Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Dhangetans

Here's the latest version of my map; a bit updated.  You can see, I think, which systems I've detailed—they have a few details imprinted on them beyond just the name.

Since decided (for whatever reason; partly kinda random, honestly) to center my setting development on the Carrick Grand Marches, a Bernese colony ruled in the name of the Monarchy by a Grand Duke and highly-regarded and placed member of the Bernese peerage, it has behooved me to focus on the immediate neighborhood around this colony.  There are, however, no fewer than ten Dhangetan Cartel worlds that are within a single bulk jump of either the Carrick, or the Carthen Colony; Carrick worlds that were flipped politically by the Revanchists to become blue statelets that have not been detailed except that they have a name.

Well... on the other hand, two of those ten are probably best done in two bulk jumps, because one would create an avoidable and unnecessary risk of misjump.  But, I do have two other Dhangetan worlds that I have detailed; Meni Bana (1627) which sounds suitably foreign, and New Rodinia (1925) which does not.

So; priorities: as I continue to do a few more star system data sheets, here's my plan—finish the last two Principality of Tan Kajak worlds—Perchta (1328) and Erai (1329).  Then go on a big Dhangetan jag, getting all ten of the worlds that are within the immediate vicinity of the Carrick detailed.  These worlds are Moise (1624), Drini IV (1625), Tawasy (1724), Kari Jora (2123), Fthughu (2223), Cadon (2224), Kyuli (2326), Scaley (2327), Kribblu VII (2328) and Sakuleth (2428).

I'll probably also do the Cilindarean world Peleres (1723) while I'm at it, giving me thirteen more data sheets to do.  By this time, I'll most likely be a bit sick of doing them, and will be ready for a break.

In parallel, I've been developing the outline of a plot—for years I've been wanting to write, and have lacked either confidence, time, motivation, or gumption or... something, but I'm getting older, and regret for not doing it is catching up to me.  Quite honestly, some of the Dhangetan worlds are better as elements of setting design than some of the worlds that I have focused on, because they are "wretched hives of scum and villainy" in a rather lawless frontier region, which make for great storytelling opportunities.  Just ask any Western or Pirate themed story.

But I might go through and add a few more names to a few more systems, at least.

EDIT:  Whoops!  I said here's the latest version of my map, and forgot to attach it!


System: Shoa-Shanian
Hex Location: 1933
Star Type: Single K5 V
Number of Worlds: 12
Gas Giants: 7
Planetoid Belt: Kuiper belt and two asteroid belts

Starport Type: D
World Size: Artificial
Atmosphere Type: N/A
Surface Water: N/A
Population: Super-populated
Political Affiliation: Independent ally of the Republic
Tags: Warlock Academy, Feral World, Alien Ruins
Notes: I'm not quite sure what to make of this weird result.  I'm already thinking that an artificial world that's super-populated and only has a type D starport (poor quality, only offers minor repairs, no refined fuel available) was weird enough, but then I rolled up Feral World and Alien Ruins as tags?!  This is going to be one of the most unusual systems I've rolled up...

Shoa-Shanian is a low-light and relatively low-heat orange dwarf star, in a system that is littered with debris; a gas and dust nebula thickly colors space around it, like a miniature, solar system-sized Eagle Nebula, complete with dark pillars of gas, and brightly lit and colorful fans of dusty gas.  When the system was very first scouted during the now ancient days of the Old Kingdoms, the actual worlds of the system weren't very inviting for settlement.  There are a large number of gas giants, which provide the raw materials for bulk drive fuel, and there are a number of rocky and metallic or icy airless worlds as well (including satellite moons of the gas giants) as well as lots of asteroids and comets and centaurs.  In fact, the system is positively littered with debris, possibly due to the weak solar winds from the Shoa-Shanian star, which haven't cleared the system nearly as thoroughly as most.

But the colonists stayed anyway, because what they discovered was a massive, nearly moon-sized craft floating in the thickest part of the gaseous nebula.  The architecture of the ship is alien and unknown—many scientists in the past have remarked on possible links to Ancient gray ruins found throughout Known Space, both in terms of trying to draw parallels and others who find them lacking.  This artificial world is partly metallic, but surprisingly mostly made of stone, as if it were itself a gigantic asteroid converted into a craft.  Artificial gravity and Earth-like atmosphere pervade the ship, left presumably by whatever passed for alien thaumaturges or warlocks, and even an ecosystem with water, runaway weeds-life, and alien rat-like creatures thrive here.

Colonists have been here for a long time, but following the Wars of the Last Emperors, they lost track of their connections to the rest of Known Space, and slipped into a technological Dark Age.  Today, they present the odd conundrum of a savage and even feral artificial world, with politics that are tribal, and technology that is—mostly—barely better than Medieval.  Second Wave colonials make up less than 2% of the population, and tend to hold themselves mostly apart from the "natives" of the first wave of colonization.

In spite of the loss of the system during the Dark Ages which followed the fall of the Marian Empire, rumors and old records of the strange world and its mystery remained in the rump states that succeeded that Marian Empire, and various New Wage colonials, as they swept in to rediscover what was lurking in the New Alderamin sector, were keen to find Shoa-Shanian, even though its exact location was lost and forgotten.  Jase Hompson, an earth-descent young warlock, and his crew of adventurous explorers was the one who eventually found the world.  Although he comes from the part of space that belongs to the Republic (only recently Revanchist, at this point) their crew was extremely independent and skeptical of the Revanchist bureaucracy.  Those who followed in his wake, or were descended from him and his original crew, maintain that skepticism—although they dislike the Bernese and see them as ethnic rivals and hate the Heathens, their relationship with the Republic itself is somewhat... complicated.  Hompson and his crew were Earth-descent as well, and were as skeptical of the cultural influence of the Jaffans and Psarians on the Republic as they were of the increasingly parasitical bureaucracy.  So today, Shoa-Shanian remains an independent ally of the Republic, unlikely and unwilling to join officially, and able to fend off less than peaceful integration by nature of the warlocks that Hompson started training.

Today, the Shoa-Shanian warlocks, almost all natives (or colonists) of the world, are among the most feared in the neighborhood—which is saying something, considering their general proximity to the Voormellei Confederation and the Vorgan Than Viceroyalty.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Galaxy's Edge: Kill Team

Another month, another Galaxy's Edge release, and another review!  I didn't actually review the first book, Legionnaire, although I talked about it plenty.  I did review book 2: Galactic Outlaws and I may yet continue the streak.  In any case, I'll do Book 3: Kill Team.  So far, the schedule has been something like the following:
  • Every month, a new title is released (not only are Cole and Anspach writing at a furious pace, but they must have had a lot of groundwork laid ahead of time.)  I can't remember if they said that they're planning a 9 or 10 book arc, but it's something of that order of magnitude; so by next summer, we'll have done it.
  • I've got the book on pre-order as a Kindle download.
  • I get it on the day it's released.
  • I finish it by the next day.
There's not a lot of books that I tend to finish that fast—the only ones in many years until now that I consistently did so was with Butcher's Dresden novels.  And he hasn't even put one out in over three years now, so he's pretty overdue and behind schedule.)  But these seem to do the trick.  They're that good.

First; let me reiterate for those just catching up what the premise of Galaxy's Edge is, paraphrased by me from the authors' own words.  It can be neatly encapsulated in their hashtag, #StarWarsNotStarWars, and it means that the authors are fans of the Star Wars franchise... but are somewhat disheartened by much of what has happened to it.  While chatting about it, they decided to work together, writing it the way it should have been; the way it once was (read my Secret History of Star Wars posts for more info here, linked in the review to book 2).  It's kinda a pastiche of Star Wars, which of course was also a pastiche of Dune and Lensmen and especially Flash Gordon to begin with.

And like the Star Wars movies, which started off imitating the plots of unrelated genre movies, before "evolving" into something where the plot wasn't exactly the same, you can see clear analogs to some other plots you may be familiar with.  Legionnaire had a lot of obvious similarities to Zulu (1964) and Galactic Outlaws reminded me very closely of True Grit (1969 or 2010—take your pick.)  Kill Team reminded me strongly of John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in one plot arc, but it also reminded me strongly of Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal, especially in how it went back and forth between an assassination (or terrorist) plot and those carrying it out, and those who are tasked and racing to thwart it.

The voice of the character "Tom" who makes up the more Le Carré-like half of the novel, is quite different than what we've seen in the series to date.  It felt a little more navel-gazing-like, especially early on, than I was expecting, but at the same time, I've read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, albeit probably twenty years ago, so I was able to recognize immediately what it was probably meant to be a direct homage of, and thereby appreciate it.  And it didn't wallow in self-introspection all that much, really, which is of course would be death to any swashbuckling space opera action story.  This sounds like a complaint.  It's not; it's just a heads-up that they adopt a somewhat different voice for about half (roughly) of the novel which might have been a bad move if it had not been handled carefully.  But it works great here.  And for those (like me) who get and recognize the reference, it's actually kind of cool.

Once again, Cole and Anspach do not fail to disappoint, and I really enjoyed Kill Team.  It serves as a direct sequel to Legionnaire, and from the perspective of Galactic Outlaws I guess that would make it a flashback, or a prequel—although it does a fascinating job of tying together elements of both of those books, just in case you were starting to think that maybe the first was just a somewhat more distantly related prologue.  It's not.  The two story lines from the two respective novels are actually deeply intertwined.

But I can't tell you much about them without spoiling stuff, so I won't.  

I also don't know for sure what more to say about this novel that I didn't say about the last one.  The premise of the series, and any grand philosophical maundering about that, I've already done.  The fact that they're still great; I've also done.  I did also appreciate that the subtle (yet quite pointed) social and political satire that's there for those with the wit to see it, but it never even comes close to the ham-handed message fic that the Left loves to indulge in.  It actually—like, OMG!—serves the needs of the plot and creates believable and plausible motivations for functional, normal characters to do things that we readers can relate to as functional, normal people ourselves.  So, not knowing what else to say about the book other than that, well—just get it and read it!  You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


System: Tr'Udon
Hex Location: 1529
Star Type: Triple (distant) F5 V, A0 V, M2 V
Number of Worlds: 11, 17, 12
Gas Giants: 8, 5, 0
Planetoid Belt: Kuiper and asteroid belt, Kiuper belt only, Kuiper and asteroid belt

Starport Type: C
World Size: Earth-sized
Atmosphere Type: Thin
Surface Water: 20%
Population: Large (9 billion)
Political Affiliation: Seraean Empire, Outremer, Principality of Tan Kajak
Tags: Mining world, Civil War, Eugenic mania
Notes: Tr'Udon is an unusual system; with three stars, all capable of supporting earth-like planets, and each of which having a large cadre of planets, there is an incredible diversity of settlement.  While the main world stats describe the "main" world of the system, in reality, the system has several settled worlds, several of which are "earth-like" to various degrees—many of them are full of silicates and metallic materials, and vast quantities of raw materials are mined from the system.

The real defining feature of the Tr'Udon system, however, is the ongoing civil war for control of the system between two Seraean noble houses, Djak and Parthsor.  Both are branches of the house of the original Tan Kajak himself (descendants of his more distant cousins, to be exact) and as the Baron Kardon Djak was usually deemed mentally unfit to rule, his cousin, Lord Haltoru Parthsor, called Haltoru the Gaunt was pressed into seeking the baronial seat.  For two decades now, these aging baronial claimants have waged war, and the minor lords and knights that support them have brought to bear their forces to advance the cause of one or the other.  This war has spread throughout the varied system, and sometimes beyond.

A curiosity of Seraean culture is that while they do not encourage this type of disunity, because it threatens their ability to project force across Known Space, they do, however, innately and obsessively enjoy this kind of conflict.  Because of the fact that this one spills out of the Tr'Udon system, a little bit, it gets some bad attention at Phovos Mal and from some of the other Outremer nobles, but they tolerate it because it mostly takes place in system, and because it's entertaining as the all get-out to them.

One of the things that the Seraeans of Tr'Udon have done, which is somewhat unique to them, is a cybernetics mania.  They are obsessed with the creation of the perfect soldier, and have created a template of four-armed soldiers, with a great deal of robotic augmentations, that are unique.  A very few of them are capable of becoming psionic knights genetically too, and the four-armed semi-robotic Tr'Udoni knights are among the most fearsome to encounter.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Hentau III

System: Hentau III
Hex Location: 1628
Star Type: Single M4 V
Number of Worlds: 8
Gas Giants: 4
Planetoid Belt: Kuiper and asteroid belt

Starport Type: D
World Size: Larger than earth
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 50%
Population: Medium (100 million)
Political Affiliation: Seraean Empire, Outremer, Principality of Tan Kajak
Tags: Cold war, Xenophobic, Oceanic cities
Notes: Hentau III was initially settled by the Bernese, and was part of the Carrick Grand Marches.  It is one of the few Carrick worlds that wasn't simply colonized; its colonization was contested by forces allied to the Dhangetans, which meant that the settlement was never peaceful, and never settled.  The Bernese were fighters, though—and they fought with the Dhangetan scum, skiffers, and even small numbers of Cilindarean mercenaries for several decades, and hung on to their settlements, for the most part.  Neither side were prepared (or capable) of committing enough resources to settle the issue permanent.

Until the Seraean crusaders came in and conquered the system decisively.  Millions of people were enslaved, and most of them were then imported back to the Empire, where they were never heard from again.

But that was now three generations ago.  Today, the situation is a bit different.  While Seraeans clearly make up the biggest plurality (and if you add Idacharians, the Heathens are a clear majority) of the population, there are still relatively large numbers of ethnic Bernese other humans, skiffers, some Cilindareans, and other, less humanoid aliens as well that live here.  For the last two Princips, descendants of Tan Kajak himself, the official policy has been to avoid systemic ethnic oppression.  The original settlers of non-Heathen stock have been allowed to remain in their settlements, albeit much reduced after the great slave-reaping three generations ago.  Others have migrated to the Heathen settlements, and succeed or fail based on their own merits.  In fact, one interesting side effect of this relationship is that Hentau III has become a fertile recruiting ground for spies to serve the Seraean Empire among the Dhangetans, or the Monarch worlds, or even in some cases, on some Revanchist worlds.  They've had less success with ethnic Cilindareans.

But the other curious side effect is that the planet is in a constant state of low-grade, tribal war.  The old Bernese settlements still fight against the settlements that were allied with the old Dhangetans.  Both fight with the Heathens.  Alliances and allegiances shift constantly.  Rather than clamping down on the chaos, the Heathens find the whole thing thrilling entertainment; a worthy place for young warriors to get some practice, and even a fertile ground for big money bets for gamblers.  This is, in fact, one of the main roadblocks to further ethnic integration; the culture of the Heathens, the Bernese and the others is too different for them to ever truly integrate except in the case of rare individuals.  It also means that there is very little trust for those outside of your tribal groups.  If a space traveler were to set his ship down near a Bernese settlement, such as Medon, it's unlikely that you'd get any reception other than radium fire, even if you were yourself an ethnic Bernese from one of the Carrick worlds, for instance.  Mistrust and sharp tribal boundaries is a strong feature on Hentau III.

Arrival of a Heathan noble's personal warships
Another curious fact; the original settlements were mostly located on rivers, and at river mouths, or otherwise access the great coastal floodplains that make up the majority of the landmasses.  Various types, often refugees from the wars, have moved even further inland, although the surface of the planet still remains relatively pristine, and even has many corners essentially unsurveyed and never before seen by intelligent eyes.  The Heathens, on the other hand, mostly live actually at sea, in vast cities either on small islands, or floating as giant rafts, or even submerged beneath the surface.  This is because the water here has a slightly unusual chemical composition.  This has very little effect on humanity, but it does make it the perfect habitat for Seraean spider-fish, both the meat and the eggs of which are a delicacy in Seraean society, and sell for ridiculous amounts of money to Heathen nobility.  In fact, Hentau III has become one of the largest exporters of spider-fish to the Empire, comparable to the oceans of Seraea itself, or famous exporter worlds within Imperial space like Shatina, Lantai, or Vorria.

Meni Bana

System: Meni Bana
Hex Location: 1627
Star Type: Double (distant) G8V and a black hole
Number of Worlds: 6 and 5
Gas Giants: 5 and 4
Planetoid Belt: No, and Kuiper and asteroid belt, respectively

Starport Type: C
World Size: Artificial (i.e., tiny)
Atmosphere Type: N/A
Surface Water: N/A
Population: Medium (3 million)
Political Affiliation: Dhangetan Cartel
Tags: Xenophilia, Hostile solar system, Boom Town / Gold Rush
Notes: It's always fun when the dice cooperate.  The likelihood of me rolling up a black hole or other exotic star for the second star in a double system was already low, but what are the odds that I'd also get the Hostile Solar System tag?  It looks like I hand-picked that tag, but actually I didn't.  It was all serendipitous.

Meni Bana is under the control the Dhangetans, although no Dhangetan lives in the system on a permanent basis.  Rather, it is governed by their Lieutenant Zenin Nkazao, a skiffer warlord (imagine the skiffers as a hybrid between a zabrak and the kroot in appearance.)  It is an unusual system, made up of two "suns", one of which is similar to our own, but the other of which is a black hole.  They are in a distant orbit as far as companions go, so their interactions with each other are somewhat limited.  Both "suns" have a suite of planets, all but one of which are gas giants.  But nobody lives on the airless rocky worlds either, except for small settlements of pilgrims, miners or hermits, all of which are officially uncharted.  The largest settlement in the system is a large space station in close orbit to one of the gas giants, which serves as a gateway to the system, as well as a facility for fuel refining.

The gigantic artificial capitol of Meni Bana
Many of the people who staff Nkazao's staff are Cilindareans, and he has a strange fascination for their culture.  They are often given favored status in Meni Bana, either because of Nkazao's preference for them, or because of the Cilindarean staff's own preference for their own.  Many have come to Meni Basa in recent years, drawn especially by the chance for wealth.  They make up a sizable plurality in the system, which sometimes brings them into conflict with the others who live here, because they are not shy about exercising their political capital.

People are scattered all through the system, however.  There are two other features of the Meni Bana system that make it more interesting than it otherwise might have been—long after the Dhangetans claimed and colonized the system, it was discovered than an ancient Marian treasury convoy came to a bad end in the system.  The wreckage of their treasure ships (and of course, their cargo of treasure) are scattered throughout the system, most especially in the orbit of the distant black hole.

This means that while there is tons of wealth just flying around out there in space for the finding and taking, which brings many would-be treasure hunters to system, of course, it's all "buried" in the gas and dust disk that circles the black hole.  It's immensely difficult to actually find anything, and there are lots of risks associated with treasure-hunting in the gravity well of a black hole.  Many treasure hunters never return from their forays into the realm of the black hole, and few of those who do come back with a big score.  But that doesn't dissuade those who are sufficiently comfortable with the risks from trying, and Meni Bana has assumed a gold rush town status—people from all over showing up to strike it rich, or die trying.

Due to its location, there are many routes that these prospectors and treasure hunters take into Meni Bana, which contributes to its cosmopolitan nature (which in turn contributes to simmering conflict, that is often ethnic or political in nature, and stems from events happening outside of the system.)  Revanchist citizens can easily reach Meni Bana from any of the worlds of the Carthen Colony and many from the Rhyne Colonies.  Bernese can reach it from Eliane (which admittedly, isn't the best vector to travel through, given that Eliane is itself a pretty rough frontier world without much in the way of services—but it does reach Meni Bana without making a risky 4-hex jump.)  All of the worlds of the Principality of Tan Kajak can also reach Meni Bana, bringing the baleful eye of the Heathens.  And, of course, it's easily reached from Dhangetan worlds Drini IV or even Moise.  Cilindareans cannot reach Meni Bana directly from one of their own worlds, but Cilindareans have always been comfortable and even usually welcome to travel through Dhangetan worlds, and the two Dhangetan worlds mentioned above are near their world Peleres.  It is interesting to note that space lanes from the rest of the Cilindarean Arm are rather lacking; there is a "hole" in galactic space between the majority of the Cilindarean Arm and the worlds of theirs that are close to the Dhangetan Cartel, requiring a rather lengthy journey around, and often through systems that the Cilindareans do not directly control.

For Menian denizens other than the strangely Cilindareophile Nkazao, this is seen as probably a good thing, as it means that armies of Cilindariates and mothakes won't be arriving any time soon in a wave of expansion.  However, one of the political intricacies of Meni Bana is that it is no secret that Zenin Nkazao has worked with some Cilindarean warlords to destabilize and offer up systems of the Rhyne Colony as easy potential conquests.  Given this, along with its proximity to territory of literally every other major power in the sector,Meni Bana is a strangely relevant political Schwerpunkt to galactic politics for the entire sector.  Nkazeo hasn't the foresight to see what he may have unwittingly unleashed with his unusual Cilindareophile attitude, but all of the major powers are looking at sending additional resources nearby, and an escalation of tensions centered on Meni Bana seems to be a very real risk.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Many Faces of Seraean Outremer

Technically, Outremer is the word used in Seraean circles to refer to any of their colonies; i.e. territory that is politically affiliated with the Empire, but outside of its borders proper.  However, the word is usually used to refer to only the most recent expansions, so the earliest two satrapies are often not considered part of Outremer proper.  The attached map is a cut and paste of a section of my big sector map, with the satrapies marked and labeled, and with Seraean space lanes put in as well.  First, I'll describe each of the satrapies at a reasonably high level (considering that I've only developed systems so far for one of them) and then I'll talk a bit about the space lanes.

Vorgan Than Viceroyalty is the very first "colony" of the Seraeans and their Idacharian allies.  Initially, the entire reason that the Seraeans turned their attention westward from their own borders into the scattered New Alderamin sector was that scattered settlements of Idacharians were already here ahead of them, and they invited the Seraeans to help them capture Arsallum.  To the Idacharians and their Old Ones cult, closely allied with the Shadow Cult of the Seraeans themselves, Arsallum was a pilgrimage site, an important part of their religious history from the time of the Old Kingdoms, prior to the establishment of the Marian Empire.  It had turned extremely heretic, helped spawn the abominations that are the Cyber-liches, and was under their control.  With the help of the Seraean military might, the Idacharians conquered Arsallum, pushed the cyber-liches back into what is today the Voormellei Confederation (and inadvertently laying the seeds for their later alliance with the Grand Dukes of the Carrick Grand Marches) and established the very first of the Imperial colonies.  Eventually, the Vorgan Than Viceroyalty, ruled by a Viceroy (by definition) grew to encompass four systems, and started to diverge culturally somewhat from the Imperial center.  As their interests and concerns were far from Phovos Mal, they developed an unruly, independent streak, which was later to explode following the declaration of various Umbral Crusades, many led by the so-called Free Heathens, who desired even greater autonomy and independence from Imperial control.

However, the wars with the Cyber-liches had been brutal, Pyrrhic affairs, and these shadow knights were looking to establish their own power bases where they could rule absolutely.  They desired softer targets, and the immediate vicinity was not necessarily rife with them.  Numerous wars with the Reavers to the south and west of them were fruitless, as holding Reaver worlds was deemed to be impossible; the Reavers were too mobile as a society, and their hit and run raids made short-lived conquest attempts on Tronii T'Kali (2135) futile.  Fotta Zonaii (2133) was not only heavily armed and truculent themselves, but they were on reasonably good terms with the warriors of Freeport (2131), but they were also willing to make common cause with the Death Sages of the Voormellei Confederation, who still hated the Seraeans and Idacharians (collectively called The Colorless, or sometimes merely The Heathens.)  They were too hard of a target, although diplomacy allowed some of the Shadow Knights to negotiate rights of passage through their system for their Crusader armies.

The next conquest was Lada (1935) which has since been gifted to an Idacharian warlock who styles himself an independent king—but to maintain his position, he also agrees to be a stepping stone further to the west.  Lada was an independent nation prior to this, settled by a variety of frontiersmen, but they never managed to maintain a strong position, in part due to continual predation by the Reavers.  They were easy targets for the Seraeans, who also made the Reavers fear to prowl through the system.

The Dhangetans are a powerful group squatting fetidly over much of the very center of the sector.  An expansion of their rule are the Dhangetans of the Desai Worlds; a splinter group that settled near the Carthen Colonies and the Emerus Marches.  This made them the next reasonably large group of systems beyond Lada, the Reavers, and a few strong independent worlds—not great targets for further Seraean expansion, really.  But their infamous corruption presented opportunity.  Vaaxh-zhu, the Dhangetan emir of the Desai Worlds wanted one of his rivals removed, as well as blocking access to further rivals deeper within Dhangetan space.  Offering the Crusaders passage through Fenebruck (1634) and Vorli VI (1631) he betrayed his people and offered conquest to the worlds of the Principality of Tan Kajak, as they later came to be known.  These worlds were weakened by internal struggle; both Bernese settlers, and the less savory types that followed in the wake of the Dhangetans had wrangled over the systems for years, and both were not only occupied with fighting each other, but also weakened from decades of doing so.  Tan Kajak, the founder of this satrapy, made relatively quick work of both forces, claimed all four worlds in short order, enslaved millions of people (to great profit) and sparked a diplomatic crisis between the Monarchy and the Empire (although inadvertently defused an ongoing diplomatic crisis between the Dhangetans and the Monarchy while doing so.)  The old space lane that connected Beodon to Hentau III to Perchta and Kereux was cut off, and only pirates or otherwise desperate travelers use it today.

Other crusaders, seeing the grip Tan Kajak had on ruling his satrapy, decided to set up their own demesnes, and turned south from Fenebruck.  The Desai lords had recently abandoned Oerken (1536) in disgust, and the Crusaders agreed that it was a pointless exercise to try and conquer it.  But nearby were weak and fractured worlds that fell easily to the Crusaders, becoming the Kingdom of Phatoru Shdor.

When the Revanchists managed to flip the allegiance of the worlds of the Carthen Colony from the Monarchy to the Republic, they also came into direct conflict with Tan Kajak.  Overall, this small area is the biggest powder-keg in the entire New Alderamin sector.  Although few are truly aware of how sensitive the area is, it is in reality crawling with would-be Gavrilo Princips, and many could-be Franz Ferdinands.

These two satrapies are sometimes not considered part of Outremer, because they were the earliest established, and the other three are the results of much more recent aggression by newer Shadow Knight lords.  Surrounded mostly by very strong Bernese colonies, with large populations and strong armies, the Shadow Knights, led by the charismatic and dynamic Lord Kar Tanus VI, father of the current ruler of Thanatos (0733), Kar Tanus VII, found an avenue to a weak and decadent new swath of territory that became the three regions of New Outremer.  Cabaea (1337) was a Bernese settled world, but refused to recognize the sovereignty of the Monarch—or more specifically, of their local lords—and declared itself independent.  Staffed with a relatively powerful military, it was a hard target for either the Shadow Knights or the Royal Military, either one, but not so strong that it didn't need to look for favors and allies.  Tanus negotiated right of passage for a massive Crusader force that swarmed Revanchist world Veile, then Koschei Prime and then Rograde, taking them in quick succession.

Claiming to be repossessing their inheritance on Thanatos, another major pilgrimage site that dates back to the days before the Seraean or Marian Empires, they quickly conquered it as well as a host of nearby systems.  In doing so, they encroached upon a local war between the Altairan Ascendancy and various Revanchist colonies; the Crusaders didn't care and enslaved and conquered worlds belong to either with impunity.

This is the Civitas Ordenis Umraci, or Shadow Order State, the bulk of what is usually considered Outremer, and it was once ruled entirely by Kar Tanus VI (his son only rules uncontested today on Thanatos itself, while fractious lords and knights from the rest of the satrapy acknowledge his primacy only reluctantly.

More Altairan worlds were conquered to become the Moaktor Phtok satrapy.  This Crusade was devastating to the Altairan Ascendency—both the North and South regions are only seven systems each, while ten systems that were formerly Altairan are now outright ruled by the Seraeans, and two others (Traaknizar 0336 and Katturra 0537) have maintained their Altairan lords, but they have allied themselves formally with the conquerors and turned their backs on the leaders of the Ascendancy.  Some of those ten systems had already been recently lost to the Altairans and claimed by the Revanchists, however.

And finally, a couple of systems became the Sarkmina Duchy, by expanding mostly at the expense of Republic colonies; Burislav (0936) and Goll III (0937).  Although the expansionist aggression that formed all three of these was the same crusader movement, the various satrapies represent, rather the ability of certain crusader lords to carve out their own demesnes and impose their authority over it more than anything else.  Culturally, you would not expect too much of a difference between a Sarkmine world, or one in the Moaktor Phtork or the Civitas—but their allegiance would be to a different lord.

This history also explains the space lanes, to a great extent.  Coming from the east, you must pass through the Vorgan Than, then Fotta Zonaii, Lada and Fenebruck, and then either go through the Desai Worlds to reach Tan Kajack, or pass through Cabaea to Veile and the New Outremer conquests.

Notable: the Crusaders went to relatively great pains to avoid confronting the Emerus Marches (and thereby bringing down the wrath of the Monarchy on themselves) or the Takach Kingdom.  They were opportunists, not masochists, and challenging powerful groups with many resources was generally avoided, whereas taking easy pickings and weak or conflicted worlds was preferred.

Bernese Colony Lanes

The Monarchy is challenged in regards to its colonies in the "south" of the New Alderamin sector; of which they have several large, profitable, and politically powerful colonies.  However, they have no direct access to them.  Looking at the full sector map, you'll notice that the Monarchy's main territory, the southern reaches of which are shown at the top and top west especially of the map, are completely cut off from their colonies in the south by a vast sea of green; the Cilindarean Arm.  While the Monarchy does, of course, have access to space lanes (not shown here) by treaty both with the central Cilindarean government, but also with several specific system governments to reach their colonies, the reality is that the Bernese colonies have always had to be more self-sufficient and self-reliant than the colonies of the other major powers.  The Revanchists and the Empire can reach their colonies through stops of territory that they own or are allied with, with only a few treaties with other systems, and as such, both are at a logistical advantage relative to the Monarchy when it comes to the supply and management of their colonies—although that advantage isn't always realized (the Imperial colonies in particular, are surprisingly autonomous, and don't want to be tied down by Imperial policy if they can.)

That said, the Bernese colonies tend to be quite well connected with each other, at least, and have developed space lanes that allow them to remain connected.  Although each is autonomous from the other, and there are sometimes serious differences of personality, culture and policy between the various colonies, they do tend to act, in some ways, as a joint entity comparable (in some ways) to a smaller power like the Cilindareans or the Dhangetans rather than simply transplanted islands of the Monarchy.  A few far-sighted people predict that complete independence of the colonies, probably united in confederation, lurks in the future, requiring only the spark of a bad monarch to push them to revolt and declaration of independence.  Luckily for the Monarchy, Maddav Bern III, the current Rex, is disengaged and therefore not all that bad.  He offers little benefit to the colonies by his policies, but he's sympathetic to them in general and mostly leaves them alone to conduct their affairs according to their own desires—exactly as the colonial governors, counts and dukes want.  Maddav Bern is approaching middle age, and remains without heir—so who knows what the next few years will bring.

The Colony Lanes, shown below, connect the colonies quite closely.  Traditionally, the Bernese Colony space lane starts in New Rodinia, a trade hub of some importance, where goods come into the southern edge of the sector.  Of course, many traders and travelers join the space lane further in.  In the past, when the Carthen Colonies belonged to the Carrick Grand Marches, they were included in the lanes, but since their alignment with the Revanchists many years ago, those spurs have been cut off and are infrequently used.  Rather, from New Rodinia, the lane passes through the Grand Carrick systems, usually starting with the super-populated (yet curiously frontier-themed) Shahar, and the super-populated urban Jhantor.  (The rest of the Carrick is usually serviced by "local" trade with Jhantor rather than directly from the space lane itself.)  The lane continues to Freeport, a friendly independent system, although it sometimes passes through Voormellei on the way.

Fotta Zonaii is another important connector system; also independent although historically friendly to the Bernese.  Fotta Zonaii is currently undergoing a civil war, which makes it less desirable as a stop than it used to be, but there are few good options to replace it.  Republic world Hata would make a possible re-route to avoid Fotta Zonaii, but the desperate and incompetent governor of Hata, Abembo Gama, has made it even worse than Fotta Zonaii even with the civil war.  Wary Republic ally Shoa-Shanian is a possibility, but that would leave New Titania out of the loop, bypassing it, which is politically difficult.  Right now, this remains a weakness in the space lane that needs to be solved diplomatically—although independent traders who are less invested in the political back and forth are capable of using many of these options without much fuss.

Passing through the relatively friendly independent system Annon, the lane now splits and can go many different ways depending on the specific travel needs desired.  Most often, it jumps from Annon to Heastead and from there can go to any of the systems of the Emerus Marches.  Wild frontier port Oerken is a stop from either the Emerus Marches, or even directly from Annon to the Viomium Marches.

From Heastead, the trade route typically avoids the Takach Kingdom, which tends not to bother the Takach, who like their privacy and are wary of foreigners. (To be fair, they've got a complicated relationship with both the Cilindareans and the Janissaries, with both of whom they claim genetic linkages, and they have fought many fierce wars against Umbral Crusaders who have tried to incorporate their systems into one of the Outremer satrapies.)  But mostly the route doesn't stop at Takach because unless someone is traveling specifically to the Takach Kingdom, it doesn't have to.  Cilindarean world Pentase has built its wealth on being a trade hub between Bernese colonies, and actively encourages passage.  This sometimes brings the local government of Pentase into low-grade conflict with some other Cilindarean interests, but the use of Pentase as the anchor of this leg of the space lane is unlikely to change anytime soon.  From Pentase, the entire Machesk Frontier is opened up and accessible.  The "northernmost" Machesk World, Kereux, is the bridge that makes it to the Bechtel Marches, albeit with at least two stops through Altairan Ascendency worlds.  The Altairan Ascendancy has always been friendly to the Bernese colonies, but after political crises with Revanchist expansion, and then the establishment of Imperial Outremer, that relationship has only strengthened considerably, and the Colonials almost see the Altairans as brothers-in-arms, if you will; not exactly part of the Colonial orbit, but their closest allies in the region.  The same people who predict that some day in the future the Bernese colonies will form a new nation, or at least confederation, connected to each other, wonder if the northern Altairan Ascendancy will join them.

As an interesting note, although it's been more than a century since it's been used, the old space lane had a much shorter option.  In this scenario, Beodon was still a Carrick system, not one allied with the Revanchists, and the Umbral Crusade that conquered Hentau III and Perchta had also not happened yet.  All three of those worlds would have shown as solid red planets 125 years ago.  Now, the route is completely closed except to those few travelers who are comfortable and capable of traveling through Monarchist, Revanchist and Imperial space with impunity.

NOTES: STAR SYTEM DATA SHEETS required: Pentase (1131), Annon (1734), Shoa-Shanian (1933) and New Titania (1934).  All of the Bernese colony worlds, on the other hand, will be done anyway, although of them, Kereux (1028) and Heastead (1433) seem to be the most urgent.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Broadsword spacelane

The ambitiously named Broadsword spacelane was established early on in the "Scramble for New Alderamin" by Revanchist colonizers.  From the corner of the Revanchist Republic, it pushes through the Dhangetan Cartel to the Carthen Colony—a real coup that the Republic was able to switch those systems from red to blue; they had once been part of the Carrick Grand Marches.  From there, it makes one more stop through a Dhangetan system, an independent system, and hits the Calder Settlements.  The former spacelane continued into Calder and Altairan systems that have since been conquered and established as part of Outremer Umbral Crusader states.  This has "broken" the spacelane, although some people do, in fact, continue to use it.  It is largely closed off, however, to official Republic convoys, especially military ones, at least at the "southwestern" edge.

As the Republic continues to push, however, it's also managed to damage relationships with the Dhangetans.  This spacelane has evolved into one that neither corporate nor military Revanchists can expect to use without trouble, but any independent operator, or small trader can still follow the entire route without any issue.  The Seraeans are only too happy to tariff traders passing through from Calder to the Belebach worlds (which used to be part of the Calder Settlements in happier days.)

When passing through the Dhangetan systems, it's worth pointing out that the majority of the people you have to deal with when stopping for refueling are not, of course, Dhangetans, who rule as extremely rare individuals.  Humans, oerks, cetians, Sirians, and especially skiffers are the people you most deal with, and they tend not to care as much about politics.

Even passing through the Vichy worlds of Outremer, you will often deal with lingering officials of Altairan or even Revanchist extraction who have not (yet) been replaced by Seraeans or their allies, because they're simply aren't enough of them to worry about manning the docks of the spaceports.  Some of those who make this run are little more than privateers, who in fact prey on Imperial transport, so some of these stops are fraught with some danger if their ships are recognized.

Some of them are trying to reroute the lane somewhat, but there aren't any safe harbors that get to the Belebach worlds and the republican allies without going through the Emerus Marches—which is nearly as intolerable to Revanchists as dealing with the Imperials.

Ad Astra setting

I spent the weekend at a waterpark with the family, but a few things crystallized while I was sitting there in a lawn chair in the sun in front of the outdoor waterslides.

  • I quit what I was doing with cataloging the systems that have no star system data sheets yet, and instead did it in Excel (and uploaded it to Google Sheets.  You can actually look at it here.)
  • This allows me to sort and stuff; it gives me much more flexibility than the cumbersome way that I was doing it.  But, in coming up with the spreadsheet, I had a few thoughts occur to me:
    • I need more smaller polities.  Sometimes when I have a few independent systems close by, or even just a single Bernese or Republic system way outside of the Bernese or Republic orbit, it will eventually need to be renamed as a smaller polity or colony or something.  (Independent systems 1313, 1314, and 1315 are ripe for consolidation, for instance.)
    • It wasn't my intention that every light green (i.e., allied with the Cilindareans without actually being Cilindarean) system would be Janissary, but that's mostly what I've done.  The only exception is the Takach Kingdom, but as I further develop this, some of those Janissary worlds will probably turn into some other kind of Cilindarean ally instead.
    • On the flip-side, although I've identified no worlds as specifically belonging to an "Old Ones" polity, I do kind of see the majority of "independent" Seraean allies as being Idacharian.
    • I have made a few small things clear, though—such as the establishment of the Danian Kingdom, which you can read about very briefly in the entry for Khirunizan.  I also turned a couple of Republic worlds into the Belebach Colony (named after Belebach, one of the two systems involved.)  There will no doubt be more of this yet to come.
  • I will eventually do some more data sheets, and going over the map again actually made me a little bit more interested in doing so.  I wonder if I should start filling in some Outremer worlds?  I'm considering breaking Outremer up into a couple of constituent satrapies or something, just to give me a little bit more diversity.  We'll see.  The Principality of Tan Kajak would be an excellent example of what isn't considered part of Outremer today, but really should probably be considered one of four or possibly five major groups that make up Outremer.  The already detailed Vorgan Than Viceroyalty should also be considered the earliest component of Outremer in this paradigm.
  • I'd like to create a separate map file.  It'll be harder to read the names of the systems, but this one will focus mostly on space lanes.  I have none detailed today.
  • That's probably the biggest single difference between AD ASTRA and Star Wars; the fact that you can't just zip around the galaxy.  There's more of a convoy or caravan feel to it, of a crossing the plains, or maybe the Silk Road, or wandering about on foot across Africa—except in space.  The fact that space travel takes time in AD ASTRA, and that communication is limited to the speed of light, meaning that travel brings news, not little communicators that buzz all across the galaxy, makes it very different than Star Wars.
  • Of course, the other big difference is that this isn't the story of a single family, or of the Jedi, or anything like that.  AD ASTRA's warlocks and psionic knights are pretty modest as far as superheroes go.  Although they do certainly have superpowers, they aren't in general any better than other non-superpowered characters.  If the warlocks and psionic knights are the equivalents of Captain America or Black Panther, there are still plenty of other Black Widows and Hawkeyes out there in the galaxy.
  • Speaking of which, on average, no more than one in a few million is a warlock or psionic knight.  In a galaxy of untold teeming billions, that means that of course there's still plenty of them, if you gather them all in one place, for instance, but by and large, I kind of like the idea of them being extremely rare.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Some more Ad Astra setting info

Well, I've gone ahead and finished transferring all of the setting info (specifically the STAR SYSTEM DATA SHEETS I developed here on the blog) into pages on the AD ASTRA google site.  You can check it out here, or you can read them by using the tag listed above to find the relevant blog posts.  I do actually like the formatting of the blog posts better, but I did make some minor edits and corrections to a few things (especially on the older data sheets) as I transferred them to the Google Sites.  Mostly this was to correct for spelling inconsistencies (Dhangeti to Dhangetans, Cilindans to Cilindareans, etc.) but I did make a handful of corrections that were at least a little bit more substantive.

What's next?  I'm going to go ahead and add every hex that popped up as having a system on it to the list.  More specifically, I'll make a second list below that one that has all of those.  I will use this just for reference; I don't actually intend on going on a massive data sheet creation bender.  In fact, I don't have any plans for the moment to even do a single additional data sheet, although I'm sure that I will eventually do so.  Mostly, it's just to "claim" the hexes, show the political affiliation, and if I've come up with a name for the system (I did add a fair number of names already) I'll note that too.  Then, as I'm working on AD ASTRA stuff in the future and need more detail, I can just pull from this well and whip up a new system.  I've got names for many of the other colony areas, as well as Outremer, and it is my intention to eventually get around to that.  All of the Altairan Ascendancy, both North and South, is named, although I haven't done squat-all with it other than name the systems (apologies to Tarkin.)  I even named half of the Reaver worlds.  This will be helpful if I just need to refer to another world obliquely to create the illusion of depth, without having any details about it yet.

I've actually done the same thing with history.  I refer to a few things, without explaining them.  I actually don't have any intention of explaining them.  If you recall, in the first Star Wars film, Ben Kenobi refers to the Clone Wars, but doesn't explain anything about them other than that he was a general and Jedi knight, as was Luke's (at this point, unnamed) father.  When I was a kid, what my imagination filled in based on that reference was probably cooler than the reality of the Clone Wars as they were later detailed.  Or, at the very least, the possibilities were, which remained undetermined.

I've got a few things like this, which I want to catalog just so I can keep them straight and not forget that I mentioned them, but I don't really want to do any detailing about them other than that.  Filling in detail about the past is usually counter-productive in fantasy, and this is absolutely space fantasy more than it is sci-fi as the smug, Asimovian types would call it.  Besides, it's equally true in sci-fi anyway.

So, without further ado, here's a very brief history of the past.
  • Nobody even knows how long ago: Grays were all over the place, leaving ruins across the galaxy.  They're sometimes credited (or blamed) with the spread of humanity to various worlds in the galaxy long before any of them were capable of traveling there on their own.
  • A long, long time ago: Humanity spread from Earth, and lost track of where earth was.  They discovered xenohumans; biologically human, but of clearly different ethnicity than any earth group, and arguable what the original home system was.
  • A slightly less long time ago: The Old Kingdoms.  Compared to our society today, this would be equivalent to the Babylonians or ancient Egyptians, except that they aren't a totally alien ethnic group.
  • Still rather a long time ago: The Marian Empire, which united the Kingdoms of Earth-descent humans, Altairan xenohumans, and a number of alien races as clients.
  • Several centuries ago: The Slave Wars.  The Janissaries won their freedom and became a separate ethnic group, allied with the Cilindarean Varangians.
  • After the Slave Wars: The Wars of the Last Emperors; which eventually brought the Marian Empire down into dissolution.  The rump states are the Republic and the Monarchy, plus numerous smaller independent polities.
  • In the last century or so: The major political groups—The Revanchist Republic, the Bern Monarchy, and the Seraean Empire, stretch out into the New Alderamin sector to rediscover and reclaim worlds that belonged to the Marian or Old Kingdoms sphere of influence, but which were beyond their reach following the dissolution of the Marian Empire.  They find that several significant and powerful nations have grown up in the area, including the Reavers, the Altairan Ascendancy, and most especially the Cilindarean and Janissary States, and the Dhangetan cartel.  Plus, as these three superpowers interact with these other kingdoms, and each other, they bring political tensions to the fore, and risk vast conflicts spreading to all of Known Space.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Why Star Wars Rebels sucks

He's totally not wrong.  At all.

Except that Ezra is tons worse than Zeb.  Zeb is boring and childish, but he doesn't annoy me nearly as much.

I know he says that, but he hates Zeb more.


EDIT: And holy cow; he's done a great Jedi one, too.

Marvel Degenerations

This is why nobody reads the comics anymore.

And why the movies shelf life is going to come to an end soon when they run out of stories to mine from the comics.


Stephen Miller, the Jew who actually wants to avoid creating conditions in which another Hitler is inevitable, slaps around Fake American Jim Acosta, mostly by pointing out that a French statue with a Jewish poem attached to it long after the fact is not, actually, an American tradition, and certainly not an American legal precedent or law.


This "American tradition" is not one that was founded by Americans.  It is what Fake Americans have built as a myth to justify their presence here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

More thoughts on Clone Wars, StarWarsNotStarWars and Ad Astra

I just recently found out that Star Wars: Rebels, the show that replaced The Clone Wars was renewed for a 4th season (I petered out a couple of episodes into season 3).  It is also revealed that this will be the final season.  I don't know why it is ending much earlier than Clone Wars, although Filoni did point out the fact that knowing it was going to end made it a lot easier to plan for the ending, rather than having a whole season of partially completed episodes to deal with after the show ended (almost half of which subsequently got a release on Netflix as a "season 6".  Another two story arcs got Youtube roughs; all the voice acting and sound effects, etc. were recorded, but the animation was still at CGI storyboard state.  Another story arc was converted into a comic book series, and another double story arc that was converted into a novel.  This may seem like a lot of episodes, which it kind of does, but maybe some of them would have spilled over into a season 7.  The novel is 8 episodes, and the two story arcs that are roughs are another 8.  The comic book miniseries had to have been at least four. )  That's already twenty episodes—plus the 13 we got in the "Lost Missions."  There are references, if you can find them, to other arcs; enough for a season 7 and 8, at least, including episodes that take place concurrently with Revenge of the Sith.

It was not actually the intention of the Clone Wars team to end the show after season 5, it was a business decision by the new suits after the Disney/Lucasfilm buy-out to get content off of Cartoon Network and create new content for DisneyXD.  I do have to wonder if the greatly reduced story arc of Rebels has to do with it never matching Clone Wars in audience excitement.  Or maybe I'm just projecting.

Anyway, regardless of the second half of season 6, and seasons 7 and 8, which we never actually got to see as regular episodes anyway, I powered through the remainder of season 3 yesterday.  I'm actually feeling a bit burned out, after watching the better part of two seasons in just a few days.  The degree to which I'm still committed to watching all of the rest of them in relatively short order is fading.  I'm seriously considering skipping to episodes that I like and foregoing some of the mediocre filler episodes in between.  Even episodes that I've earlier said that I do like in season 4 are kind of... I dunno—I just don't want to watch them right now.  Maybe I just need to take a little break.

So, rather, I had a bit more free time and thought I'd play some of my Old Republic.  But it started trying to update the launcher, and something weird happened.  I couldn't ever get it to launch.  I have no idea what was happening, but it made me impatient after trying the better part of half an hour to get Old Republic started, so I said, "screw it" and played some Ultra Street Fighter IV instead.  It ended up being a bit of a frustrating evening.  And I now blame Star Wars generally, since I'm a little burned out on Clone Wars, and was frustrated with the Old Republic.

But don't worry.  I'll try again soon.  I still have some hopes that the Star Wars franchise as a whole can still deliver some entertainment to me.  I only hit you because I love you, baby.

Meanwhile, I've listened to a few more podcasts by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole.  I referenced one briefly a few posts ago, but most recently, I just listened to this one.  Although it covers some of the same ground as the last one (including the "playing with your action figures" concept) it also has some more detail about the alt.Force and other things.  I think Nick makes an excellent point in suggesting that thinking that you have to explain everything is a mistake.  Just go with it.  Spaceships travel faster than light?  Yeah, by now everybody who is interested in any kind of science fiction accepts that.  There's no reason to explain how it works.  If you want an explanation for yourself as a writer or developer or whatever—cool.  But trying to tell your readers about it?  That's fine for hard science fiction; in fact, that's probably the whole point.  But for popular science fiction, just go with it.  Star Wars never bothered explaining anything.  How did hyperspace work?  It actually doesn't make a lot of sense in the movies.  What the heck is a blaster?  It doesn't behave like a laser; it behaves like a regular gun with cooler sound and visual effects.  So what?  What the heck is a light-saber and how does it work?  Who cares?  The Force?  It's magic, pure and simple, and old Ben Kenobi is a wizard.  Uncle Owen even calls him one, and Death Star staff speak somewhat disparagingly to Darth Vader about his "sorcerous ways"—right up until he nearly chokes them, of course.  Anyway—the point is, this stuff is in the zeitgeist.  If Star Wars could get away with it, then certainly anyone dabbling in this field post-Star Wars can.  Don't take yourself too seriously.  This is Funyuns and Diet Coke.

Which is a good reminder to me, because I know that I'm sometimes prone to sperging out on something that interests me.  But nobody else tends to be, so it's best to leave it alone.  Also; I think I'm ready to start migrating AD ASTRA from being some RPG material to being a story.  I've got some character and plot concepts in mind, and I just need to get moving with it.  One thing to keep in mind is that Star Wars is really an ensemble piece.  Is Luke the star?  Yeah, probably, but it wouldn't be very interesting without Leia, and Han and R2 and 3PO, etc.

So, I've got a little more work to do, but having a gunfighter hotshot lead who's maybe a bit more like Peter Blood than Han Solo (from Captain Blood—the novel is great, but I've only read it twice and I've seen the Errol Flynn movie at least half a dozen times, so that's the more immediate inspiration) and his partner/Chewbacca will be a psionic knight who's basically one of the alternate costumes of Evil Ryu, except with an energy sword and shield instead of hadoukens and shoryukens.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Clone Wars... again

My family has gone out of town and left me alone again for a few days.  One of the things that I haven't done since the last time this happened (back in April) was watch some TV, and by TV, I mean, stuff on Netflix.  And by stuff on Netflix, I mean my long-deferred and delayed re-watching of the entire Clone Wars run.  So far, I've finally watched the last three episodes of Season 2, where I'd left off, and the first 9 episodes of Season 3 (it's nice that each episode really is only 22-23 minutes long.  And at least a minute or so of that is the credits, which I tend to skip through.)  With roughly twenty minute episodes, it takes five or six of them to be equivalent to one movie, so watching twelve episodes isn't as big a deal as it sounds; it's like basically saying that I watched two movies over the weekend.

And I have to say that the relatively high esteem that I hold this show diminishes somewhat the more I watch it.  Sure, there are a lot of great moments in it, no doubt—but overall, it isn't as good as I remember it.  I mostly remember the really great episodes and the really great moments, and forget that for every one of those, there's probably two that are not.  Mostly, these are just mediocre rather than actively and offensively bad—it manages to avoid that most of the time at least—but the more you watch of the show, the more those start to pop up.  And the UN-ish utopianism of some characters and situations that continue to reappear and reappear over and over again starts to get really tedious.  I'm already rolling my eyes at military objectives constantly being over-ruled in the name of "humanitarianism" of some sort or another.  Sometimes, it's just to make a not-so clever in-joke or self-referential quote, like being on some kind of "mercy mission" or whatever, but it's tired, and old.  Especially when it continues to be the same old "for some reason, without trade routes, everybody on every planet is starving, no matter how biologically rich and resource plentiful their planet actually is."  And the fact that this is supposed to be a military adventure show about soldiers and their generals, the Jedi, it's all too often... not.  It's as if the writers, collectively, know absolutely nothing about the military, or military life, or military campaigns, or anything at all that should be a basic requirement for writing military science fiction.

And sure; I'm not demanding that military science fiction authors be veterans—but it would be nice if they at least spent some time educating themselves on a few basics of some military campaigns of the past, so they could  refer to them indirectly, without looking like they have no idea what they're talking about.  But like I said, this is a tiring problem, but it tends to drag the show only down into mediocrity, not actual badness.  So at least there's that.  Or maybe it's just me that thinks military science fiction is more interesting than Peace Corps. in space science fiction.  Which I actually have no interest in.  At all.

So, yeah—my memories of the Clone Wars are colored by the highlights of the show, and I tend to forget about the reversion to the mean that happens all too often, to say nothing of the lowlights (which almost always feature Jar Jar Binks, the droids, Padme Amidala, or kids in space.)

I've got some highlights still coming for Season 3, which I'm looking forward to.  The Nightsisters and Savage Opress's debut are only two episodes away from where I am, I think.  I don't remember thinking that the Mortis episodes were all that wonderful, although they do have some great visual design, but then I've got the Citadel break-in and the Trandoshans hunting Ahsoka and the younger jedi, including the series debut of Chewbacca. Of thirteen upcoming episodes still to watch, I'm excited about at least eight of them.  That's not a bad ratio.  Season 4 has some great episodes too.

But in the future, it's unlikely that I'll ever attempt to watch the entire run again.  This is the third time (or maybe the fourth) that I've done so, and the first time in at least a couple of years, but for whatever reason, the lowlights are showing more than I'm used to.  I think I'll just stick to watching the episodes that I already know are really good from this point on.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Playing with your action figures in the dirt

Safari guide
Something Nick Cole said in the podcast I linked to yesterday struck a nerve; what Galaxy's Edge is is him and Jason Anspach playing with their Kenner action figures in the dirt as kids.

I'm 45 years old, which means that when Star Wars first came out on Memorial Day 1977, I was all of 5½ years old.  And, of course, I immediately started picking up Kenner Star Wars action figures, and did so for a good five years or so before I kinda grew out of it, I guess.  I started with the normal ones; the Luke and Vader figures where the lightsabers slid in and out of their wrists like Wolverine claws, an R2-D2 and C-3PO, a Han Solo, a Hammerhead and a Walrus man, a stormtrooper, etc.  I used proof of purchases to get a Boba Fett figure in advance of the release of Empire Strikes Back, and picked up a few more Empire level figures here and there—I don't recall that I got very many (if any) Return of the Jedi figures, although my little brothers might well have.

I also had a few of the more expensive things; I had a TIE fighter and an X-wing, for instance, although I recall keenly wanting the Death Star playset and never getting it.

Rather, what I did was mix and mingle these Star Wars figures with my Fisher Price Adventure People, which I had a lot of (probably because they were a lot cheaper) and which were to the same scale.  Granted, they weren't really the same genre—Boba Fett getting into a fist-fight with a rally car racer, construction worker, paramedic, or safari guide on the back of a neon green van like Indiana Jones fighting Nazis on the back of a truck is the kind of thing I'm talking about. While a submarine flew around like a space ship trying to grab him with its claw arms, and a rubber octopus wrapped its tentacles around his neck. Meanwhile, a gigantic, over-sized tiger toy with an articulated jaw that was to the wrong scale so that he was roughly the size of a T. rex, as well as some of those 70s style rubber dinosaurs needed to be fought.  Boba Fett was usually pretty awesome in these fights, because of course he had a blaster, a gigantic missile on his back, and a smaller missile on his wrist.  Plus, he looked a little bit like a space crusader in that armor.

By the early 80s, the Adventure People line had picked up some space stuff, almost certainly as a reaction to the success of Star Wars.  At first, it was stuff like pretty realistic astronaut and space shuttles and stuff, but they later picked up pretty gnarly looking robots and aliens and "astroknights."  This meant, of course, that it "matched" the Star Wars characters a bit better.  That bad-ass "Clawtron" robot was a formidable foe for Boba Fett, and "X-Ray Man" felt like some kind of Guardians of the Galaxy-esque supervillain.

This is a big part of what they mean, I think, when they talk about playing with your toys in the sand.  It doesn't mean trying to replicate the Star Wars setting or the Star Wars characters, really—it means playing around with Star Wars elements in a unique environment that is Star Wars-esque... but not really Star Wars.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Back in town...


Nice listen.  Something I stumbled across this morning. I was disconnected from my internet most of the last week and a half, so I'll just drop that for now rather than try to create some kind of new content while I'm actually still fairly distracted.  This podcast elucidates an interesting take on "how to approach reconstructing Star Wars."

A few notes:
  • Don't take yourself seriously.  This isn't "important art"; it's an entertaining story.
  • Don't try to rebuild Star Wars exactly.  This is more like playing with the Star Wars toys outside, where you use Star Wars elements, but rename them and reimagine them like we did when we were 7 year old kids with the old Kenner action figures and stuff.  In my opinion, this is the real key.  L. Sprague de Camp tried to "reconstruct" better writers' stories, but "fix" esoteric and nerdy details about them (Pusadian Cycle vs. Howard's Hyborian stories, etc.) and it just makes him look like a self-important goober.
  • The Force in Galaxy's Edge is maybe more like the Ring in Tolkien.  There's probably only one Sith so far, Goth Sullust (or whatever exactly his name was) and a whole galaxy worth of Gollums, and Frodo Bagginses, who can carry the Ring more or less safely to Mount Doom, don't really exist; they're singular characters.
  • Grand destinies aren't often really what we want.  Let's tell stories about normal people in fun, entertaining situations. (I will point out that few of the characters are really normal people in Galaxy's Edge so far, though.  Wraith the bounty hunter, or Chuun the Legionnaire brevet lieutenant are not normal.  Even the little girl looking for a bounty hunter wasn't just a "normal" character.)  But the idea that maybe there could be better stories about Lobot or 4-LOM, for instance, is a great point.  As Star Wars became more and more focused on the Skywalker family, who apparently are the only truly important people in the entire galaxy, it somehow lost what it was.
  • Like Lucas originally meant; Galaxy's Edge will be "serial like"—nine novels, one out every month, and then a "prequel" series (maybe) after that about the Savage Wars.
  • The first four novels have titles; two are already out, and the third is available for pre-order, by the way:
    • Legionnaire
    • Galactic Outlaws
    • Kill Team
    • Attack of the Shadow

Friday, July 14, 2017

Galaxy's Edge: Galactic Outlaws

I don't post a lot of book reviews here anymore, but here's one, because I can't help it.  I just finished reading Nick Cole and Jason Anspach's Galaxy's Edge: Galactic Outlaws, the second book in the Galaxy's Edge series. Legionnaire was the first, and Kill Team promises to be the third.  It was just released yesterday and I had it on pre-order.  It was delivered to my Kindle first thing in the morning when I logged on.  Needless to say, I read it pretty quickly.

First off; I'm intrigued by their business model.  Follow the link above to see how it works; it's kind of a Kickstarter-like proposal although they manage the business end themselves rather than through something like Kickstarter. You pay a monthly fee and get content each month of various kinds—but although I'm intrigued, I'm also cheap and wary of new ideas, so I just bought the books the "old fashioned" ebook way—on Amazon.  But because this series is so good so far, I might overcome my inherent cheapness and just buy a membership in their club.  There's a lot of stuff that you get with some of those memberships besides advanced copies of chapters of the next book as it develops: concept art, podcasts, webinars, signed hard-copies, personalized contacts from the authors, etc.

Which isn't necessarily unwarranted.  The Partner level subscription will run you $120 a year, which even for a few great books, is a fair bit of money, but to all appearances, they make sure to provide plenty of value to justify that.

In the meantime, for $2.99 (twice) you can get the two books that are out as Kindle files from Amazon.  The first book is a kind of "prologue"—it's a great space war story, that feels a bit like the Michael Caine movie Zulu set in space.  In retrospect, it appears to have been merely setting the stage for what is to come in the series proper, which starts with this book.  It's still early on, and it ends with things just getting started, in some ways, but at the same time, it's a very satisfying story, and lives up to the promise that the authors' provided when this whole project first came to my attention: it's #StarWarsNotStarWars.  To quote from the blurb for the book itself: It's sleek starfighters, exotic aliens, loyal bots, blasters, scoundrels, heroes and powerful enemies in a thrilling adventure that will take you back to that magic place a from a long time ago…

It's Star Wars as the franchise was.  As it should have been.  It makes no bones about being pastiche, just as George Lucas really made no bones about Star Wars being pastiche (read some of the posts I've made on the subject, particularly here, here, here, here, and here—in that order) of a number of things, most especially Flash Gordon plus Dune plus the Lensmen series.

Anyhoo—while the first book reads like space Zulu, this story, which is really two plots involving two groups of characters who combine near the end, is very reminiscent of space True Grit.  Considering the degree to which Westerns contributed themes and character beats to the oldest Star Wars movies, this shouldn't be a surprising twist.  The setting feels an awful lot like Star Wars (except some internal character monologues give it a slightly darker feel sometimes), and there are a few interesting call-backs to the first book, which is less like a sequel and more like a spin-off, if the whole series were a spin-off of the prologue.

Minor spoilers in this next paragraph, although they're telegraphed pretty early and transparently, so not really—one character that we're introduced to early on is quite obviously effectively immortal or at least very long-lived—space Wolverine from the X-Men, if you will.  One character that is hinted at for the entire book turns out to be the first (and maybe only, although where's the fun in that?) ersatz Sith Lord, and while there is no tradition of ersatz Jedi that we are shown, there is a character (and maybe even more than one) who may yet end up playing the role of Obi-wan Kenobi. At least they're set up so that they could, and they hint at it.

It's amusing and entertaining to see the chemistry established as the group of what reads like the space opera version of "the D&D party" starts to come together—the hot-shot gunslinger who's kind of the lead protagonist and reads like Boba Fett's capabilities with Han Solo's personality, and a bit of a Batman/Bruce Wayne dichotomy going on.  The young "Mattie" from True Grit who is his de facto ward and student, kinda, and her side-kick, the C-3PO analog who's build on an old war bot chassis and can still access its old programming and armament, making him a much more interesting C-3PO than C-3PO himself ever was.  The talented ship's mechanic, who—although I'm not really very familiar with this franchise, I know enough to recognize this one—is very similar in many respects to Kaylee from Firefly.  The nerdy, young hacker who can create mechanical and electronic deus ex machina effects to keep the plot moving as needed. A human R2-D2 if you will. The ChewbaccaNotChewbacca co-pilot who's very Kzin-like in many ways, but who is still obviously Chewbacca anyway.

It's also amusing and entertaining to count (and I noted quite a few already) clear correspondences with the Star Wars setting—where Star Wars has the Clone Wars, mentioned briefly for a bit of color in the first movie, here we have the Savage Wars, which play a similar function.  While in Star Wars, we had only brief exposure in the very early 80s to the concept of the Mandalorean "supercommandos", the early legionnaires play a similar role; watered down current legionnaires feel more like stormtroopers.  Brief mention is made of what sound an awful lot like the ruins of Death Stars from the past, although the super-weapon referred to briefly here is equally grim.

If you see the Republic as an analog to the US today, which wouldn't necessarily be unfair (although not necessarily deliberate) then its fall from what it once was to what it is now is less iconic than the overthrow of the Republic and establishment of the Empire we're shown in Star Wars. And yet, it's also more tragic and more true to life; the degeneracy of a once powerful state consumed by a political class of parasites that hollows it out and guts it from the inside is all too familiar.

In many ways, this feels an awful lot as if they'd done their research by not just watching the very earliest Star Wars movie, and a bit of Empire, and then "fixing" where Star Wars started going wrong by creating a pastiche that doesn't, but rather, it's as if they were steeped in the early drafts of the first two movies and borrowed as much from them as from the screenplays as they actually turned out.  I doubt that they actually did, but if they had, the result would be eerily similar.  This is the grand vision of what Star Wars tried to be, and ultimately ended up not being able to sustain.  I've said many times before (read my links above) that the Star Wars of the late 70s and even early 80s is very different than the franchise as it evolved.  Although in many respects, Empire was an even better movie than Star Wars was, in some ways, it set the stage for things to go wrong, and Return of the Jedi coasted by on momentum, with many things already starting to go wrong.  (And obviously, the franchise went really off the rails after that, in spite of flashes of brilliance here and there in some of the video games, some of the episodes of shows like The Clone Wars and the possibility that we'll actually still get a really good new movie out of the franchise yet.  Maybe.)  And it's hard to see what Star Wars once used to be without squinting really hard and deliberately ignoring stuff that we've been steeped in for decades now.  But if you could somehow do that, Galaxy's Edge is in many ways, exactly what I'd expect it to look like.  What I said back in March about my own modest efforts, who's end result is still mostly TBD, is absolutely and completely true for Galaxy's Edge, so I'll repeat it:
It's new, yet should feel very familiar to anyone who's familiar with space opera tales of swashbuckling derring-do featuring laconic alpha male space cowboys who shoot first, space Templar-like warrior-monks who get into crazy martial arts sword-fights on space-ships, vast legions of faceless soldiers, and sassy space princess damsels in distress.  It may not feel exactly like such stories that you're already familiar with—and that's on purpose—but it should feel like those stories deconstructed... and then reconstructed all over again.  This time, all of the confusion over good and evil, black and white, what heroism is, who the good guys are, what a good guy is, what the dickens SJW dogma and political correctness has to do with space opera at all, etc. has all been washed away and what had become tired and disappointing is now a blank slate, ready to be made new, fresh and exciting again.
Ladies and gentlemen; that's Galaxy's Edge.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I've spent some considerable time lately out of town, and am about to do so again, so this may be the only blog post I'm able to sneak in for another ten days or so.

One advantage of traveling is that I get to read a bit more than normal.  This time, I mostly did so on my phone.  I've finished several books—and I can't remember for sure which ones I finished right before I left, and which ones I finished more recently.  Looking back at my latest Kindle post, I see that I didn't actually read the ones that are highlighted in green.  I'll probably update that one and keep it as a kind of constantly updating archive, or something.  Let's do a quick round-up, shall we?
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.  I'm pretty sure that I finished this before leaving, actually, but I hadn't mentioned it here.  It's a true classic.  In at least some ways, the Robert Taylor, Joan Fontaine, and Elizabeth Taylor movie from 1952 loosely based on this novel is more exciting, but in others, of course, it can't compare.  If you haven't read it, you should.  It may try your patience, and will certainly increase your vocabulary.  It's amusing sometimes to read older novels and remark on the pacing and the prose style, which is verbose and sometimes so baroque that it feels rococo.  
  • Galaxy of Heroes by Gus Flory.  This imagines a space opera setting in which humans are kind of at the bottom of the totem pole and always getting chased from one place to another, in danger of imminent extinction.  Kind of how the Jews imagine their history to be, maybe.  It took a while to grow on me, but I ended up being satisfied with the book in the end.  It felt like the whole novel was set-up for a series of sequels, though—in some ways, it doesn't stand on its own as well as it should.
  • Albion Lost: The Exiled Fleet by Richard Fox.  This took a while to grow on me too, partly because it bounced around between too many characters, who only near the end of the book finally started to warm up to the audience.  And then, the whole thing was clearly a prologue to a series—which doesn't exist yet (although I think at least the immediate sequel just came out recently.)  It was intriguing, but clearly can't be seen as anything other than part of a whole which has yet to materialize.  As with Galaxy of Heroes, I found I was further into the novel before it really grabbed me than I'd have liked.  If I wasn't traveling, I might have ditched it and read something else at about the 25-30% mark, but I persisted, and as with Galaxy of Heroes, in the end, I'm glad that I did, and I'm intrigued enough by this prologue to think that actually seeing what the series proper looks like now that it's primed to get moving, wouldn't be such a bad idea.
  • Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire by Nick Cole and Jason Anspach.  Fabulous novel.  Absolutely wonderful.  Can't wait for the follow-up, which is due out tomorrow (I've already got it pre-ordered.)  Although this is the first of the #StarWarsNotStarWars series, i.e. an ersatz Star Wars not unlike my own AD ASTRA at least in gross conception, I should point out that this initial offering is fairly different than classic Star Wars.  It's military fiction with truly elite troops, and the "Empire" (the Republic, as it's called here) is not so much evil in the mustache-twirling, Nazi-uniform wearing Star Wars style as they are incompetent, bureaucratic, and careless with the lives of its citizens and others alike in a all-too realistically cold manner.  In other words, they're much more realistic and frightening—yet ironically a bit less iconic.  That said, it misses almost all of the Star Wars beats—it's pretty much a straight up war story with a plot borrowed from Michael Caine's Zulu at a high level.  And the epilogue seems to suggest that it too was prologue-like in nature (three for three with space opera books I've read recently) and somewhat atypical (for Star Wars) approach was setting the stage for one of the characters to emerge as a more cynical bounty hunter type character in the future—as if there were a Boba Fett with a Heart of Gold variant or something.  We'll see how it develops, but faulting the story for not being as Star Wars-like as I anticipated when it's still uniformly excellent seems a bit unfair somehow.
  • Enemy of Man by Scott Moon.  I really wanted to like this, as Scott Moon seems like a nice guy, but I admit that I've been kinda struggling with it.  I'm not really liking the protagonist character very much, because he seems like one of those "buffeted about by stronger personalities" types of characters rather than someone who takes charge.  I'm not giving this up, but I am not finishing it until after I read the next Galaxy's Edge book, so it's on the back burner for now.