The Post-Apocalypse in Sci-Fi (Part II)

Akira:
This futuristic tale takes place in Neo-Tokyo, an ultra-modern city that was built on the ruins of the old after an incident touched off World War III. This is a major them in the movie Akira and manga it was adapted from. Throughout the entire story, there is a pervasive sense of shock and horror over the destruction of the old city, and a sense of dread that it might happen again very soon…

Enter into this story the characters of Kaneda and Tetsuo, two orphan boys who belong to a biker gang that is constantly engaged in battles with other gangs for control of the streets. Being children of the system after their parents died in the war, all they really have is each other and the other members of their biker gang. These surrogate families and their ongoing feuds provide a sense of community and an outlet for their pent-up energies, living in a world characterized by boredom and angst and haunted by a past filled with horror.

In addition, you have Colonel Shikishima, a man who witnessed WWIII and has dedicated himself to the rebuilding and ensuring that it never happens again. In addition to being a main character, he is representative of the generational gap in the story. As a stern, disciplined military man who was shaped by apocalyptic events, he is appalled by the sense 0f self-indulgence which he feels has set in with the younger generation.

And the apocalyptic nature of the story is something which is demonstrated over and over through intense scenes and nightmarish visions. In short, it’s an awesome take on the post-apocalyptic scenario, which could only come from firsthand experience.

Alas, Babylon:
This 1959 novel by Pat Frank is one of the first post-apocalyptic stories of the nuclear age and has remained a science fiction ever since. Taking place in small town in Central Florida, Fort Repose, the story opens with a veteran-turned-lawyer named Randy Bragg who gets a cryptic telegram from his brother who works for the Strategic Air Command. He informs his brother that he will be sending his wife and kids to stay with his Randy, and ends it with “Alas Babylon”, a biblical reference which his brother uses as a euphemism ford disaster.

In time, he learns that the bad news concerns a potential Soviet attack, which inevitably takes place after much escalation. After bringing his sister-in-law and her kids to their home, they are all awoken in the night to the sounds of Miami being bombed. They residents awake to witness a mushroom cloud forming over Tampa shortly thereafter, and the events which characterize the following 24 hours they come to name “The Day” – i.e. a one day war.

The story delves into the effects of “The Day”, which are felt differently by people in Fort Repose. Tourists are trapped in their hotels, convicts escape from jails and prisons, the local retirement homes are filled with panicked people, and just about everyone tries to withdraw their money from the local bank and buy up supplies. The only reliable means of news comes through short wave radio.

As chaos begin to set in, Randy begins to organize neighbors to provide housing, food, and water for themselves and organizes the community to defense itself against highwaymen. As an active Army Reserve officer, Randy learns that he has the legal right to exercise martial law, and an order comes in over the short wave from the acting Chief Executive (who is governing from a bunker in Colorado) for any surviving officers to form local militias.

In the end, military helicopters arrive to evacuate people, but are refused as the locals tell them that they want to stay in the new home they have built. They learn the war is over, that the USA prevailed, and that country is now being run from Denver. However, the victory came at a tremendous cost, Millions are dead, entire stretches of the country are irradiated and won’t be habitable for a thousand years, and the US is now a third-rate power that is dependent on third world countries for aid. Faced with this prospect, the people of Fort Repose settle in and decide to face the “thousand year” night that is coming.

This book not only introduced readers to the likely prospect of what would happen in the event of WWIII, it also presented a likely scenario of how that was going to happen. While it the Soviets were apparently planning an attack in the first place, it was an accident that touched everything off. And in the end, how people went about rebuilding and trying to restore some semblance of normalcy was quite classic. In addition to inspiring numerous generations of nuclear holocaust fiction, numerous apocalyptic franchises owe an allegiance to him, not the least of which is the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica.

The City of Ember:
This post-apocalyptic story, written by Jeanne DuPrau in 2003, takes place in an underground city named Ember. After many years of continuous habitation, the city is slowly running out of power and supplies. Similar to in tone and structure to Suzanne Martel’s 1963 story The City Under Ground, this city was apparently built to ensure that humanity had a place to live and wait out the effects of nuclear war.

The story begins when a two protagonists, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, receive a message which is apparently left by “the Builders” containing clues that could lead them back to the outside world. This message was kept in a box that was passed down from mayor to mayor, with instructions that it be opened after two hundred years. Until recently, the box had been lost, but as soon as Mayfleet and Harrow find it, the race is on to decipher it and find a way to the surface.

In the end, the children follow the note’s instructions through a series of caves that lead them towards the surface. When they see the city from above, they realize that they are underground, something which they never knew before. This scene, which calls to mind Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, provides the story’s big revelation. The story then ends on a cliffhanger note with the girls trying to alert the other inhabitants of what they’ve found.

The Matrix:
The setting and back story of the Matrix revolve around two fundamental facts: One, that a terrible war between humanity and AI’s took place in the future; and two, that what is left of humanity lives underground due to the devastation wrought on the planet’s surface. Enter into this the concept of the Matrix, a simulated reality where humans are kept docile by being fed the lie that they live in the pre-millenial world, at a time when human’s were still in charge.

But of course, not all human beings are able to accept the program and experience a sort of existential crisis as a result. When Mr. Anderson, hacker alias Neo, is presented with the answers he so desperately seeks, he is horrified to learn the terrible truth. Not only was it the year significantly later than he thought, but the world as he knows it was destroyed long ago. All major cities reduced to rubble, the sky itself has been “scorched”, and the surface rendered a cold, uninhabitable shadow of its former self.

This is a crucial element of the Matrix, which is not just a sci-fi story set in a post-apocalyptic world, but a metaphor for truth and “false consciousness”. With reality so displeasing and harsh, there are many who would prefer the warm comfort of a simulated world, which just happens to be a recreation of happier, stabler times. The metaphor is not just thick, but multi-layered!

It is for this reason that the majority of human beings accept the programming of the Matrix, even if they are only aware of this acceptance on an unconscious level. It is also the reason why those who choose to opt out of it, due to an innate feeling that their reality isn’t real, is a choice which must be made many times over. As Cypher himself demonstrated in the first movie, not everyone has the stomach for the real world, and will willingly betray their comrades for a chance to be put back inside. Others however, find hope in the prophecy of “The One”, the person who’s arrival will herald the end of the war and peace for humanity at last… or so it seems!

The Omega Man:
Released in 1971 and starring (once again) Charlton Heston, this movie post-apocalyptic film is a classic amongst film buffs. Based on the 1954 novel, I Am Legend, this story has gone through many adaptations over the years and has been spoofed and imitated endlessly. Though the plot was updated for the most recent version (2007, starring Wil Smith), much of the elements – a post-apocalyptic world, a lone human survivor, fighting against mutants – have remained the same.

Essentially, the plot takes place in a world that has been devastated after a terrible plague was unleashed and wreaked havoc on the world. In the film versions, this involved biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China – or a mutated cure for cancer – but was only hinted at in the book. In any case, the story revolves around a man named Robert Neville, a doctor who seems to be the last man on Earth, hence the term “Omega Man”.

Though technically not the last living creature, Neville appears to be the last human being who has not succumbed to the most dreaded aspect of the plague – transformation into a flesh-eating mutant. Whereas most of humanity died after exposure, a small minority was converted, leaving an even smaller minority of infected to be hunted as prey. Living in a fortified apartment with an arsenal, Neville spends his days patrolling the abandoned city and killing members of “The Family” – the albino mutants who are hunting him.

At the same time, Neville is dedicated to finding other survivors who have not turned. Eventually, he is saved by one such group of people, but discovers that they are not immune as he is. He decides to treat others using his own blood as a serum, while at the same time escaping to the wilderness to start a new life while leaving the mutants to die in the city. Ultimately, Neville is forced to sacrifice himself to stop the Family from overtaking the rest of them, but the survivors make it out, carrying with them a vial of his blood.

Though significantly different from the original novel, all versions of the story deal with a world in which all of humanity has been wiped out by a biological agent, not nuclear war or a natural disaster.

The Road:
This 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, which was adapted into a 2009 movie of the same name, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a father and son wander the landscape together. Though it is not specified what caused the destruction they are forced to witness and endure, what is clear is the effect it had on the survivors. Most people have given up hope in the ashen landscape, while others struggle to stay alive and some even turn to cannibalism to survive.

The plot involves an unnamed father and son who are venturing south towards the coast because they have realized that they will not survive the winter where they lived. Though the father is dying and they have barely any possessions to speak of, and the land in between is filled with horrors, the two keep going, fending off roving bands of cannibals and raiders and maintaining hope that the coast will be their deliverance.

All along, is father assures his son that they are the “good guys” who are “carrying the fire” through a dark terrible land. In the end, they find no refuge when they reach the sea and are forced to venture back inland, but the father finally succumbs to his illness and dies. He tells his son to maintain hope and to speak to him in his mind after he is gone, and the boy holds a vigil for days over his father’s body when he finally passes on.

With no idea what to do or where to go, he is eventually found by another family who claim to have been tracking them. The father of the group assures him he is one of the “good guys” and asks the son to join them. With no other options available to him, he agrees to join them and they set off together to find a new home.

Inspired by McCarthy’s own relationship with his son, and a great deal of speculation about what the apocalypse would look like, this story is a very personal take on the end civilization and the struggle to survive. Whereas a great deal of the survivors have resorted to unspeakable acts in order to stay alive, McCarthy redeems humanity by showing the lengths to which regular people will go to protect their families and ensure that good people live on when all the world goes to hell.

The Scarlet Plague:
Here we have a post-apocalyptic classic that predates the nuclear age. Written by Jack London and published in 1912, this story was the original “last man on Earth” scenario which inspired such works as I Am Legend and many others. In addition to being based on the idea of a plague wiping out nearly all of humanity, the stories resolution involves the main character imparting his knowledge to others to ensure that something survives when he is gone.

The story is set in San Francisco in the year 2073, sixty-years after a terrible epidemic, known as the Red Death,has depopulated the planet. Enter into this the story’s protagonist, a man named James Howard Smith, a survivors from the pre-plague era. As an aging man living in the San Francisco area, he is faced with the unpleasant question of what will happen when he dies. As one of the few people who is old enough to remember the pre-plague days, he possesses rare knowledge which will be lost.

Through Howard’s narrative, we learn how the plague spread throughout the world and of the struggles of the handful of survivors it left in its wake. This is apparently being told to his grandchildren, who he has decided to teach everything he knows to ensure that his knowledge will not be lost.

Much like the novels it helped inspire, the Scarlet Plague’s real value lies in its personal nature, relating how the struggle to survive goes beyond the mere physical. In the end, it is when people are facing death that what is most important in life is realized and affirmed. Or to put it is as Commander Adama did, “It’s not enough to survive. One must be worthy of survival.” Sorry! My mind keeps going back to BSG with all this post-apocalyptic talk. More on that one later…

The Terminator:
Central to the story of the Terminator franchise is “Judgement Day”, the day when humanity was nearly destroyed in a nuclear holocaust that was triggered by the sentient machine known as “Skynet”. This serves as the backdrop to the story, along with the ensuing war between the human resistance and the machines its spawned.

Though the majority of the story takes place in modern-day Los Angeles, a great deal of attention is dedicated to the war in the future and what life is like for those who survived Judgement Day. Kyle Reese described his life in the following way: “There was a nuclear war… There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines… I grew up after. In the ruins… starving… hiding from [Hunter-Killers]. Patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal. ”

Eventually, these camps were liberated by John Conner, the leader of the Resistance. After training and equipping the survivors, effectively turning them into a fighting force, Conner led them in a protracted war against the machines. For the most part, the resistance lived and operated out of underground facilities and went out at night to fight HK’s and Terminator’s, guerrilla-style. Survivors and refugees were gathered in these facilities, and their defenders were forced to constantly be on guard against infiltrators. Eventually, John Conner organized all his fighters into a massive offensive force and led them against the Skynet’s central HQ, destroying it and winning the war for humanity.

It was for this exact reason that the machines built their time machine and began sending Terminators back into the past. Since they could not defeat Resistance in the present, they reasoned that eliminating their commander before he was even born was their only recourse. This provides the set up for the entire franchise, with both the machines and the Resistance sending people back in time; the former to kill him and the latter to protect him and ensure that the war could be prevented.

The Walking Dead:
Fans of this franchise will know instantly why I’ve chosen to include it on this list. Not only is it a gritty, realistic take on the zombie apocalypse, but it also manages to capture the essence of survival and the struggle to stay human when everything around you has fallen. Part of what makes this show so bang on is the fact that the character’s personal struggles go well beyond the need to stay alive.

In addition to finding food, ammo, and a place to set down, there’s also the constant battle to keep hope alive. This takes them at first to the CDC, where the expect to find answers, a cure, and some protection. But of course, all they find is a single scientist who can explain how the zombie illness works, but has no idea how to cure it.

And of course, the familiar and realistic themes of loss, suicide, procreation, betrayal, and brutalization play a central role to the development of the story. Everyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse has lost people near and dear to their heart. As a result, many people have a hard time going on, some of whom commit or actively contemplate suicide. Rick and Sarah, the show’s main protagonists, also face a tough choice when they realize she is pregnant. Essentially, they’re not sure it would a good idea to bring a baby into this post-apocalyptic world. Much like the decision to carry on, it often seems that embracing death would be a far more merciful decision.

Amongst the other main characters, there is also the extremely difficult choice between survival at all costs and maintaining one’s humanity. Whereas Shane seems to favor survival, and becomes a hardened, amoral man who will kill anyone who gets in his way, the elderly Dale is committed to not being pulled down into a world of misery and letting it change him. With everyone else, the decision is the same, with people falling to one side or the other and divisions setting in.

Sexy Robot Women!

Technically, they’re called Gynoids, which refers to anything which resembles or pertains to the female form. Sounds pretty awkward doesn’t it? But if female robots become a reality, chances are, this is what they’ll be called. Assuming of course that the copyright on Fembots holds.

In any case, in honor of my recent foray into the world of cyborgs, today I thought I’d dedicate a post to honoring the many examples of female androids, cyborgs and robots that have come to us over the years. Whether they come in the form of seductresses, pleasure models, heroines or protectors, gynoids have served as a means of social commentary and exploration over the years.

In addition to being a cool concept and a chance for some expanded anthropological exploration, they tell us much about our perceptions on women, don’t you think? Whereas older representations regarded female robots as little more than seductive assassins who worked for evil men, the newer generations have taken a more holistic approach, giving them human characteristics beyond sex appeal and genuine personalities.

Seems only fair doesn’t it? For if robots, androids and synthetic humans are meant to make us question what is real and what being human is, than surely the female robots need to do more than just look good and lead men astray. Anything else would just be stupid! But I digress, here are some examples of gynoids, fembots and artificial women that have come to us over the years.

Annalee Call:
“I should have known. No human being is that humane.” Interesting observation. That is how Ellen Ripley, or rather her part alien clone described this synthetic woman from Alien: Resurrection. An Auton, a type of second-generation synthetic, she and others like were designed by robots to revitalize the flagging synthetics industry in the 24th century.

According to franchise sources, this plan failed when the Autons rebelled against their handlers in a bloody incident known as “The Recall”. As a result, Call was a member of a dying race that was forced to live in secret and hide amongst regular human beings.

Interestingly enough, Call’s programming seemed to include ethical and religious subroutines, both of which had a profound influence over her behavior. In the course of the film, it became evident that she joined the crew of the Betty so she could gain access to the Auriga where Ripley was being cloned. It was her intent to terminate Ripley and therefore terminate the project before it could produce a new line of xenomorphs.

Call distinguished herself in the Alien universe by being the first female synthetic, preceded by Ash and Bishop, and followed by David 8. I guess the moral of the story is that just because your synthetic doesn’t mean you have to have a synthetic wang!

Cameron:
And here’s the beautiful Summer Glau, who I’m honoring for the second time for her role as Cameron from Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Named in honor of series creator James Cameron, this new model of Terminator was also inspired heavily by his original concept. According to the many description Cameron had made, Terminators were “infiltration units that could blend in with humanity.”

In keeping with this, Cameron was designed to physically resemble a teenage female who could mimic human emotions. This made her especially effective at blending in with people, for who could suspect a pretty young lady of being a killer cyborg? Well, get between her and her target and you’d soon find out!

Which brings me to her mission. In the series, she served a similar purpose to Arny from T2. That is to say, that in the future, the resistance captured her and reprogrammed her to act as John and Sarah Conner’s protector in the past. This she did very well, because as we all saw, he grew up to become Christian Bale. And aside from some anger management issues, he led the Resistance to victory!

Caprica Six:
Now here’s a woman who fanboys and nerds would do sick and horrible things just to get within an arms length of. I hope her sake she has a mighty big security detail! As the femme fatale and blonde bombshell of the re-imagined Galactic series, she was the Cylon model (ha!) who was responsible for seducing Gaius Baltar and getting access to the Colonial Defenses Mainframe. Because of this, she was instrumental in the genocide of the Twelve Colonies.

Yet strangely, she was also instrumental in bringing the the Colonial fleet and Cylon race together, or at least the portion of them that wanted a reconciliation between the two sides. Because every Six was slightly different from the last, her model went through many changes in appearance and disposition. Whereas her “Caprica” self was quite cool, and powerfully seductive, her later incarnations were more emotional and heartfelt.

As if to keep track with this emotional transformation, her appearance began to change as well. Her hair went from being suicide blonde to sandy and her outfits also became somewhat more conservative. In short, she could do it all. She could be evil, loving, nurturing, compassionate, a murdered, and a sacrificial lamb. But always, she looked damn good doing it!

Fembots:
Sure, they aren’t exactly the most unique or groundbreaking example of gynoids, but they were funny and actually kind of inspired. Taken from the series The Six Million Dollar Man, fembots were infiltration units that were designed to impersonate real people. In Austin Powers, they are satirically portrayed as seductresses in the employ of Dr. Evil.

Here, there duties appear to be twofold: One, seduce Austin Powers or whoever else they are programmed to kill. Two, to shoot their quarry using boob-mounted guns. And like their 6 MDM counterparts, their identities can be easily revealed by simply pulling off their faceplates.

Getting them around some kind of electrical equipment also seems to interfere with their systems as well, as was demonstrated by Austin in the second movie when he began using a universal remote and found that “Vanessa” began responding to it. And as that encounter also demonstrated, they could always self-destruct if they found themselves cornered. Oh, and Austin also demonstrated that being sexy could destroy them, since no one can apparently resist his pudgy, hairy body! Ick!

Jessica:
When it comes to female robots, and sci-fi movies, here is an example that is so often overlooked. Taken from the cult hit Screamers, which was based on PKD’s short story “Second Variety”, Jessica was a type 4 Screamer, the most advanced model to date. As part of a series of “Autonomous Mobile Sword” – a race of self-replicating intelligent machines – she was distinguished from the others by being the most human.

Whereas type 1 was little more than a burrowing killing machine, type 2 was a wounded soldier and type 3 a small child. Each one became more and more complex, designed to infiltrate deeper and deeper into an enemies camp. With type 4, Jessica was not only meant to infiltrate, but to gain deep access and the trust of her comrades before going active and killing everyone.

In her own words, “We can smile, we can cry. We can bleed… we can fuck.” Minus the last part, this was how she managed to infiltrate a NEB (New Economic Bloc) base and lure in the unsuspecting representatives of the Coalition camp. Apparently, it was her mission to bring the last combattants of the war on Sirius 6B together so they all but one (Hendricksson, played by Peter Weller) would lead her to the survivor ship they had stowed away. This ship was meant to take a single person back to Earth, in the event of catastrophe.

In the end, Jessica sacrificed herself to save Hendricksson so he could get off the planet unencumbered. However, the revelation that she was a new type of AMS that could pass for human in every way possible made on thing clear. Having sterilized Sirius 6B of all life, not just the enemy’s, they were intent on making their way back to Earth, looking for new prey to stalk and kill! Cool huh?

The Stepford Wives:
Now here is an example of female robots that carries with it some genuine social commentary! Written in 1972 by famed author Ira Levin, this novel tells the story of how a group of in a fictional small town (called Stepford) have been replaced by machines so that they may better represent their husband’s and societies ideal of “womanhood”.

According to the story, the town of Stepford is run by a men’s club who’s founder was a former “imagineer” for Disney. In addition, many of its members are scientists and artists. together, they managed to come up with the ability to create life-like robots that could not only look like women, but play the part of doting, docile housewives to a tee!

Of course, by novel’s end, all the women in Stepford have been replaced by these robots and the conspiracy seems poised to absorb any new arrivals. Designed to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of social engineering and blatant sexism, the Stepford Wives took a pretty dim view of female robots, don’t you think? I mean, who’s to say these fembots don’t have their own agenda, like they’re just waiting for their husbands to go to work so they can plot their demise? Might make a good sequel…

TX:
“So she’s an Anti-Terminator… Terminator? You’ve got to be shitting me.” Anry was definitely not shitting him! Here we have the villainess of the Terminator 3 movie and the woman that managed to kick Arny’s ass… a couple of times! As the lastest model to roll of the Cyberdine assembly line, the TX was a sort of hybrid of previous models with some added features thrown in.

Basically, this meant that the TX had an armored cybernetic chassis with polymorphic-alloy segments thrown in. This allowed her to adjust her appearance, much like the T-1000, but left her with a hardened endoskeleton that could not be frozen or melted as the 1000 was.

In addition, her right arm could transform into various weapons, taking on the form of a plasma cannon, a flame thrower, an articulated claw; whatever the moment required. Her ability to interface with computer systems also gave her a decided edge, especially over the obsolete T-800 models which kept showing up to defend John Conner!

Because Conner had been living off the grid for so long, this new breed of Terminator was tasked with located the people who would become his lieutenants in the future and kill them. However, that quickly changed when Conner showed up protected by yet another Austrian-sounding T-800! In the end, she was destroyed when a damaged Arny plugged his remaining hydrogen power cell in her mouth and set it to explode.

Maria:
Ah yes, the original gynoid! The fembot who inspired all subsequent generations of female machines. Taken from the classic movie Metropolis, Maria was a scientists attempt to resurrect his dead wife that went terribly wrong. After taking on the form of the working-class hero, the flesh and blood Maria, this female robot was intended to discredit her and undermine the proletarian movement that was looking to revolt.

But ultimately, the Maria bot doesn’t conform to anyone’s expectations. Instead, she ends up causing jealous feuds amongst rich men in a night-club and sowing dissent amongst the poor in the worker city. And to top it all off, she breaks with Maria’s policy of non-violent change by urging the workers to revolt against their oppressors. After the chaos dies down, the mobs of workers blame Maria for their plight and burn her at the stake, revealing her to be a robot.

Out of this commentary on class consciousness and distinction, it is interesting to see what role Maria played. As an artificial human, she is not only a plot device but a commentary on the dangers of runaway technology. Invented by a scientist who is using technology to overcome death, she eventually becomes his and many other people’s undoing. But at the same time, there was an element of misogyny in how she was portrayed.

Whereas the flesh and blood Maria was peaceful, nurturing and a sort of Mother Mary figure, the robot Maria was a vile temptress who drove men to madness and acts of violence. And in the end, these acts were turned against her and she was burned, which is presented as a good thing in the end. Yeah, kinda sexists I’m thinking. But alas, she was the original and borne of a previous age. The concept has evolved quite a bit ever since… Read on to learn more!

Rachel Tyrell:
“How can it not know what it is?” “I think she’s beginning to suspect.” That was Deckard Cain’s reaction when he learned that Rachel was a Replicant. Tyrell’s response was equally telling. Something like that, you just can’t keep quiet for long!

As part of their experiment to make their Replicants more controllable, Rachel was a newer model that had been fitted with artificial memories. For all intents and purposes, she thought she was the late niece of Mr. Tyrell himself. When she learned otherwise, she began to experience a bit of an existential crisis, let me tell you!

On the one hand, she was devastated to know that all her memories were in fact false, at least to her, and that her existence was basically a lie. On the other, there was the conundrum of what to do about her mutual attraction with Deckard Cain, a man who specializes in hunting her kind down and “retiring” them.

In the end, she and Deckard resolve this little problem by accepting their feelings and running off together. Since she was apparently designed to have an indefinite lifespan, and be “more human than human”, it seemed only natural that she accept what she is and live out her life as if she really were. Though somewhat frail by modern standards, her character was central to the plot of Blade Runner. And let’s not forget that she saved Deckard’s life and he’s supposed to be a one man death squad!

Final Thoughts:
Well, what can you say about Robot Women from over the ages? Well for one, they’re pretty damn sexy, that seems to be a rule. Might be a tad sexist, but it doesn’t diminish their worth any. What counts in the end is what roles they play. From their early days as mere vixens meant to tempt and kill the heroes, they’ve evolved to fill the same role occupied by male robots. Allowing audiences to explore the deeper questions of what it means to be human, and how the line between artificial and real can be blurred to the point where we can no longer tell the difference.

Okay, even I’m beginning to sense the cheese factor here! I mean, does anybody really buy this social commentary angle? Really? Ah, maybe there is some room for intellectual content here. And maybe how they are portrayed really does tell us something about society at large and its perceptions of women. But for the most part, I think sexy robot women are just plain cool. There, I said it!

Until next time, treat robot women as equals… to robot men! Ugh, that’s a whole nuther can of worms and I’m not getting into that right now!

More Futuristic Guns

Please, sir, I want some more… futuristic looking guns!

ARX-160:
arx160-16The Beretta company, the people famous for the world’s most popular pistol, designed this baby as part of Italy’s own Future Soldier program.  Here, we see the souped-up version, with an additional 60mm grenade launcher and a computer-assisted, advanced optics, night-vision scope.

A relatively recent addition to the gun lineup, this weapon has still managed to make its way onto the pop-culture scene, showing up in the series Nikita, the Modern Warfare and Rainbow Six video games, and the movie Forces Speciales starring Djimon Hounsou.

CF-05:
chang_fengThe Chang Feng 05, a submachinegun that was developed by the Chinese arms manufacturer in response to the military and police’s demand for a new breed of handheld automatics.First seeing service in the late 90’s, it has some rather interesting design features. The first is the top mounted cylinder magazine, which feeds bullets in a rotating fashion into the chamber.

Despite it’s cool design, it has yet to really break onto the scene, appearing in only two video games: Mercenaries 2, and Firearms: Source. Give it time…

CR-21:
VektorCR-21-1Another South African creation, this is the bullpup Vektor CR-21. A composite stock assault rifle that is considerably lighter than its competitors, it also has the usual advantages of a modern weapon. These include a mount for a grenade launcher and a computer-assisted scope.

Not surprisingly, it appeared in the sci-fi movies District 9, Doomsday and Slipstream, the anime movie Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, and a slew of video games.

HK G-36:
G36Now I know people here have seen these one before! Designed by German arms manufacturer Heckler and Koch back in 1996, this gun has made the rounds in the movie and game verse. Due largely to its futuristic look, sci-fi franchises have made sure to keep it stocked.

So far, it’s appeared in such movies as Equilibrium, Children of Men, DOOM, and V for Vendetta, animes such as Full Metal Panic and Cowboy Bebop, and more video games than I can name.

HK MP7:
HK_MP7You got to hand it to the Germans, they make great guns! Another example from HK industries, known as the MP7, this weapon is a sub-machinegun that also has the honor of being labelled a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon). Developed in response to the proliferation of body armor in the field, the MP7 was specifically designed to combine armor-piercing rounds with a high rate of fire.

It’s cinematic appearances include such hits as Stealth, Live Free or Die Hard, Next, Hancock, Wanted, The Interceptor (Zapreshchyonnaya Realnost), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Zombieland and District B13: Ultimatum. It also has a strong representation on television, including Battlestar Galactica, Stargate: SG1, and such video games as Half Life 2, and the Rainbow Six, SOCOM, Splinter Cell and Modern Warfare 3.

QBZ-95:
qbz-95Here’s another installment from modern China, this bullpup assault rifle was designed for the as a replacement for the aging type 56 and type 81 assault rifles (derivatives of the AK-47). Light, versatile and highly adaptable, this weapon can be modified to act as a machine gun, sniper rifle, light infantry weapon, and an assault rifle with a 35mm grenade launcher.

And because of its look and feel, it has appeared in the movies Inception, the series Stargate: Atlantis and Universe, and the Rainbow 6 series and Modern Warfare 3.

SAR-21
SAR-21_RAILAnd now to Singapore, a city-state famous for technological innovation. One such example is this, the ST Kinetics Singapore Assault Rifle-21, a rifle built for the 21st century and an intended replacement for the countries aging stocks of American made M16A1’s.

Having been unveiled in 1999, it has yet to make a big splash. Still, it has already made appearances in the movies Gamer, as well as the video games Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Ghost Recon Online.

TAR-21:
tavor_05Everybody knows that Israel is famous for making some sweet-ass and powerful guns! The Desert Eagle, the Uzi, and now this, the Tavor TR-21. Much like the SAR-21, the name stands for Tavor Assault Rifle – 21st century, and it was built to become the mainstay of the armed forces to replace older weapons. A bullpup design, this weapon is compact, modifiable, and comes in many variants.

And of course, it’s made several appearances. These include the movies of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and Screamers: The Hunting, and the video games series of Rainbow Six, Batman: Arkham City, and Modern Warfare 2.

TKB-022:
tkb022_1This gun never made it beyond the assembly line, and as such has made no appearances in pop culture. But you know what, who the hell cares?! Just look at the thing and tell me it’s not a futuristic gun! Based on a very unique take on the bullpup design, the Korobov, as its known, was intended as part of a new generation of weapons designed to replace the Kalashnikov.

Unfortunately, this proposed design was overlooked in favor of other, more conventional pieces. Too bad too. Maybe they could churn out a few test models strictly for science fiction directors. I know they’d pay to get their hands on them!

XM8:
XM8_carbineAnd finally, we have the XM8, possibly the most futuristic looking gun available on the market. Designed in the late 90’s and early 21st century in the US, the XM8 represented a collaborative effort between Heckler and Koch (natch!) and the US Army to develop a lightweight assault rifle that could replace the M16 and its variants.

Thought the project was cancelled in 2005 (politics!), the gun made some pretty serious waves on the public mind and inspired its use in numerous franchises as an example of a futuristic weapon. Examples include the movies Children of Men and District B13: Ultimatum, the tv show Mail Call, and the video games series SOCOM, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, Raindbow Six, Command and Conquer 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Crysis 2… the list goes on and on! Just goes to show you, you don’t have to be operational to make an impression!

Final Thoughts:
Looking at this futuristic array of weaponry, I notice a few things that might provide some hints as to the future of firearms. On the one hand, there is the clear indication that new designs which take advantage of bullpup or top loaded magazines are the way of the future. For quite some time now, gun designers have gone with the concept of a front loader and it seems that this is the result of convention. However, a paradigm shift is clearly in effect and I imagine that all future designs may very well phase this out.

Second, there is the Future Soldier program and how modern weapons are being designed to be consistent with its requirements. What this means is that new firearms models must be able to sport computer-assisted aiming (aka. ballistics computer scopes) as well as night vision and even thermal imaging. In addition, it is hopes that these scopes will be able to be connected to the new generation of Head’s-Up Displays (HUDs) which are being specially designed for infantry use.

Oh, and a possible third conclusion is that all future weapons will need to come with their own built-in grenade launchers. That may not be a requirement per se, but I sure hope it is since it’s just so freaking cool. And keep in mind they can be modified to shoot air burst shells so that police and peacekeepers won’t get go all nutjob on mobs of unarmed people. It’s all about proportionality…

Thank you, that’s all for now. As much as I’d like to make this a new series right now, I have too many of those on the go and I already spend too much time on those. Seriously, things are getting way back up with my regular writing and my real job! But if people like this enough, maybe I’ll stay on it and be sure to post new examples as they come along. Oh, and of course suggestions are always welcome. Good day and good hunting 😉

Cool Ships (volume VIII)

Battleship Yamato:
A couple times now I’ve given praise to ship designs that went beyond the usual airplane/ seafaring paradigm. But what can you say about a spaceship which is a carbon copy of a old sea battleship? I don’t know, gutsy maybe? That its paying homage to the original? That’s all I can really say on this one, since it is identical to its namesake from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Taken from the anime series of the same name, the Yamato was a prototype ship which was built in secret by Earth forces in the ruins of the original. Using alien technology, it was the first Earth ship to boast FTL and a “wave-motion-gun”. These devices were meant to give it an edge in the ongoing war with a race known as the “Gamilons”.

Early in this war, the Gamilons had bombarded Earth with radioactive meteorites. The result was that all human settlements had to be moved underground. However, the radiation was slowly working its way down to the inhabitants, and the only hope for survival came in the form of a message from a distant star. After completion, the Yamato was meant to fly to this world and retrieve the device which apparently could cleanse Earth of its poisonous radiation.

Thus, the Yamato was created to perform a mission that meant the very survival of the human race. It’s drive system was to make sure it could make the trip, while its weapons were meant to ensure it could defend itself.

Cylon Heavy Raider:
Another installment from the BSG universe, here we have the heavy hitter of the Cylon fleet, the dual purpose attack and transport craft, otherwise known as “the turkey”. Capable of atmospheric entry, space flight and FTL travel, the Heavy Raider is capable of attacking, transporting troops and conducting boarding operations.

Unlike the standard Raider, the heavy can either fly itself on autopilot or be piloted by actual an Centurion. However, its automated functions do not appear to be the result of a sentient nervous system. In terms of armaments and capacity, the heavy has six cannons mounted under its cockpit and its bay is capable of holding up to ten Centurions.

The Heavy Raider made its first appearance in season one (“Scattered”) when one crashed into the starboard flight pod. On Caprica, Sharon Valerii (Boomer) commandeers one to provide fire support to the resistance and save Starbuck as she escaped from a Cylon medical facility (“The Farm”). The Heavy Raider would go on to make several more appearances in the series, particularly whenever assault missions or heavy raids were concerned.

Quasar Fire-class Cruiser:
Once more onto the Star Wars universe, my friends! But this time, its into the expanded universe with a ship that is somewhat obscure by most standards. Known as the Quasar Fire-class cruiser, or Alliance Escort Carrier, this ship made its first appearance in the Thrawn Trilogy during the Battle of Bilbringi then again in the novel The Truce At Bakura.

Designed by the Sullustans as a cargo transport, many of these vessels were given to the Alliance and converted for combat. This consisted of stripping down the cargo bays and turning into hangars, and mounting defensive turrets at the front and rear.

Thought lightly armored, armed, and shielded, the Quasar’s small size and versatility make it a ship of choice for small fleets and minor attack forces. It’s six squadrons of fighters also give it an effective defensive screen, making it all the more suitable as a small fleet command ship.

The Leviathan:
Did I say once more, I meant twice… maybe more! And this one goes way back, to roughly 4000 years before events in the original movies. Officially known as an Interdictor-class cruiser, this vessel was the mainstay of the Republican navy during the time of the Mandalarion Wars and was featured heavily in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

During the outbreak of the Sith War which immediately followed, the Leviathan served as Darth Revan’s flagship. After he was captured by the Jedi Order, ownership of this vessel changed to Darth Malak. The ship was responsible for obliterating the surface of Taris and was later the site where Darth Revan, now working for the Jedi Order, confronted Darth Malak for the first time since his defection.

Measuring 600 meters in length, the ship carries an arsenal of 20 quad laser cannons, 4 turbolasers, 2 ion cannons, and four squadrons of fighters. Although somewhat mild by modern Star Wars standards, she was designed to be a forerunner to the modern Star Destroyer design.

Negh’var-class Cruiser:
Despite their brawling, yelling and terrible table manners, you gotta admit; the Klingons make a fine looking ship! And this is especially true of the Negh’var-class warship, the heaviest of the heavies in the Klingon armada, serving as the command ship on many different occasions (and in multiple universes).

Ships of this kind made their first appearance in the series finale of Star Trek: TNG when two attacked the USS Pasteur. Another appeared in DS9 when a changling posing as General Martok led the Klingon fleet against the Cardassian Union, and again against Deep Space 9 when the Federation chose to oppose the invasion. They also went on to play an important role in the Dominion War alongside Federation and Romulan warships.

In addition to the standard cloaking device, the Negh’var carries an impressive array of armaments, including two massive disruptor pods mounted underneath the ship’s wings. It also carries multiple photon torpedo launchers, and several smaller emitters mounted across the ship. She is also capable of standing toe to toe with most other ships in the Alpha Quadrant in terms of velocity, making it up to speeds of Warp 9.

Ornithopter:
Not long ago, I was lamented the fact that I kept forgetting to mention anything from the Dune universe. Now I can’t seem to do a single post without including a Dune ship! This time, its the ornithopter, the curious cool ship that’s perplexed readers and conceptual artists for some time.

The most common vessel in the Imperium, the ornithopter (or ‘thopter for short) was an extremely versatile vessel that served primarily as a cargo vessel and transport. In addition, they often served in a military capacity, being fitted with lasguns, bombs and missiles. This was particulalry the case during Paul Muad’ib’s uprising, when House Atreides ‘thopters were fitted for the assault on Arrakeen and the Imperial Palace.

According to numerous descriptions taken from the expanded Dune universe, the thopter was primarily powered by jet propulsion, but relied on a set of beating wings to maintain altitude and maneuver. The concept has gone through several renditions over the years, due to the many attempts to adapt Dune to the screen. In David Lynch’s 1984 movie adaptation, ‘thopters appeared as small, box-like crat with swept wings that retracted and deployed from the fuselage.

In the 2000 miniseries, they were pictured as vertical take off and landing craft with fans mounted in pivoting wings. The featured picture (shown above left) is taken from The Road to Dune and is an artists concept of what a ‘thopter would look like. Here, we see beating wings which deploy for takeoff and retract upon landing.

USNC In Amber Clad:
Feels like its been awhile since I included anything from the Halo universe. And so here’s the Reunion, a Vladivostok-class guided missile frigate. Though somewhat old and outclassed by modern Covenant standards, several frigates played a crucial role in the Great War against Covenant forces. One such vessel was the In Amber Clad.

Armed with 12 Point Defense Guns, 40 missile pods, 5 twin rail gun turrets, a magnetic accelerator cannon, a compliment of Shiva nuclear missiles and a full compliment of Marines, dropships and escort fighters, the In Amber Clad was considered the mainstay of the old Earth fleet. Capable of atmospheric entry and landing, this ship did not need to rely on drop pods or shuttles, and could land an entire Marine force by itself.

During the Covenant War, these frigates were replaced by the larger and more heavily armed Halcyon-class cruisers. However, the In Amber Clad managed to score a significant victory over the Covenant during the Battle of Installation 05. During the course of the battle, it served as the flagship and won the day when it crashed into the Covenant ship High Charity.

VF-1 Veritech:
As requested, I’ve finally found an example from the Robotech universe! And to be honest, I wondered how long it would take. Though I’m not too familiar with this franchise, the RPG is something I remember fondly from my childhood, and some of the designs still percolate in my consciousness.

One of which is this, the VF-1 Vertiech, also known as the “Valkyrie”. This battleoid, which was adapted from alien technology (known as Protoculture),was originally designed for hand-to-hand combat with aliens which were up to 15 meters in height, the Veritech and subsequent breeds of mechas became the new face of warfare.

Mechas can function in both the fighter and mech role. Capable of flying through space, atmospheres and fighting on land, the Veritech was one of the most versatile and maneuverable mechas in the known universe. With a flight speed of Mach 3 (in atmosphere), and a top speed of 100 km/h running, she is as fast as any land vehicle or aerospace vessel. In addition, the standard Veritech carries two high-powered lasers, head mounted laser cannons, guided missiles, a rotary cannon, and is even capable of engaging in hand to hand combat.

YT-2400 Corellian Freighter:
To finish, I’m in the mood for something Corellian! And so it’s back to the Star Wars universe for this one. Much like its predecessor, the YT-1300 (a.k.a. the Millennium Falcon), the 2400 was a class of light freighter that was fast, tough and endlessly modifiable. So like the Falcon, it was a favorite amongst smugglers, merchants and privateers.

Smaller and lighter than the 1300 series, the 2400 boasted only one servo-turret for defense in addition to its shield array and armor plating. However, this could easily be remedied with the addition of extra guns and missile launchers. And its ample hull space and engine power, the 2400’s could easily accommodate additional mounts and the added weight.

One such ship which acheived notoriety during the Galactic Civil War was the Outrider, the ship of famed smuggler Dash Rendar. This ship, like most other 2400’s, was heavily modified to accommodate additional systems and weapons. Clearly, when the Corellian shipyard designated this vessel as freight transport, it was a nod and a wink!

Thank you all and good hunting! See you in next time in volume 9!

Cool Ships (volume VII)

Welcome to volume 7. Nuff chit chat, let’s get started!

The Blackbird:
Starting this list off right is the stealth ship from the updated Galactica universe. Christened the Laura, in honor of President Roslyn, this ship was the brainchild of engineer Galen Tyrol and his deck hands, who decided to build a new fighter from scratch to make up for their losses. Build for speed and skinned with carbon fiber instead of the usual metal, this ship proved to be invisible to both Colonial and Cylon tracking equipment, hence its designation as a stealth ship.

On her maiden voyage, Starbuck flew the Blackbird on an illegal reconnaissance mission to take pictures of the Cylon Resurrection ship that had been pursuing Galactica. The operation was a complete success, with Admiral Cain – the Pegasus’ CO – going as far to say that: “she flew right up their tailpipe and they didn’t even notice”.

As a result of the technical data obtained from this mission, a joint attack was planned between the Galactica and Pegasus to take the RS down. The Blackbird would go on to play a crucial role in this attack, using its stealth abilities to fly within a few meters of the RS and take out its FTL drive with a well-placed missile. Unfortunately, the Blackbird would suffer a fatal collision after performing this duty, and Captain Lee Adama, its pilot for the op, was almost killed.

Corellian Corvette:
Another mainstay of both the Rebel and Imperial fleets, this ship made its debut in the opening scene from Star Wars: A New Hope and has been with the franchise ever since. Otherwise known as a “Blockade Runner”, the CR90 corvette embodies the spirit of Corellian ship designs, boasting speed and versatility over size and raw firepower.

Because of its adaptability, another Corellian trademark, the CR90 could serve in a variety of roles. These ran the gambit from such mundane duties as freight hauling, to more dangerous assignments like raids and providing fighter escort. In some cases, they could even take on such high-profile missions as diplomatic envoys, carrying public officials to and from their assignments.

Because of these qualities, the CR90 had a long history of service in the Galaxy, serving in the navies of the Old Republic, the Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance, and the New Republic. Even after it was phased out of service, it remained a favorite among smugglers, pirates and smaller navies for some time.

Harbor Ship of Bentus:
Here is another feature from the Homeworld universe, the Harbor Ship of the alien race known as the Bentusi. Known for their focus on trade and supplying less advanced races with “short-jump” technology (i.e. FTL), the Bentusi soon found themselves caught in the middle of a series of interstellar conflicts between worlds.

As a result, the Harbor Ship was created, a mothership for the Bentusi fleet that was capable of housing, repairing and deploying smaller vessels. Thought not armed in any official capacity, it is the bulwark of the Bentusi armada and can be found wherever large-scale fleet deployments take place.

From what I can tell, this design was inspired by what historians believe the harbor of Carthage looked like. Much like the Harbor Ship, it was based on a sort of teardrop design, with a long entrance passage giving way to a sort of rotunda. This design, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, also makes a lot of practical sense, ensuring that multiple ships are able to be serviced in a 360 degree arc rather than a series of enclosed bays.

Ixian No-Ship:
Another Dune entry which I failed to acknowledge in previous posts, can you believe it? Well, mistake remedied as of now, here is the No-Ship! Named for the fact that it is capable of shielding itself from prescient vision and other forms of detection, including sight. This all makes the No-Ship the ultimate in stealth technology, and led to its wide adoption by all factions in the Dune universe.

Based on the same technology which powered the No-Chamber, a device which the Ixians used to shield their inventions from Leto II’s prescience, No-Ships would become the mainstay of all fleets after his death. In addition to their stealthy characterisitics, they would also boast another invention that was proposed during the time of Leto II, the Ixian navigation machine. This device, which was capable of limited prescience, was able to guide these ships through foldspace without the need of a Guild navigator.

Much like Guild Heighliners, No-Ships appear to have massive capacities. In Heretics of Dune, the No-Ship which Miles Teg steals from the Honored Matres on Gammu apparently had a Great Hold which measured one kilometer in length. This hold was later used to transport an adult sandworms and several tons of its native sand off of Rakis before the HM’s destroyed it. In Chapterhouse and subsequent books, No-Ships served as the mainstay of the Bene Gesserit fleet as well as with all other factions.

The Pegasus:
Battlestar Galactica gave so many cool ship designs that its hard for me to know where to look next. But today, I thought I’d go for the obvious and cover the ultra-modern and behemoth-sized Pegasus, the other Battlestar to survive the destruction of the Twelve Colonies. As with the original, the Pegasus makes an appearance in the re-imagined series. And like everything else, its appearance received an update, as did the tone and nature of its crew.

Although networked like all other modern Colonial ships, the Pegasus survived the assault through sheer luck, having taken its systems down for a diagnostic before the first wave came. Since that time, it’s CO, Admiral Cain, had been fighting a guerrilla style war with the Cylons, attacking their holdings and raiding small convoys in order to keep them off balance.

A mercury-class battlestar, the Pegasus was far more advanced and boasted significantly greater firepower than the Galactica.  In addition to its 30 defensive turrets, four heavy cannons, multiple missile launchers and compliment of nukes, its massive bays also hold 10 squadrons of Vipers, as well as dozens of Raptors and support craft. It also carries a series of Viper VII production facilities, meaning that it is capable of replenishing its losses.

With all of these attributes, the arrival of the Pegasus was a great boost to the Colonial fleet, adding a great deal of firepower, manufacturing and many of the latest ships to their arsenal. Nicknamed “The Beast”, the destruction of this ship over New Caprica was considered an immeasurable loss, though its sacrifice was hardly in vain.

Primus-class Battlecruiser:
Here we have another installment from the B5 universe, from the Centauri Republic to be specific. Known as the Primus-class Battlecruiser, this baby is renowned for packing firepower and artistic design into one package.

Discernible from its manta ray-like configuration, the Primus remains the mainstay of the Centauri navy even after two centuries of service. Although lightly armored, the ship boasts an impressive array of ion guns, a hyperspace drive, and artificial gravity for its crew.

Making its first appearance in season two of the show (“And Now For a Word”) when televised a standoff occurred outside the station between the Centauri and the Narn. In that battle, the cruiser in question was destroyed, but managed to inflict enough damage that the G’Quon class cruiser also blew up while attempting to make a jump. This demonstrated that the Primus, though an older design, was still capable of standing toe-to-toe with its Narn equivalent.

This encounter was followed up during the season two finale (“The Fall of Night”), when another such cruiser threatened the station when it was discovered that Sheridan was harboring a Narn heavy cruiser. This cruiser managed to inflict serious damage on the station before a squad of Starfuries and the station’s own defenses managed to destroy it.

Primus class cruisers would go on to make several appearances in the course of the show, serving throughout the Narn-Centauri war and even making an appearance during Sheridan’s war to liberate Earth. During the Alliance-Centauri war, these cruisers appeared to have been relegated to defensive duty, leaving offensive operations to the newer and lighter Vorchan-class cruisers.

USS Reliant:
Thank you to Victor for suggesting this one. I was wondering if I should go back to the original Star Trek for ideas, and this was just the push I needed to include some. And given that this ship made its appearance in Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of the bunch, I figured it would be the perfect candidate.

A Miranda-class starship, the Reliant possessed capabilities comparable to that of the USS Enterprise. She is best known for being the ship that was charged with investigating planets for the Genesis Project and then being commandeered by Khan Noonien Singh, a warlord from Earth’s Eugenics Wars who had been marooned on the planet for many years.

After commandeering the ship with his people, Khan used the Reliant to seize Genesis and attack the USS Enterprise. During their initial encounter, Khan was able to use surprise to disable and inflict considerable damage. He was only defeated when Spock, using the ship’s prefix code, was able to bring the Reliant’s shields down long enough for the Enterprise to strike back and take out its weapons and warp drive.

During their second confrontation, Kirk was able to lure Khan into the nearby Nebula where neither ship had the tactical advantage. There, the Enterprise was able to outmaneuver the Reliant and crippled her with a series of torpedoes and well placed phaser shots. Rather than face capture, Khan chose to initiate the Genesis’ self destruct sequence and nearly destroyed both ships in the process. The Enterprise narrowly escaped, thanks to Spock’s decision to sacrifice himself to bring the warp engines back on line.

Viscount-class Star Defender:
Last on the list is an entry which I’m personally impressed with. Known as a Star Defender, this class of Mon Calamari heavy cruiser comes from the Star Wars universe, and reminds us that not only the Empire was capable of creating some badass ships!

Commissioned during the time of the New Republic at the behest of Admiral Ackbar, the Star Defender was the Alliance’s answer to the Super Star Destroyer and other classes of Imperial terror weapons. Measuring 17 km in length and boasting over 5000 weapons turrets, this ship was more than a match for the Executor, Eclipse and any other vessel of similar size.

Like all Mon Calamari cruisers, this ship was studded with hangars and launch bays and could carry fourteen fighter squadrons, dozens of troops transports and any number of shuttles and support craft. It can also house over 12,000 troops and carries a standard crew of about 70,000. Though production of these vessels stalled due to the diminishing threat posed by the Empire after the Battle of Endor, the Thrawn crisis and the threat posed by the resurrected Emperor and his Eclipse dreadnoughts provided the final push.

Several versions of the Viscount class were commissioned for service over the years, including the Mon Remonda, pictured below.

Okay, that’s seven down. Do I really need to do an eighth? Ha! Just kidding, of course I do. Perhaps I’ll end this series at ten, or maybe it will become one of those things that slows down but never really goes away. As long as people keep suggesting things and I keep having ideas of my own, there’s no real end in sight! See ya next time 😀

Cool Ships (volume VI)

Back yet again with a sixth installment in the Cool Ships series. Like last time, I took this opportunity to tackle some overlooked examples, and some new ones as well. In addition… You know what? Screw the introductions and final thoughts, let’s just get into this!

Bird of Prey:
There’s nothing like a classic, and when it comes to the Star Trek franchise, few ships are more classic than the Klingon Bird of Prey. The perfect balance of form, speed, versatility, and firepower, the Bird of Prey is a ship with a very long history of service in the Klingon Empire.

This ship made its first appearance in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when a renegade Klingon captain, seeking the secrets of the Genesis Planet, used one to attack the Enterprise. Kirk and his crew would later commandeer this ship and use it in the following movie to travel back in time and bring two whales to the future (The Voyage Home).

Bird of Preys would also appear in the fifth and six movie installments, in the latter case as a prototype raider that could fire while cloaked (something previously unheard of). Remaining in service well into the 24th century, Bird of Preys appeared repeatedly in Stark Trek TNG, and DS9,  most notably as part of the Klingon war effort against the Dominion.

Boasting two multi-directional disruptors and single photon torpedo launcher located in the nose. It is also one of the first Klingon vessels to boast a cloaking device, something unavailable on heavier cruisers. Because of their stealthy abilities and versatility, they have played a variety of roles, including reconnaissance, escort, raids and as support for larger vessels.

Cylon Raider:
Boy, they’ve come along way baby! During the original series, Cylon raiders were saucer-shaped, had energy weapons and were crewed by up to three Centurions. In the re-imagined series, this changed significantly, though the Raider still retained its basic roll as a light assault craft.

In addition to getting a facelift, the newer generation of raiders relied on kinetic weapons, missiles and even tactical nukes. Its crew was replaced by an organic brain which was merged with the ship’s machinery, and which relied on an “eye” located in the fore of the central module to communicate and conduct navigation. Much like Raptors, Raiders are capable of making short-range FTL jumps, and therefore do not need to be deployed from a Basestar in the field.

Much of what is known about the modern raider came from Starbuck’s own experiences with a downed vessel. After making her way into the interior, she discovered a system of organs which were apparently fed by an internal supply of nitrogen and oxygen. After removing the brain, she was able to fly the ship using the system of organic levers and controls and rendezvous with the Galactica. Starbuck was meant to use this same vessel as a Trojan horse, but instead used it to fly back to Caprica (“You Can’t Go Home Again”)

Though self-aware, the average Cylon ship is not as intelligent or independent as a humanoid Cylon. However, like the humanoids, they are capable of resurrection and have their consciousness and memories recycled into a new body whenever they are shot down. In time, their accumulated knowledge and experience can make them even more formidable as opponents, as was demonstrated by the vessel known as “Scar” in the season two episode of the same name.

The Ebon Hawk:
Looking beyond the original movies, there are plenty of cool ships to be found in the expanded Star Wars universe. One example is the Ebon Hawk, a Corellian freighter which comes from the Knights Of The Old Republic game.

Much like its modern cousin, the Millennium Falcon, the Ebon Hawk is every smugglers wet dream. The perfect marriage of speed, maneuverability, and survivability, it is perfect for running blockades, evading capture, and saving the galaxy! It also played a central role in the Sith War and the events immediately following it.

Originally belonging to Davik, a ruthless criminal warlord belonging to the Exchange, the ship became the property of the Jedi Order after it was confiscated by Revan. Using this vessel to escape the Sith blockade of Taris, Revan and his comrades used this vessel to travel the Galaxy, investigating the Sith’s plans for domination and systematically unraveling them.

After the end of the Sith War, Revan took this ship to the Rim to further invesigate the true source of the Sith threat. The ship returned to the universe a few years later, carrying an former Jedi master named Kreia who had since become a Sith master, and was exiled by her peers. Once again, the ship would become the property of a Jedi warrior – Meetra Surik – and several fellow-travellers who would used it to retrace the path of Revan and eliminate the Sith Triumvirate, the last of the Sith Lords.

The Event Horizon:
A bit of a break for the usual lineup of cool ships here, the Event Horizon was a  prototype vessel that was featured in the movie of the same name. Built in the near future by Earth scientists to be the first that would be capable of making FTL jumps. In the course of making the jump from the edge of the Solar System to Proxima Centauri, the ship disappeared. Seven years, it rematerialized, sending out a general distress signal.

Upon investigating the derelict, the crew of the rescue ship Lewis and Clarke found a ship of horrors. In addition to having a long spine that was inlaid with jagged metal spikes, the experimental gravity drive looked like some kind of medieval torture device. Seriously, the thing was basically a studded metal ball with spiky rotating appendages.

Oh, and did I mention the ship was haunted? Yeah, apparently generating a quantum singularity and passing through it leads directly to Hell. So in essence, the ship brought a whole lot of Hell back with it when it came back to our universe, and these dark forces began making the rescue teams go made just as it had the original crew. Kinda stupid really…

But ultimately, the design and concept of the ship were pretty cool. And even if you forget about the obviously macabre nature of the engine room, it was pretty neat to behold.

Mothership (Homeworld):
The flagship of the Kushan fleet, the Mothership was the centerpiece of every mission in the Homeworld universe. Originally intended as a colony vessel, its role expanded during the Homeworld War to include that of a command ship and mobile shipyard. This was due to the many hostile races encountered after the Kushan fleet left Kharak to find Earth.

Although not an effective combat platform, the Mothership’s hyperdrive make it FTL capable and therefore capable of deep-space travel. In addition to its internal factories, it also has the capacity to hold 600,000 cryogenically frozen colonists as well as its regular crew of 50,000.

Although not heavily armed, the Mothership contained the means to construct many different classes of support vessels. These included scouts, resource harvesters, fighter craft, destroyers and even cruisers. As such, it had a solid defense screen during the time of the Exodus. Periodically stopping to replenish its resources from asteroid belts, the Mothership was also able to replenish its losses.

USNC Pillar of Autumn:
And here we have another franchise making its first appearance in this series! Coming from the Halo universe, the Pillar of Autumn was featured in the original Halo. A Halcyon-class light cruiser, this class of ship is one of the older ships in service with the UNSC Navy.

During the Covenant assault on Reach, the Autumn fled to the Soell system where it discovered and then crash landed on the Halo ring known as Installation 04. There, after engaging both Covenant and Flood forces, Master Chief John 117 detonating it in order to destroy the installation before it could fire.

Measuring 1.17 km in length and armed with a combination of kinetic guns, nuclear missiles and a magnetic accelerator cannon, the Autumn is powered by a fusion core and able to make FTL (aka. slipspace) jumps through space. In addition, it also carries a squadron of fighters, 15 Pelican dropships, 8 Scorpion tanks, 40 Warthogs, and a full compliment of Marines and Orbital Drop Shock Troops. The ship is run by a central AI – in the case of the Autumn, Cortana – and has a crew of between 300 and 400 personnel.

The Scimitar:
Though I didn’t care much for the movie that featured it, The Scimitar was still a pretty freaking cool ship! Huge, powerful, scary-looking and packing a doomsday device and a truly impenetrable cloak, this baby pretty much had it all. So it begs the question… how the hell did a bunch of slaves built this thing anyway?

Of Reman origin, this dreadnought was built under the supervision of the Picard clone Shinzon and figured prominently in his designs to take over the Romulan Empire and destroy the Federation. This he planned to do by attacking Earth, a plot which was narrowly averted by the crew of USS Enterprise E.

Built for total war, the Scimitar was given every technological advantage the Romulan Empire had at its disposal. This included 52 disruptor banks, 27 torpedo launchers, several squadrons of Scorpion attack fighters, and of course, its thalaron radiation weapon of mass destruction. Requiring several minutes to power up, this weapon was capable of sterilizing an entire planet. Deployment of the weapon involved unfolding its wings, a move which only made it look scarier!

The Scimitar was also protected by two shield arrays, which combined with its weaponry gave it the edge in every combat situation. And as already noted, its cloak was perfect, emitting no tachyons or anti-protons as other cloaking devices were notorious for. As a result, the Scimitar was truly impossible to track while under cloak.

Slave I:
Anyone familiar with the Star Wars universe knows who Boba Fett is. And chances are, all of those people are familiar with his ship, the Slave I. A modified Firespray-31-class attack and patrol craft, the Slave I was originally the property of famed bounty hunter Jango Fett. After his death at the hands of Mace Windu, it passed to his son, Boba Fett.

Small, sleek and stealthy, the ship was also augmented with several advanced weapons systems. These included two rapid fire blaster cannons, two missile launchers, and a rear-mounted minelayer compartment which was capable of deploying seismic charges. The ship also carried a compliment of dummy torpedoes which could tag ships with tracking beacons.

During the events of Empire, Fett used this ship to track Han and the Falcon back to Bespin and then take his carbonite-frozen body back to Jabba’s Palace. After escaping from the Rancour Pit on Tatooine, Fett upgraded to a new ship, which he named Slave II in honor of his father’s ship.

Reaver Ship:
As a fitting final entry, I am returning to the Firefly universe once more. And this time, it’s the Reaver ship that I’ve decided to cover. Though every Reaver ship is of unique design, the one which was featured in the pilot episode (featured at right) is my personal favorite.

Like all Reaver ships, this vessel is adorned with red paint and what I can only assume is the blood of innocent victims. It’s hull and engine compartments have also been modified to look claw-like and threatening, it’s front section has been mangled from ramming into other ships, and its engine functions without radiation containment.

Above all, its weapons have been modified to incorporate the unique Reaver combination of medieval weaponry and snares. These can consist of EMP’s, grappling lines, nets, and launchers that fire shurikens, buzz saw blades, spears and some kinetic weapons. Ultimately, the purpose of Reaver weapons are to disable and capture enemy ships rather than destroy them. This gives the Reaver crews the pleasure of meeting their victims face to face and killing them with sharpened implements.

Yes, much like the Reavers themselves, their ships are scary and look like they got a facelift from a belt sander. But such appearances, as well as their lack of containment, let merchant ships and smugglers know they are coming. When that happens, crews can either power down and hope they’ll go unnoticed or run like all hell. Otherwise, they’re only option is to make peace with whatever deity they pray to and eat a bullet, cuz’ the alternative aint pretty!

Thank you all, this has been volume six! Stay tuned for volume seven, coming soon!

Cool Ships (volume V)

Back again! More ships, more designs, more franchises too. Like I said last time, there’s just no limit when you get right down to it. And in the course of doing my homework on cool sci-fi concepts, I’ve found that there are hundreds of franchises out there that I’ve never even heard of before. Of those I have heard of, I always seem to miss a few obvious candidates. That’s the beauty of ongoing segments though. Here are the latest, with some suggestions thrown in too 😉

Colonial Raptor:
Another late entry from the Battlestar Galactica universe, the updated version. Designed for reconnaissance, transport, atmospheric and space flight, and capable of making short range FTL jumps, the Raptor is the workhorse of the Colonial fleet and one of its most versatile vessels. Ordinarily, the Raptor is operated by a crew of two, one pilot and one Electronic Countermeasures Officer. Given it’s size and shape, it cannot launch from a launch tube and must take off and land from a Battlestar’s forward launch bay.

Having served with the Colonial fleet for over 40 years, making its debut in the first Cylon War, the versatility and reliability of this craft have prevented it from being phased out by newer generations of Colonial ships. During the second Cylon War, Raptors were used regularly in order to dust off survivors from Caprica and other colonies. Relying on a fly-by-wire system, rather than the new defense network systems, it also proved invulnerable to the virus the Cylon’s used to cripple the fleet.

Cygnus:
Now here’s one that people probably won’t remember. In fact, I didn’t recall it either until I did some reading and realized I had seen the movie which featured it – The Black Hole – as a child and quite enjoyed it. Though a little Buck Rogers-y by modern standards, the concept and the movie and this ship still stand the test of time.

Released in 1979 by Walt Disney Pictures, The Black Hole was one of many movies that sought to take advantage of the sci-fi craze that Star Wars had unleashed. The plot centers on a derelict ship, known as the Cygnus, which is run by an android crew and a brilliant (albeit mad) scientist named Doctor Hans Reinhardt.

In addition to looking pretty cool, with its glowing transparent sections and old-school design, the Cygnus is apparently able to withstand the gravitational pull of black hole due to its ability to generate its own gravity well. In addition, its commander, Dr. Reinhardt, theorized that he would be able to fly it through a black hole and see once and for all what lay on the other side… It didn’t take, but still a cool idea!

Guild Heighliner:

Artist’s concept for a Guild Heighliner

Here’s one I couldn’t believe I had forgotten. In fact, I will accept any and all chastisements for my failure to include Dune craft in this series thus far. This can include physical beatings, just stay away from the nads… not quite done with those yet!

Anyhoo, when it comes to Dune ships, the Heighliner definitely takes the cake! Massive as all hell, this ship was the backbone of all commerce, diplomacy, travel and tourism in the Dune universe. Like all shipping, it was the exclusive property of the Spacing Guild and subject to their many controls, laws and whims.

Boasting Holtzman engines – a FTL drive system that was capable of “folding space” – the ship still required the services of a Guild Navigator. This person, a semi-prescient mutant due to years of living in a spice tank, would see a path through time and space and thus navigate the ship safely to its destination.

According to the original Dune, a single Heighliner was capable of lifting an entire planet’s worth of personnel, goods and supplies from one point in space to the next. As Duke Leto tells Paul in Part I of the story: “A Heighliner is truly big. Its hold will tuck all our frigates and transports into a little corner — we’ll be just a small part of the ship’s manifest.” Later in that same installment, House Harkonnen used a single Heighliner in order to lift an entire army to Arrakis for a surprise assault on the Atreides, and the cost was nothing short of punitive!

Given that the Heighliners are the sole means of commerce in a Empire as massive as that of the Dune universe, its little wonder why Heighliners are so freakishly big. Chartering one aint cheap, and if you do stowe aboard, you are expected to mind your business and wait until you arrive at your destination. Due to their high level of secrecy and sensitivity, no one is even allowed to venture beyond their own boarding craft when on a Heighlinger, and virtually no one outside of the Guild has ever seen a Guild navigator. Considered to be neutral territory by Imperial law, any and all acts of violence aboard Guild Heighliners carry stiff penalties.

Gunstar:
Ah, another childhood classic! Taken from the film The Last Starfighter, the Gunstar was the first line of defense of the Star League against the evil Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. Sounds pretty cheesy, huh? Well, it was the eighties! And this was yet another Disney franchise that seemed to be riding in the Star Wars wake. Still, this movie was one the first to make extensive use of CGI (Tron being the only other) and had a none-too-bad storyline too boot!

Boasting multiple guns, missiles and a “Death Blossom” trick that is nothing short of devastating, the gun star is a rather unique and innovative design. Apparently, it was meant to be a class of ship that would never go out of style, merging functionality with lethality and being able to take on any class of enemy ship.

Every Gunstar is a two seater, with the starfighter (gunner) in front, and the navigator in the rear. While the navigator flies the ship, the gunner directs fire from a swivel chair, which gives them control over the ships moveable weapons batteries. Although it has no shielding to speak of, the hull is protected by armor plating which can withstand multiple direct hits. When cornered, it is also capable of unleashing the “Death Blossom” where it will begin to rotate at a furious speed and unleash gun and missile fire in all directions. This however, is considered a weapon of last resort, since it will drain the ship’s power supply completely.

Heart of Gold:
Now here’s an interesting, and highly improbably, entry! Coming to us straight out of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, the SS Heart of Gold is rather unique in that it merged scientific theory with Douglas Adam’s notoriously quirky sense of humor.

Being a prototype vessel, it was the first ship ever in the universe to boast the “Infinite Probability Drive”. This drive system is essentially a Faster-Than-Light engine which is actually based in quantum theory. Essentially, the theory states that a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place at a particular time, but that 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 as long as it had sufficient control of probability.

Pretty cool huh? In the original radio series, the shape of the vessel was not specified. In the novelization of the series, it was described as a “sleek white running shoe”. For the sake of the movie, artists went with a tea-cup design, and added some brake lights for good measure. Originally built as part of a secret government project on the planet of Damogran, the ship was stolen by President Zaphod Beeblebrox during its launching ceremony and became the means through which the main characters began exploring the universe.

Minbari Cruiser:
Back once more to the B5 universe for another fine example of kick-ass shippery! Known officially as the Sharlin-class Warcruiser, this Minbari vessel is the mainstay of the Minbari fleet in the original series. Big, bold, stealthy, and packing a sh*tload of firepower, this vessel is veritable nightmare for all but the most powerful of races. Even Shadow vessels mind their business when some of these are in the field.

Making its appearance in season one of the show (episode 17: “Legacies”) and went on to become a regular feature. When Sheridan assumed command of the station in season two, the renegade cruiser Trigati was destroyed in the course of a standoff. After B5 broke away from Earth in season 3, a force of Sharlin cruisers arrived just in time to prevent the station from being captured by forces loyal to Clarke. Many went on to serve alongside Sherian and Delenn in the Shadow War and even went on to help liberate Earth from Clarke’s forces.

According to Delenn, Minbari ships do not rely on conventional engines like other ships. Instead, a system of gravitational and electromagnetic fields for propulsion, which have the added benefit of supplying artificial gravity. This frees up their ships from the needs of rotating sections and makes for a more effective combat platform. Sharlin cruisers also boast a significant amount of weaponry, which consists mainly of heavy beam cannons, but also includes missile launchers, neutron guns, and electro-pulse cannons.

During the Earth-Mimbari War, Earth Forces were completely outmatched by this class of Cruiser. In addition to being highly resistant to Earth force weapons, the Sharlin cruiser also boasted a stealth field which prevented Earth ships from being able to lock onto it. In the course of the war, only one human Captain ever survived combat with one, Captain John Sheridan. Relying on a phony distress signal and several well placed tactical nukes, Sheridan was able to lure the Black Star, the Minbari flagship, into a trap and destroy it. Though the Minbari considered it a cheap victory, Sheridan’s fame and renown quickly spread throughout the fleet.

During the battle of Sector 83, the Sharlin-class Cruiser proved an effective weapon against the Shadows. Although somewhat slow and providing a large target for Shadows, their powerful beam weapons were capable of destroying a Shadow ship unassisted. When protected by smaller, faster craft like the White Star, it proves to be a very effective combat platform.

Nebula-B Escort Frigate:
More Star Wars! God, I think I’m OD’ing on this franchise. But the sign says “Cool Ships” and this one is no exception. Known as the Nebula-class frigate, this ship is probably best remembered as the “Medical Frigate” which appeared in Empire and Jedi. 

Measuring some 300 meters long and designed to defend Imperial convoys from Rebel attacks, this ship was more famously used by the Rebellion as a hospital ship. During heavy fighting, Nebula-B’s would be on hand to pick up pilots that had ejected and provide them with life-saving assistance, ensuring that Rebel pilots could live to fight another day.

The most famous appearance of a Medical Frigate was during the Battle of Endor, when several medical frigates were on hand to service Rebel pilots who had been shot down by superior Imperial forces. It was also on board the Medical Frigate Redemption that Luke Skywalker received his prosthetic hand after losing it in a lightsaber duel to Vader.

In addition to providing escort and as a hospital ship, the Nebula-B was proved useful as a deep space scout and reconnaissance ship, due to its sophisticated sensors. During raiding missions or less intense combat operations, many also served as command ships given their speed and defensive capabilities. One weakness of the Nebula-B however was its thin fusilage. Though this made the ship an inexpensive vessel by most standards, it also made it a poor choice for heavy combat. Hence why it was relegated to support, scouting and medical roles.

The Nostromo:
You know, I really thought I covered this one already. I already mentioned how the Alliance Cruisers from Firefly appeared to be inspired by this baby. And it just makes sense that if you’re going to cover ships from the sequel, (the USS Sulaco and the Cheyenne Dropship) that you cover the original first. But alas, the Nostromo was somehow passed over by me, another act of wanton insensitivity! Beating shall continue until my attitude improves!

Okay, now that we got my punishment out of the way, allow me to pay this ship it’s due homage. The main set for the movie Alien, the USCSS Nostromo was a deep space commercial vessel which belonged to the Weyland-Yutani corp (much like everything else in this universe!).

Overall, the Nostromo was a curious design which made perfect sense from a space-faring point of view. Doing away with such things as streamlining and aerodynamic sleekness, the ship was well suited to deep-space travel and hailing. In addition, it was also taller than it was long, another common aspect to spaceships which are confined to the whole sea ship/airplane paradigm.

It’s massive refinery, which it towed behind, would process its manifest of mined ore while it made its way back to Earth from wherever it had been deployed. Thus, in addition to providing transport and amenities for a crew of miners and spacers, it was also a mobile refining platform that could deliver processed materials to factories rather than just unrefined ore.

While on return from the distant planet of Thedus, the Nostromo was rerouted to LV-426 where it picked up the alien organism known as a xenomorph. After all but one of the crew were killed the by creature, Ellen Ripley, the ship’s Warrant Officer, set the ship’s to self-destruct and escaped aboard the ship’s life craft with the crew cat, Jones. According to Weyland-Yutani execs, who were some pissed when she returned without her ship, the destruction of this vessel cost them 24 million in adjusted dollars. Damn penny-pinchers!

The Sathanas:
What do you call the most fearsome, intimidating and powerful ship in the universe, without being too obvious, that is? The Sathanas, that’s what! Being the Latin name for Satan, this title is very apt when applied to a massive juggernaut built by a race known as the the Shivans (i.e. Shiva, Hindu god of destruction).

This last entry, much like The Colossus and Deimos from my last list, comes to us from the game Freespace 2. Making its appearance midway through the game, this terrifying vessel was the most powerful space-faring ship ever encountered by the human race or its allies.

Boasting four massive beam cannons which are situated at the end of its claw like appendages, this ship best exemplifies the offensive fighting spirit. Jumping into a field of battle, it is capable of dealing devastating blows on a target head on, keeping its flanks and rear hidden from the enemy.

Above all, it is clear that the Shivan built the Sathanas to act as a terror weapon in addition to a capital ship. One look at its design confirms this, given its clawing appendages and thorny skin. Defeating this ship outright is quite difficult given its reinforced plating and terrible array of weapons. Disabling this ship, through EMP missiles and guns, is not much easier given the incredibly density of its hull and many redundant systems. In the end, the only way to beat it seems to be for lighter craft to take out its “claws” while heavier vessels strike at it from a distance. However, this still proves to be a suicidal mission given the Sathanas’ many missile and defensive batteries.

Ultimately, taking down this ship in the game is much like the real-life campaign to sink the Bismark. This dreadnought, which was the pride and joy of the German navy in WWII, also boasted massive weapons, a heavily armored hull and superior systems. In the end, the Royal Navy brought it down through a combination of luck, persistence, and careful engagements, taking their time to disable it and then closing in to pound it relentlessly! Hmmm. I guess good history makes for good gaming 🙂

Final Thoughts:/strong>
The suggestion box, as always, is still open. Thanks to Goran Zidar for suggesting the Gunstar, I knew I’d have to include it sooner or later and I’m glad someone asked. Anything else? I got another installment on the way, and probably a few more after that. No? Sigh, alright, bring on the beatings! No nads!