his understanding of the Klingons is so mindlessly prejudicial, he might as well be so. Lorca killed his (previous) crew out of the belief he was saving them from being tortured to death in a Klingon prison. Which, given the conditions on the prison he's transported on may or may not have been true. Certainly, Harry Mudd seems no worse for wear after a few months in their home but he's a prison snitch. With the current depiction of Klingons, it may seem justifiable but if the Klingons actually are just people with only a small number of fanatics being beyond redemption then he's actually about as well-adjusted as Garth of Izzar (Star Trek: The Original Series reference).

Mudd is a great character I'm glad to see back.
   Speaking of Star Trek: The Original Series references, there's a lot of good ones in this episode from Robert April (actually from the Animated Series), Mudd, Decker, and a few other bits which definitely state "This is set in the timeline of the television shows." At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a time traveling Scott Bakula or William Shatner showed up. Certainly, it would fit with the world they're constructing here.

   My one complaint about the episode is the fact the Klingons have been reduced to being generic bad guys from other sci-fi programs. We've got no mention of honor or displays of their more humanizing qualities. "Errand of Mercy" made it clear that Kor is a BAD person who is a ruthless, nasty, puppy kicking Imperialist but he's a person. A charismatic distinctly "human" person while these Klingons seem much more like orcs. It's actually notable when they mention one of them was having sex with a prisoner as you have to wonder how the physics of that would work. That's obviously not something we had to think about with Worf or B'Elanna.

    I actually felt the character who benefited most from this episode was Saru. For the most part, he's just been a cowardly nasty small minded bureaucrat who has put down Michael at every opportunity despite the fact she saved his life onboard T'Kuvma's ship. We find out, here, he was angry because he blames her for Captain Georgiou's death. Also, that he was jealous of their relationship which is a surprisingly human handling of the situation. I believe his taste of command also made him a bit more sympathetic to Lorca's position given his ruthlessness displayed and I suspect that means his biggest regret is Georgiou isn't his influence but a man he considers to be overly ruthless. A fear this episode shows to be entirely grounded in reality.

   In conclusion, this was a decent episode and everything continues to build to what I assume will be the season finale with episode 9. However, I wasn't entirely blown away either so I'll give it an 8 out of 10.
    "Choose Your Pain" will go down as the Star Trek where the f-word was used for the first time and also, potentially, one where we've had prison rape alluded to. It's interesting, actually, because the first one is actually less exploitative than the second one as it may well be part of a character's cover identity but more on that later.

   Overall, this episode is one which feels the most like classic Trek as "The Captain is captured by aliens while the crew thinks about ways to rescue him before he escapes himself" is identical to a staggering number of plots. Indeed, I just watched "The Andorian Incident", "Day of Armageddon", "Judgement", and "Star Trek: The Final Frontier" in a row which all contain the plot in some fashion.

   The premise is, after attending a meeting of Starfleet Command where Captain Lorca is told to stop endangering their highly experimental teleporting ship, said captain is captured by the Klingons who intend to torture him into revealing the secrets of the Discovery. WIth Commander Saru left in charge, he makes several controversial choices to try to get the captain back. This includes putting "Ripper" in danger and potentially costing them their biological navicomputer. While in prison, Captain Lorca encounters Star Trek: The Original series villain Harry Mudd as well as a POW named Tyler who has been held by the Klingons for months.

   I think the episode benefited from taking a break from Michael Burnham's character development. Which is, unfortunately, one of the big issues in the show. Michael is a workaholic idealistic Trek character but one who doens't make the decisions so she's not that dynamic of a character. Also, her guilt for her misguided mutiny and execution of T'Kuvma is somewhat crushing at times. Here, we get more information on Chief Engineer Stamets (he's gay and in a relationship with the ship's doctor) as well as Lorca himself.

   It turns out Lorca is insane or at least his understanding of the Klingons is so mindlessly prejudicial, he might as well be so. Lorca killed his (previous) crew out of the belief he was saving them from being tortured to death in a Klingon prison. Which, given the conditions on the prison he's transported on may or may not have been true. Certainly, Harry Mudd seems no worse for wear after a few months in their home but he's a prison snitch. With the current depiction of Klingons, it may seem justifiable but if the Klingons actually are just people with only a small number of fanatics being beyond redemption then he's actually about as well-adjusted as Garth of Izzar (Star Trek: The Original series reference).

   Speaking of Star Trek: The Original Series references, there's a lot of good ones in this episode from Robert April (actually from the Animated Series), Mudd, Decker, and a few other bits which definitely state "This is set in the timeline of the television shows." At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a time traveling Scott Bakula or William Shatner showed up. Certainly, it would fit with the world they're constructing here.

   My one complaint about the episode is the fact the Klingons have been reduced to being generic bad guys from other sci-fi programs. We've got no mention of honor or displays of their more humanizing qualities. "Errand of Mercy" made it clear that Kor is a BAD person who is a ruthless, nasty, puppy kicking Imperialist but he's a person. A charismatic distinctly "human" person while these Klingons seem much more like orcs. It's actually notable when they mention one of them was having sex with a prisoner as you have to wonder how the physics of that would work. That's obviously not something we had to think about with Worf or B'Elanna.

   In conclusion, this was a decent episode and everything continues to build to what I assume will be the season finale with episode 9. However, I wasn't entirely blown away either so I'll give it an 8 out of 10.
    "Choose Your Pain" will go down as the Star Trek where the f-word was used for the first time and also, potentially, one where we've had prison rape alluded to. It's interesting, actually, because the first one is actually less exploitative than the second one as it may well be part of a character's cover identity but more on that later.

   Overall, this episode is one which feels the most like classic Trek as "The Captain is captured by aliens while the crew thinks about ways to rescue him before he escapes himself" is identical to a staggering number of plots. Indeed, I just watched "The Andorian Incident", "Day of Armageddon", "Judgement", and "Star Trek: The Final Frontier" in a row which all contain the plot in some fashion.

   The premise is, after attending a meeting of Starfleet Command where Captain Lorca is told to stop endangering their highly experimental teleporting ship, said captain is captured by the Klingons who intend to torture him into revealing the secrets of the Discovery. WIth Commander Saru left in charge, he makes several controversial choices to try to get the captain back. This includes putting "Ripper" in danger and potentially costing them their biological navicomputer. While in prison, Captain Lorca encounters Star Trek: The Original series villain Harry Mudd as well as a POW named Tyler who has been held by the Klingons for months.

   I think the episode benefited from taking a break from Michael Burnham's character development. Which is, unfortunately, one of the big issues in the show. Michael is a workaholic idealistic Trek character but one who doens't make the decisions so she's not that dynamic of a character. Also, her guilt for her misguided mutiny and execution of T'Kuvma is somewhat crushing at times. Here, we get more information on Chief Engineer Stamets (he's gay and in a relationship with the ship's doctor) as well as Lorca himself.

   It turns out Lorca is insane or at least his understanding of the Klingons is so mindlessly prejudicial, he might as well be so. Lorca killed his (previous) crew out of the belief he was saving them from being tortured to death in a Klingon prison. Which, given the conditions on the prison he's transported on may or may not have been true. Certainly, Harry Mudd seems no worse for wear after a few months in their home but he's a prison snitch. With the current depiction of Klingons, it may seem justifiable but if the Klingons actually are just people with only a small number of fanatics being beyond redemption then he's actually about as well-adjusted as Garth of Izzar (Star Trek: The Original series reference).

   Speaking of Star Trek: The Original Series references, there's a lot of good ones in this episode from Robert April (actually from the Animated Series), Mudd, Decker, and a few other bits which definitely state "This is set in the timeline of the television shows." At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a time traveling Scott Bakula or William Shatner showed up. Certainly, it would fit with the world they're constructing here.

   My one complaint about the episode is the fact the Klingons have been reduced to being generic bad guys from other sci-fi programs. We've got no mention of honor or displays of their more humanizing qualities. "Errand of Mercy" made it clear that Kor is a BAD person who is a ruthless, nasty, puppy kicking Imperialist but he's a person. A charismatic distinctly "human" person while these Klingons seem much more like orcs. It's actually notable when they mention one of them was having sex with a prisoner as you have to wonder how the physics of that would work. That's obviously not something we had to think about with Worf or B'Elanna.

   In conclusion, this was a decent episode and everything continues to build to what I assume will be the season finale with episode 9. However, I wasn't entirely blown away either so I'll give it an 8 out of 10.
    "Choose Your Pain" will go down as the Star Trek where the f-word was used for the first time and also, potentially, one where we've had prison rape alluded to. It's interesting, actually, because the first one is actually less exploitative than the second one as it may well be part of a character's cover identity but more on that later.

   Overall, this episode is one which feels the most like classic Trek as "The Captain is captured by aliens while the crew thinks about ways to rescue him before he escapes himself" is identical to a staggering number of plots. Indeed, I just watched "The Andorian Incident", "Day of Armageddon", "Judgement", and "Star Trek: The Final Frontier" in a row which all contain the plot in some fashion.

   The premise is, after attending a meeting of Starfleet Command where Captain Lorca is told to stop endangering their highly experimental teleporting ship, said captain is captured by the Klingons who intend to torture him into revealing the secrets of the Discovery. WIth Commander Saru left in charge, he makes several controversial choices to try to get the captain back. This includes putting "Ripper" in danger and potentially costing them their biological navicomputer. While in prison, Captain Lorca encounters Star Trek: The Original series villain Harry Mudd as well as a POW named Tyler who has been held by the Klingons for months.

   I think the episode benefited from taking a break from Michael Burnham's character development. Which is, unfortunately, one of the big issues in the show. Michael is a workaholic idealistic Trek character but one who doens't make the decisions so she's not that dynamic of a character. Also, her guilt for her misguided mutiny and execution of T'Kuvma is somewhat crushing at times. Here, we get more information on Chief Engineer Stamets (he's gay and in a relationship with the ship's doctor) as well as Lorca himself.

   It turns out Lorca is insane or at least his understanding of the Klingons is so mindlessly prejudicial, he might as well be so. Lorca killed his (previous) crew out of the belief he was saving them from being tortured to death in a Klingon prison. Which, given the conditions on the prison he's transported on may or may not have been true. Certainly, Harry Mudd seems no worse for wear after a few months in their home but he's a prison snitch. With the current depiction of Klingons, it may seem justifiable but if the Klingons actually are just people with only a small number of fanatics being beyond redemption then he's actually about as well-adjusted as Garth of Izzar (Star Trek: The Original series reference).

   Speaking of Star Trek: The Original Series references, there's a lot of good ones in this episode from Robert April (actually from the Animated Series), Mudd, Decker, and a few other bits which definitely state "This is set in the timeline of the television shows." At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a time traveling Scott Bakula or William Shatner showed up. Certainly, it would fit with the world they're constructing here.

   My one complaint about the episode is the fact the Klingons have been reduced to being generic bad guys from other sci-fi programs. We've got no mention of honor or displays of their more humanizing qualities. "Errand of Mercy" made it clear that Kor is a BAD person who is a ruthless, nasty, puppy kicking Imperialist but he's a person. A charismatic distinctly "human" person while these Klingons seem much more like orcs. It's actually notable when they mention one of them was having sex with a prisoner as you have to wonder how the physics of that would work. That's obviously not something we had to think about with Worf or B'Elanna.

   In conclusion, this was a decent episode and everything continues to build to what I assume will be the season finale with episode 9. However, I wasn't entirely blown away either so I'll give it an 8 out of 10.
    "Choose Your Pain" will go down as the Star Trek where the f-word was used for the first time and also, potentially, one where we've had prison rape alluded to. It's interesting, actually, because the first one is actually less exploitative than the second one as it may well be part of a character's cover identity but more on that later.

   Overall, this episode is one which feels the most like classic Trek as "The Captain is captured by aliens while the crew thinks about ways to rescue him before he escapes himself" is identical to a staggering number of plots. Indeed, I just watched "The Andorian Incident", "Day of Armageddon", "Judgement", and "Star Trek: The Final Frontier" in a row which all contain the plot in some fashion.

   The premise is, after attending a meeting of Starfleet Command where Captain Lorca is told to stop endangering their highly experimental teleporting ship, said captain is captured by the Klingons who intend to torture him into revealing the secrets of the Discovery. WIth Commander Saru left in charge, he makes several controversial choices to try to get the captain back. This includes putting "Ripper" in danger and potentially costing them their biological navicomputer. While in prison, Captain Lorca encounters Star Trek: The Original series villain Harry Mudd as well as a POW named Tyler who has been held by the Klingons for months.

   I think the episode benefited from taking a break from Michael Burnham's character development. Which is, unfortunately, one of the big issues in the show. Michael is a workaholic idealistic Trek character but one who doens't make the decisions so she's not that dynamic of a character. Also, her guilt for her misguided mutiny and execution of T'Kuvma is somewhat crushing at times. Here, we get more information on Chief Engineer Stamets (he's gay and in a relationship with the ship's doctor) as well as Lorca himself.

   It turns out Lorca is insane or at least his understanding of the Klingons is so mindlessly prejudicial, he might as well be so. Lorca killed his (previous) crew out of the belief he was saving them from being tortured to death in a Klingon prison. Which, given the conditions on the prison he's transported on may or may not have been true. Certainly, Harry Mudd seems no worse for wear after a few months in their home but he's a prison snitch. With the current depiction of Klingons, it may seem justifiable but if the Klingons actually are just people with only a small number of fanatics being beyond redemption then he's actually about as well-adjusted as Garth of Izzar (Star Trek: The Original series reference).

   Speaking of Star Trek: The Original Series references, there's a lot of good ones in this episode from Robert April (actually from the Animated Series), Mudd, Decker, and a few other bits which definitely state "This is set in the timeline of the television shows." At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a time traveling Scott Bakula or William Shatner showed up. Certainly, it would fit with the world they're constructing here.

   My one complaint about the episode is the fact the Klingons have been reduced to being generic bad guys from other sci-fi programs. We've got no mention of honor or displays of their more humanizing qualities. "Errand of Mercy" made it clear that Kor is a BAD person who is a ruthless, nasty, puppy kicking Imperialist but he's a person. A charismatic distinctly "human" person while these Klingons seem much more like orcs. It's actually notable when they mention one of them was having sex with a prisoner as you have to wonder how the physics of that would work. That's obviously not something we had to think about with Worf or B'Elanna.

   In conclusion, this was a decent episode and everything continues to build to what I assume will be the season finale with episode 9. However, I wasn't entirely blown away either so I'll give it an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

AN AMERICAN WEREDEER IN MICHIGAN is now available


I'm pleased to say the benefit of writing my first two novels in the BRIGHT FALLS MYSTERIES has borne fruit with the second novel now out. 

FROM THE BEST-SELLING AUTHOR OF THE RULES OF SUPERVILLAINY:
 

Life is not easy for the world's first weredeer detective. A simple hike turns into a media circus when 
Jane Doe, her best friend Emma, and a pair of monster hunters find a mass grave. Determined to find the parties responsible, Jane soon discovers a sinister cult leader has decided to make Bright Falls, Michigan the home of his corrupt religion.
 

As if this wasn't complicating her life enough, Jane also has to decide whether or not she wants to begin a relationship with FBI Special Agent Alex Timmons or local crime lord Lucien Lyons. Both men are determined to get to the bottom of the crime she's investigating but may be distracted by their own agendas--as well as their love for Jane.
 

"Surpasses the first book in all ways." - The Bookwyrm Speaks
 

"Phipps is the best thing to happen to urban fantasy." - Booknest.EU

Pick up your copy here!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery S104 review


   Apparently, the key to winning a Klingon Great House's loyalty is a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. This episode of Star Trek: Discovery has a lot of highs but they're balanced by the lows of their poor handling of the Klingons. As anyone who has read the previous episodes' review, I really enjoyed the Klingon portrayal but was hoping to get images of them being badass and displaying their new culture--yeah, this episode does not make them look smart. I think the Star Trek: The Next Generation's Ferengi have had a better treatment in canon and that's damning criticism.

    The premise for this episode is Michael Burnham is once more a Starfleet officer--sort of. She has no rank but is free to walk around the ship and wear the uniform. Really, they should just state she's a scientist working off years from her sentence even though that's obvious. A Klingon raid on a dilithium mine warrants the Discovery using its magical fungus warp drive to get there in time to protect them. Meanwhile, Voq and L'Rell are stuck in the middle of the Binary Star system as they were unable to get the ship working after the battle there. Starving and weakened, they get an offer from another Klingon Great House they can't refuse.


    The good first. The episode shows Michael Burnham is a Starfleet officer, through and through with the showing what a Federation representative should be. She is fascinated by the discovery of the "Space Pig" which turns out to be less xenomorph and more hippo. It's extremely dangerous, yes, but a herbivore that only acts if you're stupid enough to attack it. Michael wants to interact with this new and undiscovered lifeform while reacting with horror to the idea Captain Lorka wishes to weaponize it. The fact everyone else on the Discovery couldn't care less is a deliberate stylistic choice: these are people who are NOT living up to Starfleet ideals.

    One of the easiest ways you can illustrate who a character is supposed to be is creating a antithesis to reflect them against. You can tell who Steve Rogers is by both the Red Skull and U.S. Agent. The Reign of Superman had four Superman imposters so you could know what the real one was all about. Star Trek has done it a few times themselves with Captain Kirk playing off of insane Starfleet captains. Section 31 similarly exists as well as the U.S.S Enterprise. We also have the Mirrorverse for the same reason.


    In this case, the U.S.S Discovery feels strongly like the starships seen in "Mirror, Mirror", "Equinox 1 and 2", and even the villainized Voyager in "Living Witness." It's not populated by scientists but by soldiers who are more interested in wiping out the Klingons than discovery or exploration. It's interesting so many fans thought Michael would be a darker and more somber character when she's meant to be the reverse. Captain Lorka isn't so much a "hard man making hard choices" as he is General Ripper since every seen emphasizes he's only interested in weaponizing whatever they find. A showdown where Michael takes him down to redeem Starfleet is inevitable at this point. I'm entirely cool with that.

    However, the Klingons deserve better. Apparently, the Klingons of House T'Kuvma were not only marooned for six months to the point of starvation but they had the option of using the Shenzou's warp drive to repair their vessel but didn't take it. BECAUSE HONOR. Listen, T'Kuvma invented the cloaking device and Klingons have always been sneaky because honor doesn't require you to be an IDIOT. Seeing the Klingons literally crippled for six months doing NOTHING makes them look like awful antagonists.


    It gets worse because the Klingons are also turned into cannibals. You could argue they're not cannibals because the eat a human in the late Captain Gregiou but that doesn't fly since humans and Klingons are cross-fertile so they're technically the same species (thank you, Preservers for RUINING SCIENCE!). While cannibalism could be justified as not an actual activity of Klingons but a desperation move not to starve, the corpse would be pretty ripe by then so that doesn't fly. It seems we're not just making the Klingons into Klingons but actual orcs and that's going way too far.

    I also note I'm confused about the continuity with the Klingons. STAR TREK: BEYOND established beyond a doubt that not only was Enterprise canon but it's ***very*** canon. However, the augment virus should have shown some Klingons who have turned human looking even if they're supposed to mostly look like the New Klingon group. The fact they speak in subtitled Klingon is also getting really annoying since they talk about very complex things. Weirdly, the most interesting thing so far is Voq and L'Rell (I love how her name is Laurel in Klingon but you'd never notice that unless you sounded it out).


    Overall, I enjoyed the episode but I have to say I couldn't really completely identify with Michael's position. Michael shows tremendous compassion to the Space Pig and tries to get people to treat it humanely but there are thousands of innocent people dying at the dilithium mining colony. I felt their pain was underemphasized in the situation. Sort of like when Captain Picard was more interested in the Crystaline Entity's health than the colonies it'd destroyed. To say I'm mad about the treatment of the Klingons in the show is understatement, though. They can be monsters or changed in appearance but they must always be competent.

6/10

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery S103 review


   My first thought upon finishing this episode was, "Wow, Star Trek has been invaded by Alien and Event Horizon." My second thought upon finishing this episode was, "This is actually what would normally be in the pilot." It's a bit like the fact "The Cage" was meant to be the pilot for Star Trek but the executives kinda-but-not-really liked it so they ordered to be remade with the cast of Star Trek as we know them.

Being a prison laborer is not a fun job even in the Federation.
     Basically, the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery gave us the backstory for Michael Burnham but don't have the titular starship actually  show up. Indeed, only Michael and the alien Saru show up as part of the crew which will presumably be the regulars. "Conviction is for Kings", however, finally introduces the premise of the show as well as its cast. I think you could actually have watched this episode with Burnham's backstory given in later episodes with nothing lost. It arguably would have been less confusing for viewers.

    The premise of the episode is Michael has been sentenced to life imprisonment for mutiny, assault on a superior officer, and martyring the leader of the Klingon Jihadists. You know, things which normal Starfleet captains get off doing because it usually has good results. It's notable there's never apparently been a mutineer in Starfleet before and Michael is considered the Benedict Arnold of the Federation. It doesn't help over 8,000 Federation officers have died in the opening salvo of the war with more presumably dying every day.

Whining about the government stealing your work.
    Michael's prison transport is sabotaged and she ends up on the NC-1031 U.S.S Discovery, which is a ship engaged in some shady research as well as populated by Starfleet officers with black badges. For longtime fans of the series, this seems to be setting up the Discovery as a front for Section 31. For those unfamiliar with the organization, it is a secret branch of Starfleet Intelligence which long ago went rogue and is meant to be the "evil" side of the Federation which we normally needed a renegade Admiral or Captain for. I hope I'm not making a huge spoiler here but if they were planning to do this, perhaps they shouldn't throw clues like this at Trekkies.

    Much of the episode is devoted to how unsettling and troubling Michael finds the Discovery with its layers upon layers of secrecy as well as a secret project which has involved drafting civilian scientists plus experimenting with weird organic technology that apparently functions on H.P. Lovecraft principles. Michael, despite having a Zero Percent Approval Rating (See TV tropes), isn't willing to trade Starfleet's principles to work with a bunch of blackshirts. Michael gets forced into investigating a derelict ship with monsters on it in a fairly classic Trek plot (or just the plot of Aliens and Event Horizon mashed together).

Fire in starships is never good.
    I'm a big fan of Section 31 but they're villains who work best when used sparingly. Much like the Borg, they got overused in both Star Trek itself as well as the Expanded Universe. Still, if you're going to do a War on Terror analogue, then you need someone to do the down and dirty elements of the Western side. Part of what made Enterprise's early seasons embarrassing was they tried to do their own analogue for the War on Terror but had our heroes uncompromised by it. Ironically, Deep Space Nine did it much better and it ended in 1999. That is why it's a timeless classic with widespread applicability and the last "great" Trek show.

    I may be jumping the gun in assuming Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) is evil because he does an excellent job of pointing out the technology they're working on, while it does have military applications, will also be vital to spreading the Federation across the galaxy. Assuming this is still the main timeline and the Temporal Cold War, Q, or writers haven't utterly borked it--this technology is not going to work out in the long run but that doesn't mean it can't be interesting in the meantime. Certainly, it already has reasons its not in widespread use with the fact it turns crew into cubist art and invites Yog-Sothoth to exist in this dimension.

Yeah, he's not a bad guy at all.
    Honestly, I'm less fond of Michael Burnham in this series than I am deliberately irritating character Tilly. She's a character meant to be brought over from another Star Trek show and reminds me strongly of Barclay. The fact she's an idealistic and happy girl about to enter a horrifying war is a good set up. The fact she's also awkward to the point of some believing she's neuroatypical (and might be) also makes her more sympathetic than the usual super intelligent demigods on the bridge. I'm not sold on either Saru or Commander Landry as neither has yet made a strong impression on me.  The engineer might be the first openly gay character in Star Trek's main timeline but Sulu rang that bell in Star Trek: Beyond and it's 2017 not 2000 when it might have been relevant.

    In conclusion? I'm here with the series and am interested in where it's going. The biggest problem with this story, sadly, is Michael Burnham who is still far too smug for a character which should have been broken by her experiences.

9/10

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery S101 and S0102 review


    I was debating reviewing this episode and almost had decided not to before I remember. Wait a damn minute, this was a Star Trek review site originally. I kind of have to review Star Trek: Discovery, don't I? I admit, my lack of enthusiasm for the project is based on some extraordinarily petty reasons (as well as some extremely not ones). The fact this show is locked behind a paywall, is a subscription service which is weekly rather than all at once, and has been an extraordinarily troubled production is something that all made me very leery.

    Then there's my other objections, which are all due to the fact I'm a Trekkie. Basically, I'm annoyed this is taking place in the past of the already fully explored original timeline (as well as the past of the Abramsverse so it's technically canon to both) which is the most half-measure choice they could have made. I was also nonplussed by the fact they seem incapable of installing a proper lighting system on the ship. I was also skeptical because I've been watching The Orville and enjoying it as a "proper" Trek with optimism and brightness. Would I really want to watch a show about the Klingon-Trek war which led to the whole Prelude to Axanar business?

I like these characters for their contrast.
    Wait, I love Klingons, of course I want to watch this damn show. Now, I can't speak Klingon despite owning the dictionary. I don't own a bat'leth. I've never dressed as them. However, I am one of the proud sons of Kahless. If I lived in the Alpha Quadrant, I would live among the Klingons first then the Bajorans. Well, I wouldn't live among the Klingons since I would have been left to die as a baby or killed by bullies in officer school but it would have been a warrior's death! So, I was already on the Discovery train as soon as I knew it would be about the Klingon war. I just wouldn't be rooting for the Federation--which may be bad.

    So, first business, what do I think of Discovery's Klingons? Well, they've been redesigned to look like orcs. I mean, there's no dancing around the fact they look less like the sons of Oo'noS (Kronos) than the space armies of Bara-Dur. Personally, making the Klingons look LESS human and more like monsters rather defeats the point of Roddenberry's idea we can make peace with our enemies but I'm not exactly a orthodox scion of his church either. Deep Space Nine remains my favorite of the franchise and I'm willing to accept the TNG Klingons were in bad need of an upgrade. I'm also not one of those insane fans who feels the need to explain in-universe why Klingons from the 1960s look different from 2017 ones.

I side with the Klingons on everything.
    I'm actually more worried about the fact they've apparently decided to have them speak actual Klingon (i.e. from the dictionary) versus English. I mean, it's pretty obvious the actors are phonetically speaking the lines and that seems a serious problem for getting casual viewers to understand them. The fact we have to read subtitles doesn't make the complicated plotline or politics any better, either. I mean, you're explaining the Klingon political system, religion, and so on to new audiences so at least allow them to hear what all this stuff means. The Universal Translator exists for a reason--so we can get on with the plot.

    The short version of the plot is T'Kuvma, who sounds like a Disney song, is one of many Klingon warlords in a disunited Westeros-esque Klingon Empire. There's apparently no Klingon High Command at this point in the timeline or Chancellor of the Great Houses. Things have gotten so bad, we actually flashback to the fact a gang broke into T'Kuma's castle and beat the crap out of him once. T'Kuvma has the Genghis Khan-esque vision to start a war with the Federation and unite all of the Klingons together under his banner. T'Kuvma actually doesn't care if he's Emperor or not, despite comparing himself to Kahless a.k.a. Klingon Moses, a few times. It's a solid plan and I appreciate the guy practices what he preaches as he isn't afraid to die to get the Klingons back on track. I probably shouldn't be on T'Kuvma's side in this but I am as the Federation needs the occassional butt whooping to remind it the universe isn't safe.

The Prime Directive isn't so strict now.
    At the risk of pointing out the obvious social relevance, Star Trek: Discovery is the Star Trek take on the War on Terror about twenty years too late. They badly handled it in Star Trek: Enterprise (coming down on the conservative side for a libertastic franchise), handled it well in Star Trek: Into Darkness (which I love every bit of EXCEPT Khan), and pretty much ignored in Star Trek: Beyond. A bunch of disunited religious fanatics join together against a society they feel threatened by, only for the society to overreact and start doing things which make them question their moral values. I'm spoiling a bit for the third episode but I already knew they were going this direction with the fact Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) had her parents killed by Klingon fanatics.

    I'm actually cool with this since they have their heads on straight about what they're going for now. Battlestar Galactica's reboot already handled this take on the War on Terror but they've pretty much been unable to do any accurate social commentary otherwise. It's not like the conflict between the United States and terrorists have died down any. Just as Vietnam and the racial tensions of sixties America inspired the Original Series, so should the present climate do the same. I will say, though, I hope they avoid taking any lame pot shots as the current administration versus broader themes and I say that as a self-professed leftist nutjob.
Some amazing space shots.

    I have some minor continuity issues with the show as well. Not the fact everything looks super-advanced for a decade behind TOS (because, again, I'm not an idiot--don't complain about stupid things). It's the fact the main character is yet another unknown sibling of Spock and apparently one even more embarrassing since while Sybok (who I insist is canon--no matter how bad the movie was) just wanted to meet God--his adopted sister is integral to the start of the Federation-Klingon War.

    No, I'm serious, she's the previously unmentioned human daughter of Sarek of Vulcan. Not that Sarek was a mentor figure to her or a friend but he literally raised her while his son was off in Starfleet. I mean, yeah, I'm loving the actor's take and I'm always glad for more Sarek but that's a pretty big retcon. Anything else which bugs me like the fact Klingons care about their warrior's bodies (which is an established part of their religion as not being true) will only bother a serious Trek nerd.

I like the design of the ship too.
    The visual effects are easily movie quality and you see the money the entire way through. In fact, if they had wanted to just can the series then this would have made a perfectly serviceable Star Trek movie in it's own right. If you'd ended it slightly different, you could have shown it in theaters. Michael's space flight in her suit through an asteroid thicket (which doesn't exist in real life) was particularly amazing.

     Are there flaws? Yes, a few of them. At the risk of spoiling the third episode, much of what happens in this episode is actually irrelevant as the Discovery and it's crew doesn't make an appearance. The episode also wastes some fascinating and interesting characters. It does, however, set up the central conflict well as the Klingons even if I feel the Klingons are being portrayed as less a rational race of beings than the armies of Sauron.

Let us all light the beacon of Kahless.
      Sonequa Martin-Green does an excellent job as Michael Burnham with her gender-blender named character being absolutely crazy but in a subdued emotional way that shows two decades with the Vulcans didn't actually teach her squat about resolving her emotional issues.

      Doug Jones' "I am an alien with one cultural element to define me" Saru is going to get very annoying since his hat is his people are afraid of everything but given everything in the Star Trek universe is trying to kill humanity, I intend to cut him some slack. Michelle Yeoh's Captain was a tremendous guest star and I'm sorry she's not the actual captain-captain.

    So, yeah, I'm sold. I'm not sold on the main character, necessarily, and none of the new crew have jumped out at me yet save the antagonist but it wasn't a trainwreck either. I just hope they keep the focus on the Klingons because it's a good day to die, brothers and sisters. Is it worth subscribing to CBS' ridiculous streaming service? Well, I did but I have the money for it. If things are tighter, I recommend people wait ten weeks and buy a month before binge watching it then unsubscribing. Hopefully, they'll also allow it out on DVD or other services.

8.5/10

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mortal Kombat XL review


    Mortal Kombat is one of my favorite series but it's a series which suffered a great deal, well, pretty much since Mortal Kombat III. It's said every series has a expiration date and it was clear they ran out of ideas roughly around the time Shao Khan invaded Earth Realm. It's kind of funny given Mortal Kombat has a much better history of getting itself adapted than most other fighting games.

    When Netherrealm Studios took over the franchise, it was questionable what they were going to bring to the table and the answer turned out to be story. Mortal Kombat 9's story mode wasn't the first time such a thing had been added (that was Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe) but it managed to give a coherent story of the first three games while also adding a time-travel narrative that didn't work too well in Star Trek (2009) but served decently in Mortal Kombat. It also ended on an amazing downer note which forms the basis for Mortal Kombat XL.

Cassie Cage is my favorite character of the new game.
    For those unfamiliar with this ending, which is spoiled by playing this game, they had Raiden royally screw up his attempts to save the timeline. His mistakes in trying to prevent Shao Khan from taking over the universe ended up getting half of the cast killed because it turned out the former wasn't down with that plan. While Raiden "won", he ended up winning in the most awful manner possible with his surrogate sons dead and enslaved by Quan Chi. Worse, Liu Kang died at Raiden's hands, cursing his name. It was a brilliant bit of tragedy to a series which once lowered itself to a Teen rating. Great storytelling that was matched by everyone else's stories too.

    Indeed, the biggest flaw with Mortal Kombat XL is one I never thought would exist for a Mortal Kombat game and that it has too much story. A quarter of the game takes place twenty years before the remaining 2/3rds and there's a lot of stuff which references past games in both continuities as well as discusses the politics between dimensions. For an enormous video game world-building nerd like myself, it's awesome but others may find it off-putting.

    The premise for the tenth game in the franchise begins with most of the original Mortal Kombat heroes dead and raised as undead slaves of Quan Chi: Liu Kang, Kitana, Kung Lao, Nightwolf, and Sindel. Shinnok, the evil Elder God, is invading the Earth Realm with his armies of demons and the only person who can stop him is Johnny Cage. Honestly, it would have been the set up for a bad joke in the previous Mortal Kombat timeline despite the fact Johnny Cage is one of the most popular characters in the franchise.

Baraka isn't playable. Which is ridiculous.
    It's not really a spoiler to see Shinnok doesn't take over the universe in the opening chapter and gets defeated by Johnny Cage despite the fact the former is more powerful than Shao Khan and Raiden combined. What follows is twenty years of peace which is detailed in the Mortal Kombat comics I recommend people read even if they aren't GREAT like the Udon Street Fighter comics. The modern era is one with Outworld and Earthrealm having an uneasy detente while various secret plots are enacted.

    The big reason for Mortal Kombat XL is it allows an entirely new generation of fighters to be created and grow up, most of which who have some sort of connection to the previous generation of fighters. There's Cassie Cage, Jacqie Briggs, and a few other Earth Special Forces which are tied to previous heroes. Surprisingly, most of these generation Y heroes are pretty awesome. Cassie Cage is the appropriate combination of snarky and awesome and reminds me of one of my novel characters.

We're not going back to 3D and I think that's a good thing.
    Some fans are going to be annoyed by the fact so many of the previous generation are not only undead but (seemingly) permanently evil. I don't know if that's possible but I actually think Liu Kang is more interesting as a villain than he ever was as a hero. Frankly, he wasn't doing that much for me as a Bruce Lee clone and The Chosen OneTM. Him as a broken hero who has lost his faith in the Elder Gods (not that they've done much to cover themselves in glory lately) works much better.

    I do have some complaints about the story even though I'm, overall, very positive about the developments within it. For one, Mileena and Baraka are two of my favorite characters in the franchise. They get the short end of the stick storyline-wise and I find Mileena a far more sympathetic character than Kotal Khan. Kotal Khan is supposed to be the "good" (or at least neutral) new ruler of Outworld but every scene he's in shows him to be a complete tool with no real honor. Mileena isn't any better, don't get me wrong, but at least we're not being told she's a good guy.

Not a big fan of Revenant Kitana's new look.
    The developments with Scorpion and Sub-Zero really surprised me and managed to turn around what I thought was a doomed premise. Getting rid of the cyborg ninja subplot really allows the two stories to have more dignity. I also never imagined we would be getting, Scorpion as a wise father figure. The fact Scorpion is still the kind of vengeance-obsessed nutcase who will do anything to avenge his clan isn't forgotten, though. It also causes massive trouble in this game. I also like the new, older Sub-Zero who is trying to do the right thing despite the fact everyone around him is an impatient jackass.

    So, while it's ridiculous judging a Mortal Kombat game by Story Mode primarily, that's where we're at. I enjoyed it for introducing the next generation, having them lose enough not to overshadow the new generation, and then come into their own in the final round. Is it ridiculous we have moments like Johnny Cage and a SPOILER character defeat Shinnok? Characters who are not gods? Yes, but that's Mortal Kombat for you. This is the game where you can rip out Raiden's spine and always has been.

    The graphics are excellent this time and while I may regret the loss of Sonya Blade's ridiculous outfit from the previous game, I think the designs for this game are excellent. I especially liked Cassie Cage's outfit. I will say, I didn't much care for the aging Johnny Cage's new look and think they should have let him stay as young as they've let his wife or Kenshi. Scorpion having resumed his humanity is also a bit of a back and forth for me. Shinnok's look is ridiculous, though, and he appears to be a male Maelificent. Not exactly a look which inspires terror in the hearts of mortals.

Shinnok has looked better. Like...any other look than this.
    The gameplay is streamlined and it's to the point even I can perform fatalities. I enjoyed making use of the stage's bonus weapons and benefits to smack around opponents with pots, old women, monks, and Shao Kahn's hammer. I miss Friendships from the game and am probably the only one who'd like to have Cassie Cage give her mom a gift or Shang Tsung present Sonya Blade a rainbow. Some people will object to "Easy Fatalities" where you just hit the Right Trigger then the X button but I'm not one of them. I'm a button masher to begin with and the fact I can complete the game is an feature for me rather than a flaw.

    I'm not a big fan of the Faction system where all of your points online go to an arbitrary team which "competes" against one another but whatever floats your boat. I do like "quitality", though, where if you quit during a match then your character's head explodes. That's a nice way of rewarding players who stick to the end. I haven't completed "Tower Mode" for every character, which is basically just original recipe Mortal Kombat, but I've enjoyed the stories I have completed as well as the extra costumes for characters.

Xenomorph is the best non-sentient fighting game character aside from Panda.
    As for the horror movie DLC characters, I was hoping we'd get Freddy to return with Robert Englund voicing him but I'm not going to complain about the Predator, Alien, Jason, or Leatherface. Actually, I am going to complain about Leatherface because I just find that guy gross and his ending horrifying even by Mortal Kombat standards. I've always wanted to play Jason Voorhees in a video game, though, and this combined with the recent Friday the Thirteenth game is great.

    One element I strongly have distaste for is the fact this is a game which is wall-to-wall with microtransactions. I have a larger tolerance for these than most gamers as I'm willing to pay extra as long as I'm getting extra. Sixty dollars is not my absolute limit for playing a game and I find packs with 80s Horror Movie icons not so bad to pay for. However, this pushes even my buttons as it seems like they've left out half of the roser in order to eventually sell them back to you. It's doubly noticeable when Baraka is in the game along with characters like Rain but you can't play them. Then again, perhaps that's why I'm playing XL rather than the original X.

    Netherrealm Studio is probably too busy making Injustice 3.5 to get cracking on Mortal Kombat XI but I really look forward to the next installment of this series and want to see some more spin offs. I love the franchise and think this is the best they could have done with the game.

9/10