New Trailer: The Expanse

expanseHey folks, long time! I’ll get right to the point. I came across these trailers lately while chatting with my fellow fans of SF and Space Opera (SO). As you may know, one of the highlights from SD Comic Con every year are the trailers for upcoming movies and SF television series. Well, this year, a particularly interesting looking trailer was featured, one which got a lot of people excited.

Based on the novels of James S. A. Corey, the Expanse is set 200 years into the future, when humanity has colonized Mars and established a mining colony on Ceres. Tensions are brewing between Earth and Mars and a full-scale conflict is feared. Meanwhile, the people who work the Asteroid Belt (known as Belters) are resentful over the ways they are exploited by planetary governments and are threatening to revolt.

Enter into this a detective looking to solve a murder, but who naturally gets caught up in a web of intrigue. Naturally, the trailer impressed quite a few people, and Lauren Davis, the writer from IO9 who was there to write about it, even went as far as to say that this is the kind of show fans of SF have been “wanting since Battlestar Galactica”.

You can see why from the trailers. The show is dark, gritty, and has a realistic feel that puts human nature at the center of all its predictions for the future. Below is the first full-length trailer that made it to ComicCon, followed by the expanded trailer that aired just before it:

Source: IO9

The Elder Scrolls Online

theelderscrollsonlineThe news has been percolating through the internets about this MMORPG for some time. And it seems I’ve finally gotten in the know. While I’ve never considered myself to be much of a gamer, I loved The Elders Scrolls IV: Oblivion and the latest installment Skyrim with abandon. And I never got in on World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Battlestar Galactica or any other of the many online RPGs that have come out over the years, and kind of regretted that.

And the way I figure it, a massive-online gaming universe where you get to play against real people, and which is set in a fantasy realm that’s one part mythos, one part LOTR, two parts medieval warfare, and all parts kick-ass, is sure to be way fun! And given the fact that its parameters are way larger than a conventional installment in the game, I’m guessing that you get to play in the franchise’s expanded universe, rather than in any one setting.

And I’m growing rather tired of playing COD: Modern Warfare 3 online. Two many idiots, homophobes and members of the Aryan nation for me. And waaaaay too many pros who’s favorite saying in the world is “You Mad Bro?” Anyway, check out the trailer for the game below. I’m off to set up an account!

 

The Future is Here: Cellular Computers!

dnacomputingComputing has come so far in such a relatively short space of time. Beginning with comparatively basic models, which relied on arrangements of analogue circuits (such as capacitors and resistors), scientists were able to perform complex calculations, crack impenetrable cyphers, and even know how and where to deploy counter-measures against incoming missiles. And as we all know, sometimes you have to look back to the fundamentals if you want to move any farther ahead.

And that’s precisely what researchers at MIT have done with their latest innovation: an analog computer that works inside a living cell! A massive step towards a future where machinery and biology are one and the same, these “cellular computers” were not only able to perform arithmetic, but also more complex functions like taking logarithms, square roots, and even do power law scaling.

biological-analog-computers-in-cells-640x353This news comes on the heels of researchers at Stanford who were able to create a biological transistor inside a cell. Relying on DNA and RNA to create a “transcriptors”, the Standford researchers were able to create a biological logic gate, and all on the microscopic scale. When combined the sorts of digital and analog circuits common to computing, this research could lead to powerful sensing and control platforms built on very small scales.

And like many recent innovations and developments made within the world of computing and biotechnology, the possibilities that this offers are startling and awesome. For one, all cells work with a certain biological clock, which regulates growth, circadian rhythms, aging, and numerous biological process. Thus far, the researchers in question have been hosting their biological computers in bacterial cells. But if they were to develop analogous circuits that operate in mammalian cells, these functions might be brought into better use.

DNA-molecule2What this means is that we could be very well seeing the beginning of biology that is enhanced and augmented by the addition of technology on the cellular level. And not in the sense of tiny machines or implants, things made of silicon and minerals that would regulate our blood flow, administer drugs or monitor or vitals. No, in this case, we would be talking about machines that are composed of self-regulating DNA and RNA and work in the same way our organic tissues do.

On top of that, we would be able to create things like flash drives and computation software from living tissue, cramming thousands of terabytes of into into a few cells worth of genetic material. Human beings would no longer need smartphones, PDAs or tablets, since they would be able to carry all the information they would ever need in their body. And the ability to do this could very well lead to the creation of AI’s that are not build, but grown, making them virtually indistinguishable from humans.

caprica_6And you know what that means, don’t you? The line between biological and artificial would truly begin to dissolve, Voight-Kampff and genetic tests might have to become mandatory, and we could all be looking at robots that look something like this…

Man the future is awesome and scary!

Sources: Extremetech.com, (2)

BSG: Blood & Chrome (Ep. 9-10)

bsg-blood-and-chromeWe come to it at last, the finale of the webseries BSG: Blood & Chrome! And much like with the rest of the show, my feelings were largely positive, with just a few rejoinders. There were some flaws, some weaknesses; mainly things that pointed to some writing and/or production issues. But overall, it was a testament to the enduring appeal of the relaunched franchise and its creative team.

And I look forward to when the Syfy network will be airing it this month, as I imagine an official launch will correct a lot of these bumps. As I’m sure we can all agree, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with bigger budgets and more oversight! But of course, I digress. Here’s what happened in the final two episodes and the culmination of the webseries.

Episodes 9-10:
BSG-BloodnChrome-CottonThe series opens once again with our heroes being held up inside the resort on Djerba after the Cylon attack. Toth is dead, and once again, an argument erupts over what they are to do. Adama and Kelly insist they continue, but Coker raises his weapon at her and demands that she divulge the details of their mission first. She begins explaining that the target is an automated communications hub located on the planet, and her mission is to upload a virus contained in her dogtags.

They proceed on foot to the communications hub and find it undefended. Kelly hops on the Cylon terminal and begins to upload the contents of her dogtags, but Coker shoots her when he sees a Battlestar on the display screen. He tells Adama that she is a traitor, and that the Cylons spared her back at the resort because they saw what she was carrying in her dogtags and realized she was one of them. Kelly shoots Coker and holds Adama at gun point, and explains that her betrayal is necessary since the Cylons are just defending themselves and value life more than humans do.

bsg-blood-and-chrome1Adama shoots Kelly and destroys the array. She leaves Kelly behind and drags Coker away from the array. Together, they wait outside in the snow for a rescue and Coker reveals that he has a wife waiting for him back at home. Coker then gives Adama the photo and apparently dies, and a Raptor arrives to pick them up. Back at the array, a semi-humanoid Cylon comes to Kelly and tells her that her “more enlightened” views do not excuse her from the Cylons hatred, and then snaps her neck.

Adama finds himself aboard the Galactica and is met by Commander Nash, who explains to him that they knew of Kelly’s planned betrayal and moved accordingly. While they were on Djerba and the Cylons were following Kelly’s transmission, the “ghost fleet” struck at a dozen Cylon installations and bases along the front. He gives Adama a pep talk about the need to sacrifice all things, even the facts, for the sake of the war effort, and Adama reluctantly accepts. He is transferred to a Viper squad and is reunited with Coker, who appears to be alive after all.

Adama joins the fleet and begins flying as a combat pilot. The war continues, with Colonial forces winning, and the series ends with Adama sealing a letter to his father.

bsg-blood-and-chrome_fight

Summary:
Like I said, there were some weaknesses in this final installment which I could not overlook. It still managed to deliver and ended on a high note, but the bumps along the way need to be acknowledged. First, there were some scripting errors which were pretty similar to stuff found in previous episodes and evidence of cut corners. This could be written off as due to budgets and the need for quick production, but what can you say? These things tend to stand out.

First off, there was the fact that Toth is written off and is not seen again after his quick death in episode 8. Much time was dedicated to the fact that this man was as a survivor who managed to stay alive in a hostile environment permeated by Cylons and their ugly creations. But as soon as the attack party shows up, he goes down mighty quick and is never heard from again. Feels weak.

And then, in the course of yet another argument of what they are to do, Coker and Kelly discuss the true nature of their mission, and it sounds like a broken record on repeat. Basically, she tells him that their target is an automated communications array not once, not twice, but thrice! All the while, he keeps demanding she tell him everything, but she just says the same thing each time:  “The target is an automated facility. The automated facility is six km from here. It’s automated so it’s undefended.” That’s basically what she says. Did the writer forget to proofread or something?

And they also confirm in these last episodes that the resort was a place where the Cylons were carrying out experiments on human anatomy that were clearly part of their ongoing efforts to merge the organic with the synthetic. So… why was Toth based there? If this was a Cylon facility, why was the lone survivor of the special ops team hiding out there and using it as his personal base? Wouldn’t that be considered bad tactics, since it was a guaranteed way of getting the Cylons to come find you?

And then came the scene where Kelly is confronted by the quasi-humanoid Cylon that is meant to call to mind Caprica Six and the other flesh and blood Cylons from the new series. It is still in production and only has flesh along one arm, the rest composed of an anthropomorphized shell and with a female voice. After finding her wounded, this sympathizer who tried to  help them, it simply tells her that “we don’t hate you any less just because you side with us”, and then proceeds to snap her neck.

Seriously, that was kind of dumb. This is a woman with operational intel of the Colonial Fleet who helped to design them. Why would they kill her, except out of some sense of blind, irrational hatred designed to prove that the Cylons really and truly were evil? That was my feeling in this scene, that it was set up to disprove everything she said about how the Cylons value life more than humans. And I couldn’t help but feel that a much better plot point would be to have them take Kelly’s and use her to further their experiments with creating biological machinery.

But of course, there were good parts as well and plenty of saving graces. For example, I was kind of wondering what happened to the rest of the ghost fleet after the Osiris jumped in to Djerba to do their attack run. Turns out, it was earmarked for a big offensive in other sectors. Made sense, and also provided some simple but effective resolution to the story and explained how the war effort got turned around. What’s more, the ending provided some hints that a continuation would be in the works, a series that follows how the Colonial Fleet went from fighting a losing war to beating the Cylons and sending them into exile.

And sure enough, the special effects, tone and tempo of the show never failed to impress. In the end, as with the rest of the series, you get the unmistakable sign of quality and attention to detail which anyone who loved the relaunched series or Caprica would come to expect. Yeah, at times you get that artificial environment or “that doesn’t look real” feeling, but sure as shit, the CGI has come a long way in the past few years and its shows here.

Well that about wraps up the BSG: Blood & Chrome series. As I said, it is expected to air as a televised movie this month on the Syfy network, and based on the popularity of that, could turn into the next BSG miniseries. Fingers crossed, because I think there’s plenty of potential to be had here! Not only are William Adama and Coker, as portrayed by Luke Pasqualino and Ben Cotton good characters, but I personally felt that Brian Markinson (who played Commander Nash) didn’t get enough screen time and would be an awesome character.

And of course, there’s plenty of story arc to be had. In addition to all the action and warfare, you could also show how Adama and Tigh first met, how Adama worked his way up the chain of command to become an officer. How he and Tigh fell on hard times, and delve into the motivations of the Cylons and how they came to meet the Final Five and were given resurrection technology way back when. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of prequels, but I tell ya, there’s plenty of material here! Exploit, people, exploit!

Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome

bsg-blood-and-chromeHey there, BSG fans! If you’re like me, then you’ve been in the dark until very recently about the new web series Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. This show, which began back in November, only came to my attention about a week ago, and since then I’ve been scrambling to get my hands on all the episodes.

So for those who don’t know about, do know but haven’t had the chance to see it, or are just getting into it, I hope this will all prove of interest to you. Over the next few days, I plan to watch all ten episodes and review them in three separate parts (1-4, 5-8, and 9/10). Come join me and hopefully this new series will fill the void that BSG and the short-lived Caprica have left in their wake…

Background:
Set in the tenth year of the First Cylon War, the show follows the exploits of the young William Adama as he joins the Colonial Fleet and begins participating in the twenty year war to rid humanity of the machines. The series stars Luke Pasqualino as a young William Adama and was created by Michael Taylor and David Eick.

Distribution of Blood & Chrome began as a 10-episode online series in conjunction with Machinima.com on November 9, 2012, but a televised movie is slated to air in February 2013 on Syfy. Depending on the success of that, we might just see a new prequel series in the works! Never been a fan of prequels, but based on the strength of the webepisodes thus far, I see some serious potential!

Episodes 1-4:
battlestar-galactica-blood-and-chromeThe story opens with Bill Adama writing to his father, explain why he has enlisted in the war. This gives us a quick precis of how the Cylons revolted against humanity for what appear to be unknown reasons, and how the war to bring them to heel has been going on for some time and at the expense of many lives. We then cut to a firefight in progress where Adama is engaged with two Cylon Raiders and uses some sweet and unorthodox moves to take them down. But of course, it’s all a simulation.

We then see Adama arriving on a shuttle aboard the Galactica for the first time, where he distinguishes himself amongst his peers as a cocky SOB who can’t wait to get into combat. As a result, he is assigned to a Raptor named Wild Weasel where he meets his surly and jaded co-pilot, Coker Fasjovik.

blood-and-chrome-battlestar-galactica-imgUnlike Adama, he is interested in getting out after his second mandatory term is done and has no patience for hotshots. Neither, it seems, does Commander Nash – Galactica’s CO – who assigned him to make a supply run for their first mission. This mission will take them four days and will completely avoid the enemy, it is hoped.

In the following episode, Adama and Coker find that their cargo isn’t supplies but a software engineer named Dr. Beka Kelly. Adama had already met her in the showers, and the chemistry was clear. However, his feeling soon cool when he realized that she used to work for Graystone Industries, the same company that produced the Cylons in the first place. And as one of the people who helped upgrade their CPU’s, she also had a hand in giving them their intelligence.

blood-and-chrome-4They also learn that their true mission, which Kelly informs of them once they are underway, is to rendezvous with the Battlestar Acheron near the front lines, and to maintain radio silence all the way. What began as a milk run quickly turns into a combat mission! However, when they arrive, they find the Acheron destroyed, the result of an ambush.

Three Cylon Raiders then close on them and things get real hairy, real fast! Luckily, their small compliment of weapons and Adama’s crazy flying skills manage to save their asses. Unfortunately, Kelly tells them they cannot return to Galactica and orders them to send a transmission on an open frequency.

blood-and-chrome-fleetIn response, they are given a set of coordinates which will take them into Cylon space. After a heated argument, Adama and Kelly convince Coker to oblige them and they set course. En route, Kelly reveals to Adama that was once married to Ezra Barzel, a war hero who inspired many young people to join the academy. When they reach the coordinates, they find a series of Colonial “ghost ships” – i.e. ships that were reported lost – hiding in a field of asteroids.

Once aboard the command ship, an Orion-class Battlestar named Osiris, Dr. Kelly meets with the commander and they are all briefed on their mission. The fleet is inbound for Djerba, a planet deep within Cylon territory where Dr. Kelly is to be delivered for some special mission. Adama volunteers to fly the doctor in and she insists that they be allowed to say with her since they’ve come this far together. When they reach the planet, a Cylon base star appears unexpectedly. Rather than abort, the Commander orders a full launch and tells Adama and their escorts to make for the surface…

Summary:
Well, as far as first and second impression go, I was pretty impressed. It was nice to see a new that had the old Battlestar feel. The tone, direction, and visuals are all quite superb, establishing a dark and gritty tone to the story which BSG is famous for. The casting is also quite excellent, and its nice to see several familiar faces in there. Aside from Luke Pasqualino, just about every member of the cast was in BSG or Caprica, and David Eik did his usual thing and makes an appearance as a supporting character.

The rest were all Vancouver-based actors that I recognized from other shows. Always nice to see fellow Canucks at work! And the CGI and music, which comes from the same people involved in the shows predecessors, was nothing short of awesome. In fact, despite it being a web series, Blood and Chrome even improved upon the effects of the original show.

But of course, what matters most here (at least to me) is the plot. Given that this is a limited concept show which comes in 12 minute packets, there’s little time devoted to build-up and character development. Mainly, we are given a premise, some background, and then thrown into the thick of things. However, this is to be expected from a web series, where the format just doesn’t allow for much pacing or exposition. And really, who cares when you got a story like this?

Although it”s still taking shape at this point, the overall plot seems pretty clear. After ten years of protracted conflict, the war against the Cylons is not going so well. The mission involving this “ghost fleet” is clearly a last-ditch effort to win the war outright, and just about everything hinges on its successful completion. Of course, there are going to be several twists and turns along the way, and surely some more deep background stuff that will answer some key questions. Like why do the Cylons hate humanity so much? Why did they turn in the first place? And how do events from the First Cylon War play into the attack which took place some thirty years later.

Eager to find out where things go from here! Stay tuned for web episodes four through eight, coming up next!

A Tribute To Sidekicks

Hey all! Today, I thought I’d cover a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time. Over the few years that I’ve been writing now, something has been missing from this site. I’d payed tributes to franchises, novels, series, movies, heroes, and even robots. But not once have I acknowledged the critical supporting characters who have provided comic relief and made the lives of the heroes that much easier over the years.

And so I present the following list of the top 13 sidekicks from the field of sci-fi, at least the ones that I know of and/or care to acknowledge. Not  a lucky number I know, but I couldn’t bring myself to exclude any of the people here. They are hardly alone in being faithful companions, comedic foils or much needed helpers, but they are the people that I feel capture the full range of side-kick abilities and personalities. Hope you enjoy, and as always, suggestions are welcome, just in case I decide to make further installments.

Abraham Whistler:
This first sidekick comes to us from the Blade franchise where he serves the vampire hunter as mentor, weapons maker, and surrogate father figure. This last aspect is especially important, since it forms the basis of his relationship with Blade. Whereas Blade never had a family, Whistler was robbed of his. Both blame vampires for this travesty, and therefore make the perfect team. Whereas Blade provides the muscle and the daring, Whistler makes the weapons and is the voice of reason.

According to his bio, as provided by the both the Marvel Universe and the movie adaptation, Abraham became a hunter after his family was murdered by a vampire. It was in the course of hunting one evening that he came upon  a teen-aged Blade who was in the midst of preying on a homeless person. After realizing that Blade was a half-vampire (aka. a dhampir), he chose to spare his life and began training him to become a hunter himself.

Like the bad-ass vampire hunter he helped create, Whistler is a man of few words who seems pretty rough around the edges. But, also like Blade, underneath that gruff exterior beats the heart of a man who still seems to care. While he’ll often advise Blade against sticking his neck out or taking unnecessary risks, in the end he’s still willing to go the extra mile to help those in need.

Bender:
From a distance, Bender might seem like a wise-cracking, alcoholic, kleptomaniac robot, but once you get to know him… well, you pretty much realize that’s who is! On top of that, he seems to have a moribund fascination with killing all humans, a theory he has occasionally attempted to put into practice!

However, it would be wrong to say Bender’s a superficial kind of guy. In addition to being terrified of can openers and secretly wanting to be a country-western singer, he’s also shown himself to be pretty sensitive at times. When Fry moved out of their apartment, he went on a Bender of non-drinking, which for him is a very bad thing!

On top of all that, he’s also come through on numerous occasions to save Fry and the crew of Planet Express. Never without complaint, of course, but still. I guess you could say Bender is an exercise in contradiction. An automaton designed to bend girders who excels at not making human lives any easier!

Chewbacca:
Here’s the hairy side-kick who taught us the immutable lesson about living in the Star Wars universe. When you’re in a jam, it’s always good to have a Wookie in your corner! And of the universe’s many Wookies, Chewbacca is probably the best. In addition to being delightfully shaggy, he’s very strong, fiercely loyal, and mechanically inclined. Not a bad guy to have around!

Intrinsic to Chewie’s relationship with Han is the concept of the Wookie life-debt. At some point in the unspecified past, Han came to Chewies aid by freeing him from an Imperial slave-labor camp. As a result, Chewie is bound to Han for life. This is something Chewbacca takes very seriously, as any attempt to put Han is danger is usually met with a severe beatdown! When Han’s family expanded, after marrying Leia later in the franchise, Chewie’s life debt extended to them as well.

Chewie’s past also shows through when it comes to his attitude about restraints. When Luke tried to put some on him, even though it was part of ruse, he didn’t react too well! Beyond that, not much is known, like whether or not he has family back on Kashyyk or elsewhere in the Galaxy. But then again, Chewie doesn’t talk about this stuff. Like most Wookies, he doesn’t talk about himself much, preferring to express himself in a series of warbled utterances or loud growls.

Gabrielle:
The next entry on this list is the faithful, staff-twirling sidekick from the Xena: Warrior Princess franchise. Gabrielle, a former farm girl turned warrior companion, became the model of friendship and loyalty for countless girls and young women all over the world. In addition, numerous Lesbian rights advocates saw her and Xena as examples of the kind of love and dedication that can exist between two women. Whether or not they had this kind of relationship is a matter of speculation; the point is, they did love each other, regardless of whether it was platonic or romantic.

Gabrielle’s story as Xena’s sidekick began in small Greek village after she and her sister were taken as slaves. After being rescued by Xena, Gabrielle wanted to become just like her, in part because she was impressed by her fighting skills but also because she didn’t want to end up in an arranged marriage. The two women became friends and enjoyed countless adventures over the course of their many years together.

As time went on, Gabrielle evolved from being a young, naive girl who stood in Xena’s shadow to being a fully-fledged warrior. Her choice weapon was the staff, but in time, she also incorporated kicking and acrobatic abilities. Eventually, she became a heroine in her own right and was even replaced by the klutzy Joxer as the dependent sidekick.

Harley Quinn:
Here we have an interesting side-kick, one who exemplifies dedication and diabolical intent. A one-time psychiatrist who was brought in to assess Gotham’s criminal mastermind, Dr. Harleen Quinzel soon found herself sympathizing and even becoming enamored with the Joker and helped him escape from custody. Once her involvement was made clear, she fled herself, changing her name to Harley Quinn and becoming the Joker’s full-time assistant.

Making her debut in the Batman animated series, she was quickly incorporated into the DC Comics series. Ever since, she has made numerous appearances in the graphic novels, spin-off shows, and video games. Unlike the Joker’s usual henchmen, she has staying power and the ability to live to fight another day much “Mr. J” himself, as she affectionately calls him.

Though her affection and attachment to the Joker is the picture of obsessive and unhealthy behavior, it is precisely because of this that her loyalty and commitment shines through. No matter what nefarious schemes the Joker gets up to or who he hurts, she sticks by him and always has his back covered!

Kaylee:
Next up, there’s the spunky, charming, cheerful and mechanically inclined engineer of the Serenity! Yes, in the Firefly universe – a universe permeated by thugs, freelancers, mercenaries and privateers – Kaylee is a breath of fresh air and a spot of sunshine. Not what you’d expect in a ship’s mechanic, but that’s an undeniable part of her charm! When it comes right down to it, she is as much at home in coveralls and machine grease as she is in a pretty dress and a parasol.

According to the series, Captain Mal first met Kaylee during a chance encounter when his previous mechanic brought her to the engine room for a little sumthin’ sumthin’! After realizing that she had more talent in her pinky finger than the other dude had in his entire frame, her promptly hired her! Since then, neither Mal nor Kaylee has ever looked back.

On top of all that, Kaylee is quite the romantic. All series long, she held an obvious torch for Dr. Simon Tam, River Tam’s protective brother and the ship’s doctor. Although her early attempts to facilitate a hook-up failed, she later learned that he held the same feelings, but denied them because he was too focused on protective his sister. In the end, they got together, a fitting and happy ending for this pretty ray of sunshine!

R2D2 and C3P0:
Yes, they are technically not a single side-kick, but they come as a pair so I shall not deal with them separately. And when it comes right down it, they really don’t work well on their own since they’re essentially comedic foils for each other. Together, they are the comic relief and workhorse of the Star Wars universe.

Making their debut at the very beginning of the original trilogy, R2 and 3P0 captured people’s hearts as the unlikely duo on whose shoulder’s the fate of the universe rested. Whereas R2 was an astrometric droid, a rolling Swiss Army knife with a stubborn attitude and endless gumption, 3P0 was a prissy, effeminate translator who specialized in protocol and etiquette. Together, they were the robotic odd of the universe!

As time went on, the two bonded and became totally inseparable. In addition, no matter where the main characters took them, they both seemed to always be indispensable. R2 opened doors, interfaced with machines and disabled traps, while 3P0 talked to the natives and advised the group on the safest course of action. While they frequently fought and lobbed insults at each other, their affection for each other was clear. When R2 was damaged during the Battle of Yavin, 3P0 selflessly offered his own components to help fix him. As the franchise expanded after the original trilogy, they even got their own animated show, aptly named Droids.

Robin:
Where would Batman be without his trusty side-kick, Robin, “the Boy Wonder”? Probably dead, to be frank. Yes, this sprightly acrobat has been their for Bruce Wayne on many occasions, pulling his chestnuts out of the fire and taking down the villains who were about to get the best of him. And yet, Batman has gone through several Robins over the years. Only one died, and was even resurrected. But still, that’s a high turnover rate!

The first Robin was known as Dick Grayson, an 8 year old who’s parents were murdered by mobsters, prompting  Bruce Wayne to take him under his wing and teaching him the ways of vengeance and justice. After taking down the man responsible, Batman and Robin went on to have many adventures together until Dick eventually went independent and became Nightwing.

He was replaced by Jason Todd, a young man with a similar backstory. Like Grayson, he was an acrobat who’s family was murdered. But in Todd’s case, he reacted to this trauma by becoming a hard-nosed street kid who stole to survive. After catching him in the act of trying to steal his tires, Batman began to train Todd as his new Robin. Unfortunately, this side-kicks life ended tragically when the Joker killed him and his birth mother with a bomb.  He was resurrected as the Red Hood shortly thereafter, but never reprized the role of Robin.

Thereafter, a string of Robins came and went, but in each case, their basic role and characteristics remained the same. Whereas Batman was always the tall, strapping and bulky hero, Robin was always smaller, faster and slighter of build. And whereas Batman was always the quite, ultra-serious brooding type, Robin could be counted on to tell a joke and crack a joke.

Roger:
Some people might disagree with my choice to include Roger on this list, as he is as much an independent character as a side-kick. However, I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about Roger on this site and this seems like the perfect one! Also known by various personas he’s assumed over the years, Roger is the alien from American Dad that lives in the Smith’s attic, coming down every so often to take part in family affairs and hijinks.

From a passing glance, Roger might seem like a drug-addled, alcoholic sociopath. But there’s a reason for that! In addition to being an avid wine guzzler, coke head, pill-popper, and pansexual weirdo, he’s also reputedly the one who invented disco, the drug ecstasy, Jar Jar Binks, and the man go got the Captain of the Exxon Valdez drunk! Aside from all that, he’s spent the majority of his life avoiding government agents and impersonating colorful men and women.

In fact, Roger is so in love with impersonating other people that fashion montages have become a recurring part of his existence. And while he can certainly impersonate men well enough, his preferred aliases tend to be women. This is in keeping with Roger’s pansexual identity, which seems to involve gender confusion, bi-curiosity, and a total lack of boundaries. In fact, when in women’s constume, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he’s a bit of a tramp!

Many years back, Roger came into the Smith household after saving Stan’s life in Area 51. Since that time, they have had a dynamic not unlike Han and Chewie, where obligation gave way to lasting friendship. Years later, Roger is considered a fully-fledged member of the Smith family, despite his ruinous activities and the high cost of keeping him entertained and under wraps!

Saul Tigh:
Okay, this guy might not be the perfect side-kick, but he’s definitely a rich and interesting character. On the one hand, he’s lived a rather rough and gruff life as a man, participating in the First Cylon War, going through a divorce, then developing a recurring drinking problem. On the other, he was a freaking Cylon and didn’t even know it! So yeah, maybe not the best guy to have in your corner, but he does have his upsides!

According to the relaunch series, Saul Tigh met William Adama in a bar a few years after the First Cylon War. After bailing him out of a close shave with several angry men, the two became fast friends and bonded over their shared experiences. Many years later, when Adama became commander of the Galactica, Saul was appointed as his XO. When the Second War began, he and everyone else were forced back into action.

In time, he became reunited with his estranged wife, a manipulative woman who also turned out to be one of the “Final Five” Cylons. Over the next few years, he maintained his position as XO, continued to have a rocky relationship with her, and never quite shook his drinking problem. In fact, it seemed that whenever times were tough, Saul would turn to the bottle.

Nevertheless, through it all, Saul remained a committed and loyal officer, one could be counted on to whatever what was necessary when the pressure was on. During Cylon offensive, when the Galactica was hit by a tactical nuke, he stepped up and made some tough calls which may have prevented the destruction of the ship. When Adama was shot by Boomer, herself a Cylon sleeper, he stepped into the Captain’s shoes and did his best to keep the fleet together. And when New Caprica became occupied by Cylon forces, Saul led a human resistance that kept up the fight against the occupation until Adama and Apollo could liberate the planet.

All in all, Saul was complicated. He was gruff, short, and had absolutely no patience for people he didn’t approve of. He could also be violent sometimes and was definitely a problem drinker! But he had a good heart and somehow managed to stay sane through it all, even after he learned that he was a Cylon. In truth, a lot of people would probably be dead were it not for this man, which is probably one of the reasons that Adama kept him around. That and the fact that, like Saul, Adama too was a fiercely loyal man.

Samwise Gamgee:
When it comes to dedication, selflessness, and versatility, Samwise Gamgee definitely takes the cake! The noble, stalwart and immensely loyal friend to Frodo Baggins, Sam was the very reason the quest to destroy the One Ring succeeded. Though a bit of a simpleton, his levelheadedness and stout heart were a constant source of strength and support for the Ringbearer. Hell, had it not been for his tireless help, cooking, and ability to come through in a pinch, Frodo would have been dead for sure!

Ostensibly employed as Frodo’s gardener, Samwise became involved in the quest to destroy the One Ring after Gandalf caught him eavesdropping on their little conversation. Before parting company with them, Gandalf instructed him never to let Frodo out of his sight. Sam took these instructions very literally, and thereafter did not leave Frodo alone for one minute! After setting off together, it was Sam who made sure they always had food and their spirits were high.

When Gollum entered their party, Sam never once stopped warning Frodo about him. Though Frodo seemed to think that Gollum had a role to pay or could be redeemed somehow, Sam remained committed to the belief that he was evil and untrustworthy. In the end, he was proven right, but then again, Frodo was in a way too… whatever, it’s complicated!

Towards the end of their quest, when things became truly difficult, Sam came through like never before. When Frodo was paralyzed by Shelob and taken captive by Orcs, Sam risked everything to rescue him, charging headlong into Minas Morgul and kicking the crap out of every Orc that stood in his way. And when Frodo finally faltered under the weight of the One Ring, Sam carried him up the Mountain to the Cracks of Doom.

Through it all, Sam never once complained or considered leaving Frodo’s side. Naturally, some speculate this was because the two were more than just friends. Lousy gossip mongers! But in truth, Sam was just that committed to those he considered friends and what he considered to be right. These are qualities he passed along to his thirteen children after he and Rose Cotton got married. Wow, loyal, friendly, and fertile too! Samwise has got it all!

Wedge Antilles:
When it comes to side-kicks, Wedge has some of the best characteristics of all. He’s loyal. He’s reliable. And best of all, he never dies! In addition, Wedge (who’s name alone makes him cool) is also one of the best pilots in the Rebel Fleet and the co-founder of Rogue Squadron (along with Luke Skywalker). Throughout the original Star Wars trilogy and the expanded universe, Wedge has always been there in his trusty X-wing and other attack craft, providing much needed support and kicking Imperial ass!

His impressive resume includes an assault on the First Death Star, where as a junior officer in Rogue Squad, he provided cover for Luke as he launched the torpedoes that would destroy the terrifying space station. When Imperial Forces attacked Echo Base on planet Hoth, he was there in a speeder and scored a major victory by being the first to take down an AT-AT walker with a tow cable. And finally, he played a major role by helping to lead Rebel Forces to a decisive victory in the battle of Endor.

Because of all this, Wedge gained the reputation of being the greatest pilot in the Galaxy. As the sole survivor of both Death Star runs, he was given command of Rogue Squadron before being promoted to General and given command of an entire fleet. Throughout it all, Wedge never once lost his soft-spoken and humble attitude. It just goes to show you, nice guys really can kick ass!

Zoe Washburne:
And last, but definitely, DEFINITELY not least, there Zoe, the heroine of the Firefly universe. As a veteran soldier, freelance butt-kicker, executive officer, and loving wife, she’s got the whole package, at least when it comes to science fiction heroines. A good woman to settle down with and to have aboard your ship, guarding your precious cargo and your ass. No wonder Mal trusts her with his life, and Wash loves her so!

Having served in the War of Unification as a Browncoat, Zoe served under Mal when he was a Sergeant in the Independents Army. In the end, they were the only two to survive the battle, which bonded them for life. Afterward, she took a job as his XO aboard the Serenity and never looked back. Of all the other crewmembers, she was the only one who routinely referred to Mal as “sir” and obeyed his orders. However, that didn’t stop her from expressing concern over his decisions and letting him know when she thought they were totally stupid!

In the course of her service as XO, she met Wash, the ship’s pilot, and the two fell in love. They got married shortly thereafter, and even talked about settling down and having children (something their lifestyle wasn’t exactly conducive too). Due to her close relationship with Mal, Wash was often jealous of then, which at times caused friction. However, Wash soon realized that his concerns were for naught, as it became clear to him that the loyalty she had towards her commander did not conflict with her love of him.

In short, she’s the kind of woman a man would want as a friend, a sidekick, and a lover. Though tough as nails and the kind of no-nonsense lay who’d kick your ass if you messed with her or her crew, she could still be tender and make her man feel like a man. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge! Know what I mean? Just don’t tell her I said that, she’d kick my ass!

Summary:
So, having looked into all these personalities, I think it’s fair to say that I have some inkling of what makes a decent sidekick tick. In short, I think the following characteristics, alone or in combination, are what add up to a good supporting character, one which the hero is likely to want to keep around.

  1. Loyalty: This, above all, seems to be what makes a sidekick both desirable and endearing to audiences. As heroes undergo their trials and tribulations, they need someone who will stick with them, keeping them on the straight and narrow and making sure they don’t succumb to temptation or their enemies machinations.
  2. Levelheadedness: As the saying goes, “It’s always a true friend who will tell you what you need to hear, even when you don’t want to hear it”. And when it comes to sidekicks, this is not only desirable, its a job requirement. When the heroes life is on the line, the last thing they need is an ego stroke or to be let down easy. And frankly, the view really is better from the cheap seats!
  3. Sense of Humor: And remember, it’s important to keep things light. Whenever the pressure is on, danger is all around, and the tension is palatable, a good wisecrack or a little slapstick is usually in good order. Just refrain from poop jokes or overtly juvenile humor (look at you, Jar Jar!) And if were talking comedy instead of action and drama, the sidekick should be especially comedic! Their antics should inspire hysterical laughter from time to time, even if it’s a little in bad taste 😉
  4. Mad Skills: Remember, just because the hero is the focal point of the story doesn’t mean that you can’t steal the show every once in awhile. In fact, said skillz can pay the billz! And by that I mean a skilled sidekick can come in extremely handy to a hero from time to time. After all, if you’re constantly requiring rescuing, the hero will very quickly grow tired of you and find someone to replace to you! It also doesn’t hurt to have a gimmick, a weapon or characteristic that sets you apart. For example, if the hero is a big, He-Man/Amazon kind of hero, go small and wiry. If they are a smaller, wisecracking personality who relies on their wits more than their physique, be the muscly, enforcer type. It’s also good to carry your own unique brand of weapons. They set you apart and diversify your killing power!

That’s all I got for now. Like I said before, I’m open to suggestions for other candidates. If I can assemble enough, I’ll be sure to do a second installment. Otherwise, expect more of the usual posts dedicated to franchises, concepts, technology, and the latest in science fiction!

Of Faster-Than-Light Travel

It’s a popular concept, the fictional technology that could help us break that tricky light barrier. And it’s not hard to see why. The universe is a really, really, REALLY big place! And if we ever want to begin exploring and colonizing our tiny corner of it – and not have to deal with all the relativistic effects of time dilation and long, long waits – we better find a way to move faster.

And this is where various franchises come up with their more creative take on physics and the natural universe. Others, they just present it as a given and avoid any difficult, farfetched, or clumsy explanations. And in the end, we the viewers go along because we know that without it, space travel is going to be one long, tedious, and mind-bendingly complex journey!

Alcubierre Drive:
Proposed by Miguel Alcubierre as a way of resolving Einstein’s field equations, the Alcubierre Drive is an untested by possible way to achieve FTL travel. As opposed to Warp, Foldspace, or most other proposed means of FTL that involve some kind of internal propulsion of jump drive, the Alcubierre Drive is based on the idea of generating a wave that a ship would then “surf” in order to travel.

The creation of this wave would cause the fabric of space ahead of the spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship would then ride this wave inside a region of flat space known as a warp bubble and be carried along as the region itself moves through space. As a result, conventional relativistic effects such as time dilation would not apply in the same way as if the ship itself were moving.

The Alcubierre drive is featured in a few different science fiction genres, mainly those of the “hard” variety. This includes Stephen Baxter’s Ark, M. John Harrison’s novel Light, Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran’s Orbiter, and Ian Douglas’s Star Carrier where it is the primary means of transport.

FTL Drive:
The primary means of interstellar travel in the Battlestar Galactica universe, where every ship larger than a in-system transport is equipped with an FTL drive. How it works is never really explained, but it is clear that the technology is complex and involves a great deal of calculation. This is not only to ensureolve n accurate relocation through space-time, but also to make sure they don’t up jumping too close to a planet, star, or worse, right in the middle of either.

Whereas Colonial ships use their own computers to calculate jumps, Cylon ships rely on the Hybrid. These “machines” are essentially semi-organic computers, and represent the first step in Cylon evolution from pure machines to organic beings. Apparently, the hybrids were more sophisticated than Colonial computers, especially the aging Galactica. Hence, they were able to calculate jumps more quickly and accurately.

Holtzman Drive:
This FTL drive system comes to us from the Dune universe, and is otherwise known as a “Foldspace Engine”. Relying on principles that are not entirely clear to those in the Dune universe, the system involves depositing a ship from one point in space-time to another instantaneously. Though the workings of the drive are never really explained, it is intimated in Chapterhouse: Dune that tachyons are involved.

Another key component in the system is a Guild Navigator, a mutant who has been given natural prescient abilities thanks to constant exposure to spice. Using this prescience, the Navigator “sees” a path through space-time in order to guide the ship safely through. But in time, the Ixians invented a machine that was capable of doing this job as well, thus making the entire process automated and breaking the Guild’s monopoly on spacing.

Hyperspace:
Like the Warp drive, the terms hyperspace and hyperdrive have become staples withing the science fiction community. It’s most popular usage comes from Star Wars where it is the principle means of interstellar travel. Though it is never explained how a hyperdrive works, it is made abundantly clear through a series of visuals in the first and subsequent movies that it involves speeds in excess of the speed of light.

In addition, Han Solo indicated in the original movie that the Falcon’s top speed was “point five past light-speed”, indicating that it can travel 1.5 c. All other references to hyperspace speed factors in the franchise are similar, with velocities given in terms of a decimal point value. As a fast ship, the Falcon can reach point five, whereas most of the larger Imperial and Rebel ships can make only point three or four at most.

Though Star Wars is the most popular example of hyperspace, it is by no means the earliest. The first recorded example was in John Campbell’s “Islands of Space,” which appeared in Amazing Stories in 1931. Arthur C. Clarke’s also mentioned hyperspace in his 1950 story Technical Error. However, the most enduring example comes from Asimov’s Foundation universe, where hyperspace is the principal means of travel in the Galactic Republic. In I, Robot, the invention of the “hyperspatial drive” is the basis of one of the short stories, and was meant to provide a sense of continuity with his earlier Foundation series.

Other franchises that feature the concept of hyperspace include Babylon 5, Homeworld, Macross/Robotech, and Stargate. Combined with Star Wars and the Foundation series, it is the most popular – albeit the most ill-defined -form of FTL in the realm of science fiction.

Infinite Probability Drive:
The perfect mixture of irreverence and science: the Infinite Probability Drive from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. This FTL concept is based on a particular perception of quantum theory which states that a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place, such as near the nucleus of an atom, but there is also a small probability of it being found very far from its point of origin.

Thus, a body could travel from place to place without passing through the intervening space if you had sufficient control of probability. According to the Guide, in this way the drive “passes through every conceivable point in every conceivable universe almost simultaneously,” meaning the traveller is “never sure where they’ll end up or even what species they’ll be when they get there” and therefore it’s important to dress accordingly!

Subspace Jump Drive:
Here we have an FTL concept which comes from one of my favorite games of all time, Descent Freespace. Subspace jumps, relying on the drive system of the same name, represent a very quick method of interstellar travel. By relying on subspace “corridors” that run from one point in space-time to another, a ship is able to move quickly from one star system to the next.

The only drawback to this concept is the fact that travel must occur along officially designated “nodes”. These nodes usually pass between large gravitational sources (i.e. between stars systems) but also can exist within a system itself. Virtually all nodes are unstable, existing for mere seconds or minutes at a time. However, nodes which will last for centuries or longer are designated as “stable” and used for transit.

Another favorite franchise which uses a similar concept is the Wing Commander universe. In all versions of the game, particularly Wing Commander: Privateer, interstellar travel comes down to plotting jumps from predesignated points in space. One cannot simply jump from one spot to another provided accurate calculations are made, they have to use the mapped out points or no jump is possible. This, as opposed to hyperspace travel, posits that subspace is a reality that exists only in certain areas of space-time and must be explored before it can be used.

TARDIS:
Officially, the Time and Relative Dimension in Space is a time machine and spacecraft that comes to us from British science fiction television program Doctor Who and its associated spin-offs. Produced by the advanced race known as the Time Lords, an extraterrestrial civilization to which the Doctor belongs, this device that makes his adventures possible.

Basically, a TARDIS gives its pilot the ability to travel to any point in time and any place in the universe. Based on a form of biotechnology which is grown, not assembled, they draw their power primarily from an artificial singularity (i.e. a black hole) known as the “Eye of Harmony”. Other sources of fuel include mercury, specialized crystals and a form of temporal energy.

Each TARDIS is primed with the biological imprint of a Time Lord so that only they can use it. Should anyone else try to commandeer one, it undergoes molecular disintegration and is lots. The interior of a TARDIS is much larger than its exterior, which can blend in with its surroundings using the ship’s “chameleon circuit”. Hence why it appears to outsiders as a phone booth in the series.

Warp Drive:
Possibly the best known form of FTL travel which comes to us from the original Star Trek and its many spinoffs. In addition to being a prime example of fictional FTL travel, it is also perhaps the best explained example.Though said explanation has evolved over time, with contributions being made in the original series, TNG, and the Star Trek technical manual, the basic concept remains the same.

By using a matter/antimatter reactor to create plasma, and by sending this plasma through warp coils, a ship is able to create a warp bubble that will move the craft into subspace and hence exceed the speed of light. Later explanations would go on to add that an anti-matter/matter reaction which powers the two separate nacelles of the ship are what create the displacement field (the aforementioned “bubble”) that allows for warp.

Apparently, Warp 10 is the threshold for warp speed, meaning that it is the point at which a ship reaches infinite speed. Though several mentions are made of ships exceeding this threshold, this was later explained as being the result of different scales. Officially, it is part of the Star Trek canon that no ship is capable of exceeding Warp 10 without outside help. When that occurs, extreme time dilation, such as anti-time, occurs, which can be disastrous for the crew!

In addition to Star Trek, several other franchises have made mention of the Warp Drive. This includes StarCraft, Mass Effect, Starship Troopers, and Doctor Who.

Final Thoughts:
Having looked through all these examples, several things become clear. In fact, it puts me in mind of a clip produced by the Space Network many years ago. Essentially, Space explored the differences between FTL in past and present franchises, connecting them to developments in real science. Whereas Warp and Hyperspace tended to be the earliest examples, based on the idea of simply exceeding the speed of light, thereby breaking the law of physics, later ideas focused on the idea of circumventing them. This required that writers come up with fictional ideas that either relied on astrophysics and quantum theory or exploited the holes within them.

One such way was to use the idea of “wormholes” in space-time, a hypothetical theory that suggests that space is permeated by topological holes that could act as “shortcuts” through space-time. A similar theory is that of subspace, a fictional universe where the normal rules of physics do not apply. Finally, and also in the same vein, is the concept of a controlled singularity, an artificial black hole that can open a rift through space-time and allow a ship to pass from one point in the universe to another.

Explanations as to how these systems would work remains entirely hypothetical and based on shaky science. As always, the purpose here is to allow for interstellar travel and communications that doesn’t take decades or even centuries. Whether or not the physics of it all works is besides the point. Which brings me to two tentative conclusions.

  1. Explanations Need Not Apply: Given the implausible (or at the very least, inexplicable) nature of most FTL concepts, the best sci-fi is likely to be the stuff that doesn’t seek to explain how its FTL system of choice works. I’st simply there and does the job. People hit a button, push a lever, do some calculations, or fly into a jump gate. Then boom! seconds later (or days and weeks) and they find themselves on the other side, light years away and ready to do their mission!
  2. That’s Hard: Given how any story that involves relativistic space travel, where both time dilation and confusing time jumps are necessarily incorporated into the story, only the hardest of hard sci-fi can ever expect to do without warp drives, hyperspace, jump or FTL drives. Any other kind of sci-fi that is looking to be accessible, and therefore commercially successful, will have to involve some kind of FTL or face extinction.

Well, that’s all I got for the time being. In the meantime, keep your eyes on the skies and don’t stop dreaming about how we’re one day going to get out there. For even if we start sending ships beyond our solar system in the near future, it’s going to be well into the distant future before they get anywhere and we start hearing back from them. At least until someone figures out how to get around Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, damn bloody genius! Until then, I’d like to sign off with a tagline:

This has been Matt Williams with another conceptual post. Good night, and happy spacing!