Remembering Douglas Adams

the-hitchhiker-s-guide-to-the-galaxy-original2Yesterday was the birthday of the late, great science fiction writer and luminary known as Douglas Adams. Had he not passed away in 2001, at the age of forty-one, he  would have been celebrating his sixty-first birthday. Best remembered for his series The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Adams greatest accomplishment was arguably his ability to weave comedy and science fiction into one!

And that’s not the easiest thing to do in a genre like science fiction, which is noted for being often bleak, dystopian, or highly technical. Sure, there was plenty that was unintentionally funny, especially in Douglas’ time, but Adams demonstrated that science fiction writing could be both high-minded – incorporating real science and galactic exploration – and irreverent.

So I hope people will join me in wishing the man a belated happy birthday! Though I learned about it too late to acknowledge it on time, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. The man did have a rich sense of humor, after all!

Biography:
Douglas_adams_portrait_croppedBorn in Cambridge, England in 1952, Adams parents moved to London when he was still a toddler. They divorced five years later, and Adams spent his formative years with his mother in Brentwood, east of London. Receiving his education from the privately run Brentwood School, he was noted for being unusually tall, he also stood out because of his exceptional ability at creative writing.

Some of his earliest writing was published at the school, in the town publication The Brentwoodian, or the school magazine Broadsheet. He also designed the cover of one issue of the latter, and had a letter and short story published nationally in The Eagle, the boys’ comic, in 1965. On the strength of a bravura essay on religious poetry that discussed the Beatles and William Blake, he was awarded a place at St John’s College, Cambridge to read English in 1971 and graduated two years later.

While there, he also attempted to ply his comedic skills and applied to join the Footlights, an invitation-only student comedy club. While he waited to join, he began writing and performing in revues with Will Adams (no relation) and Martin Smith, forming a group called “Adams-Smith-Adams”. By 1973, he managed to become a member of the Footlights until he graduated and moved back to London.

At this point of his life, he was determined to break into television and radio as a writer. This resulted in a brief collaboration between him and Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, and a series of appearances by Adam’s on Flying Circus. At the time though, his writing style did not seem suited to radio or TV comedy, and he was forced to work odd jobs to make ends meet. However, Adams never stopped writing and continued to work towards his masterpiece.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:
HitchHikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy,-The_8Hitchhiker began in 1977 as a pitch to the BBC radio as a concept for a science-fiction comedy radio series. According to Adams, the idea for the title occurred to him while he lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, gazing at the stars. He was carrying a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe, and it occurred to him that “somebody ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“.

At the same time, Douglas worked on novelizations of his concept, which made producing the series all the more difficult. Not a prodigious writer, Adams was apparently the kind of man who had to be forced to meet deadlines and complete what he started. Despite the difficulties he had, Adams wrote five novels in the series, published in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984, and 1992.

For the rest of his life, Adams made several attempts to get Hitchhiker adapted into a movie. He did not succeed in his lifetime, but in 1981, the radio series became the basis for a BBC television mini-series and Disney bought the rights in 1998. It was not until 2005, four years after his death, that the screenplay finally got a posthumous re-write by Karey Kirkpatrick, and the resulting movie was released.

hitchhikers_movieOther Works:
Despite Hitchhikers immense popularity, it was by no means Adam’s only literary creation. During the 1980’s, Adams and Mark Carwardine, a noted zoologist, collaborated on a series of BBC broadcasts known as Last Chance to See where they would travel to foreign countries and speak of endangered species.

Dirk_Gently_UK_front_coverIn between all this, he wrote the novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a humorous detective story which was relesead in 1987. Adams himself described the book as “a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics.” A sequel, entitled The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, was published a year later. These were entirely original works, Adams’s first since So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

In between all of this, Adams also worked with the BBC as a writer on Doctor Who. Altogether, he wrote three Doctor Who serials starring Tom Baker as the Doctor. These included the episodes “The Pirate Planet” (Season 16), “City of Death” (with producer Graham Williams, from an original storyline by writer David Fisher), and Shada (only partially filmed and never filmed).

Legacy:
Adams died in 2001 as a result of a degenerative heart condition and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, North London. After eighteen years of writing, publishing, and broadcasting, he left an indelible mark on science fiction and popular culture. The holiday known as Towel Day – in honor of the sage advice contained in the Guide – takes place every May 25th.

heartofgold_ext2And despite his irreverence and characteristic wit, Adams is also remembered for exploring scientifically plausible ideas. For example, the Heart of Gold – the ship featured in Hitchhiker – is powered by the “Infinite Improbability Drive”. This is an FTL drive system which is based in a particular aspect of quantum theory. Chaos theory also plays an important role in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, where everything, even elements which seem superfluous, turn out to be interconnected with the plot.

towel_dayThe words “Don’t Panic”, also advice contained within the Guide, and the significance thereof are known by any self-respecting geek. Concepts like the “Babel Fish”, the living translation device one inserts in their ear, are also commemorated with programs like Yahoo’s translation program of the same name. Also, in 2011, over 3000 people took part in a public vote to choose the subjects of People’s Plaques in Islington. Adams received 489 votes, and a plaque is due to be erected in his honour.

And just yesterday, to mark his 61st birthday, Google celebrated with an interactive “Google Doodle” which featured a stylized version of the Heart of Gold’s computer console. In addition, the BBC has the text-based Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game available to play on their website here. So if you’ve got time and feel like doing something fun to commemorate Adams, just click on the links provided and enjoy!

RIP Douglas Adams. You were a rich soul and a witty, funny, and brilliant man. Like so many before you, you were snatched up too soon and didn’t live long enough to get your proper due!

Of Faster-Than-Light Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Firefly, Best Lines (part III)

Hello! Welcome to the third and final installment in the “Best Lines” series dedicated to the awesome show Firefly. It seems fitting that I put up the final installment in the show seeing as how my wife and I just finished (re)watching the entire series on Netflix last night. It’s times like this that make me sad that there isn’t a second, third, fourth season to pick up where it all left off. Sad and very, VERY angry! DAMN YOU FOX! Anyhoo, enjoy the list and stay tuned for a follow-up with the best lines from Serenity. Just need to (re)watch it too (man, Netflix is good to me!).

Trash:
Mal and crew are reunited with an old acquaintance – Saffron, or as she’s known now, Bridgitte – who gives them an offer they can’t refuse. Seems the first laser ever made is ripe for the picking, and the owner just happens to be her ex-husband (her first ex-husband!)

Monty: Damn you, Bridgitte! Damn you to Hades! You broke my heart in a million pieces! You made me love you, and then you… I shaved off my beard for you, devil woman!

Mal: This is my scrap of nowhere. You go on, find your own.
Saffron
: You can’t just leave me here on this lifeless piece-of-crap moon.
Mal
: I can.
Saffron
: I’ll die.
Mal
: Well, as a courtesy, you might start getting busy on that, ’cause all this chatter ain’t doin’ me any kindness.

Inara: Right, you’re a criminal mastermind! What was the last cargo we snuck past the Alliance to transport?
Mal
: That was a little dif—
Inara
: What was the cargo?
Mal
: They were dolls.
Inara
: They were little geisha dolls with big heads that wobbled!
Mal
: Hey! People love those!

Inara: Well, since I can’t seem to find work as Companion, I might as well become a petty thief like you!
Mal
: Petty?
nara
: I didn’t mean petty.
Mal
: What did you mean?
Inara
: Suo-SHEE?
Mal
:
…That’s Chinese for “petty”.

Mal: Saffron has a notion we can walk right in there, take the Lassiter right off his shelf.
Wash
: I’m confused.
Saffron
: You’re asking yourself if I’ve got the security codes, why don’t I go in, grab it for myself?
Wash
: No. Actually, I was wondering… WHAT’S SHE DOING ON THIS SHIP?

Zoe: But Inara ain’t wrong. She can’t be trusted.
Mal
: I ain’t asking you to trust her. I’ll be with her on the inside the whole time.
Saffron
: See there? All you gotta do to be a rich woman, hon, is… get over it.
Zoe
: Hmm. Okay. [punches Saffron] I’m in.

River: She’s a liar.
Jayne
: That don’t exactly set her apart from the rest of us. The plunder sounds fun enough.
River
: She’s a liar, and no good will come of her.
Jayne
: Well, as a rule, I say, girlfolk ain’t to be trusted.
River
: “Jayne” is a girl’s name.
Jayne
: Well, Jayne ain’t a girl! She starts in on that girl’s-name thing, I’ll show her good ‘n’ all, I got man parts!
Simon
: I’m… trying to think of a way for you to be cruder. I just… it’s not coming.

Saffron: Durran, this isn’t what it looks like.
Mal
: Unless… it looks like… we’re stealing your priceless Lassiter, ’cause… that’s what we’re doing. Don’t ask me about the gun, though, ’cause that’s new.
Durran
: Well, I appreciate your honesty. Not, you know, a lot, but..

Durran: How long have you been with him?
Mal
: Oh— pfft! We are not together.
Saffron
: He’s my husband.
Mal
: Well, who in the damn galaxy ain’t?!

Jayne: Is spine okay?
Simon
: How much did they offer you to sell out me and River on Ariel?
Jayne
: Das crazy talk.
Simon
: Then let’s talk crazy. How much?
Jayne
: [looks to the door] Anybody there? [River pokes her head in] Anybody else?

Simon: No matter what you do, or say or plot, no matter how you come down on us… I will never, ever harm you. You’re on this table, you’re safe. ‘Cause I’m your medic, and however little we may like or trust each other, we’re on the same crew. Got the same troubles, same enemies, and more than enough of both. Now, we could circle each other and growl, sleep with one eye open, but that thought wearies me. I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I’m trusting you. I think you should do the same. ‘Cause I don’t see this working any other way.
River
: Also… I can kill you with my brain.

Mal: Yeah. That went well.
Inara
: You call this going well?
Mal
: We got the loot, didn’t we?
Inara
: Yes, but—
Mal
: Then I call this a win. What’s the problem?
Inara
: Shall I start with the part where you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, or the part where you have no clothes?

The Message:
The crew of the Serenity get a strange and unexpected package from an old friend: his body! Initially, it seems he’s dead, but in time they realize he’s alive and smuggling cloned organs to a buyer. Unfortunately, the organs are worth something to some other people, crooked Alliance personnel who’ll stop at nothing to find him.

Simon: Yep—it’s a cow fetus.
Kaylee
: Guess so. It does seem to have an awful lot of limbs.
Simon
: It’s mutated.
Kaylee
: But cow? How do you figure?
Simon
: It’s upside down.
Kaylee
: [looks sideways at it] Oh yeah. Cow.
Simon
: And I’m out twelve bits! I really know how to show a girl a… disgusting time.

Wash: Oh my god, it’s grotesque! Oh, and there’s something in a jar.
Zoe
: Scared her away again, did you?
Simon
: D— This may come as a shock, but I’m actually… not very good at talking to girls.
Zoe
: Why, is there someone you are good at talking to?
Wash
: [looking at the “alien”] Do not fear me! Ours is a peaceful race, and we must live in harmony.

Jayne: I got post?
Book
: Might we all want to step a few paces back before he opens that?
Jayne
: Ha ha! It’s from my mother.
Inara
: So, do aliens live among us?
Kaylee
: Yeah. One of them’s a doctor.

Jayne: [tries on the hat his mother made him] How’s it sit? Pretty cunning, don’t you think?
Kaylee
: I think it’s the sweetest hat ever.
Wash
: A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.
Jayne
: Damn straight!

[Zoe and Mal open a coffin-sized box to find a body.]
Jayne
: What’d y’all order a dead guy for?

Zoe: First rule of battle, little one… don’t ever let them know where you are.
Mal
: WHOO-HOO! I’M RIGHT HERE! I’M RIGHT HERE! YOU WANT SOME O’ ME?! YEAH YOU DO! COME ON! COME ON! AAAAAH! Whoo-hoo!
Zoe
: ‘Course, there’re other schools of thought.

Mal: Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone’s carryin’ a bullet for you right now, doesn’t even know it. The trick is, die of old age before it finds you.

Tracey: [recording] You know, it’s funny. We went to the war never lookin’ to come back, but it’s… it’s the real world I couldn’t survive. You two carried me through that war. Now I need you to carry me just a little bit further… if you can. Tell my folks I wanted to do right by them, and that I’m at peace, and all. Uh… When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that, well… Yeah, you know the rest. Thanks, b-both of you. Oh, yeah, and, uh… make sure my eyes is closed, will ya?

Mal: Oh, the colonel was dead drunk. Three hours pissin’ on about the enlisted men. Uh, “they’re scum”, uh, “they’re not fighters”, and, uh… and then he passed right out—boom.
Zoe
: We couldn’t even move him. So, uh, Tracey just… snipped it right off his face.
Mal
: And you never seen a man more proud of his moustache than Colonel Obrin. I mean, in all my life, I will never love a woman the way this officer loved that lip ferret.
Zoe
: Big, walrus-y thing—all waxed up!
Inara
: Did he find out?
Mal
: Oh! Next mornin’, he wakes up, it’s gone, and he is furious! But he can’t just say, you know, “Someone stole my moustache!” So he, uh, calls together all the platoons…
Zoe
: We thought he was gonna shoot us!
Mal
: …and, uh… Oh, he’s eye-ballin’ all the men somethin’ fierce. Not a word. And he comes up to Tracey, and Tracey’s wearing the gorram thing on his face!
Zoe
: He’d glued it on!
Mal
: He’s starin’ the old man down wearing his own damn moustache!

[Tracey wakes up during his autopsy]
Jayne
: Spry for a dead fella!
Tracey
: Sarge?
Mal
: Yeah?
Tracey
: I think I’m naked.
Mal: You wanna explain to me exactly why you got yourself all corpsified and mailed to me?

Wash: I think they’re about done being stalled to— ahhhh… AHHHHHHH! Mal, your dead army buddy’s on the bridge.
Zoe
: He ain’t dead.
Wash
: …Oh…

Mal: Hear that quiet? Means the call’s already been made.
Tracey
: Well, that call… that call means you just murdered me.
Mal: No, son. You murdered yourself. I just carried the bullet a while.

Tracey: When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, when you can’t do that…
Zoe
: …you find someone to carry you.

Heart of Gold:
An old friend of Inara’s, a madame who runs a brothel, kindly asks the crew of the Serenity for help. On a distant moon, the local Sheriff, a power-hungry and corrupt man, is hellbent on stealing his son from one of the local girls.

Inara: Hi.
Mal
: BWAH!
Inara
: Sorry! Didn’t mean to startle.
Mal
: You didn’t! I was just, uh… “BWAH!” That’s more like a… It’s a warrior like… Strikes fear into the… hearts of… You know, not altogether wise, sneaking up on a fellow when he’s handling his weapon.
Inara
: I’m sure I’ve heard that said. But… perhaps the dining area isn’t the place for this sort of thing.
Mal
: What do ya mean? It’s the only place with a table big enough.
Inara
: Of course. In that case, every well-bred petty crook knows that the small concealable weapons always go to the far left of the place setting.

Inara: It sounds like something this crew can handle. I can’t guarantee they’ll handle it particularly well, but…
Nandi
: If they got guns and brains at all.
Inara
: They’ve got guns

Jayne: Don’t much see the benefit in getting involved in strangers’ troubles without a up-front price negotiated.
Book
: These people need assistance. The benefit wouldn’t necessarily be for you.
Jayne
: That’s what I’m sayin’.
Zoe
: No one’s gonna force you to go, Jayne. As has been stated, this job is strictly speculative.
Jayne
: Good! Don’t know these folks, don’t much care to.
Mal
: They’re whores.
Jayne
: I’m in.

Inara: Nandi, this is Malcolm Reynolds.
Nandi
: I appreciate your coming.
Mal
: Well, any friend of Inara’s is a strictly businesslike relationship of mine.

Mal: I’ll introduce you to the rest later. They’re good folk.
Jayne
: Can I start getting sexed already?
Mal
: Well, that one’s kinda horrific.

Simon: Isn’t there a pregnant woman I’m to examine?
Wash
: You’d really lie with someone being paid for it?
Kaylee
: Well, it’s not like anyone else is lining up to, you know, examine me.
Jayne
: Whoop! My John Thomas is about to pop off and fly around the room, there’s so much tasty here. Ooh!
Wash
: Would be you get your most poetical about your pecker.

Kaylee: Everyone’s got somebody. Wash, tell me I’m pretty.
Wash
: Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion.
Kaylee
: ‘Cause I’m pretty?
Wash
: ‘Cause you’re pretty.

Mal: Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he’s right with God.
Nandi: Captain Reynolds, it took me years to cut this piece of territory out of other men’s hands, to build this business up from nothing.
Mal
: Nandi…
Nandi
: It’s who I am, and it’s my home. I’m not going anywhere.
Mal
: Well, lady, I must say—you’re my kinda stupid.

Wash: Well, I’m not sure now is the best time to bring a tiny little helpless person into our lives.
Zoe
: That excuse is gettin’ a little worn, honey.
Wash
: It’s not an excuse, dear! It’s objective assessment. I can’t help that it stays relevant.
Zoe
: I don’t give a good gorram about relevant, Wash, or objective. And I ain’t so afraid of losing something that I ain’t gonna try to have it. You and I would make one beautiful baby. And I want to meet that child one day. Period.

Nandi: Truth is, I expected a whole lot more of you to be takin’ payment in our trade.
Mal
: Well, we’re an odd conglomeration. Got a preacher, a married fellah, and the doctor… well, he’d have to… relax for thirty seconds to get his play. That’d be more or less a miracle.

Mal: Miss Nandi, I have a confession to make.
Nandi
: Maybe I should get the Shepherd.
Mal
: Well, I ain’t sinned yet. And I’d feel a little more’n awkward if he were here when I did.

Nandi: Malcolm, I been waiting for you to kiss me since I showed you my guns.
Nandi
: You okay with this?
Mal
: I’m just waiting to see if I pass out. Long story.

Inara: So you took to bed with Nandi. I’m glad.
Mal
: Glad?
Inara
: Yes! She’s a dear friend, and probably in need of some comfort about now.
Mal
: So, you’re okay. Well, yeah. Why… why wouldn’t you be?
Inara
: I wouldn’t say I’m entirely okay. I’m a little appalled at her taste.

Jayne: [over radio] Whoa, now, girl, that is just plain dirty.
Mal
: Jayne, you aware your radio’s transmittin’? Cause I ain’t feelin’ particular girlish or dirty at the moment.

Petaline: Rance, this is Jonah. Jonah… say “hi” to your daddy. [Shoots Rance.] Say “goodbye” to your daddy, Jonah.

Objects in Space:
A bounty hunter boards the Serenity and takes the crew hostage. His arrival coincided with the crew’s realization that River might be a “reader” (i.e. a psychic) and her decision to leave the ship.

Kaylee: You couldn’t possibly!
Simon
: No, I wish I was lying, I just…You know, we’d all just made surgeon. That was it, we were the elite. The world was ours, you know?
Kaylee
: So you had to be naked?
Simon
: Naked. Yes. And, uh, on top of the statue of Hippocrates. Can’t you just picture me?
Kaylee
: What, naked? Oh, well, hmm, mmm…Let’s see, I’mma have to conjure up a…yeah, that’s, that’s gonna be difficult... So did the feds come?
Simon
: There were no feds. Until I started singing.
Kaylee
: Oh, no!
Simon
: This is not–
Kaylee
: What did you sing?
Simon
: This is not funny. This, this is a morality tale about the evils of sake.
Simon:
[in River’s head] I would be there right now.

Jayne: Not ever ever?
Book
: Some orders allow shepherds to marry, but I follow a narrower path.
Jayne
: But you still got the urge? They don’t…cut it off or nothin’?
Book
: No, I’m more or less intact. I just…direct my energy elsewhere.
Jayne
: You mean like masturbatin’?
Book
: I hope you’re not thinking of taking orders yourself?
Jayne
: Heheh, yeah, that’s be the day.
Jayne
: [in River’s head] I got stupid, the money was too good.
Book
: [in River’s head]I don’t give half a hump if you’re innocent or not. So where does that put you?

Mal: If I want a lot of medical jargon, I’ll talk to a doctor.
Simon
: You are talking to a doctor.

Wash: Little River gets more colorful by the moment. What’ll she do next?
Zoe
: Either blow us all up or rub soup in our hair. It’s a toss-up.
Wash
: I hope she does the soup thing, it’s always a hoot and we don’t all die from it.

Zoë: Where’s River at now?
Mal
: In her room, which I’m thinking we bolt from the outside from now on.
Wash
: That a little extreme, isn’t it?
Jayne
: Anyone remember her comin’ at me with a butcher’s knife?
Wash
: Wacky fun…
Jayne
: You wanna go, little man?
Wash
: Only if it’s someplace with candlelight.
Zoe
: Sir, I know she’s unpredictable. But I don’t think she’d harm anyone.
Jayne
: Butcher’s knife?!
Zoe
: Anyone we can’t spare.

Mal: Girl knows things. Things she shouldn’t. Things she couldn’t.
Jayne
: What, are you— are you sayin’ she’s a witch?
Wash
: Yes, Jayne. She’s a witch. She has had congress with the beast.
Jayne
: She’s in Congress?
Wash
: How did your brain even learn human speech? I’m just so curious.

Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoe
: We live in a spaceship, dear.
Wash
: So?

Jayne: Well, I don’t like the idea of someone hearin’ what I’m thinkin’.
Inara: No one likes the idea of hearing what you’re thinking.

Simon: Are you Alliance?
Early
: Am I a lion?
Simon
: What?
Early
: I don’t think of myself as a lion. You might as well, though: I have a mighty roar.
Simon
: I said “Alliance”.
Early
: Oh, I thought—
Simon
: No, I was—
Early
: That’s weird.

Simon: I don’t think my last act in this verse is gonna be betraying my sister.
Early: You’re gonna help me. ‘Cause every second you’re with me is a chance to turn the tables, get the better of me. Maybe you’ll find your moment. Maybe I’ll slip. Or, you refuse to help me, I shoot your brain out, and I go upstairs and spend some time violating the little mechanic I got trussed up in the engine room. I take no pleasure in the thought, but she will die, weeping, if you cross me.
Simon: You’re out of your mind.
Early: That’s between me and my mind. Let’s start with these rooms.

Early: You ever been shot?
Simon: No.
Early: You oughta be shot. Or stabbed, lose a leg. To be a surgeon, you know? Know what kind of pain you’re dealing with. They make psychiatrists get psychoanalyzed before they can get certified, but they don’t make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?

Early: Alright, that’s all the hide-and-seek I got time for. [shouting] I know you’re on this ship, little girl! Here’s how this goes: show yourself and finish this exchange, or your brother’s brains’ll be flyin’ every whichaway! [normal tone] You understand, I’m sort of on the clock here, it’s frustrating.
River
: [over Serenity’s intercom] You’re wrong, Early.
Early
: I’m not wrong, dumpling, I will shoot your brother dead if you don’t—
River
: Wrong about River. River’s not on the ship. They didn’t want her here. But she couldn’t make herself leave. So she melted. Melted away. They didn’t know she could do that. But she did.
Early
: Not sure I take your meaning there.
River
: I’m not on the ship. I’m in the ship. I am the ship.
Simon
: River—
River
: River’s gone.
Early
: Then who exactly are we talking to?
River
: Talking to Serenity. And Early? Serenity is very unhappy.

Early: Where’d she go?
Simon
: I can’t keep track of her when she’s not incorporeally possessing a spaceship; don’t look at me.

Early: I only hurt people ’cause they keep gettin’ in the way of me finding you. Tell her.
Simon
: What am I, your advocate?
Early
: You are, starting now.
Simon
: He’s really very… gentle, and fuzzy. We’re becoming fast friends.
Early
: You folks are all insane.
Simon: Well, my sister’s a ship. We had a complicated childhood.

Mal: There was a guy. He was very blurry. You gotta be careful. Ugh. How come there’s a guy on board and how come you’re all of a sudden the ship?
River/Serenity
: I know you have questions.
Mal
: That would be why I just asked them.
River/Serenity
: But there isn’t a lot of time, captain. I need you to trust me.
Mal
: Am I dreamin’?
River/Serenity
: We all are [Mal rolls his eyes] Don’t make faces!

Early: You know, with the exception of one deadly and unpredictable midget, this girl is the smallest cargo I’ve ever had to transport, yet by far the most troublesome. Does that seem right to you?
Simon
: What’d he do?
Early
: Who?
Simon
: The midget.
Early
: Arson. The little man loved fire.

Early: Well I’ll be a son of a whore. You’re not in my gorram mind. You’re on my gorram ship!

Inara: Any chance that shiong-mung duh kwong-run might survive?
Mal
: Air he had left, I’d say his chance’d be about one in… a very large number.

Early:[floating in space]Well, here I am.

And that’s our show! As I was beginning to expect, I’ll need a fourth post if I’m going to cover the gorram movie. Gorram, good word! Stay tuned for the final installment! It’ll be shiny! Fei-oo! Go-se! Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng!