Game Concept: #3 – Hawkeye

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“We work at the same university.”

“Yes, and Hawkeye is one of the Avengers, but no one ever says, ‘Help, Hawkeye!'”

-The Big Bang Theory

I have a healthy respect for the underrated character who provides support, but isn’t necessarily on the movie poster.  I think the world relies on people like that to stay turning.

Hawkeye is one of those characters that no one really knows what to do with.  In the Avengers movies he was pushed to the side.  In every game adaptation I’ve seen he’s either minor, or left out entirely.  Only one source seemed to know how to handle him.

Marvel comics has a Hawkeye book with minimalist 60’s style art that only covers Hawkeye when he’s not being an Avenger.  It’s brilliant because it’s human.  Like all of Marvel’s heroes, he’s got personal crises to deal with and relationships to maintain, but unlike the rest of Marvel’s pantheon, he’s only got his wits and a bow.  There’s no super suits, or vast arrays of money, no great show of force he can bring down.

Now, I know better than to suggest a game where you run around Manhattan picking up Hawkeye’s dry cleaning and going on blind dates (this isn’t Spider-Man 3).  Instead, what I’d like to see is Marvel meets Metal Gear Solid.  Hawkeye can’t just come in guns blazing (though we’ll come back to that), so he’d need to rely on stealth and cunning to defeat enemies.

The Arkham games have shown us that stealth and puzzle solving can be both challenging and entertaining.  My idea isn’t to retread the Batman games with a Hawkeye skin, that’d be fun but unoriginal.

If we remember that Hawkeye (at least in some cases) is a spy for Nick Fury, then that has the potential for a lot of interesting stories.  We could have Fury trying to get information on a cartel, or AIM’s activities in Russia, or investigating spies within SHIELD.  The first hurdle the game would bring is as an espionage thriller.  You’d sneak around a foreign city (eastern Europe sounds great for this kind of thing because it always worked in the Cold War) and try to gather intelligence on the enemy cell.  It’d involve capturing operatives as they moved through the streets, hopping from rooftop to rooftop to get an angle on a thug and take him down with a tranq arrow.

Once you had information on the headquarters of the enemy cell, then we go into Solid Snake territory.  A sneaking mission into an enemy fortress where you only have your bow and your stealth to rely on.  (Though we sometimes see Hawkeye with guns, as shown below, so guns are an option).  You could even break it up into a series of missions, (i.e. the tanker chapter of Metal Gear Solid 2, or Peace Walker).  I like the idea of being on the prowl in a suit like Hawkeye uses in the Ultimates (see below).

Plenty of puzzle based challenges, several different types of arrows to fire, and you could get into mechanics like Sniper Elite with the functions of a bow.  Could make for interesting game dynamics.  A target range to practice would be essential.

The culmination would be a final boss fight against an obviously superior opponent and it should be really difficult to take him (or her) down, not because he or she can withstand so many arrows, but because their firepower is greater than yours and you can’t get shot but once or maybe twice without going down.

A game about a capable human in a world of superhumans.  I think Bruce Wayne and plenty of others could get behind that idea.

 Hawkeye

Game Concept: #2 – Days of Thunder – The Game

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Earlier this year I had the dismal experience of playing this year’s NASCAR video game.  These games, invariably EA products, have been put out as standard fare since the early 2000’s with a brief interlude around 2010.  Absolutely none of these within the last 10 years has had any particular imagination to it whatsoever.  There was a certain amount of innovation with the multiple car racing we saw in 2004, but other than that, any of the games is practically indistinguishable from any other, with the exception of graphics, which constantly improve every year and are not worthy of noting.

What all of these games lack, is what makes a game like EA’s Fight Night Champions, so worthwhile: story.  Imagine if you will a NASCAR game which had a character you actually care about.  In the same way that in the college football offerings you can follow a single player through his career, imagine having a driver that you create with attributes that matter.  This could be a “create-a-driver” if necessary, but it may be more interesting to have an actual writer to craft a story.

With something like this, you could vastly raise the stakes on a per-race basis.  You could have a story which you need to finish in the top 10 to impress your sponsors, followed by actually seeing the reaction of those sponsors.  You could be trying to build team unity so you assist a teammate in a tight spot.  The drama of the sport allows for dozens of stories to be told, both with influences on and off the track.  Rivalries, tension, major incidents are as much a part of NASCAR as 76 racing fuel.

There is great potential here and we don’t have to go far to look for it.  You could have each season have an overarching storyline and there are five or ten seasons worth of stories to tell just based on the history of the sport.

Just off the top of my head:

Season 1:  A young rookie struggles to gain respect, sponsors and money within the sport (plenty of source material available)

Season 2: Controversy on the team as a rivalry begins with a seasoned and well-respected driver.  Coming to a head with battles on and off the track.

Season 3: Scandal over an alleged cheating incident with officials accusing our driver of using an illegal setup on the car (come from behind in the points)

Season 4: Sponsorships become scarce unless the driver can maintain top 5 finishes.  Also we see a new talent emerge as a threat.

Season 5: Expansion into multi-car ownership.  We explore owning a raceteam along with driving one of the cars.

Season 6: A struggle to overcome an injury or hardship off the track.

Season 7: A company offers a special prize for winning all the big races in a particular year.

These are just a few ideas, blatantly stolen from the various movies about NASCAR which have been done over the years.  There are better stories lying in wait, just waiting for a good writer to explore them.

NASCAR is one of the world’s most popular sports.  It deserves a better class of game than what we’ve been seeing for the last decade.  Embracing the moonshine and good-ol-boy past of the sport can serve as a fun spice to the genre.  We can have mini-games based on great races from the past (Daytona 1976, Darlington 1985, Daytona 1979, Atlanta 1992).  I’d love to see, (as we did in 2003’s offering) a track on the sands of Daytona Beach, with the old time cars and drivers.  Ignoring the sport’s rich history and dramatic present does a disservice to all the fans who are also gamers.

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Explorers Remake: A Modest Proposal

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About 20 years ago I enjoyed one of the childhood pleasures that my kids will never understand: browsing a video rental store looking for things to watch on a long weekend.  My dad, enjoying movies about as much as I did, would often let me wander around a Blockbuster or a Hollywood Video in an aimless meandering journey to find whatever bad science fiction movie I hadn’t yet stumbled across.  Most of the movies I found were worthless drivel, but they taught me a lot about bad writing, bad special effects, and essentially what not to do as a storyteller.

Still, sometimes you stumble across a gold nugget in the stream of VHS.

Explorers is a sci-fi movie with a cult following.  My 8 year old self had no idea what that meant, which didn’t matter because no one had ever told me about the movie anyway.  I do remember being intrigued at the basic premise; kids not much older than me at the time built a spaceship themselves and have adventures flying it.  Anyone who knows me can’t be surprised that this got my attention fast.  

One of my favorite aspects of the film is its “lived-in” feel.  There are few scenes that look like they were shot on a set and everything you see gives you the sense that it wasn’t just taken out of a box.  Even the dialogue and tone between all the characters hints at shared stories that we, the audience, don’t know and a camaraderie that we don’t necessarily have to witness.  It’s comforting on a subconscious level and you never feel like you’re watching a film as much as watching the neighborhood kids playing.

I remember, as a kid, loving every minute of the film, the same way I remember loving food from McDonald’s and the watermelon-smashing comedy of Gallagher: I loved it mostly because I couldn’t recognize its flaws.

Last week I was glad to read an optimistic article which said that a remake of the film was in the works.  Not being one to shy away from a new project, I’ve taken it upon myself to present an idea for the inevitable rewrite of the film.

Before I begin to bore you, let me tell you the basic story of the original (spoilers ahead):

Ben (played by a very young Ethan Hawke in his first feature film) is a kid obsessed with science fiction movies and outer space (sound familiar?).  He has dreams of flying over a gigantic circuit board of some sort and describes some of the components to his nerdy friend Wolfgang (played by a young River Phoenix in his first feature as well).  

Wolfgang takes Ben’s drawings and assembles the circuit board which he then plugs into his (1980’s) computer.  The boys quickly discover that the board contains a program which can create a bubble in real space.  The program asks for the boys to put in coordinates which they do and they discover that the bubble can move with great speed and agility and that it pushes aside anything in its path.  

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Another friend, Darren, who has protected the pair from bullies, joins them in testing the bubble to see what it can do.  On a hilltop outside of town the friends make a bubble large enough to contain Wolfgang, at which point they promptly lose control and Wolfgang gets taken for quite a ride over and then through the hill itself.

After turning the program off Wolfgang reports that the bubble is airtight and while inside it he had no inertia.  Interpreting this for the others, he concludes that they can use the bubble to travel as fast as they’d like with no side effects.

At this point, like any teenage boys would, they use the device to spy on a girl Ben likes.  

With Darren having access to the local junkyard, the boys find an old Tilt-a-Whirl ride which has seen better days.  They use it as a chassis to build a spacecraft to fly inside the bubble.  There’s a fun montage of its construction but I’ll save you the trouble and show you the finished ship, which they call Thunder Road.

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Clearly it’s not a spectacular marvel of engineering, but that’s kind of the point.  It’s built from junk.  It’s been made with love and sweat and it’s just the kind of thing that middle-school kids would put together.  Nothing about it, or the rest of the movie, has a polished feel.

The initial flight of the Thunder Road causes a fair amount of UFO sightings in the town and ends with the destruction of a perfectly good concession stand at the local drive-through (I really miss old movies).  

While in the air, the computer controlling the craft goes haywire and begins to take the boys straight up.  Only by rebooting and tricking the program do they regain control and return safely to the ditch where their flight began.

After a debate as to whether to go again, the boys return for another flight.  This time they trust the dreams that they have had which encourage them let the aliens take control of the ship.

Their next flight swiftly takes them out of the atmosphere and far beyond Earth.  They pass over the Moon and are being carried out into space by the program which has taken control of their craft.  

This concludes the first hour of the movie.  At this point the movie begins to take a hard left turn into ridiculousness and it’s easy to see why it failed to make back even half of its low budget at the box office.

Thunder Road is taken in by a much larger alien craft and the boys leave the vessel to explore the ship.  Getting separated by the inner workings of the alien vessel (which has a real fun-house feel to it), the boys soon find the two aliens responsible for their journey.  As much as it pains me to do so, I’ll show you what one of the aliens looks like:Image

Somewhere out there Jim Henson is rolling over in his grave.

It turns out that the aliens only know of Earth from the images they have watched on television and so they communicate with old stand-up comedy lines and newsreel footage and clips from old shows that are always slightly out of context.  It’s funny, but only for a minute or two.  After a long chat with the pair (who happen to be brother and sister) the alien ship is itself swallowed by a much larger alien vessel and we discover that these two aliens are merely adolescents themselves.  They have absconded with their dad’s ship to go and play with the Earthlings.  No grand message, no wisdom of the universe to impart.  Just a couple of kids on a joyride.  It’s charming, but it’s also a little disappointing, both to the boys and the audience (or at least me).  Even the director remarked in later years that he wanted something a little more powerful for the overall message.

After being forcibly kicked out in their tin-can spaceship, the boys fly back to Earth and crash-land in the water outside of town.  They manage to swim to shore with little difficulty, but the Thunder Road is a total loss.  

Soon after the boys, along with the girl they were spying on, have another shared vision of a large circuit board and the movie ends on this optimistic and ambiguous note.  

Well, by now surely you’ve all begun drumming your fingers at this mess of a tale and are certainly wondering what could be done to save it.

Remakes are always tricky ground.  It’s important to honor the original without duplicating it.  It’s difficult to please the first audience while appealing to a new one.

I don’t think any fan of the film would disagree with me that the first hour is excellent and really only the last half is in need of rework. 

Armed with this, I propose the following:

For starters, keep the first hour as is.  It’s fine with the circuit board, the bubble, the junkyard spaceship, all of it works.  I say don’t change a thing there.  You can change the ship design or paint scheme but I wouldn’t mess with it too much.

Rather than a joyriding pair of space aliens on a weird fun-house ship, let’s give them a proper destination.  Mars immediately comes to mind, but maybe something farther out would be more interesting.  Maybe a large structure around Saturn or something on Pluto (minor planets need love too).  

You need something more important than alien teenagers on a joyride, so I’m thinking that an alien race chooses these kids as ambassadors of some sort.  They want to impart knowledge or wisdom or maybe just their own narrative to mankind, but they fear that adults will just react with distrust and violence, so they choose to have our main characters be witnesses to their goodwill.  This might involve something like giving them insight into solving a major problem (cancer, global warming, energy, famine).  Still, I wouldn’t want to turn this into a political film or one with a message that some would construe as being leftist or even right-wing.  

I think it’d be interesting to throw in an element from The Cassandra Project and have adults try to mount a mission to discover whatever the boys find out there.  There could be a side plot with a real spaceship being built to fly somewhere and it is rerouted to see if these aliens are real and discover whatever there is to find.  This leads to interesting possibilities with first contact stories or something with cosmic significance.  There’s a lot of ways to play it.

Let’s boil it down to the main elements after the Thunder Road gets built.

– Ben and the boys fly up to meet the aliens by letting the alien program take over the ship.

– The computer takes the ship to Mars or the far side of the Moon where they find a structure of some sort.

– Once inside the boys exit and make their way through an alien library or museum of some kind.  As they go through they find records of technology and civilization more advanced than ours.

– The aliens present themselves in some form which isn’t a ridiculous green rubber suit.  Something like an AI on a screen or just a talking voice or at the very least we see something which is identifiable and aesthetically pleasing, but still with an alien biology behind it.  The air whales of sci-fi books or the Eosapiens of Alien Planet could be good as a guide here.

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– Our heroes are told that these beings seek out other life in the universe.  They want to interact with us to preserve their knowledge and understand ours.  Perhaps they suffer from an ailment that is dooming their species and they need something unique in our biology as a cure.

– The boys, naturally hesitant at first, and perhaps arguing among themselves, agree to take the message of these aliens back, but they demand some evidence so that they will be believed.

– The aliens return them in the Thunder Road along with plans for a new engine that will allow for fast travel in the solar system.

– As all this is happening, NASA is hard at work building the Darwin spacecraft in Earth orbit.  The commander of the mission is one of the all-American hero type astronauts and he’s idealistic about space exploration, just like Ben is.

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– The boys fly the Thunder Road back to Earth and land at the NASA center in Houston or Huntsville.  They want to pass along plans for the new engine and they have a hard time getting the attention of the scientists until they fly the Thunder Road around the rocket garden and show that they are serious.

– NASA immediately reroutes Darwin, armed with the new engine, to search the alien library and decides to send along a contingent of soldiers to make sure the aliens aren’t hostile.

– When the crew of the Darwin reach the library, they are disarmed by the technology there and find that the boys and the Thunder Road have already arrived ahead of them.  

– The boys apologize for leading military types back to the aliens, but say that they tried to encourage the adults not to respond with distrust, but some things are inherent for mankind.

– The aliens, military, and the boys all come together in a moment of understanding that life is rare in the universe and whenever it is found, it should be preserved and celebrated.

Obviously this needs a little work, but I think it’s the starting point for a better story than the original, while preserving a lot of the same elements.

As with all of these posts, this is one I’ll continue thinking about in the future.

 

Character Interview: Caleb Reese

One of my favorite things to toy with is the cross-pollination of stories from different genres or times.  I find it fascinating to place a character from one story into another tale and see how he or she would go about things differently.  This is fertile ground for storytellers and it reinforces the idea that I carry that most good stories have already been told in some form, but that there are many good stories left by rearranging the pieces of those gone before.  

I’ve always been a fan of The Ghost and the Darkness, both the movie and the true story.  The story has everything I could ask for in terms of adventure, history, engineering, emotion and heroism.  It has characters that are as big as life and an enemy that is direct, understandable and yet also mysterious.

Similarly, I love the idea of Indiana Jones (like everyone my age does) and I like the fact that you can tell so many different stories through the eyes of that character.

I’ve been kicking around a retelling of Ghost and the Darkness with a sci-fi, alien bent.  Imagine an alien safari of some sort.  In so doing I began thinking of my John Patterson character and I wanted to use an engineer from future days.  A character that would think as I do, but live in a very different world from myself.  Like Indiana Jones, I want to be able to recall this character for more than one story and build a universe around his various adventures.

Rolling these ideas into one I did what I’ve learned other authors do from time to time.  I interviewed my character.  What follows is a transcript of that interview which I hope will allow me to log the ideas that I’ve had with this as well as get a feel for the character’s voice.  

To boost interest, I’m tacking in several bits of concept art (none of which are mine and all of which have been stolen from very talented artists online).  As far as I can tell all are in the public domain, but I’m happy to remove anything that offends.

 

An Interview with Caleb Reese

Tell us your name, residence and occupation.

Caleb Reese, you can call me Cale.  I live in Liberty, the only domed city on Mars.  As for my occupation, I own my own business.

What type of business is it?

Reese Design and Consulting.  We specialize in engineering projects, usually of an unusual nature.  Our consulting division is often brought in to supervise special projects or to resolve situations for our clients.Image

Can you elaborate on these situations and projects?

Well, our clients have confidentiality which precludes me from discussing many of the details.  I can tell you that we were asked to oversee the design and construction of a bridge project on Sonora, the Spanish colony in the Gliese system.  That was a particularly harrowing project as we had issues with some of the local wildlife. 

From time to time we will take on special cargo for our clients.

Can you tell us more about that?

We cater to some clientele that have unusual requests.  Out of respect for their confidentiality, I shouldn’t say more.

We promise not to tell. 

Ok, why not?  Last year we were hired to perform a survey and salvage of an atmospheric research ship which was flying in the clouds of Uranus.  The ship had been abandoned for months and we were asked to rendezvous with the vessel, determine if it could be raised from the atmosphere and if so to salvage and return it to its owners.

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Were you able to save the vessel?

Sadly no.  Once we boarded, certain hazards presented themselves and we did our best to obtain as much data as we could before leaving.

What manner of hazards did you encounter?

We had been told that the mission was purely scientific, and in a way it was, but the research in one section was of a military nature.  We encountered a defense system that very successfully kept my team and I out of the engineering areas.  In addition, we had problems with an artificial intelligence which ran the ship and was determined to keep these weapons from ever getting out. 

After about 40 hours on board, securing an area away from the defense network and using the time to consult with the ship’s AI, we blasted out of there on our intercept shuttle.  Shortly after we departed the ship descended into the lower clouds, never to be heard from again.

We understand you yourself have an unusual vessel.  Can you tell us about that?

Yes, a few years ago we received a commission to design and construct a luxury spacecraft by Hun Hong.

The leader of the Chinese Technology Market?

The very same.  Richest man in China or at least he was.  He asked us to design the ship and then oversee construction.  She was designed to his specifications and put together in the orbital shipyards here over Mars.  We were a week away from closing out the build and certifying her for flight when we got the word that Mr. Hong had passed away.  His children had disputes about how his fortune was to be divided up, but in the end, none of them agreed to pay for the ship that we’d built.  It was a huge financial blow to our company, but, without another buyer, we’ve done our best to turn the ship into an asset.

This is a luxury spacecraft commissioned by a Chinese billionaire.  What kind of ship did he commission?

She’s called the Orca.  Mr. Hong was a fan of marine wildlife back on Earth and he wanted a ship in the same basic shape as a killer whale.  She was built with a carbon alloyed skin which gives her a black color.  That’s accented with white paint along her keel and just aft of the cockpit to complete the look.  The cockpit is located basically where the eyes and brain would be.  The Orca’s nose opens to allow entry into the bay.  The bay is the largest room on the spacecraft.  Tau requested us to outfit it as a ballroom or banquet hall for up to 50 guests.  I think he planned on using it to schmooze with business contacts and the like.  We use it now to haul cargo.  Though we did keep the chandelier in place. 

There are a series of staterooms along the top of the ship, over the ballroom.  The upper level also has access to the engine room which is located in the aft section, or what you’d have to call the tail.

The Orca uses a fusion drive.  Thrust is routed through her fins on the sides and the tail.  These are all movable which allows for great maneuverability in docking situations. 

And you use the ship for cargo transport?

For the moment.  The ship has been listed on the open registry for more than a year now.  Unfortunately, it seems to be too highly priced for any takers so far.  We’re trying to get our investment in the project back and so, for the moment, we’re not willing to come down.  If you know any eccentric millionaires who are interested, let me know.

Currently we’ve been using the ballroom to store water tanks.  We’ve been ferrying water from trans-Neptunian asteroids back to the inner system.  The cargos are easy to manage and we can complete a high-burn transit each month.  This has allowed us to keep our head above water in terms of the bottom line.

You mentioned special cargo before.  What sort of secret projects do you have?

I have an uncle who operates a genetic laboratory.  His primary field is paleohusbandry with an emphasis on gene splicing.  His specialty is in predators. 

What does that all mean?

He breeds ancient predators and sometimes combines their abilities to make even better, faster, stronger predators.

How is that possible?  Or legal?

As far as the possible, I don’t get all the biology enough to say.  You’d have to ask him.  As for the legal, it’s highly illegal.  Even in his lab at the Ocean of Storms. 

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The Ocean of Storms?  He lives on the moon?

Yeah.  He’s officially doing gene studies for cures to some exotic diseases.  That research is funded by the Solar Health Organization and it’s all above-board.  His night job is breeding predators and that is done in secret out of the same lab, which is 20 meters below the lunar surface.

Who wants these large predators and what for?

His clients are just as varied as ours.  Usually he’s breeding them for genetic engineers to research on.  Sometimes it’s for some of the off-world colonies if they have trouble with local pests.  The one time we worked with him, it was for a client who had something more sporting in mind.

Sporting?

My uncle was asked to breed a super-predator based on Smilodon Fatalis, the famous saber-toothed tiger.  With his ability to splice other genes he was able to give this new breed not only saber teeth, but also low ambient vision so he could see at night.  There were also enhancements to the cognitive abilities of the animal.  Nothing close to sentience of course, but the intelligence was amped up a bit. 

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Why was the animal made?

Our client was a hunter with a lot of excess cash to burn.  He liked to challenge himself with big game and soon standard life on Earth could not give him a run for his money as a hunter.  He chose not to be like the crazy guy in Most Dangerous Game and instead he had animals designed to challenge him.

With our particular cat, which we named Smiley, our client asked us to drop him off at the ruins of Wrigley Field in what was once Chicago.  I’m told that Chicago was a city of some importance before the firewar that left it in ruins.  From there Smiley was hunted.  It was a battle of wits, just him against our client.

Who won?

As a man named George IX still rules the British Empire, I think it’s safe to assume Smiley was hunted down.  I’m sure it was a battle for the ages though.

Your client was the King of England?

Who else do you know with that much power and wealth who is a fan of hunting?

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We’ve heard rumors that you are something of a hunter yourself…

Not exactly.  What you’re most likely referring to was our encounter on Sonora.  We were building a bridge between 2 different settlements.  On Sonora the atmosphere is much denser and so the settlements are built at high altitude on mountaintops and in high plateaus.  We had our robotic drones on construction…

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Sorry, before we go on, who is “we”…

Oh, Sanjay Evans, my business partner.  He’s my right-hand man for whatever comes up.

Okay, do go on…

Our drones were working in amongst the lowlands and the cliffs building the pillars to support the superstructure.  We began losing them at an alarming rate.  After discovering that the losses weren’t due to accidents or malfunctions, we found a local predator was attacking our drones through their software.

An animal was attacking with software…?

Well, yes and no.  The animal was a quadruped and looked similar to many of the big cats one finds in Africa, though the head and coloration was like nothing I’ve seen before or since.  It seemed to feed on electrical energy.  The creature used electricity both as an energy source and a hunting tool.  It found lots of natural electricity in the ion currents which passed through the mountain chasms.  To such a beast our drones must have looked like candy.  The electrical surges emitted from these creatures (we came to call them Manticore) would cause our drone’s circuitry to overload or in some cases to misprocess the commands which were given to it.  Bits and bytes of compute cycles were eaten away and over time the drones would malfunction, or worse, be attacked outright by the Manticore. 

How did you resolve this?

Essentially we had to go on a hunt.  We had two Manticore who had claimed our territory as their own.  It was a matter of trapping and removing them.   We tried to do it humanely (not that that term really applies; this was alien wildlife after all).  In our first attempt we lost three drones and one of our assistants (a human) was badly injured from electrical discharge.  In a second effort the perimeter of the village was compromised and the electrical grid was taken offline for an entire night.  The villagers began referring to the two beasts as the Aztec and the Mairu, both of those names having significant cultural meaning to the Spanish colonists.  After that we abandoned traps and moved to more lethal methods.

Guns?

I’m not proud of it but yes.  Ordinarily I’d hate to use such a brute force solution, but at the time the price for elegance and nuance was going to be paid in lives.  I couldn’t risk any more injuries to our people.  Sanjay and I built a small structure to see the plain and below our platform we hung generators to try and lure the creatures.  It was from this rig that we shot the first Manticore.  Sanjay killed the beast known as “Mairu” with a single shot to the head.  It was clean and quick and I hope painless for the animal.

Over the next 3 days we were practically haunted with the cries from the other animal.  The creature called “Aztec” mourned for the loss of its partner.  I was content to move on and try to resume construction, but when we sent in a pair of drones the next day; Aztec immediately attacked and destroyed them.  It was more than defense or feeding; it was vengeance.  That animal knew we had killed its partner and it wanted to kill us in kind. 

After a bad night in our custom built structure, we abandoned that rig and decided that a low-flying hovercraft might give us the best vantage point for finding and killing the animal.  We had a hoverflyer loaned to us from one of Sonora’s wealthier residents.  I flew the rig while Sanjay hung over the side with a slug rifle.  We spent an hour or so flying over scrub brush, trying to draw out Aztec with static discharges.  As we were flying back to the town to call it a day we were hit with an EMP burst.  No one had suspected that was within the creature’s capabilities.  In retrospect, it was hubris on our part to think we could anticipate the moves of any wildlife, let alone an alien one. 

As we climbed out of the crashed flyer we realized that we were surrounded by electrical currents in the air and through the ground.  Aztec had set his own trap for us. 

I cannot recall a time where I have felt more fear for my personal safety.

Sanjay and I stood back-to-back scanning the edges of the hills to spot the beast approach.  It was just before sunset when Aztec made his move.  He charged at us from the direction of the sunset.  The low light meant we could not see his approach clearly.  It was as if he was born from the light.

Sanjay managed to fire a shot as he leapt at us.  The shot missed wildly and the beast’s attack knocked both of us to the ground.  Sanjay was injured and unable to get up.  I drew the small pistol that I kept at my side and pulled the trigger.  Nothing happened.  The pistol relied on electrical components which had fried from the currents around us.  Not knowing what else to do I flung the sidearm at the beast.  It struck him directly in the head, but seemed to have little effect.

As a last resort, and now fully expecting to be killed, I drew my knife.  Aztec flung himself at me and it was only with a quick movement of my arm and wrist that I managed to get my knife into his flank before he killed me.  It was pure dumb luck on my part and I hope that I never have to deal with a similar situation again.

What happened after the kill?

I called in a rescue flyer to scoop up myself and Sanjay.  The next day construction resumed, unimpeded this time.  Both Manticore were buried and I sent a formal recommendation to the authority for colonies that the valleys be kept off-limits to human interaction.  I also recommended that a biological survey team be allowed to examine more of the surface by balloon and flyer observations.  Sonora got its bridge and the indigenous wildlife got what I hope will remain a stable and human-free environment to thrive within. 

Did you keep a trophy of the kill?

Absolutely not.  The entire incident sickens me.  The beasts were simply defending their territory against an alien encroachment.  I made a point to bury both bodies to keep them away from scavengers and trophy-seekers alike.  I did not feel at all like rejoicing in their deaths.  It was simply another adventure in a long line of them, some with good outcomes, some with bad.

Mr. Reese, thank you for talking with us today.

Absolutely, thank you.

 

As you can see, there are 2 or 3 stories here worth telling, and enough background to get a decent start.

I’ll be expanding on this further in newer posts.

 

Novel Concepts: #3 – Superhero in Rome

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I’ve always enjoyed the twisting of time and story.  I’ve found this to be fun both in creating and receiving.  Joss Whedon’s Firefly was arguably the first to open my eyes to the concept.  Essentially Firefly takes classic Western-style stories and gives them a science-fiction backdrop.  And as anyone who was alive and liked science fiction in the last 10 years will tell you, the combination was as addictive as chocolate and peanut butter.

In a similar vein, I have been kicking around an idea for taking a superhero character (an original, not one borrowed from the comics we all know) and placing that hero in an ancient setting.

Rome seems the ideal place to house such a character.  The city in its classical period was as much a home to art, commerce, culture and crime as it ever was.  Athens or the empires of Egypt offer the only other choices.  Sparta is too popular these days.  Athens isn’t thought of as a center for corruption, and I personally don’t know Egypt well enough to center a story there.  Rome, however, allows me to draw upon my rudimentary knowledge base (3 years of Latin has to count for something).  Rome can be easily populated with characters which will allow for proper villains.  No hero is complete without an acceptable opponent.  The catch is not to fall into cliche.

The next question to tackle is the super-natural.  This is where I find the biggest problem personally.  My desire for realism, born of a disdain for the unexplained and an affection for the Nolan-verse, does not allow me to easily embrace a supernatural ability for my character.  In a similar way, I’ve always thought of the Romans as more borrowing the Greek mythology as a placeholder.  I think many ancient Romans would have expressed a skepticism for the gods and goddesses as their religion so often became a target of politics. (The Senate could literally vote on the apotheosis of a particular person. — Remind anyone of a tradition still found in Rome today?)  I’m torn therefore between involving a god or goddess from the Pantheon to imbue my hero with certain powers; perhaps earned through deeds or just granted for merit.  This would take away a sense of realism, but realism cannot be a part of every story.  In the same line of thought, a hero without a special power of some sort would likely soon either fall into military service or be used as a tool by someone more powerful.  The Romans had a way of identifying strength and using it for political ends.  More and more I think involving a deity might be better for the story.

I want to tell a story about justice in the ancient world.  I haven’t yet begun my research in this area, but I suspect that, in ancient Rome, those who were wronged were often hard-pressed to find justice.  Rome was a republic, but like any capitalist society, the rich often had an excess of wealth and power which led to social injustice.  Social injustice inevitably leads to crime and the police forces of Rome, such as they were, were more about order and military protection than they were about justice and balance.  Modern police forces are centered on crime, investigation and apprehension.  This is a relatively new concept on the world stage.  With my story, I would take an individual who has experienced a personal injustice and use that as a fuel to seek justice for all.

As ancient Rome was, like nearly all societies, a male-centric culture, I think perhaps a female center might be more interesting for this piece.

I want to bring full circle the heroic concepts that began with Homer, continued to today with our modern heroes and I am sure will always carry on into the future.  There will never be a human culture without heroes and any culture that begins without one will soon create one.  Heroes come in many forms and as our culture progresses I sense that the heroes of the future will not come with muscles or weapons or the ability to fight.  The heroes of the future will not be born of battle.  They will come with ideas and ideals.  They will be armed with courage and conviction but it will be channeled into thoughts and words rather than punches and kicks.  Future societies will be centered on intellect and technology and their heroes will reflect that.  The day will come soon where heroic violence is a concept as barbaric as slavery.  In the mean time, I will try to bring larger-than-life heroes back towards their origin.

The photo is a screen capture from a Batman: Brave and the Bold episode, but it’s a decent enough starting point.  It’s not entirely what I’m going for, but it gives a sense of the elements that I will bring to the story.

Novel Concepts: #2 – After the Storm: Scientific Utopia

On a hill in Georgia there stands 4 monoliths of enormous size.  Lofted on them is a capstone which serves as the mechanism for a massive astronomical instrument.  Inscribed on the monoliths are rules to follow after the end of the world.

Sadly, that’s not an original concept that I just made up.  Life, as we all know, has a habit of being stranger than fiction and the monoliths are very real.  They have been standing, stoically, waiting for Armageddon, since before I was born.

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Earlier this month I began reading Christian Nation, a novel which is chilling in its vision of a Christian right triumphant in its desire to rule America and eradicate any non-Christian voices.  As I read, I began to think about what type of society I might set up if given free reign, just as the Christians in Rich’s novel were given free reign.  

My ideal society’s foundations would be built on scientific exploration and technological advancement.  I think we would do well to rid ourselves of the influences of organized religion, as well as forces which contribute to greed and irrationality.  The guidestones refer to an “Age of Reason” which I think is a good goal for any society, to embrace reason in all its forms.  

In a simple novel like the one I’m conceptualizing, it’s too complex to work from our own society as a basis to form the scientific megasociety that I’d like to write about.  Therefore I’m borrowing the idea of the guidestones for a premise.  Based on the fascinating and mysterious origin of the guidestones, (as told by Wired) I am assuming that they were built under the assumption that a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union would wipe out civilization.  Since that didn’t happen, I’m going to use as a premise (and a potential storyline) that those who commissioned the monument are continuing to prepare for an alternate doomsday scenario and that they will refine their methods.  A time capsule seems to have been intended for the site, but never installed.  In my story, the capsule will have been supplemented with a series of underground chambers in which are stored scientific texts and instruments.  This to me seems a logical extension that might be undertaken.

For this work, I would think that 2 or 3 competing storylines might be useful.  One could discuss the creation of the monuments and chambers, involving the intrigues of a secret society with insights into world-shattering events.  Another storyline could be the proto-society that forms in the wake of whatever disaster resets humanity.  

The final storyline would be the main focus though, and for that, I’m thinking of venturing off the usual path and having it be a serial-killer hunt within a reason based society.  A police officer would be our guide to this society as he would have views of the various types of people within it.  Our officer would have solved the only murder in his home territory in the past 20 years and is therefore brought in to investigate when a serial killing occurs.  

Through his investigations we would learn more about the society he inhabits.  For instance, the guidestones instruct humanity to stay under 500,000,000 to stay in harmony with nature.  With an eye for other continents, we would find humanity in smaller states of 100,000,000 each in North America (centering on the guidestones themselves in Georgia), South America, Eurasia, Australia and Africa.  Each of these states would be walled off from the outside world, likely with a collection of feral humans outside the walls.  The trick here is not to venture into Brave New World and see the savages as the voices of humanity.  My path here would be in contrast to this.  The citizens of this society would not be automatons, coldly calculating their way through the day, but would instead have a great respect for truth and beauty, while simultaneously anesthetizing their baser instincts and keeping passion from ruling them entirely.  (Think Vulcan but with better art programs and an openness to emotion.)

For all of their devotion to a scientific ideal, this new society would have reaped great rewards of engineering and technology.  Their resources would be harvested robotically.  Their forays into space would be bold and technically near-flawless.  They would have an overall goal of knowledge, perhaps embodied in a Compendium which functioned as a new wikipedia type of information storage, allowing for the accrual of knowledge to be measured and directed.  

Having built the world that I’d like to inhabit, it then becomes necessary to throw a stone into the pond and watch the ripples unravel what I’ve built.  

A serial killer would be the worst possible enemy such a society could face.  It’s the test of rationality against a coldly irrational yet calculating opponent.  The killer would be able to think like a rational person, but would embrace chaos and death.  I’m picturing the killer as one of the feral men beyond the walls who sneaks into the heart of the city to sew death and dispense God’s own justice to the unbelieving masses he encounters.

A simple cat and mouse game would not do for such an elaborate setting though, and so my killer would instead have a long-game in mind, which would conclude with him detonating a thermonuclear device within a major city in a desire to destroy the secular scientists with a holy light of fire.  At this point the leaders of this society would have to determine whether to respond with overwhelming force and exterminate the feral humans or to leave them as a kind of biological preserve to study and examine.  Such a debate would allow for allegories and historical references wherever useful.

This concept is still in its infancy, but I hope you’ll agree that it has merit and potential.  I look forward to exploring the concept further in future posts.

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Novel Concepts: #1 – Alternate History of NASA 1969-2001

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The last exploration of the moon took place in December 1972.  Apollo 17 lifted off from the valley of Taurus-Littrow with the vague hope that human spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit would continue before the end of the 20th century.  Sadly, this was not to be.

Originally there were to be three more flights, Apollos 18, 19 and 20.  Beyond that, NASA had plans to continue using Apollo hardware through the 1970’s in an effort to build a fledgling lunar base.  There were several factors that prevented this from coming about.  This concept which I am currently developing is a novel that would explore what would happen if we’d continued on as NASA intended.

Stephen Baxter, in 1997, wrote Voyage in which he had John F. Kennedy survive his assassination attempt and use political pressure to have Richard Nixon back a Mars mission in the 1980’s, instead of the Space Shuttle.  He uses the framework of this story to retell the true story of the Apollo Program in the 1960’s, substituting various characters and missions in order to move the story into new areas.  As an aerospace engineer and a historian, the book was everything I could want; but Baxter’s position on NASA has always been negative and I couldn’t square his vision with the optimism that a story like that should possess.  

The inspiration for my new take came from a series of articles about the roads not taken by NASA and various other space programs.  False Steps and Beyond Apollo have been wonderful sources of information on the plans NASA had for continuing the Apollo Program into the 1980’s.  My plan with the novel is to explore an alternate timeline where NASA forgoes the Space Shuttle and, with considerable political support from a major player, continues lunar exploration as a stepping stone to the manned space program I’ve always wanted to see.

The first hurdle with any alternate history story is what’s known as the Point of Departure (POD).  This is the event (or events) which an author changes to redirect the flow of history in the way that is desired.  Often these changes are small and the ripples which lead from them are large.  (e.g. In How Few Remain a single copy of one of Robert E. Lee’s orders, lost in our timeline, is recovered in the alternate history and the ramifications of that single, small event, lead to a Confederate victory and shocking changes to the timeline.)  The point of departure I had in mind is slightly larger, but it too has great ramifications for change.

In early 1964, after departing from NASA, John Glenn, America’s first man in orbit and an extremely popular public figure, decided to run for office in his home state of Ohio.  In reality, Glenn slipped getting out of a bathtub, bumped his head and as a result of his injuries, could not campaign.  I’m choosing to center my POD around this moment and have Glenn be successful in his campaign for the Senate in 1964.  From there two very important things happen.  

Firstly, Glenn writes a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, encouraging him to reinstate the X-20 program which McNamara had cancelled in December of 1963.  The X-20 was the Air Force’s attempt to make a reusable spaceplane for orbital flight, nearly 2 decades before the Space Shuttle’s first flight.  I believe that if the X-20 program had gone forward, several of the problems with the Space Shuttle could have been foreseen and as a result the shuttle program would have either been cancelled, or pushed back much farther until a better design could have emerged with the computer revolution of the 1980’s and 90’s.  The costs and technical challenges which the shuttle developed (and which eventually led to it’s cancellation) are thereby mitigated.  

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Secondly, choosing to use the popularity of a national hero to unite the turbulent America of 1968, Robert Kennedy, who survives his campaign in California, chooses Glenn as his running mate against Richard Nixon.  Repeating the extremely close race of 1960, Nixon loses to Kennedy by a few thousand votes and retires from public life.  The newly elected President Kennedy ends the war in Vietnam as he promised to do in his campaign.  Riding the wave of national pride after the Apollo 11 landing in 1969, Kennedy, encouraged by Vice President Glenn, authorizes NASA to continue the orders for Saturn V rockets and create a lunar base.  

The story I am developing is not entirely the rosy side of a glorified NASA.  I intend to show an imperfect program with setbacks and failures.  I am picturing a framework for the first act of the story which revolves around a stranded Apollo 28 mission which has to use the LESS to escape the moon after the ascent engine of their lunar module fails to fire.  Other problems will certainly develop but I intend to take a more optimistic view of both NASA and America in the last half of the 20th century.

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In the final act of the story, after seeing a moonbase that fulfills the promise of NASA to use discoveries from exploration to benefit both Americans and mankind as a whole, I’ve been thinking about closing with either a mission to Mars following a variation on Robert Zubrin’s plans.  Or perhaps going further with the story and seeing the launch of a voyage to Jupiter of a spacecraft similar to Clarke’s Discovery from 2001.  

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I may expand on this concept in future posts.  

All images used here are not mine and were found through various Google image searches.  If they are protested in anyway, I will remove them promptly.