I’m just now getting through my pile of goodies from Gen Con. One of the gems I got a copy of was the new BattleTech sourcebook, Tamar Rising. I will try and keep the spoilers to a minimum, but a few are bound to sneak through.
First off, let’s talk the physical quality of the book. It is a hard cover – which is the new trend for Catalyst with their sourcebooks and one I hope they continue. The cover art is great, but I was really pleased with the interior artwork. Glossy pages are a plus but the big standout was the inclusion of a map with transit times included.
This is the story of what happens when 95% of a faction, in this case, the Jade Falcons, pack up and take off on a sightseeing tour of Terra. It leaves a huge political and military gap, with many worlds either lightly defended, or left abandoned. Given that this is the BattleTech universe, I think we all know where this is going…war!
Having been part of the writer’s summit where we talked about this, I was sincerely pleased with how the writer’s took a few kernels of ideas and ran with them. The stories here are fantastic. By and large my favorite parts was the development of Duke Vedet Brewer. I got to write about this character in Fire at Will, and after that, for a short time, he became Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth. He is one of the few people to rise to power, lose it, and live, in the BattleTech universe. What I love is that his character has gone from obscurity to a character you really start to respect.
The reason I jumped down this particular rabbit hole is that it is indicative of the high quality of writing in this sourcebook. Sometimes sourcebooks seem forced, as if the authors are trying to cram in a lot of little details that mean very little to players. Tamar Rising doesn’t do that. It gives a great foundation for this region of space in the ilClan era. More importantly, the juicy details the authors have squeezed into the book that are playable…which is what is important. Some of the things, such as the Personalities Section, are important because they will show up in future BattleTech fiction. I really enjoyed this book. I hope that the Federated Suns and Draconis Combine front gets a similar treatment.
One of the things I love about this series on FX is that it covers events that I lived through, like their kickoff season on OJ Simpson. It is amazing how much you forget the little details of such events and I strongly suspect that is part of the success of the series. The other aspect that stands out is the casting that the series does…which is brilliant.
This season is the impeachment of Bill Clinton, at least that is the overarching premise. In reality, up through episode 5 (which is where we are at as of the time of this writing) the focus is not on the President as much as it is on Linda Tripp and to a lesser extent, Monica Lewinsky.
You might think this is a weird angle to approach this from, but it is brilliant. Sarah Paulson plays Tripp who is a weird character that I think the writers and actress have captured perfectly. She’s not cut and dry like the media often portrays her. At times, she seems to be a genuine friend of Monica Lewinsky. At other times, she is a victim, and at other times, she is a conniving person attempting to profit from her activities. It is because she is not a simple character that this focus works so well in the series.
The Beanie Feldstein portrayal of Monica Lewinsky is far from gracious. She comes across as a love-struck 16 year old that does not seem to have a grasp of the story she is being sucked into. Perhaps that is true to life, but somehow you still feel sorry for her which is a credit to the actress playing her. She is being manipulated by everyone with conflicting agendas, which is probably close to how things actually played out. This is a crime where you find yourself wondering who the victim is and the one name that seems to fill that slot is Monica Lewinsky.
The portrayal of President Clinton is deep and dark. Paula Jones comes across as a naive fool, manipulated by those around her. The first few episodes exist to put the pieces on the game board. By episode five you start to see how these are converging for what will be a brutal confrontation.
The series has done well to step back from the partisan aspect of the politics and focus on the characters, which was exactly where it needed to play.
I enjoy the series so far and encourage you to give it a shot, at least through the first three episodes.
Spoiler Alert – Communism is inherently evil. If that offends you, I offer zero apologies. I am from a generation of Americans that went to college and learned the true nature of socialism and communism in college; that it is a self-consuming economic system, destined to fail, that exists by devouring the freedoms of its followers. So when I was sent a copy of Dennis Haugh’s book I was prepared to be bored. After all, I knew about communism already.
Thankfully Mr. Haugh proved me woefully out of touch in some aspects.
It is safe to say we all need a refresher from time-to-time, present company included. I devoured this book in one sitting. In fairness, it is short, being a pocket guide and not an in-depth study. The length of the book is one of its strengths. Rather than a textbook exploration of these topics, Haugh crisply keeps the focus of the book on subject; short and disturbingly sweet.
I found the condensed format seductive. The prose of this book are concise and at times, painfully blunt. Don’t get me wrong, it is a pain that we need. A lot has changed since the 1980’s when I learned about this system. With social media and a never-ending assault on values, morals, and common sense, we need a book like this that positions the topic in a tight, digestible format.
You may wonder why two topics, Communism and Critical Race Theory, are in the book. When you read this potent guide you realize just how interconnected the two topics are and what the implications of that mean to America. I’ve had a number of people tell me they don’t know what CRT is – and even I have fumbled at times to explain it. Dennis Haugh has encapsulated the tenants of Critical Race Theory and what it means to our society, both long and short term.
I’ve plucked just a few random gems from this book:
“Labels are a convenient way to twist the way someone views a person, place, or thing.”
“Stalin identified “social reforms” as an ideal smoke screen to hide preparations for the revolution to destroy western societies.”
“Critical Race Theory replaces Marx’s class struggle with a race struggle for the dividing line between oppressor and oppressed, but it has gone further than classic Marxism in its quest to divide society.”
This book accomplishes in 44 pages what many college textbooks do in hundreds – it outlines the core tenants of Communism and Critical Race Theory against the framework of the society that we live in. It is a starting point and a refresher as to why this cultural and economic system is such a threat. The book is available from Defiance Press on Amazon.com
When you are writing a novel as encompassing as Blue Dawn I thought that it would be important to include a number of geographic locations that would resonate with a broad number of readers. This is, after all, a story that embroils all of the country. Some images, like that of a blow-up Mt. Rushmore, I thought were going to register with readers as something they could visualize.
Some of the locales were not familiar with readers, but are real life places. I spent a lot of time looking at images on the internet so that I described them as accurately as possible. So, here’s a few of the more prominent locations and my thoughts behind them.
Mt. Rushmore. I had someone say, “No one is planning on destroying Mt. Rushmore.” On July 10, 2020, USA Today actually ran an op ed piece calling for just that. Ironically, I had already written those scenes in the novel by then, but it was chilling. Mt. Rushmore is iconic of American history, so naturally it would be a target for the extremists that seize power in Blue Dawn. In the novel, I also make reference to the unfinished Hall of Records. The hall does exist, behind Lincoln’s bust on the memorial, though I massaged the description slightly.
Bumblehive. The National Security Agency does have a facility in Utah named Bumblehive. All we know for sure is that it is a cybersecurity facility. The attack, as I described it in the book is fiction in that I could not find comprehensive photos of the entire exterior. As a former IT leader, I can assure you, that such an attack would be conceivable, though I cannot confirm or deny whether it would work at the Bumblehive facility.
Valley Forge. When I conceived of the concept of Social Quarantine camps, I envisioned them going up on national park lands in many instances. There’s a long history of such parkland being used for camping and even for places where military training maneuvers were done in WWII. I opted for Valley Forge because it has ties directly back to the War of Independence – so having it being a Social Quarantine camp made it a great juxtaposition for independence and freedom.
Side Note: I’ve had people say that the whole concept of Social Quarantine camps is ludicrous; that we would never put people into camps for their beliefs. I point to Australia setting up quarantine camps this summer. Sure, these are COVID camps, but it does make you wonder just how far off we would be to lock up people for not having the right thoughts. Remember, Donald Trump lost his social media accounts, not for what he said, but for what he might say. History has shown the censorship of ideas or books is merely a stepping stone to greater oppression and the greater oppression is Social Quarantine.
The Garden. I made this up entirely but there is a logic to it. Every time a historic figure’s statue is torn down, there are promises that it will be moved to a place of prominence. Most of the time this is a lie. Those torn down in Richmond have been unceremoniously dumped at a wastewater treatment plant in the city. It only makes sense that the Newmerican government would assemble them in some isolated place, and use it as bait to lure in those who they deem undesirable. Is it hard to believe that the government might set up such a park, a place to dump the history they are so bent on erasing? Let’s hope that I’m not right about this.
Book Two of the Blue Dawn series is done and in the publisher’s hands, and like the first one, it will take readers on a tour of the country under Newmerican rule. I believe this helps readers engage with the characters, especially if they have visited the places in question.
I received an email two weeks ago informing me that a person I had nominated to the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame was going to be inducted this year. Frederick Zinn was born in Galesburg, Michigan and raised in Battle Creek. I wrote an award winning book about him, Lost Eagles, (University of Michigan Press) years ago.
Zinn was a true aviation pioneer. Here’s a short summary of his life:
After graduating the U of M in 1914 he went to Europe, became embroiled in the Great War, and joined the French Foreign Legion where he was wounded.
He transferred to the French Air Service as an observer – making him America’s first combat photographer. It also made him the first combat airman from the state of Michigan.
When America entered the war, he was one of the first aviators to transfer to the American Air Service.
He was one of the original members of the Lafayette Flying Corps and was close friends with the members of the Lafayette Escadrille.
He established the first American observation training school.
He flew combat missions.
After the war, Zinn remained behind, initiating the search for missing airmen. Up until this point, the military did not search for missing warriors. He recovered or identified the remains of 194 out of 200 missing airmen. He embodied the phrase, “We will leave no man behind.”
He ran a successful grain and feed company between the wars.
In WWII, he worked directly with General Marshall to create the system for recovering missing airmen (the Missing Air Crew Report system).
When he was denied the chance to find missing airmen, Zinn joined the OSS – the precursor to the CIA, as a counterintelligence officer. His cover, provided by the Kellogg Foundation, was to search for missing airmen.
He recovered countless missing American airmen during the war.
He performed several counterintelligence missions, well past the age of 50, during WWII.
After the war, he was a state representative in the Michigan House.
If you live near Kalamazoo, you should consider attending the induction ceremony. Zinn was, and remains, a true American hero. While I have a prior commitment that prevents me from attending the ceremony, I am pleased and honored that he is finally getting the recognition that he so richly deserves.
Our company, Creative Juggernaut, has been busy leading up to Gen Con. First, we produced hundreds of Stormcrow Tukayyid variants and shipped those to Catalyst for them to sell on their site. Second, we produced a batch of Black Knight Tukayyid variants and got those off as well. For Gen Con itself, we assembled Tukayyid Salvage Bit Bags, (around 700) as a convention release.
We jokingly called these “dime bags” in-house. They are parts and pieces of ‘Mechs that were unfit for release to the public. Some parts are partial casts, some are deformed in some manner, others have air bubbles (which look like damage). Our company believes in being green and rather than send these off to the landfill, we packaged them for resale. Each bag is the same size as the Black Knight and Stormcrow, but are crammed with random parts. The parts are from these two ‘Mechs, as well as some prototypes we did for a Marauder IIC, an UrbanMech, and a Crusader…but mostly Black Knight and Stormcrow parts and pieces.
So what good are they? These bits can be used on bases as battlefield debris for your ‘Mechs to be standing on or next to. The bits can be used to make fallen ‘Mech objective markers for Alpha Strike games. My personal use of these is for when a BattleMech is destroyed in a game. Rather than tip over a model I have worked hard to assemble and paint (risking damage), you can use these parts to mark dead enemies and comrades on the field/map.
I met one person that bought a few bags in hopes of getting enough to assemble a battle damaged Black Knight. No guarantees on such efforts, since the parts are randomly stuffed in the bags. I appreciated his ingenuity and creativity.
We didn’t announce these would be available at Gen Con because you never know until the last minute if they are going to be suitable for sale, etc. As it was, Brent loaded up a piece of luggage with Tukayyid Salvage Bits and lugged them personally to Gen Con. Things were so last minute, I don’t even have a photo of the bags right now.
Eventually, once the dust settles from convention season, these will go up for sale on the Catalyst Game Labs website – along with the Stormcrows and Black Knights. And yes, we are going to produce more ‘Mechs. No, we cannot solve international shipping prices nor are we selling these directly – you have to order them from Catalyst. Catalyst sets the sales price on these. There is no way to preview them online, so there’s no picking and choosing – you get a random bag stuffed with random parts.
We will do some social media posts when we know when they are for sale; but that is handled by Catalyst and there is no guarantee that we will gets a heads up. I would recommend watching their web site since you now know that they have stock of our products.
So what it next? I’m sworn to secrecy, but there are some big things coming from Creative Juggernaut…BIG things.
It was my intent to do my usual three-day Gen Con experience, but with a paired down convention, we decided to bail after two days. We simply had done all of the things we had planned. The following is a mix of personal experience vs. overall impression.
So how was it?
It was okay. COVID definitely knocked down the convention’s hit points badly. Everyone wore masks and socially distanced where practical. Let me say this, you can’t have a convention and social distancing. Gaming, by its very nature, is a social experience. People spread out fairly well on Thursday to get into the main hall, less so on Friday. Aisles were congested at times but for the most part, people didn’t deliberately bunch up – but it does happen. Some booths had lines. Anyone thinking there was going to be strict social distancing at Gen Con was delusional. The people whining online about it being a ‘super-spreader’ event were likely jealous they weren’t there and wanted to try and shame people that did go. This year’s ‘con-crud’ will likely be labeled as COVID this year, so prepare for that.
I was hoping the experience would be like rolling the clock back 10 years to when Gen Con was 35k people or so. It wasn’t. There were far too few events for the number of attendees and the infrastructure (food-wise) was strained.
Key things I noticed:
The crowds were smaller, as was the number of vendors in the main hall. Gone were the big bags filled with games. People were buying stuff, but with some of the big vendors not there (Fantasy Flight, Paizo, etc.) you didn’t see massive promotional bags that much. Having said that, people were plopping down cash, which is good for the industry. Some booths had decent lines to get in, at least on Thursday. By Friday, more people were in the gaming area rather than the main hall. Thursdays folks try to get in and purchase the new products first and foremost.
The number of events was dramatically cut. They were cleaning the few mini events down between rounds, to the point where I saw clear plastic sheets covering some of the maps. Sanitary? Maybe. The events that were there, sold out fast. I got into a game at Ares (Sails of Glory) because a guy bailed, but there were not a lot of events to get into in the first place. No Masters and Minions tournament this year, not a lot for kids (we took my grandson with us).
The food situation was sad. Thank God for the food trucks. They came through. Restaurant-wise, downtown Indy has been devastated by COVID. It was carry-out only at Steak and Shake. I’m not a huge fan of their food, but for a lot of folks, going there is a tradition. We were in two restaurants that were out of some food due to supply chain issues. PF Chang’s was out of white rice – for example, Thursday night. Many restaurants were simply closed, permanently. Others only stayed open until 6pm due to staffing challenges. You have to have places to eat for a big convention. Again, the food trucks saved this aspect of Gen Con but if the weather had been bad or the crowd larger, it could have been a big issue.
Some vendors bailed at the last minute – so there were weird gaps on the show floor. It actually was a blessing so you could step out of the aisle to make calls or adjust your purchases. It wasn’t helped that Gen Con kicked out one vendor, slapping up “No Harassment” signs on all of the doors. I won’t go into the controversy, but it was ridiculous to have a convention exclude a vendor while preaching inclusiveness. This was a year that they should have embraced all vendors that wanted to come.
The booth demos were down dramatically. I live for these because it’s a chance to test play games. Steve Jackson was doing them but most places scaled them back dramatically or did away with them entirely. That was disappointing and I think it may hurt their sales. It was understandable given the restrictions. My grandson loves wrestling and was looking for a game. SRG games did do demos and they were fantastic; lots of crowd engagement, characters dressing the parts, etc. They invited us to their tournament too, threw in some freebies for my grandson, etc. The guys running the Supershow game demos deserve an award for making the con for my family. Result – we plunked down a good chunk of money with them and my grandson is running around wearing one of their hats.
There were some convention exclusives, but they were limited. Catalyst had a ‘megamap’ (rename suggestion was Jumbo-Honking Map) and they had Creative Juggernaut Bit Bags (our salvage parts) which were selling strong. The maps were incredible, large, and quite heavy. Other companies like SRG had convention exclusive cards, which were great too.
The art area was much thinner. I spoke with a few vendors there and they were selling well, so the cash was flowing.
Costumes were few and far between this year.
Miniature games were dramatically cut. One thing I look forward to is walking through the game hall and marveling at the mini game terrains and set up. This year it was almost non-existent. Even the big Camospecs diorama was not present – there weren’t enough staff to cover it. This visual experience at Gen Con was sadly missing.
It was hard to find people when you can’t see their faces because of masks and their badges were flipped backwards half of the time. I did get to meet a lot of fans, sign stuff, have some fun conversations. Likewise there were some fans I simply couldn’t find in the crowd because, well, we all were dressed the same and wearing masks.
One benefit to the reduced crowds was that you could get into Paint and Take with no line. It was repositioned in the gaming area and we got in mid-day on Thursday. That’s a little disturbing too. Usually you have to wait for a while to get in. Games Workshop donated paints and minis this year, limiting you to choose between one of two minis. Still, they were pretty awesome and actually did some coaching/selling of the contrast paints for newbies, which was brilliant on their part.
I checked out the indy press scene and saw a lot of new products. None really captured my attention other than having some intriguing or bizarre premises.
Some vendors simply were representing companies. I wanted to pick up one game that I can get for $135 online. In my FLGS, it is $145. At Gen Con, where I thought I would pick it up, it was $178. Sorry, the business is going to go to my friendly local game store guys.
This was my first time getting a hotel downtown, which was fantastic. I did have a creepy encounter with a guy following me back to my hotel after drinking with some of the Catalyst guys. I could tell this guy was not a convention goer. It took me back to the Gen Con Milwaukee years in that respect. Overall, I can’t complain. I honestly didn’t expect much this year. I did manage to squeeze into a few games (thank you generic tickets and no-shows) and came home with a backpack of reading and gaming material for months. I can’t help but wonder if vendors that didn’t come this year will bother next year. I also wonder if downtown Indy will recover enough to support a convention as big as a normal Gen Con.
I have been reading westerns recently because their stories transcend the genre. A western tale easily can be migrated to a science fiction or other setting. I snagged a copy of this at the Rally Against Censorship recently and it finally worked its way to the top of my reading pile. It is the second book of the Tumbleweed Saga, the emerging legend of Luke Dunn, Texas Ranger.
The book is a wonderful read, picking up almost immediately after the events of the first novel. I won’t spoil the story other than to say that the plot thickens. Many of the characters that you are introduced to in Nueces Justice are back, with more depth added to their backstories. Some seemingly minor characters in the first novel, emerge and stand on their own. The ensemble cast is part of the mystique of this series. Everyone has a motive, many of which conflict with the others – which is where the conflicts arise…and there are a lot of conflicts in this book – true to the western genre.
Some authors chop off the heads of characters as if they were George R. R. Martin. Mark is not above killing characters, including those that have redeemed themselves. In fact, their redemption makes their deaths all the more poignant. He’s not a butcher like some writers, but puts a notch in his author’s pistol only when necessary and impactful.
As with the first novel, Greathouse is a master of crafting a plot that is far from obvious. Just when you think you know what is going on and then you find yourself in a new, unexpected place. That is the mark of a good storyteller. Handling ensembles of characters and complex plots requires a firm yet artistic hand, one that Greathouse possesses.
The author does his research, right down to the idiosyncrasies of the firearms being used. He stays true to the western genre, weaving in bits of real history with his fictional characters. His heroes are far from perfect, as demonstrated at the end of this novel – which I really found myself enjoying.
Nueces Reprise doesn’t stand alone – you need to read the precursor novel. Fortunately both are a good investment of time.
As a true crime author, I have a trust of law enforcement. It’s not a blind trust, but one borne out of experience. When I saw the film, Richard Jewell, that trust as far as the FBI was shaken.
So when I saw season two of Manhunt – Deadly Games was about Eric Rudolph, the actual Olympic Centennial Park bomber, I was intrigued.
Apparently both works were filmed at around the same time, which is wild given that some of their sets and scenes are eerily similar. The acting is different and many scenes play out quite a bit different in the TV series, but this is a complex story that goes far beyond Richard Jewell.
Eric Rudolph set off a number of bombs, including the Centennial Park bombing, before he was driven to ground in the forests of North Carolina. He survived off the land and with help of locals for a long time before law enforcement finally apprehended him.
There’s some creative licensing that has been done with this season of the show, much like the Unabomber one. Some aspects, such as the timelines of the key events have been fudged for the series, but that makes it a little more engaging. After the Richard Jewell film, there was an uproar about the portrayal of Kathy Scruggs, the reporter who broke the story of Jewell. Her portrayal in this series is more compelling, but far less complimentary.
Rudolph is a completely unlikable character. Unlike the first season, we don’t get much about his background to make him at all relatable. In that aspect, it likely mirrors real life. Ted Kaczynski, who could generate some sympathy as to how he became the Unabomber – Rudolph comes across as merely a sociopath with no moral compass.
Still, the series of worth watching. I liked the film version much more than this, but the series goes far beyond the events of the movie which really does manage to hold your attention and pull you in. It is on Netflix and I recommend you give it a chance to grow on you.
The events of the last few weeks have no doubt been disturbing, if not, infuriating for you and your loved ones. I wanted to say this, clearly and concisely…your time there was not in vain.
You put your lives on the line for the rest of us. Your efforts prevented dozens, if not hundreds, of potential terror attacks. You preemptively prevented terrorists from killing other Americans. There are few things more honorable than protecting your family, friends, and homeland. You traveled far from home, lived a life under constant threats and stress for us. Those of us that weren’t called or didn’t serve, were shielded by your service. We all owe you a debt of thanks. You have mine.
Many of us believe you deserve better than what our performance has been in leaving Afghanistan.
Was it time to go? Probably. It was never a matter of the decision to depart. What matters is the execution of that departure. It is nothing short of a debacle. Calling it anything else is an insult, and the majority of Americans who witnessed it unfold on television. Lives have been lost and more may be as a result of one of the worst planned and executed military operations in US history since the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Your service is not reflected by the events unfolding over there right now. You are not defined by the actions currently taking place. You did your job, and for that, I am thankful as are millions of others. You do not bear any taint from what is taking place right now. Your service was not wasted. You did your duty with honor and dignity.
The fact that so many civilians in Afghanistan want to leave and come here is a testimony to your roles as ambassadors of our great nation. Many are willing to lose everything because they saw the kind of country and people we are because you were there. Even though you may not have been there in years, you are still saving lives…those of the civilians who are risking their lives to come here. Each civilian saved that comes to America is your greatest living legacy.
We owe you more than our appreciation and sincere thanks. We owe you accountability, both in the government and the military. The people that unfurled this poorly conceived operation need to be held responsible. It is not vengeance or blame-setting; it is our solemn responsibility to you to ensure that such a disaster does not happen again.
We do not owe this just to you, but to your loved ones who have also endured hardship and strife as a result of your service. Men and women do not go to war alone, their families are impacted as well. We owe them as well to get some answers to how this happened. People must be held accountable – period.
You can hold your heads up high for your service in that strife-filled country. Your honor is sterling and remains, as always, intact. None of us believe your service was anything short of honorable and in the finest tradition of the United States. We, as citizens, need to take action to evaluate the intelligence, planning, decision making process, and execution of this catastrophe. This is our call to duty, to ensure that this kind of horrid affair does not occur again.