Please enjoy this silly voice-over

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Exploring Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga Part 2 – Beyond the Blue Event Horizon

Hello, and welcome to part two of our exploration of Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga. Today, the focus will be on book two of the series, “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon.” In the previous novel, “Gateway,” the reader meets one Robinette Broadhead, the filthy rich, guilt-ridden expedition survivor and somewhat unlikable narrator.

The first thing the reader will notice about the book is this: it starts out in the third person, introducing a boy named Wan, currently living off-world on a Heechee artifact. Next, it switches to first person with a different narrator from the previous book. In this chapter, the reader is introduced to Paul, a pilot, and his family: his wife Lurvy, sister-in-law Janine and father-in-law, Peter.

It is here the reader learns the primary conceit of the story: Robinette Broadhead financed an expedition to find the Heechee Food Factory, so-called because it mines the basic elements of life from comets: Carbon Hydrogen Oxygen and Nitrogen or CHON for short.

As the story unfolds, the perspective eventually shifts from third-person whenever the explorers are involved to Broadhead’s perspective. Broadhead is, once again, our primary protagonist, whom everything revolves around. This time, however, he is much more likable.

Don’t let that last sentence fool you; he’s still selfish, odd and kind of an ass. It’s just that now, he’s not so guilty and self-absorbed. He has a machine intelligence in the guise of Albert Einstein with whom he spends most of his time. His wife, S. Ya Lovorovna from the previous book, helps build and create several machine intelligences throughout the story.

She also becomes a major part of the plot, but I won’t spoil that for you as the result of an interesting concept that was fleshed out in a disappointing way, the 100-day fever. It actually becomes a major plot point, directly affecting upcoming events in the series.

In “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon,” Pohl does an excellent job delivering on some of the suspense built up in “Gateway” and adds a few more interesting elements to the story. The one which sticks out the most in my mind is the Dream Bed, which is essentially a large telepathic transmitter. You can imagine what sort of shenanigans folks can get up to with one of those.

The title refers to the blue hue of the event horizon of a black hole, which is a reference to the end of “Gateway.” It is well done, interesting, engaging and a worthy successor to “Gateway.” There is substantially less psycho-babble and outdated concepts, but the book does suffer from a few anachronistic tendencies and a few inconsistencies. I still highly recommend it.

“Beyond the Blue Event Horizon” is available on Amazon here.

Exploring Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga Part 1 – Gateway

A look into Frederik Pohl’s excellent science fiction novel, “Gateway.”

I am a massive Science Fiction fan. I discovered a love of reading at an early age, thanks to authors like Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Since then, my reading has been all over the map. I’m not sure how the works of Frederik Pohl escaped my attention.

Earlier this year, I discovered a copy of his 1977 novel “Gateway” at my University Library. I haven’t felt this involved in a book series since reading Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. The book is more than a simple space-faring adventure; it is a psychological study of the rich, successful protagonist and his feelings of guilt surrounding his fame and fortune. I found the character so compelling that now, three books in, I’m hooked.

The book follows the story of a man named Robinette Broadhead, feeling rather guilty about something. The story opens with Broadhead speaking with an automaton psychiatrist whom he dubs Sigrid von Shrink. The story then alternates between Broadhead’s in-person (so to speak) sessions with the robot and flashbacks of his time on the Gateway asteroid, with several sidebars creating atmosphere for the narrative.

The story is told in the first-person, so the reader is right there in Broadhead’s shoes as he learns about the asteroid, finds romance, balks at taking missions and finally makes something of himself. Of course, along the way, there are some…shall we say, issues both wrought upon and caused by our protagonist. Broadhead himself is not a particularly likable character at first, but it feels as if he were designed to be that way, as later novels explore who he is more in depth.

The way he treats those close to him is quite deplorable at times, but some of the characters, like Gelle-Klara Moynlin end up playing an important role in the story later on.

“Gateway” is both futuristic and unique, introducing an alien race called the Heechee and their amazing faster-than-light technology.  The novel stands well on its own, but also serves to set up an entire series of adventures revolving around the Heechee and their wondrous technology.

The technology is fascinating, especially with the mystery surrounding it and the fact that despite the danger, humans constantly take out ships on prospecting missions to attempt striking it rich.

There are also, as with any older sci-fi story, some interesting anachronisms. Tapes are regularly used to store and retrieve information, for instance. There are a few more, but I recommend reading it for yourself to find out.

This is an excellent book, well-liked and a winner of both a Hugo and a Nebula award in 1978. The book was popular enough to spawn computer games, five sequels and a possible TV movie, which seems to be locked in production hell at the moment.

Of course, after what SyFy did to to Riverworld, perhaps we don’t need a Gateway film.

If you like “Gateway,” be sure to check out its sequels, “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon” and “Heechee Rendevous.” Stay tuned for part 2 of this series coming soon!

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Retro Retrospective – Nintendo Nostalgia

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Over the past few days I’ve learned that >The Legend of ZeldaKid Icarus and Double Dragon – among others – are now at least 30 years old. Playing these games as a youth, while certainly fun, was never something I saw myself thinking about as an adult.

Nowadays, when I have the time for it, I still love to play Zelda. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the heck out of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m still a huge Castlevania fan, which should not surprise anyone at all.

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The first scene of a classic!

Following the release of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, none of my peers thought about those older games. Whenever I would mention my Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo or Game Boy to my friends or
others in my age group, they would mock me and scoff at my lack of a modern gaming system.

“When are you going to join the 20th Century, man?” my old buddy, Joe, would say, “I can’t believe you still like those stupid, old games, anyway.” He was acting goofy, providing some levity to the afternoon. His joke was funny, in context. Others, who said similar things, however, were much more serious.

This response – the insolence of youth – narrows down to only one thing: the foolish belief that anything old has no value. To truly believe there is no value in older technology, games, content, books or otherwise is not only a foolish notion, but an ignorant one. It’s the same reason that for centuries, works of art and literature have been destroyed or lost: ignorance and impudence. But, that’s a conversation for another time.

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Watch out for the eyeball creatures!

Today, we’re here to talk about Nintendo! Not reflect upon the downfall of society past, present and future. Let’s have some levity! Keep things bright! Nostalgia is overrated! As Alex Lifeson of the band, RUSH would say, “Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah-dee Blah!”

Something interesting happened around the year 2006-2007. Suddenly, I began seeing so-called retro consoles all over the place: at flea markets, electronics aisles in big box stores and even at our local gaming shops. It was interesting. Then, so many websites popped up, extolling the virtue of ‘classic’ and “retro.” I began talking to some of my former peers and learned many of them not only had entire collections of Nintendo and Super Nintendo games, but were now avid fans and collectors.

Nintendo unveiled its Wii Virtual Console and that brought retro gaming back into the public eye. The popularity of this service has led to its presence on every Nintendo console since. Even Sony and Microsoft are getting in on the nostalgia game, with releases of arcade ports and retro game collections. While the Rare Retrospective was certainly nice, however, I would much rather prefer a way to play Battletoads again on a Nintendo Console.

2219621-nes_battletoadsI was quite the pro at Battletoads. I beat it fourteen times. I’ve been meaning to play it again. I’ve been saying that for five years, though, so we’ll see what 2017 brings into my gaming queue. At the moment, I have more games than time to play them.

Battletoads seemed unique for its time, an apt parody of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which themselves were a parody of Daredevil comics. I’ve always found anthropomorphic characters interesting: Bucky O’Hare, the four Ninja Turtles and Fox McCloud all seemed great when first I heard of them.

Then again, viewing those same characters through a different perspective shows that Star Fox the TMNT have become a bizarre, convoluted mess that is geared toward younger kids and I don’t want to talk about Bucky O’Hare. It is unreasonable to be upset by these realizations. The truth of the matter is simply that they are products of their time and any new iteration of them is not being made for me or my generation. I accept and embrace that and believe others should, too.

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We all knew this was coming

Nostalgia is weird. I think we’ve all heard the phrase, “through rose colored glasses” referencing something we enjoyed from our past. Time and perspective certainly make fools of us all, I suppose. Some things hold up well for me: take Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, for instance. I can go back to those episodes and re-watch them over and over. The acting is (mostly) good, the effects are practical and the stories are usually compelling. Babylon 5, however, is a different story. While I loved the plot, characters and themes, the visual effects make it very much a product of its time, due to the use of nascent CGI FX. I can see myself re-watching it at some point, but it is highly unlikely.I cannot honestly say I would watch it again for any reason other than nostalgia. So, when I sat down to play some of my older Nintendo games, imagine my surprise when I ended up enjoying most of them just as much today as I did as a kid.

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SMB 3 – a Classic

A few did not stand up to my self-described ‘time test,’ but many of them did, to my surprise. The original Super Mario Bros. and its three sequels, are certainly great fun. Games like Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Run wouldn’t exist if people weren’t interested in those older Super Mario Bros. games.

Dwelling in the past, being nostalgic, or simply just enjoying older/retro things is perfectly fine, so long as it isn’t taken to an extreme. Collecting has its value. Enjoying the games for what they are has its value. Retro gaming is – to me at least – a hobby more than anything and can be picked up and put away as I deem fit.

No longer is there a stigma attached to the hobby, thanks to my generation’s love of everything retro. I find that fascinating. To be part of the hobby for the fun of it, rather than for the nostalgia is a nice touch.

The games I always enjoyed have returned to the spotlight. Now, some of them are

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This thing is more elusive than Bigfoot!

prohibitively expensive. Then, in late 2016, Nintendo released the NES Classic Mini, a miniaturized version of the original system, pre-loaded with 30 classic games. Eventually, I may find and play one, but it is unlikely because the system is officially dead now. My original NES broke in 2010 and I’ve never found the time or funds to replace it, unfortunately.

That isn’t a problem, though. Several other options are available: there do seem to be a few other prospects. Retron has several different multi-cartridge units available, Yobo makes the FC Twin and the Raspberry Pi seems to be coming into prominence in the Do It Yourself gaming scene these days.

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The AVS, available from Retro USB

Another option is the AVS from Retro USB, which appears to be the most promising NES Clone on the market these days. The system has full HD capability, does away with the ancient NES power brick and plays most original cartridges (what, according to Nintendo Power Magazine, Nintendo once called ‘Game Paks,’ in an attempt to give them a separate identity from other gaming cartridges of the time).

Per the product page at Retro USB, the AVS also features firm ware updates and an online scoreboard. Why don’t I already own one of these? Perhaps I will pick one up soon, along with a handful of cartridges (Game Paks).

A Super Nintendo Mini is also on the horizon, for a 2017 holiday release, including the unreleased Star Fox 2, which I’m looking forward to playing…if I can find one.

The Holodeck and Content Analysis in Science Fiction

I watched an episode of Star Trek: Voyager last night, where the holodeck characters became self-aware and decided that the creImage result for star trek voyagerw of the ship were demons, devils, sprites, fairies etc…It was bizarre and typical of the sorts of conflict a science fiction genre program would introduce during the time frame in which the show was produced.  If anyone is curious, the episode in question was Episode 237, Spirit Folk.  I find it interesting how two of the best episodes, at least in my opinion, in the series (One Small Step and Blink of an Eye) were in this season, but was followed by and interlaced with all of the bizarre holodeck weirdness that is The FAIRHAVEN Program.

This episode got me thinking about just how often the holodeck malfunctions in the Trek Universe. I wonder what percentage of holodeck characters in the Star Trek Universe become self-aware at some point during the execution of their program? Sounds like an opportunity to do some content analysis.

First off, we’re limited to the Star Trek Universe.  While it may be interesting to look at other worlds and novels, I believe that would only cloud the data.

Second, we have a relatively small sample size here, culled from only three, perhaps four television series’ and foImage result for star trek voyager fairhavenur feature films.  Remember, The Original Series didn’t have a holodeck; they had a Rec Room and a promiscuous captain. I’m certain there is a list of episodes over at  Memory Alpha.

Finally, I wonder how common the trope of a malfunctioning holodeck really is. I’m sure TVTropes has some information on the subject, but I don’t know much about that site, so I’ll let the reader decide for themselves. Also, why would humanity put themselves at the mercy of a series of light and force fields that can hurt them? What sort of research questions could we come up with based on this type of content analysis? These are the mysteries of Sci-Fi. If anyone is interested in helping tackle this just for the heck of it, feel free to let me know!