Military Sci-fi Archive

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Afternoon Anime: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 – Episode 21

Once again, Space Battleship Yamato 2199 proves that the Gamilan side of the war can be incredibly compelling. Episode 21, Prison Planet 17, sees the Yamato licking its wounds after the battle with Domel’s fleet while Kodai and Yurisha get wrapped up in a riot on Prison Planet 17 amid an attempt to rescue Yuki from the Gamilans.

One of my on-going gripes about this series is that it lacks any sense of consequence following a battle. This episode opens with a slow pan across the length of the Yamato. Thereupon we see a ship that looks like little more than a hulk in space. A subsequent funeral scene shows dozens of Yamato crewmen, and the Zaltzi strike team, in coffins awaiting a burial in space. It’s nothing special for a space opera to honour the dead, but in this case it’s a clear indicator that the stakes have gone up. Though, perhaps not as much as we might think as it turns out that security officer Hoshina is still alive.

Niimi, now restored to active duty, points out that the ship is in dire need of raw materials for repairs. Suspecting that a nearby planet is of as much interest to the Gamilans as it is to the Yamato, Captain Okita sends Kodai on a recon mission. Unbenounced to the Terrans, this world houses a Gamilan gulag, and as fortune would have it, Yuki is on her way there for a brief layover before being sent to Gamilas itself.

Unfolding within the walls of the prison, the balance of the episode pretty much confirms every theory I have had about a looming Gamilan civil war. Before either Yuki or Kodai land on the planet, we see Admiral Ditz sitting in a prison cell. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, but when did Admiral Ditz get sent to the gulag? You think I would remember something like that happening. Nevertheless, it’s clear he won’t be staying for long when his prison issue meal contains a pistol.

With the blue-skinned Gamilan warden using captive Gatlantian soldiers for live-fire target practice, it’s easy to see why they would riot when given the opportunity. Less clear is Ditz’s motivation for getting wrapped up in the chaos. Melda Ditz, the same Melda Ditz who was a guest on board the Yamato some episodes back, arrives at the prison for an imperial inspection. Except her inspection is just a guise to spring her father and up end the warden’s rule on the planet. Yet the sight of Melda and her father’s blue skinned revolutionaries standing shoulder to shoulder with the newly liberated Gatlantians gave me some pause for consideration. Actually, pause for consideration is too much of an understatement; I wanted to know what the hell was going on.

There’s absolutely no attempt to account for why the Ditz family is tied up in this insurrection. Melda’s time aboard the Yamato offered every indication her being a loyal solider. While we have seen a few scenes of political dissidents and army officers being rounded up by the Gamilan Secret Police, we haven’t had a single shred of narrative – save for this episode – to suggest that there’s an organized resistance capable of acting against the imperial regime. It’s a fascinating divergence from the 70s source material and certainly something that will become more relevant as the Yamato nears Iscandar. It’s also deliciously infuriating for now simply because I want to know precisely what is going on. Considering Kodai’s ship crashed on the prison planet, effectively stranding him and Yurisha, I expect we won’t have to wait long for some answers.

Overall, this is a great episode. It addresses SBY‘s past tendency to glaze over the consequences of war while adding another, surprisingly good, layer of depth to the alien nemesis. If Yamato can keep up writing like this for the remaining five episodes, I’ll be inclined to absolve it of a great many of its past sins.

Stray Thoughts

- Yurisha reveals to Kodai that Iscandar is Gamilas’ twin planet. A Kodai freakout occurs on schedule.

- Lt. Ito survives the Yamato getting hulled in the battle with Domel. He and his clumsy sidekick crash the Seagull on the prison planet after shooting out the main controls. His inclusion in the episode seemed tedious right up until the point where he saves Yurisha’s life, thinking her to be Yuki, who he already suspects to be an Iscandarian, and in turn gets shot in the back. With his dying breath, Ito asks Yurisha to lead the Yamato to Iscandar so they can save Earth. Since Yurisha’s mission is to observe humanity before Starsha renders judgement upon us, I expect Ito will prove to be a key reason why Starsha consents to saving the Earth.

- Dr. Sato and his nurse attend the zero-g funeral on the deck of the Yamato. The gravitas of the scene might have been better maintained were it not for the nurse’s heaving space boobs.

Dear god, did I just write heaving space boobs? I bet my mother is proud of me.


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Podcast Episode 29: The Kaiju-sized Military SF Episode

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and K.W. Ramsey

It took a couple weeks of planning and schedule jockeying, but K.W. Ramsey and I were finally able to sit down to record an extended length podcast on military science fiction.

What could be finer than two white guys talking about the quintessential post-colonial white guy sub-genre? Am I right?

Seriously though, we begin the discussion by drawing upon Damien Walter’s Guardian piece on overly simplistic military science fiction. From there we jump back and forth between military SF on film and in literature. As with most ninety minute discussions, nothing gets resolved, but I think we come up with a few decent ideas on how military SF can evolve to reflect a slightly less antiquated world view.

Make sure to check out Mr. Ramsey’s blog at The Left Hand of Dorkness and follow him on twitter @kwramsey

Topics under discussion include,

- The ideology of the Federation and Starfleet’s role therein; also that time David Nickle trolled us on facebook about Cumberbatch’s character in STiD

- David Weber’s love affair with the 19th century and why military SF at large needs to get past the British Empire

- John Scalzi as the wild card of military SF – also included there is the story of the first time I met Scalzi and went from zero to fanboy in eight seconds.

- Mr. Ramsey’s very compelling theory on why I think Ender’s Game is a crap novel

- A discussion on how to responsibly consume art when the artist is a horrible person

- Robert Heinlein, kooky but honest

- How Pacific Rim does military SF in a slightly different sort of way

- Class and education as factors in crafting protagonists in military SF

Cold Intro Music: The Lady of Vastness by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com

Theme music: Bionic Commando stage 4 (Dale vs Wray mix) (NecroPolo) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


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Retro Television Review: Space Above and Beyond

Summary Judgement: Cancelled before its time, S:AAB offers story telling that is still relevant to a modern audience.

Starring: Lanei Chapman, Kristen Cloke, Joel de la Fuente, James Morrison, Rodney Rowland and Morgan Weisser

Recently, I took a dive through my DVD collection and pulled out the complete series of Space: Above and Beyond.  The label “complete series” is a bit of a misnomer in that the show, like many of Fox’s SF series, only lasted for one season.  But those twenty-four episodes managed to form a nicely cohesive narrative.  In many ways the show can be seen as a spiritual step-father to the Battlestar Galactica reboot.  In fact, if somebody handed me a list of all the themes that BSG explored during its four seasons, I wager that I could find examples of comparable quality in S:AAB.

The show began in 1995 with X-Files executive producers Glen Morgan and James Wong.  Relegated to a lousy post-Simpsons Sunday night time slot, S:AAB fought valiantly to gain a foothold in the sci-fi saturated mid 90s.  Star Trek TNG had wrapped two years earlier, but DS9 was quickly finding its footing.  Neophyte Voyager lurched through a first season with questionable writing and equally questionable acting.  At the same time Babylon 5 had left behind its shaky freshman season and was diving headlong into the Earth civil war and Shadow War.  Although each of these series featured humans from Earth in space ships, S:AAB was a different sort of show.

Set in the year 2063, the series centered on the United States Marine Corps 58th fighter squadron, the Wildcards.  The world of S:AAB was instantly familiar to its audience.  Racial prejudices against the series’ race of artificially created humans could be used as allegory for any number of ethnic conflicts that came out of the immediate post-Cold War era.  While the optimism of the Federation seemed utopian, the realism of S:AAB’s Earth united under the United Nations seemed almost plausible to a Western world that was still drunk from the after party of a forty year war of ideology.  The beginning of the interspecies war between humanity and the enigmatic aliens dubbed “Chigs” struck an obvious chord with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.  From there the show dived headlong into the popular memory of the Second World War.  Sometimes this was subtle.  Other times it was not.  I have no doubt that my esteemed colleague Dr. Dylan Cyr would have something to say about the episode that saw divisions of Marines, which included the 58th, marooned on a planet so that the allied fleet could pursue a target of greater opportunity.  Yet this homage to Guadalcanal is done with such reverence and respect as to make the sacrifices of the Marines in WW2 absolutely heartbreaking, more so than anything The Pacific deigned to fling my way.

Despite a cast of relative unknowns forming the core of the 58th squadron, veteran actors James Morrison, as the squadron’s no-nonsense commander, Lt. Colonel T.C. McQueen, and Tucker Smallwood, as Commodore Glenn Ross, skipper of the United States Navy Space Carrier Saratoga, anchored the show.  I almost forgot to mention that USMC Gunnery Sergeant (ret.) R. Lee Ermey reprised a Gunney Hartman-esque role as the squadron’s drill instructor during the pilot episode, le mot juste.

As the overall war effort continued numerous sub-plots emerged.  Some, such as the saga of an alien ace dubbed Chiggy von Richtofen, happened in linear sequence.  Others that involved corporate intrigue, fascism on the home front, and lead character Nathan West’s (Morgan Weisser) personal quest to find a loved one lost during the war’s outbreak play out sporadically through the season.  And just like in a war, the show was heartless in how it treated the characters involved.  Some were lucky enough to just die.  Others were tortured, broken emotionally or maimed in battle. And a precious few even managed to find redemption amid the chaos of war.

Though endless budgetary problems saw the 58th consigned to ground pound duty more than it saw them blasting Chigs from within their fighters, the series always made the best of things.  At its conclusion the writers had wrapped up most of the major plot points.  Where other cancelled series just stop, S:AAB actually offered an ending, tragic as it was.

The special effects might look dated to a contemporary audience, but the stories that the series told are as poignant as ever.   My recommendation is to watch an episode a day over a month so that you might be reminded of what televised SF has the potential to be.

Overall Score: +4

Here’s a clip from the X-Mas episode, you know, because it’s December and all that.


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Geek News: July 26, 2011

Today in geek news: An indie sci-fi flick with Ronny Cox, side scrolling shooters just got meaner and genre fans get some serious recognition.

Well another San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone. Once again, I sweltered in Southern Ontario’s unrelenting heat while a venerable who’s who of celebs, geeks and nerds made the annual hajj to the holy land of all things genre.  One year I will make my pilgrimage and it will be a glorious and drunken affair.  For all of the promotions and previews to come out of Comic-Con, one thing stood out for me: a ten-minute indie/proof of concept film called Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement. The movie is a standalone story based on writer/director Jesse Griffith’s multiple award-winning feature length script Cockpit. Within this military science fiction world, Earth is at war with aliens who have the ability to control a person’s mind once they have established a line of sight.  Although heavily green screened, the story is promising and Ronny Cox’s acting chops are as sharp as ever.  You can watch the trailer here but you’ll have to head over to io9 to watch the actual movie.  I wonder if I can get Mr. Griffith on the podcast…

 

Back in 2010 UK game developer Boss Baddie released a side scrolling bullet hell space shooter called Big Sky.  To stand out within an established genre, Big Sky boasted a visual style that was likely to induce more seizures than an mid 90s Pokémon marathon and unique procedurally generated gameplay – that is to say, it is never the same game twice.  To build on that success Boss Baddie recently released Really Big Sky, a sequel to the original that offers more gameplay modes, online leader boards and lots of new visuals. I dare say that Boss Baddie has succeeded in their goal of making “a red-blooded, fit-inducing hardcore twin-analogue space shooter”.  Really Big Sky is currently available on Impulse and Gamersgate for about $8.

 

Confession time: I once used Tron as a metaphor for teaching Locke and Rousseau to first year undergraduates.  Bonus confession:  To celebrate our impending 30th birthday, my friend, and one-time podcast co-host, and I are brewing a beer called ‘Logan’s Run Lastday Stout’ – well he’s brewing it, I’m going to drink it.  Such shameless confessions can only mean that tomorrow night marks the season finale of Fanboy Confessional.  This Canadian made series has spent the last few weeks exploring fandom and fan culture from Steampunk to cosplay.  Wednesday night’s episodes take a look at the world of live action role play (LARP) and Furry fandom.  Given its thorough and thoughtful treatment of fandom, as well as proving that you can say douche bag on Canadian television, it’s fair to say that Fanboy Confessional is a fantastic success.  Here’s hoping for season two.  Oh and for the record, I think spotlighting ruggedly good looking podcasters would make for a splendid episode.  Fanboy Confessional airs at 10pm on Space.  Past episodes can be streamed on Space’s website.

 

And that is your Geek News for July 26, 2011.  Now get me that foreign language file that I requested.  End of line.