Monday, October 27, 2014

Global Forestation

What is our relationship to the plants on our world? The answer to that question is key to this week's Doctor Who episode. Clara and Danny have taken a group of kids from Coal Hill School to spend a night in a museum. On that night, the world is covered with a global forest.

The story opens with the Doctor trying to figure out why he is in a forest instead of in the middle of London when a young girl stumbles on his Tardis. She sees the markings on the outside and asks for help.

In the past 50 years, the series has visited many scary forests. Some have turned out benign and others have been filled with terrors. The danger from this mystery overnight forest felt imminent until the truth started to come out. And at that point you realized the danger was from another source.

The thing I loved about this episode was the twists the story went through. Unlike some other episodes, this one spent most of its time on the story while keeping the Doctor, Clara, Danny character arc around, but not in the forefront. The danger was real and the focus was on the crisis. It was a refreshingly well written episode. There wasn't too much of anything and just enough of everything.

Perhaps this one will not go down as one of the greatest episodes, but it is a fantastic, solid episode that is the best of what Doctor Who has always been. With this episode, series 8 has nailed the perfect mixture of the classic series and the new series.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stealing a Tie

The next episode of Star Wars Rebels (available now on Watch Disney XD or airing next Monday on Disney) is a fun romp.

There isn't a lot serious going on this time around, but Ezra is starting to fit in with the crew. This time around he and Zeb are sent to go get supplies. Well, they aren't getting along and things don't go well. One thing leads to another and Zeb steals a Tie Fighter, even flying it sideways through part of the city.

This is a good early episode, focusing on a couple of characters and is the sort of misadventure you can imagine Han Solo getting into at some point. It feels very Star Wars. Rebels is quickly growing on me and I look forward to see where it is going.

If you get Disney, chances are that you can setup Watch Disney XD on your iOS or Android device. If you also have Chromecast, the app works with it so you can watch things on your TV.

Now, I don't intend to review every episode, but I thought it was worth doing this time because the episode was quite fun. Keep watching, I'm sure it is going to get even better.

Flatline Frontier

The latest Doctor Who episode has an interesting premise. Well, several. First, the Doctor gets stuck in a shrinking Tardis. The other main one is an invasion by two dimensional creatures. I thought the circular pattern that the 2D creatures were siphoning energy from the Tardis which brought the crisis to a head and made sure the Doctor stuck around to be quite fun.

While on the surface this is almost a Doctor lite episode, but it really isn't. He is there all along the way, just not on the scene. Clara is the on scene face of the heroes, but she is emulating the Doctor with his eyes on her the entire time.

This episode once again racks up a fair body count. It feels like the good old days.

My initial reaction was that we are starting to see too much Clara and not enough Doctor, but as I've thought about it I have found what this season is all about and that everything that is going on centers around one single topic - is the Doctor a good man. This season is exploring the Doctor in depth from many angles. Each episode, and this one more so than most, is showing us the many facets of the Doctor. His character is laid bare in this incarnation. Gone is the friendly, personal veneer he has gained over the years. Back is the harshly realistic and pragmatic first Doctor and the alienness that has been missing for a long time.

Missy, who appears briefly toward the end, is a big part of what this series is about. The crisis that will finish this series will be about who the Doctor is and what it means to travel with him. He can't save everyone and often the ones who survive aren't the ones you would expect.

This episode is fun and really explores the 2D creatures in a fascinating way as well as exploring what it means to be the Doctor. A good addition to the canon.

"I'm the Doctor... Are You My Mummy?"

Last week was crazy so I didn't have a chance to post my thoughts on Mummy on the Orient Express.

This was classic Doctor Who at its best. We had a horrific villain straight from classic horror movies, but with a twist. Only the victims can see the Mummy.

What starts out as a final hurrah for Clara's travels with the Doctor, complete with 1920's wardrobe, quickly turns into a trap. As the body count starts to mount, Clara is trapped with another passenger while the Doctor is roped into putting his effort towards solving the mystery of the Mummy.

But this is Doctor Who so the Mummy is not what he appears and the Doctor has to unravel that mystery before the Mummy kills everyone.

One of the highlights is the Engineer, who seems companion material, but turns down the Doctor's offer.

This is probably one of the best episodes of the season and definitely needs to be watched again.

Friday, October 10, 2014

One Corner of the Sky - Pre-order

Things have changed a bit since I published Dust Between Stars last year. Both of my distribution channels, Smashwords and Amazon, have created pre-order options. I am taking advantage of it with both of them. Once Corner of the Sky has been loaded to both and is awaiting review. The release date is November 15th.

This means that unlike the staggered release that previous books have enjoyed, this book has a solid release date (provided the major retailers like Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo get it up in time). It will be interesting to see how this changes things, if at all.

Currently One Corner of the Sky is available for pre-order from Smashwords, Amazon, iTunes , Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rebel Adventures

Star Wars Rebels has premiered and it was exactly what I was expecting. I find the animation style a bit disappointing, especially after the beautiful artistry of Clone Wars, but it does not get in the way of the story telling.

I heard someone complain that there couldn't be any Jedi, but at no point in the Star Wars movies was it claimed that all the Jedi had been killed, just that the order was wiped out. Here we have a Jedi who listened to Obi-wan Kenobi's message (mentioned in Episode III) who is fighting to make a difference while hiding. But sometimes making a difference makes it impossible to hide.

What I got from the first 3 episodes (the hour premier was technically 2 and Disney XD already has the next episode) is a real sense of the old Star Wars Role Playing Game. Even the nature of the character and the stories. Not to mention jumping into the world of Episode IV for the first time. This is the Galaxy under the heel of the Empire. Rebellion is brewing and there are plenty of opportunities for Rebels to play a part in small ways that made a big difference.

The characters are engaging. Kanan is the leader, a Jedi, or at least someone who has had considerable training. From his age, likely a youngling or padawan when the Jedi Temple was destroyed.

Ezra is an Aladdin type street urchin who is strong with the force and has picked up far more on his own than Luke ever did. Joining the Rebels is by no means a good fit right off, but by the end of the premier, we see it will be after some breaking in.

Zeb is the muscle. He is one of the Lasat, a creature that is basically the preliminary design for Chewbacca, which made him posing as a wookie in the first story very amusing.

Sabine likes to blow things up with an artistic use of colors. She also wears a Mandalorean style helmet.

Hera is the pilot and seems to the binding force that holds them all together.

C1-10PR is a diminutive astromech droid, apparently an older style than the familiar R2 units. He has a distinctively grumpy attitude for a droid.

The story so far hasn't gone far or done much, but the feel is very classic Star Wars. I can see the seamless leadup to Episode IV. And while a definite Disney product, it is no more or less for kids than the movies themselves. Adult Star Wars fans should enjoy it a lot. I certainly do.

How Do You Kill the Moon?

This week's Doctor Who episode started off with Clara confronting the Doctor about Courtney, a student at Coal Hill School. He doesn't see a problem. The conversations ends up in the Tardis where Courtney is waiting and the Doctor takes off. They end up in the mid 21st century on a shuttle about to crash on the moon.

I'm going to have to review this episode from 2 points of view. First, from a storytelling perspective.

Well, it was great. This episode was about the monster and had a classic feel. The spiders were creepy and scary and served the story well. People died. Even had to wonder about the Doctor for a moment.

And then at the critical moment, the Doctor left the solution to the three human women with him. That action may not be typical of most Doctors, but it is typical of this Doctor. I think in this episode we are seeing the twelfth Doctor in his full glory. He is a bit zany, wild, but always serious.

This story was a perfect way to move into the second half of the season. And the final scenes were brilliant. There was a lot of character development in this story, but not at the expense of the danger of the situation. It makes me wish that some of the previous episodes were more like this one, the perfect weave of a dangerous situation and character moments.

That said, I have to look at it from another point of view. The setup was very similar to the Seeds of Death, set toward the end of the 21st century. In both you have an Earth that has put space travel behind them and when they find the need to go to the moon, must make due with what they have. Except this time that isn't believable. Commercial space flight is near to being a certainty, the Chinese are just getting started, and NASA has its sights set on the Moon and Mars. The situation that sets up this episode just isn't believable. Add to that the bad physics of having something that has supposedly been inside the Moon this whole time suddenly gaining mass and you have a bad setup. It, at times, took me out of the story.

When I put the 2 points of view together, I really have to weigh the writing more than the plot and say that this is a really good episode in spite of its logical flaws. I hope the remaining episodes have this nice balance of danger and character that produce such good stories.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Real Story of the Star Wars Prequels

I think part of the misunderstanding surrounding the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy lies in truly understanding the plot. It isn't obviously clear to all and that is quite deliberate. So, I will delineate the real story, including the goals that arc over the three films and show why limiting it to those stories was important.

Senator Palpatine of Naboo, secretly a the current Sith Lord who goes by the name Darth Sideous, has seen how corrupt the Jedi have become and how easy they can be toppled if that people of the republic where shown their weakness. To do so he must be in power. His first step is to work as Darth Sideous to get the Trade Federation to blockade his own world. Two Jedi are sent to investigate the blockage and get involved, chance landing them on Tatooine where they find a young boy who they believe is the Chosen One, a being prophesied to bring balance to the force. We see in the treatment of this boy and the Jedi who found him, that they Jedi have become closed and rigid, more concerned about following the code and the rules than in their purpose. Senator Palpatine successfully uses the situation to oust the Chancellor and take his place, but in the process he has lost his apprentice. He sees in young Anakin Skywalker the seeds of a new apprentice, but he is in the hands of the Jedi and not ready. Unphased, he begins sowing the seeds by becoming Anakin's mentor while Obi-wan Kenobi becomes his teacher and master.

A decade passes. In that time Palpatine has been busy. He has sown the seeds for a war that will rip the galaxy apart, put him in ultimate power, and destroy the Jedi. Whether through direct or indirect action, he commissions the cloners on Kamino to create a clone army for the Republic. At the same time Palpatine's new apprentice, Count Dooku, also known as Darth Tyranus, is leading a separatist movement with the help of the Trade Federation and their battle droids. Palpatine initiates the war when the Jedi uncover the clone army, forcing the Republic to adopt the army and put it to use. Palpatine uses his influence to have himself granted special powers to conduct the war.

He continues to make or take opportunities to fill Anakin's head with his own teachings in subtle ways. Anakin's unorthodox style is likely the direct result of his mixed Jedi and Sith teachings and he passes that style on to his own Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. The tale of the Clone Wars themselves fall outside the movies, but the emphasize what the real story is and were originally intended to be told in a movie.

When the movie story resumes we are shown a glimpse of Anakin and Obi-wan's antics during the clone wars. Palpatine has been kidnapped by Count Dooku as a stunt. Unfortunately Dooku doesn't realize that the war is about to come to an end and Palpatine has no further need of him. Anakin rescues Palpatine and, at Palatine's urging, executes Count Dooku. As the war winds down, Palpatine's plans come to fruition. He isn't about to give up his powers and implements the order he had planted in all the clones that turns them against the Jedi. He uses a confrontation with Mace Windu to turn Anakin to the Dark Side and then sends him first to destroy the Jedi Temple and then to kill the Separatist leaders. He blames the Jedi in the Senate and cements his power. By his actions he had changed the face of the galaxy and the Sith have finally won.