Monday, September 1, 2014

Malcolm Hulke on Dragons & Distrust: Part 1

The Draconian Ambassador to Earth

What causes two nations to go to war? Sometimes, the decision may be traced to a clear aggressor, a government that wishes to exploit another country's resources. But often, the reasons are more complicated, and only emerge in the years or decades following the conflict. It is the latter situation that British author Malcolm Hulke explores in his 1970s Doctor Who story "Frontier In Space." 

As the Doctor and his companion Jo travel through the time-space continuum, the TARDIS materializes in the path of a spaceship. By quickly adjusting the controls, the Doctor lands inside the ship's cargo hold instead. He sets about trying to get his bearings: what century they've landed in, and the region of space they are traveling through. He quickly discovers that the freighter belongs to the Earth interstellar empire of the twenty-sixth century. This ship is transporting flour, and other foodstuffs, from colony worlds where it is grown, to feed the hungry population of Earth. 

When Jo hears a strange sound, she looks out a porthole to see another spaceship approaching. She hears clunks against the outer hull as the other ship docks with the Earth vessel. Weapons begin to burn through the door. The Human crew rush into the cargo hold to defend their vessels against the pirates attempting to board their vessel. Then Ogrons, a tall, powerfully-built simian race of mercenaries, burn through the outer door. The Human crew shout "Dragons!" and reach for their guns. Amid the ensuing firefight, the Doctor is shot, and Jo screams as he slumps onto the deck.

When the Doctor recovers, Jo tells him that all the flour and other foodstuffs have been stolen. Oh, and the Ogrons also took the TARDIS. Then the Human crew wake up, and lock the Doctor and Joe in a holding cell.

While the two great empires of Draconia and Earth once fought an interstellar war, they have enjoyed a period of peace. Until recently, that is. This attack on the Earth spaceship is only the latest in a series of raids by "Dragons," an unflattering nickname the Humans apply to Draconians. On Earth, the World President questions the Doctor and Jo, whom she suspects are Draconian agents. The Doctor and Jo claim some third party is trying to set the two empires against each other. Jo describes the hypnotic sound she heard before each attack, which caused the Human crew saw their attackers as Draconians. 

The Earth president has trouble believing their story. She has never heard of the Ogrons, a race whose members hire themselves out as mercenaries. She finds the idea of their tiny spaceship (the TARDIS) materializing inside an Earth vessel preposterous. And then there's the testimony of the Human crew, who saw Dragons invade their ship. She decides that the Doctor and Jo must be Draconian agents, who somehow coordinated the pirate raid on the freighter. She orders for them to be locked up, and wonders what she can do to prevent Earth from entering into another war. Draconian pirate attacks have disrupted the population's food supply. Members of the Senate, responding to worldwide riots and demonstrations, have added their voices to the military. It seems as if every person on Earth, aside from herself, wants her to declare war. She wishes that she could believe the Doctor and Jo's story. 

This growing interstellar conflict is hardly one-sided. Draconian ships have been raided too. When their crews returned to Draconia, they testified that Humans had attacked them and stolen their cargo. The citizens of Draconia also rely on regular grain shipments to supplement their overstretched resources. Given the testimony of those aboard raided Draconian vessels, and lacking any proof of the Doctor's story, the Draconian Ambassador believes that Earth's claims about their own ships being attacked are complete fictions. This places him in a delicate position, as he is not only the Draconian Ambassador to Earth, but also a son of the Draconian Emperor. He knows his citizens back home are demanding his father take action. He fears that if the Draconian Empire doesn't declare war on Earth soon, the nobles of the court and the military may find a way to cast his father off the throne.

It's a situation that neither side can allow to continue. War seems inevitable, unless the Doctor and Jo can find a way to stop it. But how can they? The Doctor and Jo hold no valid credentials, and the President's most trusted advisors point to a mountain of evidence to remind her why she must declare war on the Draconians. The President would like to believe the Doctor and Jo, but how can she? Isn't her desire for Peace merely wishful thinking? 

It's a dilemma no one should have to face. Should she believe her friends and advisors, and declare war on the Draconians? Or should she believe the story of complete strangers, who urge her to believe in Peace a little longer, and investigate their claims? All of us face times when we must decide to believe in friendships or sever them. We must choose between isolating others, or continuing to believe in them, and thus keep them in our lives. What we do in those situations shape our futures. So what do you think the Earth President should do? What would you do in her situation?

Dragon Dave

Friday, August 29, 2014

Exploring The Space Shuttle

 Rusty: Look, there's the Space Shuttle!

I guess they're working on it. I hope they don't end up with any extra pieces!

From behind, it reminds me of an Imperial Star Destroyer. I wonder if Darth Vader ever rode in one. Maybe I'll sneak inside for a moment. 

These knobs and switches are cool. And all this to preserve the packaged chocolate pudding the astronauts will consume in space. I bet they wouldn't mind if I consumed one before I finished my exploration of the Space Shuttle. I mean, I'd only eat one…

Say, this cockpit is too cool. I can't imagine how the pilots know how to use so many instruments.

Artist: There you are! I was wondering where you had gotten to.
Rusty: Sorry. I guess time got away from me.
Artist: I know what you mean. This cockpit reminds me of the Millennium Falcon.
Rusty: Yeah, Han Solo and Chewbacca would totally dig it.
Artist: Hey, do you smell chocolate pudding?
Rusty: Umm…

Rusty & Artist Dalek

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kevin J Anderson on Zombies and Ghosts

The Residences of the Dead in Falmer, England

What if death didn't end our lives on Earth? Meet Dan Chambeaux. He's a private investigator who got shot in the head one month ago. Fortunately for him, since an event called the Big Uneasy ten years ago, life goes on for the dead in New Orleans. He's trying to take care of himself, so he frequents a beauty parlor run by morticians, who devote their energies to keeping his hair, skin, and body in peak shape. He doesn't want to be one of those zombies who lets himself go, and have his lips or jaw fall off during an important conversation. Besides, he's got a career, friends who care about him, and a business to run.

As half of Chambeaux and Deyer Investigations, Dan's working a full caseload. Take, for example, the ghost trying to revive his art career. When his family steal his latest masterpiece, Dan tracks the canvas down to the artist's crypt. Trolls have taken up residence there, but Dan peers through the doorway and spies the painting hanging on the wall. The Trolls are willing to exchange the painting for legal ownership to the crypt, but Dan doesn't want to carry the painting out of the cemetery that night. A werewolf, hired by the artist's family, waits among the graves, and being a zombie, Dan can't risk skin and tissue damage from a werewolf attack. Oh, the dilemma!

Or consider the case of a vampire who lives in Little Transylvania. He's relying on Dan to protect him and find his fellow vampires (if they haven't yet been "killed"), so that he can return to his carefree life as an interior designer. Dan suspects the vampires might have vanished of their own accord, as his client obsessively tried to organize them into dinner parties (Note: his client, a former Vegan, only drinks Soy Blood), book discussion groups, and other social events every day of the week. Still, he's concerned by the threatening notes and sharpened wooden stakes left outside the vampire's apartment. Someone might really be after the guy!

While he's working for others, he's also digging into police files and running down leads on his own death. He may still be alive, with embalming fluid pumping through his veins, and bullet wounds sealed over with putty, but it'd ease his mind to learn who had it out for him and why. After all, someone might also be after his partner, the idealistic lawyer Robin Deyer. She may take pro bono cases to defend the rights of the undead, but she'd prefer to remain among the living. And then there's Sheyenne to consider. She may be the best office manager he and Robin ever had, but whoever poisoned her is still at large. He'd do anything for his former girlfriend; her ghostly presence always brings a smile to his face.

I'm currently a quarter of the way into Death Warmed Over, the first novel about Dan Chambeaux, or Dan Shambles as most people call him. I can tell you this: when I'm not laughing out loud, I'm at least smiling. After watching what happened to James Bond in "Live And Let Die," I wasn't sure I wanted to visit New Orleans. But Kevin J Anderson makes the city sound interesting and fun. If this light-hearted undead detective series sounds like something you'd enjoy, head over to, where you can currently download this novel for free. Yes, you read right: For FREE. After all, whether or not you're still breathing, you've still got to feed the need to read. Right?

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 25, 2014

Arthur C Clarke on Compassion

Driving through the mountains of Snowdonia National Park in Wales.
(They've been there for a while).

Imagine the curiosity that would ensue if a mountain appeared overnight. This is the central mystery of Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2061: Odyssey Three. As the mountain appears on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, most people simply get on with their lives. Still, it intrigues scientists, who study satellite feeds of the planet, and wonder how a mountain could suddenly just…be there.

Humans live on space stations, there are missions to the other planets, and the terraforming of Jupiter's moon Ganymede has begun. This has been made possible by igniting the gases of Jupiter, and transforming it into a tiny sun. Its rays warm her moons, turning ice to liquid and gas, and allowing atmospheres to form. But scientists cannot travel to Europa, as the strange Monoliths have banned Humans from traveling there. No Human government seems prepared to disobey this order. After all, if the aliens behind the Monoliths can transform a planet into a sun, what reprisals might they take, should Humans disobey their orders?

Yet some cannot restrain their curiosity. While Heywood Floyd, who participated in the momentous events in 2010: Odyssey Two, travels to Halley's Comet on the spaceship Universe, his grandson Chris travels on its sister ship Galaxy on an orbital survey of Jupiter's moons. Heywood and his colleagues land on Halley, and explore the surface and ice caves of the famous comet. Their exploits whet our appetite for the exploration of Europa, which begins when a hijacker puts a gun to Second Officer Chang's head and says "Land on Europa, or else."

After reading stories set on Fantasy worlds, or Space Operas in which spaceships effortlessly whiz around the galaxy, I enjoyed this true Science Fiction novel, in which particulars such as fuel and orbits become limitations and plot points. I also enjoyed seeing characters like Heywood Floyd, Chris Bowman, and the spaceship computer HAL again, even if the latter two only appear briefly in the narrative. I loved wandering across Halley with Heywood's team, and seeing how the Monolith had impacted the lifeforms emerging from Europa's seas. And, of course, there was the weighty question of how a mountain could arise between satellite sweeps of the Jovian moon. But as great as all those aspects were, what struck me the strongest was Arthur C. Clarke's sense of compassion.

Clarke treats his characters kindly: not just his Human characters, but also his aliens.  Another author would have stationed more officers on the bridge during a nightshift. Chang or another member of the crew would have fought with the hijacker, and someone would have been injured or killed to demonstrate the hijacker's determination. Likewise, Humanity would have suffered reprisals for their disobedience, perpetrated either on the Galaxy's crew, or on the larger population of Earth. 

There's nothing wrong with tense and violent scenes. Such moments can enhance the overall tension of a novel, which keeps us turning the pages. Yet Clarke chose to be kind to his characters, and make his aliens understanding and forgiving. In doing so, he suggests that space might be more than just an interesting frontier, and those we encounter on our voyages might actually be better than us. Not just smarter, or more capable, but more noble, kind, loving, and compassionate. For no person's life is without value, even if they only inhabit the stories we read, and the dreams we dream.  

Dragon Dave

A word of caution. If this post aroused your interest in 2061: Odyssey Three, be careful about how much you read about it on the Internet. There are spoilers out there, even on Wikipedia, and as Clarke's story is chiefly concerned with discovery, they may detract from your enjoyment of his novel.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Baby Elephant Blanket

Blue: By Davros, what happened here?
Hulk: Hulk smash baby elephant!
Artist: That's not funny, Hulk! Nor is it nice to make fun of others. 

Hulk: Proximity Alert! Danger! Danger! Elephant Attack!
Blue: Relax, Hulk. He looks rather friendly to me. Who is he, Artist?
Artist: He's an elephant blanket Mistress made for a coworker's baby. 
Blue: He's cute! Do you think Mistress will make another for us?
Artist: She's already made us an elephant.
Blue: She has? I've never seen him.
Artist: Yes, you need more practice at spotting elephants, don't you?

Artist: This is pincushion. He's small, so he tends to hide a lot. 
Blue: Hi Pincushion. Let's hang out together. What do you say?
Artist: He doesn't talk much.
Blue: He nodded just then, didn't he? I'm sure I saw him nod.
Hulk: Hulk like Pincushion. My kind of elephant, just the right size for smashing!
Artist: No, Hulk! No! You will not smash Pincushion!

Blue: Farewell, Baby Elephant Blanket! I hope you make your new friend very happy.
Hulk: Hulk glad to see Baby Elephant Blanket go! He's too big to smash properly!
Artist: Hulk, I wish you wouldn't be so mean to people.
Hulk: Hulk not mean. Hulk just having fun. Artist not get Hulk's jokes.
Blue: I should think not. He's a serious artist, after all.

Hulk, Blue, & Artist Daleks