Review of Wild West Exodus – Miniatures Game

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For two GenCon’s now I have seen the exquisite displays for this game – so I broke down and played a quick demo and bought a copy of the rules.  I have to approach this review from two perspectives – one is the game – the other is the universe itself.  I don’t know much about Warcradle Studios, but I am impressed with aspects of this game system.

The game is solid as a miniatures tactical game.  My own little playtest at home taught me that if you have more than a dozen or so minis, it can get slow.  Otherwise, the flow is good.  Players use Activation Decks (of cards) to determine initiative which adds a bit of Old West flare to the game.  The Action Card deck uses a system of points (1-5) to activate miniatures.  There is an Adventure deck where a player draws a number of cards based on the size of the scenario and these can be used for Guts and Glory.  Glory improves your accumulation of victory points – where Guts is the other end of the spectrum or provides some unique quirks to the game such as interruption of another action.

From a game perspective, the minis have statistics that are very close to those for a RPG game (which the rules strangely lack).  You have Quick, Mind, Limit, Fight, Aim and Grit.  I won’t bore you with the details, but each factor into play.  I get the feeling that the designers were on the verge of doing a RPG, but opted for a minis game instead.

Fortune factors in as well – measured with poker chips.  You can spend Fortune on things like aiming, re-rolling failures, etc.  You’re limited with these but my own experience at GenCon taught me that these can change the course of a gunfight.  Other things that factor in are artifacts and magic portals…more on that stuff below.

The miniatures range for Wild West Exodus is outstanding and exquisite and one of the key draws for the game.  I picked up a couple of the minis and was impressed with their detail.  The ones I got were hard plastic.

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Overall, the game has solid mechanics and game flow.  The pace is pretty fast once you go over the basics.  The rules are, for the most part, straight-forward and easy to digest.  There’s a lot of diversity about weapons types and impacts that give the game a good flavor of play.  I love how they baked in the lingo of the old West into the rules for flavor.  Hats off to the designers for their writing.

The universe itself as “The Dystopian Age.”  Most alternate history games change one thing, like the South winning the American Civil War, then the universe is the result of things that happen after that.  I was expecting that.  Wild West Exodus does not follow this model.  Instead it changes dozens of things to craft a crossover between steampunk, Wild West historical, magic, and alien technology. More than half of the rules is dedicated to the background.  Some of the writing here is pure genius, where other parts are hard to follow.

What emerges from this background is nothing like the American Wild West – a dizzying blur of faint historical context and a dollop of incredible imagination. In the end, I like playing the game more than I do digging into the universe background on this set of rules. There were parts of the complex background that I did not like, but parts of it are brilliant.  There are no good or bad guys here, every faction has a dark side to it which I like.  There are a lot of factions to choose from.

The game itself is very good, the background is something you and your players will have to pick and choose from as to what you like.  Overall, I give this an eight out of ten, mostly because I have not warmed up to the background of the universe just yet.

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Some author humor: You know you are a writer when you…

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I write in a lot of different genres, from true crime to sci-fi to military history.  Over the years I have accumulated a lot of experience in being an author.  This list covers a pretty wide variety of those genre’s.  It is intended for my author friends out there to give them a moment of self-indulgence.  As such, I present the following:

You know you are a writer when you…

…carry on conversations in your head (or out loud) with people that are either dead or who never existed.

…hate math but when you look at your Amazon author’s ratings you want to get into full algebra mode to try and figure out your book sales, ratings, etc.

…delete more words than ever appear in print.

…begrudgingly admit when an editor catches something you missed.

…wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea…and in the morning you can only remember having the brilliant idea, not what it was.

…you look at an editor’s comment about a paragraph and say, “That’s cute, but there’s no fucking way I’m changing that!”

…have stacks of research and notes all around your PC and can find any single page in less than 20 seconds if called upon.

…experience dread when sitting at a lonely table at Barnes & Noble to autograph books.

…spend six hours reading to get three sentences of content and consider yourself productive.

…have referred to an editor as, “That Fuckity-fuck-fucking-fuck-faced-fucker.”

…don’t express emotion when a person in your life dies, but you weep when you kill one of your favorite characters.

…are writing stories in your sleep.

…critique other writer’s sources and footnotes.

…have told someone, “Yes, everyone has a novel in them.  That doesn’t mean they were meant to put it on paper.”

…think the character you are describing is George Clooney but the fans think it’s Jerry Lewis.

…are accused of having subtext in your work that doesn’t exist.

…devise new ways to procrastinate.

…get excited to learn a new feature of MS Word.

…have seen comments from an editor and said things out loud like, “How in the hell can you have a problem with the word ‘red’?”

…get into arguments with fans about continuity errors.

…get into arguments with characters that don’t really exist outside of your mind.

…can watch TV and know when a suspect is lying on a true crime show because you have studied how to spot it.

…name a character after some douchebag in your life, just so you can enjoy killing the character (slowly, without mercy.)

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…read your own words and physically cringe.

…see something on TV and you’re sure they lifted it from one of your works.

…hide Easter eggs in your manuscript just to see if readers find them.

…wince when someone sends you an unsolicited manuscript and expects you to read it and provide detailed input – by Wednesday – pro bono.

…have standing instructions to destroy your personal journals upon your death.

…consider caffeine the top of your food pyramid.

…have asked yourself, “What would my character do in this situation?”

…have boxes of research material you can’t toss because it was so hard to get in the first place.

…have been days when you have not seen sunlight because of your craft.

…lost your temper when someone has asked for a free copy of one of your books. “Can you shoot me a PDF of your latest book?”  “No.  Fuck no.”

…you own a hoodie that says, “Basically a Detective.”  (true story – thanks CrimeCon!)

…engage in debates with people about the range of lasers, particle projection cannons, and rail guns.

…have toys in your workspace to spark creativity.

…have spent 15 minutes rewriting a sentence only to delete it.

…know the archivists at the National Archives by name (or they know your birthday.)

…take notes of people’s personality and physical quirks to use later in your stories.

…own maps for planets that do not exist.

…have nightmares because of things you are writing.

…have books on your shelf that you wrote that you have not opened in years – and when you do, you critique your own work.

…secretly believe your characters are meeting and plotting against you.

…question other people’s/character’s sanity, but never your own.

…have debates with yourself over how a sentence can be interpreted…and lose the argument!

…appreciate why Hemmingway drank so much when he wrote.

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…have flipped-off the PC monitor after reading an idiotic review on Amazon.

…know the tunnel system under the Library of Congress as well as your own basement.

…go through Facebook for photos of people to use as characters in your novel.

…have to ask someone what day it is because you were so busy writing, you are no longer sure.

…never feel alone because of the voices in your head.

…get calls from your police friends asking, “Did you see that shit on TV?”

…can’t cook breakfast but have a solid understanding of forensics psychology and/or quantum mechanics.

…define a great day as, “having scored at the National Archives!” and It has nothing to do with sex.

…meet other authors and realize that there’s a reason you work in your home office alone.

…look forward to meeting your fans and dread it at the same time.

…repeat yourself often because you can no longer distinguish the conversations in your head and the ones you say out loud.  (true story)

…can’t remember the last time you ate, but can describe the last meal your character had in intimate detail.

…are actively considering taking up alcoholism because it might help hone your craft.

…you can’t change the oil on your car but you know when a fusion reactor doesn’t sound right on a BattleMech.
…have written up reviews of reviews you have received.  “Your review of my recent book demonstrates a third grade understanding of grammar, at best.  While I don’t use the words, ‘flatulating butthead,” often, they seem to apply in your case.” Or, the more popular, “Does your mommy know you are on the internet?”

…are caught by your spouse looking at pictures on your PC, and it isn’t porn, it’s autopsy photos.  (true story)

…read an interview where you are quoted, but you were never interviewed by the writer.

…cringe at questions about book production.  Example:  “When will this be available in Australia, as an audio book, in French?”  Rant Mode Engaged:  We are writers, not publishers.  We don’t know this shit.  We are the LAST to know this shit.

…are convinced that white van parked for three hours in front of your house is the FBI or Virginia State Police surveilling you. (true story)

…count comic books and movies as “research expenses.”

…watch a true crime show and mentally pick up on all of the procedural mistakes.

…have spoken in the voice of one of your characters, hopefully when alone and in private.

…like a book for things that no one else does.  “The plot structure was unorthodox and cool…I’m SO stealing it for my next project.”

…consider among your best friends, characters you created. Sidebar:  Do not use them for references on job applications.

…you get hang-up phone calls from burner phones and are convinced it is serial killers you have written about.  (true story)

…are unsure what day it is because you are so in-deep with a writing project.

…spend your whole life waiting to be recognized and asked for autographs, only to find each one to be an awkward and sometimes disturbing encounter.

…are recognized for something you wrote that you put little effort into; while the work you are most proud of is hardly read by fans.

…have missed one or more meals because of a sentence that is being a bitch and refusing to be written correctly.

…study things that most other people do not, just so you can be accurate.  Example:  Geographic profiling algorithms.

…have had an argument with a fan over a character you created, and killed.  “How could you have killed her that way?”  “You do realize that she’s not a real person, right? And I killed her because I created her!”

…have made someone uncomfortable at a dinner party when they ask you about your latest project.  “…and she was brutally stabbed repeatedly for a dozen times.  The splatter pattern was everywhere…”

…realize your search history on our PC ensures you are going to go to jail.  Examples:  Ligature strangulation.  Time to asphyxiate an adult.  Moving dead bodies.  Decomposition of human remains.  Unsolved serial killing sprees.  Murder kits. Note:  My wife is the safest person on the world.  If anything happens to her, I will go to jail on my search history alone.

….apply what you learned about police interrogations and spotting liars into your day-to-day interactions with other people.  “Oh, she’s lying, listen to how she responded by my question…”

…have no idea what kind or size of engine is in your car, but can rattle off the fusion reactors and manufacturers for every model of BattleMaster BattleMech ever produced.

…have maps of WWI battlefields (or similar locales) laying around your office because you never know when you might need them.

…experience both excitement and sheer terror when a new book is released.

…struggle telling people at your day job what you do at night.  “Technically, when I’m not here, I’m out fighting crime…”

…admire when another author gets it right!

A Spoiler-Free Review of Solo – A Star Wars Story

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“Look Khaleesi, a dragon!”  

I was hoping this was going to be a good, solid, standalone film – one that would explore a period of the Star Wars universe that we don’t have a lot of information on.  If it was done well, the story would be solid on its own.  I was a little disappointed in this perspective.

Think of it this way, was Black Panther a good movie, even if he was not part of the greater Marvel cinematic universe?  Yes.  All on its own, the film was good.  Even if no other Marvel movies existed, Black Panther (and Ant-Man, and others) would have stood on their own.  The fact they are part of a bigger franchise makes them more awesome, but they are not dependent on that.

This is not the case with Solo.  It is a film that seems to strive to fill a few gaps in young Han Solo’s life with scant details buried in dialogue.  We get the whole Kessel Run parsec thing explained – we see the first meeting between Chewie and Han.  We get the Millennium Falcon and Lando.  Those things were great to have as parts of a much bigger story that could stand on its own.  This does not.  It is hooked on the Star Wars mythos to the point where it is a series of Easter Eggs that are masterfully strung together into a good story…not a great story, but a good one.  If there were no other Star Wars films, would this film have been as good?  No way.

The acting was solid.  There’s a lot of subplots happening in this film, which is great.  Emelia Clarke has ensured that she can live well off of the geek convention circuit – between Star Wars and Game of Thrones.  Her acting was clearly the best of the film followed by Woodie Harellson.

Some good characters were introduced – like Lando’s droid.  I wish we could have gotten more of her, but what we got saved the middle of this movie for me.

The Easter Eggs are there for those of us that have been with the franchise since the beginning, and they are there aplenty.  There’s a surprise cameo in the film too and it was awesome and unexpected.  My grandson loved it too.  The movie ended with plenty of room for a sequel…don’t they all?

There’s a couple of plot holes in this movie, some kludgy writing at times, but nothing horrific.

I give this film a three out of five stars.  It didn’t stand alone and I think would have been a lot better if it had.  I appreciate the candy for the true fans.  Bottom line, if you like Star Wars movies you probably will like this one.  We could have loved it though.  Disney continues to print more money by making these movies.

Review of Bureau 39 by Jeffrey Miller (Spoiler Free)

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I don’t generally read political action thrillers.  I met Tom Clancy once when his Hunt for Red October had just come out.  I met him at a gaming event where he was playing Harpoon.  True story.  Clancy was approachable but what stunned me was his off-the-cuff depth of knowledge about naval warfare and ship details.  I read a lot of his books over the years but once he became a franchise/factory, I just dropped out of that genre.  Sadly, with his demise, I just felt it would be hard for anyone to fill his boots.

I broke my streak this spring when I finally broke down and read a Jack Reacher novel.  I liked it, despite constantly picturing Tom Cruise saying all of the lines.  Honestly, I didn’t want to like it, but I found myself liking the witty dialogue and Reacher’s unique brand of thinking.  Suddenly I was back reading political thrillers.

When I saw the cover for Jeffrey Miller’s Bureau 39, it kind of pulled me in. Don’t kid yourself, we’ve all bought novels because of a good cover…admit it.  The synopsis grabbed me too.  A mysterious North Korean Bureau that was covertly plying the drug trade to help secure ICBM’s with nuclear capability.  I purchased it a few months ago and had no idea how timely the subject matter was going to be.

Actually – it’s eerie how accurate this book feels.  Makes me wonder, does Miller have some sort of inside track we’re unaware of?

I won’t ruin the plot or story for you.  Suffice it to say, it is a solid plot.  Two things stood out for me.  One was the dialogue of the characters.  They were distinct voices in the story, and were not cheesy one-liners but carefully crafted phrases.  There were times I chuckled at some of the references.  Miller doesn’t waste scenes or character time with things that don’t propel the plot forward – and that is something that is both rare and worthy of respect.  Good dialogue ensures good believable characters.  Miller is masterful in this aspect of his art.

My favorite part of the book is that the author puts you there, in Korea.  This is not blatant, but subtle.  You are given a fantastic geopolitical and geography lesson throughout the smooth flow of this book.  There are wonderful little details that I ended up Googling only to find that Miller was dead-on with his facts.  This added sense of realism in the setting makes Bureau 39 a welcome addition to any political thriller bookshelf.

Given the current tensions between US and North Korea, this book couldn’t be timelier and adds to a captivating story and strong characters.  This is a solid five out of five stars.

 

Star Wars Film Quotes With Sexual Connotations

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This popped up on a random Facebook post two weeks ago and was well worthy of capturing in a blog entry.  These are quotes from the Star Wars film franchise that had sexual connotations or about a person’s sex life, when read out of context.  I have tried to get the quotes right, but to be honest, there’s major variations on the web and I couldn’t stomach watching Phantom Menace again to validate anything.

Let’s face it, some of these are hilarious. I have deliberately shuffled the order of these and have included content from the entire franchise thus far.  Enjoy.

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?

The force is strong with this one.

It’s a trap!

How are we doing? Same as always. That bad huh?

He’s more machine now…

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.

Pull out, you’re not doing any good back there!

That’s no moon.

Laugh it up Fuzzball.

There’s an awful lot of moisture in here.

Oh yes, that’s very good. I like that … oh, something’s not right because now I can’t see.

You have failed me for the last time.

Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.

Never tell me the odds.

It’s no good, I can’t maneuver.

At that speed, will you be able to pull out in time?

Will someone get this walking carpet out of my way?

No, no, no! This one goes there, that one goes there!

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Into the garbage chute Flyboy!

Did You Know That Wasn’t Me?

I find your lack of faith disturbing.

I have felt him, my master.

Get in there you big furry oaf. I don’t care what you smell.

Stay on target. Stay on target!

I was expecting someone with your reputation to be a little, older.

Myself, the boy, two droids, and no questions asked.

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Relax Bob, you couldn’t have hit them even if you tried. 

You were right about one thing master, the negotiations were short.

I gotta bad feeling about this.

It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.

You underestimate my power!

I can’t shake ‘em!

You do have your moments. Not many, but you have them.

Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?

I’m endangering the mission, I shouldn’t have come.

Hey, we don’t serve their kind here!

An elegant weapon not as clumsy or rampant as a blaster!

Good!  Good! Let the hate flow through you.

It’s Working!  It’s Working!

Shut him up or shut him down!

So uncivilized.

Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh… everything’s perfectly all right now.

You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home!

No point getting upset about it.  It was a fair move.

Don’t get cocky!

What an incredible smell you’ve discovered…

Sister! So, you have a twin sister!

SW2
You need a little scoundrel in your life 

Intensify forward firepower!

What I told you was true…From a certain point of view…

In my experience there’s no such thing as luck.

I have the high ground.

Impressive … most impressive.

What is thy bidding, my master?

I’m looking forward to completing your training. In time you will call me master.

All too easy!

Your powers are weak, old man.

Move along…

Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.

Negative! It didn’t go in. It just impacted on the surface.

And I thought they smelled bad on outside.

SW5

Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director.

I can’t hold them.

Great shot, kid. That was one in a million!

Doesn’t look like much, but has it where it counts.

This had better work.

I’d rather kiss a Wookie.

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Look at the size of that thing!

Oh, no! We’ll never get it out now!

Hang on back there!

They’ll be back and in greater numbers.

No. I don’t like you either.

Who are you calling ‘Scruffy?’

This is no cave…

Put that thing away, you’re gonna get us all killed!

Something just touched my leg…

Punch it Chewie.

It’s not my fault!

Turn her around!

I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.

They may come around for another pass.

Nice girl! Either I’m gonna kill her or I’m beginning to like her!

This ain’t like dusting crops, boy!

Sorry about the mess…

Is that possible?” “I never ask that question until after we’ve done it.”

You my fire when ready.

Bring me Solo.

The target area is only two meters wide…

I didn’t hit it THAT hard…must’ve had some sort of self-destruct.

I guess you don’t know everything about women yet.

Use your harpoons!

But how am I to know the good side from the bad?

It’s risky but we can’t hold out much longer.

Why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?!

I’m out of it for a little while and suddenly everyone’s got delusions of grandeur…

I thought you were blind!

I’m afraid our furry companion has gone and done something rather rash.

But these are my friends!

Uh, everything under control. Situation normal.

Boring conversation anyway.

I just got this bucket back together.I’m not going to let something tear it apart.

I love you. I know.

“Stop taking my hand!

“I have something here for you, your Father wanted you to have this when you were old enough but your Uncle wouldn’t allow it.”

You’re far too trusting…

There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

Take your father’s place by my side

The Resistance will not be intimidated.

So. You got your reward and you’re just leaving, then?

Alright, so what did I miss?  Feel free to add in the comments section.

BattleTech April Fool’s Day – Operation Total Freakin’ Awesomeness

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Let’s face it…we’ve all thought this at one point or another.

Every two weeks or so someone asks me to read their fan fiction.  I always decline.  I used to read fan fiction but I found that most of it was beyond redemption and some made my stomach queasy.  You know you’re doomed when someone says, “I’m three-hundred pages in and am not sure where to go with it.  Maybe you can give me suggestions?”  Or, better yet, you have someone who writes a story from 24 different perspectives – you know, so you can see the whole battle unfold.  Ugh.  How do you explain to someone that they are, in essence, extremely fu*ked?”  Answer, you don’t.

Back in the day, I used to read fanfic and give my feedback.  Then I had someone accuse me of lifting their story . “My story was about a ‘Mech commander, fighting impossible odds, and winning. You stole that idea for your book.”  Um dude, you basically described every BattleTech novel ever written.  Oddly, the guy that made the claim got it wrong – I never even read his 60 page single-sentence monstrosity.  It made my eyes bleed.

People float unsolicited ideas to me too.  “Here’s a story where House Davion destroys the Lyran Commonweath,” or “I came up with a new clan that has been forgotten about.”  Each time one of these crosses my inbox a new ulcer is born and I drift one step closer to that aneurysm that I know is coming.

I like good fanfic and encourage people to take their ideas to BattleCorps.  Don’t try and pitch it to me that I should read your work with the line, “they’ve already rejected it twice.”  That’s not quite the selling point you think it is. Also, submitting it in crayon on the back of a iHOP placemat is also not a format I find amusing.

Not all fan fiction sucks.  I’ve read some good stuff in the past, on my own accord. I support fan fiction that people post for free. Having said that though, a lot of it is a crazed fanboy delusion wrapped in energy-drink fueled nightmares with a thick foamy layer of twisted brain-farts that barely resemble the BattleTech universe.

I do not favor fan fiction where someone sells their novel or sourcebook online.  I have gotten into heated debates with these self-appointed constitutional and copyright authorities.  Let’s be clear, if you are selling your stuff, you’re infringing on the copyright.  If you are stealing BattleTech artwork for your little self-publishing venture, you’re stealing.  Just because BattleTech has been around for a while doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you desire.

Alright – rant mode off.  To commemorate April Fool’s Day this year – I offer you a “typical” bit of fan fiction for your consideration.  It is a tribute to every nauseating fan fiction ever created.  I’ve incorporated a few dozen elements in this story – something to offend and upset almost everyone.  So here – whatever you do, don’t enjoy it!

Operation Total Freakin’ Awesomeness

By The World’s Biggest BattleTech Fan Who Knows Everything About the Universe – Even More than Stackpole, definitely more than Pardoe.

Lieutenant Cody Whiplash Brightstar- callsign Tight-Testicles, piloted his family’s Stinger ™ with ease.  BattleMech’s ® had been the cross-dressing kings of the battlefield for over 30 centuries (give or take 28 centuries or so).  They were humanoid war machines capable of leveling city blocks even when they weren’t in the city.  They used tanks for rollerskates and greased their actuators with the blood of dead infantry who dared oppose them.  To blend with their surroundings, they were painted a variety of bright colors and patterns.  What was the point?  When you’re running at 97 kph in a three story, 75 ton war machine, blasting everything with lasers, particle burst slingshots, missiles, autocannons, hypersonic potato cannon, fuzz-busters, etc., camouflage is secondary to destruction.

The BattleMech ® Brightstar piloted had been a Star League machine, handed down generation after generation to him.  His father, grandfather, great-grandmother, great-great uncle, cousin six-times removed, and the guy his great-great-great grandmother had slept with, had all died in the cockpit of the ‘Mech that he was piloting.  That didn’t bother him. He was sure his fate would be different. I have the benefit of learning from their failures. Only after his father’s death did he assume command of the 12259th Lightfoot Lancers.

Like his ‘Mech, his unit could trace its origins back to the Star League, as could all of the really good and hip mercenary units.  The 12259th had opted to remain in the Inner Sphere when General Kerensky left the Inner Sphere to go and found the Clans.  They could have gone, but they were way too cool to just be a bunch of followers.  They had fought for all of the major houses and had been betrayed by all of them at one point or another…because that’s what cool mercenary units do, get betrayed.  Even ComStar rated them as “Posers,” which Brightstar treated as a badge of honor because ComStar was so damned weird to begin with.  The constant double-dealing and selling-out by their employers had given the Lightfoot Lancers a reputation of not only being awesome but somewhat a flight risk.

They stood on Urban – an almost forgotten planet in the Lyran Commonwealth ®, their latest employer and betrayer.  Cody’s father had negotiated a contract to garrison the world at the edge of the Periphery against the ice pirates and other raiders. The world was said to have held a Star League garrison in as Castle Bran complete with a Star League Memory Core somewhere on the planet.  Of course his father had been betrayed by the local Duchess, Duchess Imma Douchebage, who was scheming to become the next Archon General because that was what everyone in the Commonwealth did.  Urban was a world that was covered with old abandoned cities which made perfect scenes later in this story for battle.

Then came the Clan invasion™ !

They struck like a horny pit bull at a bitch in heat…humping the leg of every planet along the periphery border.  The Clans went all honey-badger (oddly enough there is a Clan Emerald Honey-Badger) on the fringe of humanity, devouring worlds and crushing entire regiments because of their vastly superior firepower, speed, and confusing tactics of only sending three warriors to defeat an entire battalion.

Now they had come to Urban.  Now they would face the 12259th in battle.

“Sir,” Dax Starscream signaled.  “The Clan commander wants to meet with you before the fight.  She sounds tough.  Said something about a combat trial.”

“Very well,” Cody responded, peeing just a little bit inside his coolant suit. “I will show her what she’s up against.  That should scare her into submission.” He was already plotting his escape off-world.

* * * * *

Star Commander Shamalamadingdong, a warrior of Clan Tin Sloth © tightened the straps on her battle stiletto high heels and adjusted her duraweave bullet-proof push-up sports bra.  Today the denizens of the Inner Sphere would feel her wrath.  Today they would be overwhelmed with her fashion sense and whipped into submission (in just the manner you are thinking) by her intimidating unibrow and tats of Elementals over the crease of her muscled buttocks. She put on her olive drab Nordstrom 211 combat lipstick for the occasion. Today we will take this world because, well, it’s in our way.  We will conquer all of the worlds in our flight path, despite the fact they could be bypassed, because it is the Clan Way ™.  One day the Tin Sloth will stand victoriously on the home soil of Terra and be the illclan and all of the other Clans, the Rancid Cows, the Copper Snails, the Jade Ratsuckers, The Ivory Poachers, the Mauve Moths…they will all acknowledge the greatness of the Tin Sloths!

She stepped off of the Ironclad Class dropship ramp and saw her opposition – Cody Brightstar.  She was unimpressed.  A mercenary…who dares evoke the Star League in the name of his unit. She mentally connected the pimples on his forehead to form the letter “L”, outlining her opinion of her competition.

“I am Star Commander Shamalamadingdong, of Clan Tin Sloth© and the Skywalker Bloodname © and I have come to take this cesspool of a planet from your feeble, relatively weak, grasp. I initiate this formal Trial of Keepsies against your paltry and unworthy forces.  With what forces will you defend this pimple-on-the-Great-Kerensky’s-ass-of-a-planet ™?” she barked at him.  She wasn’t entirely sure, but she thought she saw a small wet spot form on his coolant suit crotch as she issued her Challall.

The Inner Sphere scum cleared his throat and the wet spot on his crotch seemed to grow with each beat of his paltry heart.  “I don’t know – what are you attacking with?”

“The Tin Sloths are steeped in honor.  Before we were the Tin Sloths © we were the Rainbow Trout, absorbed during the Great Trial of Deathly Pummeling.  We abhor waste and are great recyclers – as was the will of Nicholas the Whacked.  I would be willing to take you on alone, in one-on-one combat for possession of this lint-trap-scrapings you call a world.”  She paused long enough to spit the tobacco she had been chewing, splattering it at Cody’s feet.

“One-on-one?”

“Affidavit – that’s ‘yes’ for you, you ignorant tapeworm on society,” she replied with confidence, ending with the cursory and required Clan word for “aff.”  Clan Warriors had an entire dictionary of abbreviations and words they were required by the Holy Nicholas Kerensky to include when they spoke. It was the depth of their “culture.” Nicholas had based the Clans on the animals that had come to him during a drug-induced binge where he had almost drowned in a pool of his own vomit.  The warriors of Clan Nova Shart went so far as to go on a LSD and acid induced high annually to try and recreate his experience.

“To the death?”

”To your death – aff,” she said.

“What if I cheat and bring my entire company?”

“Then I will bring my trinary,” she replied.

“Well, that sucks.”

“Aff,” she replied with a wicked grin.  “What say you…you goiter on the neck of mankind.”  The goiter insult was one only the Sloth’s used and was considered devastating amongst the Clans.

“Could I send someone in my place?”

“A warrior with honor would never do such a thing.”

Cody stared at her with a blank expression on his face through the ten seconds of awkward silence – a silence she shattered like an artillery barrage.  “Neg Cody of the Brightstar bloodline.  You must fight your own battle.”

“I accept?”

“Is that a question or your response to my challenge, quiaff?”

“My response?”

“This,” Shamalamadingdong said to herself, “is going to be easy.”

“You know your mike is hot,” Cody replied.

She gritted her teeth in anger and swore to kill her Tech, despite the fact it was not his fault.  “We meet at noon tomorrow at the place of your choosing,” she said out loud.  Don’t bother to purchase a coffin, I intend to fry your remains in the cockpit.

* * * * *

“You’ll be dead before the end of the first salvo,” Tech Sergeant Chen said to Brightstar.

“I have a plan,” Cody said with confidence that came from two bottles of Benadryl and a handful of pills he found in a men’s room floor.

“You pilot a bloody Stinger ™, Chen replied.  “You’d be better off wrapping yourself in aluminum foil and carrying an Airsoft pistol.”

“You know that abandoned military museum near the spaceport?” Cody asked.

“Yeah – all of that stuff is antique,” Chen said frowning.

“Here’s a list,” he handed an Apple ™ iNoputer to the sergeant.  “Get these things and meet me in the bay.”

Chen surveyed the list suspiciously.  “You’re mad!  These are museum pieces you’re talking about.”

Cody Brightstar smiled in response.  “I’m not crazy.  No, I’m going to win.”

The next day Cody stepped out in his modified Stinger ™ and stood before Star Commander Shamalamadingdong.  Her Spitting Sidewider Class OmniMech ® was adorned with patches of brightly colored faux fur, typical for the Tin Sloths, giving her a strange (if not nauseating) camouflage pattern.  The OmniMech ® was easily 35 tons heavier than his Stinger.  Despite that, and the fact that she had been genetically bred for war, and had trained her entire life for battle, in a society where warriors were the epitome, and that her ‘Mech had superior technology…Cody felt he had a good chance of taking her down. Part of that was his confidence in his skills.  The other part was bold arrogance capped off by a copious amount of cheap vodka he had just consumed.

“You showed,” she said on the open battle channel.

“You thought I wouldn’t?” he replied.

“You surat-suckling Inner-Spherers are known to lack courage, honor, integrity, and left testicles,” Shamalamadingdong replied.  “You have reconfigured your Stinger ™ , affidavit?”

“Oh these?” he lifted up his arms where duct tape held the new weapons securely in place.  “Yes.  I did.”  BattleMechs ™ were like Legos ® in that you could pop off any component and with a bit of brute force and Gorilla Glue ™ you could make them work.

“Your shoulder mounted missiles are a joke.  You will not even damage me with so few,” she boasted, popping open her faceplate and wiping the sweat from her single brow.

Cody made his Stinger ™ shrug with his neurohelmet control.  “You may be right.  We will have to see.”

Shamalamadingdong cleared her throat like a chronic smoker than spoke again.  “We shall fight this engagement in our time-honored and tradition-laden rede-mandated manner – steeped in ceremony and ritual.  The Trial of Keepsies is our most sacred tradition.”

“Um, okay,” Cody returned.

“First, you will step back 19 paces, one each for the great clans who will send you to your grave.”

“Aren’t there 20 clans?”

“Negatory,” she snapped.  “There is one, the unspoken clan, who we don’t acknowledge existed and we never speak about them.”

“But you just did.  You just told me about them.”

“Nuh-uh,” the Star Commander said.  “Did not.”

“So you basically don’t talk about them?  What did they do that was so heinous?”  Cody pictured a fraternity panty-raid gone horribly awry resulting in the death of everyone involved.

“Crimes so dark and disturbing that we cannot speak of them.  Things that soiled the very fabric of our traditions and society.  Acts so hideous and perverse that the mere mention of them is punishable by death – or being forced to watch the ancient broadcasts of ‘The View,’ or Spiderman 3.”

The mention of Spiderman 3, a film that had led to the Kentares Massacre, was no small thing and sent a chill down Cody’s spine.  Strangely, he managed to fake being cool.  With pure bravado Cody smiled.  “You don’t know what they did do you?”

“Negatory,” she replied.  “As I said, we are forbidden to speak of it.”

“Okay, I back up 19 steps.  Then what?”

“We fight – to the death!”

“Huh,” he said unimpressed.  “I expected a lot more.  I mean with all of that talk of tradition and stuff.”

“That is all.  Our traditions are simple really, but extremely steeped in history.”  Pride rang in her words.

“Okie-dokie,” he said, starting backwards in his modified Stinger ™.  The rubble and ruins of a once vast city around them would provide plenty of places for him to run and hide once the firing started.  Besides, I have a few tricks up my sleeve.  Shamalamadingdong backed up her imposing, if not oddly colored ‘Mech as well.   When she stopped they stood facing each other.

“Okay,” Cody said coolly.  “Now what?”

“It begins – with your death!”  She raised her arm mounted weapons aiming at him.

Cody used his neurohelm to raise the arm if his own ‘Mech, pointing over her shoulder in the distance.  “What in the hell is that?”

Shamalamadingdong turned her ‘Mech to face the new threat, one that didn’t exist.  Cody broke into a run, swinging behind a crumbling building.  “You are a cunning foe.  I respect such guile.  I shall relish grinding you to pulp under the feet of my Spitting Sidewider ®. “

Cody flattened his ‘Mech with its back against a building…to better blend in.  “You have a weird way of showing respect.”

* * * * *

The Star Commander stealthfully poked her ‘Mech’s head around the corner to see if the inner-spherer scumbag was there – but he was not.  Her tactical display had lost track of him in all of the rubble and ruins.  I believe he means for me to chase him all across this planet.  That thought did not daunt her.  Her OmniMech brandished enough firepower to consume his paltry Stinger ™ in a shot or two.  Sure its destruction might litter the area with radioactive debris once his fusion reactor was ripped apart, but that was a small price to pay for honorable victory.

She stepped into the street when suddenly her ‘Mech reeled.  Her damage indicators showed damage to the neck coil, just under the cockpit.  Spinning she caught another blow from Cody’s ‘Mech, a karate chop to her head.  She was caught off guard, since Clan warriors did not stoop to physical attacks, despite the fact their ‘Mechs were humanoid in shape and form. She used her joystick to angle her targeting reticle on the inner-sphere scumbag but he made that difficult, bitch-slapping her ‘Mech about the cockpit/head hard.  The impacts of the open-palmed slaps made her bite her lip, suffering 1/3 a hit point in damage.  Curse you Cody Brightstar!

Using her neurohelm to control the massive Sidewinder, she unleashed a roundhouse kick.  Cody’s nimble Stinger ™ tucked and rolled and her leg crashed into the building she stood next to, sending a wall of bricks and wood falling onto her.  Cody came out of his summersault, stood and ran.  She went to lock weapons on him and unleashed a blast with her CT-001 Piercer Model J pulse laser.  A stream of 4th of July-like sparklers of red and blue filled the space between them, glancing off of Cody’s right leg for four points of armor damage and eight points of paint damage.  She wanted to unleash the fury of her SearTech 8-9-200 Particle Projection Cannon but cursed to herself.  He’s within my minimum range, so I cannot shoot him.  Curse that surat-loving pond scum!  She broke into a run in pursuit but his erratic dodging and tendency to run through the crumbling buildings, coupled with her own ‘Mech sinking deep into roadway which was never built to handle 60 tons of running OmniMech, allowed Cody to evade her pursuit.

He will not get far.  The next time, I will have range on him and he will die, perhaps even with honor. 

* * * * *

Cody’s sprinting had heated up his ‘Mech so much that he had to pull his s’mores off of his cockpit dash and store them in the cooler near his seat or the chocolate would have melted and made a sticky mess.  I won’t let that happen again!  The air in his cockpit smelled of marshmallows, the sweat of dead relatives, and the stick of his own despair.  It was the smell of desperation and victory.  His earpiece in his neurohelm chirped.  “Tight Testicles – come in.  This is Range Rover ™, over.”

“Go ahead Range Rover ™,” he said, happy to hear Dax Starscream’s gravelly voice.

“Our sensors show Shamalamadingdong moving towards the south edge of Central Park.”

“Roger that,” Cody said pulling up Mapquest ™ on his tactical display and waiting for it to recalculate.  The old park was perfect.  Flat, clear of debris, it stretched for three miles.  I have her now.

He trotted his modified Stinger ™ and brought his new weapons to bear.  When he reached the edge of the park he knew Shamalamadingdong’s sensors would pick him up.  Before she could charge, he activated his direct channel to her.  “Star Commander, this is Lieutenant Brightstar,” he said in his best Sam Elliot/Daniel Radcliffe voice.  “There is nothing between us, I suggest we slug it out at this range.”

Shamalamadingdong roared with laughter and he pictured her unibrow furrowing.  “We are at least 60 hexes distant and you are in a Stinger ™.  Even if you could swamp out for LRM’s, you couldn’t hit me at this range.”

Cody adjusted his father’s fuzzy red dice so he could make her out better in the distance.  “Then you have nothing to worry about, unless you are afraid of me.”

“I fear no man.”

Bring it on witch!  “Then I double-dog-dare you, come and get me!”

Her Spitting Sidewider ® started to move towards him, casually, arrogantly.  Cody hit the target interlock trigger button (TITB) and fired his four missiles mounted on his torso.  The missiles streaked out and slammed into the Sidewinder ®, sending massive chucks of armor flailing into the air like butterflies scattered in a stiff spring breeze.

“Impossible!” Shamalamadingdong howled.  She picked up her pace trying to close the gap.

Cody locked on his machineguns and opened fire at 40 hexes.  The bullets couldn’t miss the building-size ‘Mech, riddling its armor with each step.  Cody stayed locked onto her, pausing only to take his s’more out of the mini-fridge in his cockpit.  Each step ripped her armor apart more and more. Piles of .50 cal armor piercing round casings littered the ground around his ‘Mech, forming small piles as he unleashed machinegun fury.

At 35 hexes range he triggered two more stubbier missiles.  They streaked in hitting her ‘Mech’s crotch region, penetrating deep and blowing it apart.  The Sidewinder‘s ® left leg fell off and Shamalamadingdong plunged forward, furrowing a trench in the sod of the old city park.

“How?” he heard her gasp.  “You used a machinegun beyond its three hex range.  And those missiles, you hit me at two miles out.  That is inconceivable!” Pure frustration and quasi-erotic fury rang in her words.  Cody was tempted to touch himself he was so happy.

“I raided the old military museum.  I outfitted my ‘Mech with 21st century Browning machineguns, MGM-140 ATACMS and FGM-148 Javelin missiles.”

“But their ranges and the size of their warheads….”

“All 20th century tech.  I know, it surprises the hell out of me too.  Hey, what can I say, sometimes the best tech is the old tech.”

“You cheated.”

“I turned information into ammunition – literally,” he replied.

She struggled for several agonizing moments to get her ‘Mech upright. It listed like a Marine in port on payday.  “You have won Cody Brightstar.  Urban is yours to keep.  The Tin Sloths will depart.”

Cody grinned.  “I guess that makes you my bondsperson,” he finally replied.

Shamefully she replied, “Affirmative.”

“Awesome!  First things first, you’ll need to cut that unibrow of yours in half.  Second, report to my HQ for duty.”

“What assignment will you have me fulfill?”

“Laundry Shamalamadingdong – starting with the underwear I have on.  I may have spoiled myself a little at the start.”

# # #

So there you have it – the most horrible BattleTech fan fiction ever written…a tribute to every horrible piece of fanfic out there.  I stopped counting the mistakes, errors, and illegalities involved with this at 51 – so this parody is fairly robust in its violations of the laws of God and man.

I fully anticipate at Gen Con this year seeing Clan Tin Sloth patches and t-shirts, because no matter how bad this was, there will be some that love it.  Me, I’m looking forward to the logo for Clan Nova Shart which is destined to surface at some point.

The Worthless Lessons I’ve Learned From Star Trek – Or Why I Would Never Beam Down Anywhere

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Let’s face it, we all have put on the red shirt at one time or another

A while ago I wrote a blog post on the leadership lessons I got from Star Trek  The Leadership Lessons of Star Trek I wanted to do a blog post at one time about the practical lessons you learn from watching Star Trek.  In other words, by watching Star Trek, what life lessons do you gain – mostly from a cynical perspective.

Let me begin by saying I’m a huge Star Trek fan.  By the same token, there’s some stuff that really drives me nuts about the universe.  When you objectively look at some things you notice as trends in the IP (Intellectual Property) you cringe a little. I know this is sacralidge with my fellow Trekkers, but let’s be real – some things DO seem odd.  These are things I’ve learned from my observations of the TV series and movies:

Most alien races are dangerous, evil, and should be attacked immediately.  Obnoxiously, most aliens that are encountered are not benign or even friendly. It is best to shoot first, negotiate treaties later.  Most of Deep Space Nine could have been resolved with a nuke-the-site-from-orbit-first approach.

The Prime Directive is hopelessly flawed and often ignored.  The Prime Directive is like the speed limit.  It’s a law, but everyone disregards it.  And frankly, it’s a douchebag law.  So the Federation has all of this technology and knowledge and does not share it with less advanced cultures.  Why?  What’s so great about them evolving naturally?  Remember, the Federation had outside influence of the Vulcans and that turned out okay, but they deny other cultures that same opportunity.  Seems pretty sleazy to me.  Killing the Prime Directive would have made Star Trek Voyager far more entertaining.  Only the Q seem to get it – they interfere in a big way.  The Klingon’s aren’t burdened with the Prime Directive and are just as powerful as the Federation – implying you really don’t get a lot out of having a Prime Directive.

All members of any alien race all act and behave the same.  All Romulans are all schemers.  There are no snowflake Klingons.  Only humankind (and the Ferengi) has any variation as a race.  So what’s with that?  There should be some redneck Romulans or some gangsta Klingons don’t you think?

All aliens speak the same language.  I’ve been to places in my own country where I cannot understand the language being spoken, but in space, it’s all generic.  Don’t whine about “universal translators” to me either.  There should be at least some different accents.  A little Creole Klingon would be cool – kinda like Swamp People meets American Ninja Warriors.

Mankind moving beyond the need for monetary gain, is still pretty much a bunch of egotistical, power-hungry asshats.  The Federation has removed money as a motivator, implying of course it is evil.  What has it gained?  Nothing.  The Federation has a number of corrupt leaders out after power.

A lot of the worlds we see in the franchise wouldn’t be worth visiting.  There’s a lot rocks and scrub brush, but few really beautiful places.  Most planets that we see on screen rate right up there with a tour of Death Valley.

With hundreds of worlds and seemingly endless resources, all governments are interested in securing more territory – more planets.  Why?  How many Class M worlds do you freaking need?  Is overpopulation an issue?  After the first dozen, why not say, “We’re cool.”  You could stop exploring, which we have seen is inherently dangerous, and focus on domestic programs.  Exploration equates to death in Star Trek, ask anyone wearing a red shirt…oh right, you can’t – they’re all dead!  Exploration brings on encounters with hostile races and apparently adds very little to your civilization.

The future lacks cars, tanks, boats, etc.  In a universe built on voyages, nobody has personal vehicles – only starships.  That seems, well, impractical.

Why would you ever beam down to anywhere?  It seems that with transporters and communications systems, it is much safer to just never go down to another planet.  The start of everything bad in the Star Trek universe begins with someone beaming down to some planet, ask any red shirt.  As we’ve seen, when you beam down you will be killed, accused of crimes you didn’t commit, kidnapped, tortured, killed, get sucked into a war, involved in a terrorist attack, lose your memory, get killed, get a deadly disease, get chased, travel in time, get poisoned, fall in love and have her die, get forced into an archeological dig, and get killed.  (I know I mentioned killed a lot, there’s a reason for that.)  The only reason you need a doctor on your ship at all is if you beam down.  Stay aboard the ship and call it in.

Technology causes more problems than it solves.  Star Trek has taught us that many of the hazards of space travel are caused by the technology.  The transporters is the worst.  I mean seriously, would anyone use one of these things given their unreliability and casual breaches between universes?  The stuff that technology does resolve in an episode is usually caused by technology in some way.  It’s as if there’s still a Microsoft in the 23rd century, forcing reboots of starships every so often.  Worse yet, technology is often the villain – i.e. the Borg.

While we’re on the subject of technology, aside from cloaking devices and quantum torpedoes, there is no new technological advancement in decades of the Star Trek universe.  Sure tricorders got 22% smaller, big whoop.  We had a genesis device that could make entire planets (which was awesome), but that supposedly just got locked away and forgotten.  Ships pretty much look the same and do the same things after decades of the series.

Starships are complicated and control panels are dangerously explosive.  The interface controls for starships is all buttons and touchpad controls.  Lots of buttons and controls that require physical interaction.  Wow.  That’s what we have now.  So you’re limited to the speed of human reaction.  In reality, interfaces would be massively simplified – even aboard something as complex and big as a starship by the 23rd century.  You should be able to drive a starship with your iPad.  On top of their complexity, in battle, these control stations explode.  It is probably just me, but that does not seem people friendly in their design.

The governments of the Star Trek universe are pretty stagnant.  Despite all of the wars in Star Trek, only the Cardassians ever really got their assess whipped, and they totally deserved it.

No one uses camouflage in space.  Why have a gray-white starship?  Wouldn’t it be harder to hit if it was, I don’t know, black?

The same thing with uniforms.  Oh, you’ve made it easy for me to identify and target your command staff by the color of their uniforms…thanks! And no pockets except for Star Trek: Enterprise.  These polyester unitard uniforms really seem too tight to be comfortable.

Time travel has been cracked, but almost nobody abuses it.  Assuming there is some parity between the governments in the known universe, only the Borg have said, “Screw it, let’s go back in the past and mess things up.”  For me, that would be my opening move the minute everything started to go wrong in an episode.  Apparently you can travel in time in any old starship, even a Klingon Bird of Prey loaded with two whales, but nobody does it.

Starfleet operations does a crappy job of assigning ships.  There’s far too much of this, “we’re the only ship in the quadrant,” BS.  Even a cop rolling up on a suspicious vehicle does so with backup.  It’s like StarFleet subcontracted United Airlines to arrange their flight schedules.  In Star Trek that concept seems to be lost on StarFleet Command.

Mankind is the superior race in the Federation…no alien race has actually elevated the Federation more than man.  Any substantive race in Star Trek is considered evil.  The Borg, who merely want efficiency and equality are bad.  The Klingons who favor a martial tradition are bad  The Romulans are all bad too.  Don’t even get me started on the Cardassians.  Only those races that are subjective to mankind (example:  Vulcans) are considered good.

Despite StarFleet, despite the technology, Earth and other words are virtually defenseless.  Oddly the only world that had a real defense was Cardassia and we all saw how that ended.

None of the real old civilizations survived.  There’s hints of other older civilizations that sounded pretty cool, but they all die out.  It’s as if the Mayans were trendsetters in the universe. The older civilizations and races just freaking disappear.

Every starship travels on the same plane of flight.  When ships meet in space, they are not askew but always appear to be flying on the same invisible plane.  Space, the last time I checked, is three dimensional.  (I double-checked – yes, it still is!)

No one is fat in the future (except Harry Mudd).  If you had replicators that could make anything, you’d be eating a lot of foods I’d think.

Somehow human names like Romulus and Remus are adopted and used by alien races long before contact with mankind.  That should raise a few eyebrows.  We certainly didn’t name things after the Klingons – BEFORE WE KNEW THEY EXISTED.

The only redeeming race is the Ferengi.  That’s right.  They run casinos and bars, have dancing girls, holosuites, you name it.  Humans are boring in Star Trek.  You want to have fun – it’s with the Ferengi.

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This reminds me of a motivational poster I saw in the office.  

I know the true-believers out there will tear me apart for this…I get it.  Star Trek is sacred to most of us.  But everyone should question their faith – in a TV series – every now and then.