Tag Archives: Fandom

At the Intersection of Transformers and Life

Folks, I usually try to keep the details of my personal life off this blog. Today, I’m breaking that rule to some degree. The Sector M blog has always been about the things I enjoy, whether thought experiments, ruminations on movies, books, and games, or musings on toy and cartoon properties from the ’80s. I’m sure there are more than a few out there who might admonish me, a grown man, for ‘wasting my time’ with all this childish nonsense.

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My first ever glimpse of Optimus Prime.

What they may not realize is just how deeply I care about these things. They are a part of me. Once, I tried to deny them, but I was miserable. When I unabashedly embraced my inner geek, only then did I thrive. Those who don’t understand the fascination with fandom miss out on a key detail: I’m a fan because my life has intersected with each of these things in the past, often just when I needed it.

Star Trek taught me to be hopeful and optimistic for the future. Marvel comics showed me that there could be beauty in being different. Batman took personal tragedy and turned it into something  positive. Robotech was the first to show me that in any armed conflict, people die. And so on, and so on, I could go on all day. But the one that resonated with me the most was Transformers, which is no surprise if you’ve followed this blog. My office is filled with the toys, new and old. I’m thankful to still have many of the originals I had as a kid.

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I have something to say about pretty much everything here.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I’m sorry to say that I lost someone very dear to me a month ago at the time of this writing. It was completely unexpected, and I’m still reeling from the loss. This post is a tribute to her. My godmother famously hated funerals or memorials of any kind. I mean, no one likes funerals, but she had a particular hatred of them. In accordance with her wishes, I will not name her here, but I will use the nickname she preferred. She referred to herself as a Nanny bird, or simply “Nanny.”

Despite the name, she was much more than babysitter. My godparents were more like an extra set of beloved grandparents when I was growing up. Nanny herself was an interesting lady. She drove a white Chrysler Conquest sports car with leather bucket seats. (It was one of the first cars that would speak to let you know “Your door is ajar.”) She was tall with high cheekbones and a long Helen Mirren nose that she attributed to her Spanish heritage. (Her brother, in fact, looked like you could put him in a morion helmet and breastplate and he would have blended in perfectly with a group of conquistadors.)

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I always thought it looked like a Transformer.

She loved abstract art, jewelry, and bright colors, especially teals, purple, and yellow. Her favorite perfume was Giorgio that came in the yellow and white striped box. Later, she was a SCUBA instructor, an emergency medical responder, and a volunteer fire-fighter. More than all that, she loved everyone around her fiercely, and woe betide anyone who hurt someone under her protective aegis.

My godparents certainly did their best to spoil me rotten. My parents at the time weren’t in a position to buy me many toys, but my godparents were a different story. In fact, Nanny was the one who bought me my very first Transformer, and I still have him.

This guy.

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He still transforms, too.

This would have been in the autumn of 1984. We were in the old Walmart in Athens, Texas. I remember that we were on our way to the checkout when I spotted him. He wasn’t in the toy isle. Instead, he was on one of those miscellaneous shelves near the front (possibly where they were going to set up for Halloween). Someone had picked him up and then changed their mind. That choice set a trajectory for me as a kid. It was the combination of red and blue that caught my eye. The packaging design, with its action mural and stand-out metallic logo, was just really cool.

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This is where it all began.

I was already into GoBots at the time, but I found them somewhat lacking. Their names were often uninteresting (a tank was named “Tank,” and a helicopter was “Cop-Tur,” and so on) and their reason for being was not really developed. When I picked up Gears that day, I flipped him over and found his “tech specs” on the back of the package.

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This guy didn’t sound like a traditional robot. He didn’t like people, he was cranky, a pessimist, and a pain in the neck. Yet, he did this to cheer his fellow Autobots up. I was intrigued at the notion of robots with distinct personalities, with like and dislikes. They were robots who were like people. This was the spark that lit my imagination. Gears himself was no more complex in design than the simplest of GoBots, but he was part of a story that felt like it had substance.

I asked Nanny if I could have him, and she agreed. I think he was less than $4 at the time. So, she was there with me at the earliest dawning of my fandom. Gears was just the first of many. Bumblebee (both the yellow and red versions), Cliffjumper, Huffer, and a number of others in that original G1 line were soon to follow. Nanny thought they were neat in the way they could fold up to become a vehicle or into “metal man.” When the cartoons started on TV, she meticulously recorded them for me on VHS before they were ever available to buy.

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Years ago this building was a K-Mart. This was my other major outlet for toys, particular the Robots in Disguise.

That’s where I first heard Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime voice. With most other toy lines, I tended to like the villains more than the heroes. Transformers was different. The Autobots were noble, brave, and courageous. No one personified those high ideals more than Prime himself, and I had the opportunity to watch my favorite episodes play out at will thanks to Nanny’s wizard ability to program a VCR. For a kid who often had trouble relating to others and was painfully shy, Transformers was all about the power of teamwork and standing up for what was right. It found me at just the right time.

As a quick aside, my mother was the one who bought me my Optimus Prime. It was expensive for the time, and she asked my godparents not to get him for me (which they were willing to do). I had a bit of trouble in school back then, and my mom told me that if I improved my grades, the Autobot supreme commander was mine. Six weeks later, I turned in a report card with an “A” in every subject. On the way to the store to get him, Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” played on the radio. (There’s your earworm for today.) It’s funny what you remember, huh?

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This was my Holy Grail as a kid.

Anyway, as my Transformers interest grew, Nanny helped me build my collection. My godfather would scour the Toy R’ Us stores in Dallas for the stuff we couldn’t find in Athens or the surrounding area. All told, about 80% or more of the Transformers I ever had as a kid came from the two of them.

By 1985, the new series of Transformers hit shelves. Soon the Insecticons,  Jetfire (Skyfire in the cartoon), Omega Supreme, and the Constructicons joined the others in my collection. I remember the day that she took me into Daniel’s pharmacy in Athens, a store that had an unusually well-stocked toy aisle.

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It’s the Factory Connection building now.

Even though it was technically out of bounds to get so many at one time, she bought me all six of the Constructicons in their individual packaging. As I was opening them all up in the car, Hook’s legs broke off in my hand. The silver plastic they used back then would often break like that. Nanny marched back in and exchanged it for another one. As I opened that one up, the same thing happened. So, she did it again, and just like Swamp Castle of Monty Python fame, the third one proved to be fine. Sadly, only one of those original six figures has survived to the present. It’s Mixmaster, the concrete mixer truck. He is on a shelf in my office right now, once again reprising his role as Devastator’s left leg.

She was also the one who took me to the see Transformers: The Movie in August of 1986, which I wrote about here. So, Nanny was the one who had to deal with a crying kid when Prime, the very embodiment of what I loved about Transformers, died right before my eyes. (I also mentioned her as being the spark for my interest in Greek culture here.)

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A moment in time.

Fast-forward to present day. Now I run a tabletop RPG based on Transformers, in a system that I kit-bashed from at least two other games. It’s been running for almost ten years now. Besides writing speculative fiction, that game might be the single geekiest endeavor I’m a part of. (And, boy, is that saying something!)

My memories of the toys and cartoons have always been inextricably linked to Nanny. She was an active participant in enabling and building my most favorite of fandoms. And when I started making up stories about the characters, my first forays into storytelling, she would sit patiently for hours as I would tell them, and ask leading questions so I would have to delve deeper into what I had created. I will always remember that.

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But now she has left us, and there is large hole left in my heart and in my life. So much of who I am today can be traced back to her. I miss her with every keystroke I write here, folks. I’m to the stage where I will have periods of normalcy punctuated by spikes of grief that come out of nowhere. I won’t lie, it sucketh mightily.

And yet, here I sit in the Museum of Matt with so many reminders of her standing in silent vigil around me. I originally thought all those bots, all those memories, would make it harder to write this account, but I was wrong; they are physical reminders of the positive effect she had, and continues to have, on me. I’m grateful for that.

So never let anyone tell you your love for a particular fandom is silly or stupid. Our time on this planet is all too brief, so hold onto those things you love. Take it from me, okay?

‘Til All Are One!

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[P.S. – I started writing this post before COVID-19 really exploded here in the U.S. My family and I are practicing social/physical distancing, and I hope you are, too. Please be safe out there and wash your hands, okay? Much love from Sector M.  -MC]


(New)Battlestar Galactica and My Roller-Coaster Fandom

Richard Hatch passed away last week, and it got me to thinking. Most folks probably remember him as Captain Apollo, starring beside Dirk Benedict and Lorne Greene in the original Battlestar Galactica. My favorite role of his was in Galactica, but not in that one. I’m talking about his role in the 2004 reboot as the calculating political operator, Tom Zarek.

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Previously, on Battlestar Galactica…

While lamenting Mr. Hatch’s passing, I found myself revisiting the music of both the original and reimagined series. Of course, I still feel the thrill and majesty of the original main theme. As a connoisseur of space operas, that one is pretty boss. Inevitably, I began listening through the score of the ‘new’ series, which is tonally much darker and angst-ridden (pretty much like the show itself).

For the most part, I don’t look back on New Galactica very fondly, mainly due to the nonsensical third and fourth seasons, and the X-files/LOST kind of ending that was disappointing in the extreme. But then I rediscovered the track “Reuniting the Fleet.” Go ahead, give it a listen. I’ll wait.

The same mix of drums and the uilleann pipes are a direct callback to an earlier piece of music, “A Good Lighter.” Both instantly transported me back to my favorite moments in New Galactica. One is where Adama, played by Edward James Olmos, shared a moment with his son, Apollo, (Jaime Bamber) on the flight deck before an all-important mission. While I take issue with the direction of the show, the peformances remain incredible, and this scene between them – just thinking about it as I write this – gives me a big ol’ lump in my throat.

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I’m not crying. You’re crying!

The same is true for the “Reuniting the Fleet.” Faced with leaving the colonists behind on New Caprica in search of Earth, Adama makes the decision to reunite his people, who were sharply divided down ideological and political lines. I remember watching that scene on TV and being moved by it. Now, it’s downright profound.

With this level of emotion, atmosphere, and acting, how could my immediate impression of the show be negative, now after nearly eight years since it went off the air?

There are so few shows that leave me with such mixed emotions. The aforementioned X-files and LOST are two of them, certainly. These are shows that I absolutely loved at the beginning, but by the end watching an episode was uncomfortable, and largely consumed out of ‘fan duty’ if that makes any sense. And also the hope that it would get better.

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*holding in the existential dread* It’s going to get better…right?

When I first discovered New Galactica, I feel in love. Unlike many old-school Galactica fans I know, I really loved the darker more helpless tone of the new show. It really felt like a great tragedy had befallen the survivors of the Fall of the Twelve Colonies, and this had scarred them all to a lesser or greater extent. Here was military science fiction I could really sink my proverbial teeth into.

The first and second seasons of New Galactica, as well as the first few episodes of season three were not only some of the best sci-fi I’d ever seen on TV, but also one of the best dramas. Full stop. Again, I cannot say enough good things about the performances turned in by Olmos, Callis, Sackhoff and so many others. Bear McCreary’s score put it over the top. The discovery of Kobol and the hint that old gods where not who they seemed, the return of the Pegasus, and the interplay between Adama and Cain…wow. Intense. Like Samuel L. Jackson in the diner with Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction.

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Yeah, pretty much like that.

But once our intrepid heroes blasted their way off of New Caprica, season three took an immediate nosedive. They had gotten the show back on the road, back on the quest for Earth, but it seemed like the writers and showrunners had less of an idea of what to do next. The intro to the show boasted of the Cylons that ‘they have a plan,’ but it became apparent that the showrunners didn’t.

Season three felt like this strange mix of individual character studies that didn’t seem to support what had gone before. Previous to this, each episode had stacked on top of the last, adding layers to the story while adding new developments, new wrinkles. These new episodes, however, felt like you could pull them out of the pile and they wouldn’t be missed. In fact, ‘Hero’ was an episode that I think weakened the series as a whole.

The continuity began to unravel and characters began acting, well, inconsistent to say the least. Adama is willing to stand Cally up against a bulkhead and execute her if Chief Tyrol doesn’t comply to his demands because ‘he can’t have people deciding when to obey orders,’ but does nothing to Helo for disobeying orders when they could have shown Hugh the insidious diagram and destroyed the Borg Collective…er—I mean the Cylons, and saved the human race. And then Helo is promoted to CAG, even after this incident…and he’s not even a pilot.

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Baltar isn’t so sure about that. Baltar is not alone.

There were some bright spots along the way, to be sure. I’m a huge fan of Jane Espenson, and so the middle of the season got a bump with “The Passage” and “The Eye of Jupiter.” But then the ‘All Along The Watchtower’ moment happens at the end of season three that really looked like the show had gone off the rails, and I wasn’t sure it was coming back.

It took more than a year, but come back it did. There was a little improvement, but that’s when the ‘Final Five’ story arc came into play, and for me…the worst thing about the show, not counting the ending. I was this close to just calling it and watching something else. It takes a lot for this fanboy to want to pack up and go home, but I was done.

Then we got to the mutiny arc and, by Grapthar’s Hammer, we were back, baby! The excitement, the drama, the everything…I wanted to shout at the producers: “This is what I’m talking about! Every episode should be like this!

But after that, the show went back to floundering. They found ‘Earth’ only it wasn’t Earth, and we got a pretty weak explanation of how the Twelve Models came to be, even though it didn’t make much sense AND seemed to contradict what we knew about them already. Again, I must stress, Final Five = Worst Part of the Show. Somebody should have really gamed this out ahead of time. I understand writing yourself into a corner, but come on.

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Submitted for your approval…

By this time we all knew that Season Four would be New Galactica’s last. You couldn’t tell it by the way the story plodded on, however. The episode “Someone to Watch Over Me” did not feel like a series with only a few episodes left, but rather a series that still had three or four seasons still to come.

And the ending? Well, let’s just say that it would take the god-awful ending of LOST to eclipse New Galactica on my ‘Worst Ever’ list. It still remains in a solid #2 spot, however. From eschewing technology for no good reason, to Kara’s unexplained departure, and even Adama deciding to live alone for the rest of his life rather than with his son, there are so many horrid things here that a recounting of them all would be a blog post unto itself. It had some interesting action sequences, and *something* of a resolution to the ‘All Along the Watchtower’ craziness of before, but…well, yuck. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Yeah, Brah, I don’t what to make of that either.

So why do I bring this up? Is it just to bash a long-time fanboy disappointment? A bit, yeah. But really it’s to show the extreme ends of the pendulum here, and the lasting impression it made on me both coming and going.

Understand that I still use Bear McCreary’s music when I write. (If you ever need to write an epic combat scene, put “Prelude to War” on your playlist, trust me.) I follow the projects of cast members of this show as much as I do for Firefly, or Babylon 5, or Star Trek. I love to see cosplay of these characters, and enjoy fan theories on the connections between the original series and the new.

That’s still with me.

This show meant something to me. It still does to some degree. I only wish that more care and energy had been put into the latter half of the series to match the first. To me, New Galactica serves as both a shining example and a cautionary tale of what to do/not do in modern science fiction.

Like with people, you have to take the good with the bad here. And in that sense, boy howdy is New Galactica like the contradictory nature of the deeply flawed people it portrayed in the show.

Can I get a “So Say We All”?

 

 


State of the Sector Address: 2017

My Fellow Sectorians,

Welcome to my first ever ‘State of the Sector’ address, where I share with you all the stuff going on at Sector M for the coming year. So without further ado, here’s what’s going on in 2017!

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First, all the stuff for you guys:

Sector M Fan Group: A longtime fan created a Facebook discussion group for fellow fans of my various geeky endeavors. It’s my hope to build a community over there where Sectorians can gather together to chat, get know one another, and share passions for fandom and geekiness, in general. If you want to join, just friend this guy (don’t worry, it’s just a proxy account), and you’ll be added to the group posthaste.

Website Revamp: I’m in the midst of a revamp of the Sector M website. This will include migrating all of the ‘merch table’ to the website proper. I also want to expand the available merch options out there. This one has a lot of moving parts, so I will announce more as things progress.

Goodreads: I’m on Goodreads.com now! I’ll try my best to keep you guys up-to-date on what I’m reading. Also, The Backwards Mask is on there, with a fair amount of ratings. If you’ve read my book, I urge you go over there and give it a rating and/or a review. Also, feel free to ‘friend’ me on there.

Now all of my author-y stuff:

Finish My Current Novel, Start The Next One: I’m about 70% of the way through the initial draft of my current novel. My goal is to have the draft completed by June 1st of this year (my birthday, as it happens). I’ll do edits and rewrites over the summer to hopefully have a presentable draft by Labor Day. Chances are, I’ll begin my next novel around that time as well. I’ve enjoyed my foray into fantasy, but my next book will be a return to science fiction.

Short Story Anthology: I’m collecting a number of my short fiction pieces into an anthology that I’m tentatively calling, Strange Reports from Sector M. More on this as it develops, but I hope to release this in July or August.

Blog Posts: In 2016 I was pretty inconsistent about when I released blog posts. I want to be more reliable about it, so my plan is to release at least one a month on the third Friday of each the month. There could well be more than that, but at least one per month. Mark your calendars.

Writing T-Shirts: This started this off as a sort of geeky in-joke on Instagram, but it seems to have caught on. I will be continuing this bit in 2017, though intermittently. While I own many, many geeky T-shirts, I did burn through quite a few of them this past year, so it won’t be every Sunday. But I will try to do it as often as I’m able. If you have a suggestion for a writing shirt, feel free to post it on Facebook, send me a tweet, or email me at: TheSectorM@gmail.com. I’ll be sure to give you a shout-out if I wind up picking one that you suggest.

How you can help:

If you’d like to support Sector M in its ongoing geekiness, you can follow me on any of these platforms:

Facebook

Twitter and Instagram: @TheSectorM

The Sector M Blog 

My YouTube Channel

You can also download my novel, The Backwards Mask, from Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com. If you do, please make sure to leave a review. And if you’ve read it already, please (pretty please with a cherry on top) leave a review. That is the best thing you can do to help me as an author.

 

I can’t thank you guys enough for your continued support! Full speed ahead for 2017!


Fanboy Review #6 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Before I get into the particulars of the movie, I wanted to say a few words about Carrie Fisher. Like so many, I was shocked to hear of her passing. First there was the news of her heart attack, then her death, AND THEN her mother’s death. I can only imagine what the family is going through right now, and my heart goes out to them.

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To me, she’s royalty.

Of course, growing up with Star Wars I had a huge crush on Princess Leia. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and it actually wasn’t her slave-girl outfit that did it for me. The moment that I think I truly fell in love with Princess Leia is when she removed her helmet after thawing Han out of the carbonite. “Someone who loves you,” she said, and there were anime-style hearts in my eyes. And if that didn’t really drive it home, the moment when she turns the tables on Han on Endor, stealing his own line of “I know” just before she zaps a Stormtrooper cemented in my mind that she was no wilting daisy. True, she was the damsel in distress in Episode IV, but her sass and overall attitude showed us that she was anything but the standard-issue screen heroine of the day. Bear in mind that is was 1977, a time when the changing role of women in fiction, particularly science fiction, wasn’t even a conversation we were having as a society.

But fan worship aside, I respected Carrie Fisher for her abilities as a writer, and for her outspoken stances on mental health and substance abuse. Unfortunately (for me, at least), in all the sci-fi conventions and events that I’ve attended over the years, I never had the privilege of meeting her. From what I hear, she was quite a lady. And though Leia Organa may be the role she is remembered for the most, I appreciate the real person who brought her to life, and the lasting impact her work has had on the world. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.

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Now, to the review. Roll the standard spoiler warning:

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

The first of what could be an endless series of standalone Star Wars movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theatres a couple of weeks ago. In that time, it’s made over $650 million worldwide. With the original extended universe cannon gone, Rogue One steps up to fill the gap of how the Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans. With a new cast of characters, we embark upon the first of the non-episodic Star War stories.

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The ‘One’ and only. Trust me.

First Impressions:  Despite my damaged-but-still-intact love of the franchise, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. It felt unnecessary, like an obvious attempt by Disney to milk their purchase of its revenue potential. The trailers didn’t do much to change that idea. Still, it is a return to the era of Star Wars that I love the best, so it’s not like I wasn’t going to see it. (Let’s be real here.) I liked but didn’t love The Force Awakens, so let’s see how it goes.

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LIKE. A. BOSS!

What I Liked:

DARTH FRIGGIN’ VADER! I thought he really was going to be a minor cameo in the movie, but Great Scott…that end corridor scene. Why do people fear Darth Vader? This is why. Plus, it also seems to give us an answer to why Vader is so angry when he first boards the Tantive IV. He’s calm and collected the rest of the time, but I now see why he wants to ‘tear the ship apart’ when he finally catches up to it.

– The Battle of Scarif. If you’ve read my sci-fi, you know I’m a sucker for a ground battle going on while a gigantic space battle rages overhead. We got that in Return of the Jedi, and the climactic battle sequence here is pretty much everything I could have hoped for, and more.  This definitely puts the ‘wars’ back in ‘Star Wars.’

– Perhaps a better name for the movie should be ‘Suicide Squad.’  The movie pulls no punches. I had thought that perhaps our band of misfits might be return for a sequel, but that will not be the case. One of the problems with an epic story like Star Wars is that the death of a major character will be rare. For a one-time cast, each of our intrepid heroes steps up, does their job, and goes down like a boss. When the bill came due for Imwe and Malbus, I genuinely teared up. I am one with the force, and the force is with me. I am one with the force, and the force is with me.

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– Seeing Biggs and the Red and Yellow squadron leaders back in action through unused footage from Star Wars. Now we know why there was a vacancy for Luke in the form of Red-5, and why there was no Blue Squadron attacking the Death Star around Yavin. Plus, seeing some minor characters like General Jan Dodonna  and Mon Mothma recast so that they can still be a part of story was cool as well. And that leads me to my next point…

– CGI Characters. This is perhaps my most divisive opinion on the film. Bringing characters back to life was handled pretty well and with respect, I thought. When I first saw Governor Tarkin, I thought he would be a brief cameo. Nope. He plays more of a part in the story than I would have thought. While we’re not quite there yet with the technology, we’re still better than we were with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. I do wish the voice actor for some of Tarkin’s lines had stayed more with Cushing’s sharp British delivery, but that we got as much as we did was great. CGI Leia was a bit less impressive, but hearing Carrie Fisher say “Hope” was moving, especially now.

– The Score. John Williams didn’t do the soundtrack for this movie, but Michael Giacchino does a pretty good job at capturing Williams’ trademark Star Wars style. I do wish the main theme had been used a bit more, though. It’s not just for Luke!

– Expansion of the New Lore. From the Guardians of the Whills, to reaffirming Kyber crystals while establishing that this is what powered the Death Star’s planet killer, this story does a lot to fill in the gaps of the continuity, particularly since the old lore is dead, dead, dead.

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Cool shot. Too bad it’s ‘Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.’

What I Didn’t Like:

– The TRAILER. Part of the reason I wasn’t excited about the movie was because of the trailers leading up to it. It felt like one big warning that Jyn might somehow betray the Rebellion and join the Empire, that she should remain true to herself no matter what came her way. Well, almost none of the footage or lines from the movie trailer made it into the final movie. Jyn’s dramatic turn in an Imperial uniform while the lights in the corridor go up? Nope. Any hint of her joining the Empire? Nope. Cassian and Jyn on the beach fighting AT-ATs? Nope. Vader talking with Krennic on the Death Star? Nope. Jyn’s whimsical line of “It’s a rebellion. I rebelled”? Nowhere to be found. I understand that footage can be cut different ways to dramatically change its meaning, but the footage they used is not even in the movie. Not just a scene here or there, but a sizeable chunks of what was shown just isn’t there. It’s too bad, because I enjoyed the movie that I got a whole lot more than the movie the trailer previewed.

– No Title Crawl. Yeah, I know that it’s not part of the trilogies, but I still missed it. The slow scroll of words while the Star Wars theme blasts is an essential part of getting me hyped for what’s to come. It wasn’t there at all, and its absence was ringing.

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Yaaaaas!

– The Names. Aside from Krennic, Jyn and Galen, I had a hard time remembering the names of the characters. Maybe it’s just how long the Star Wars universe has been around, and the memes that go with it, but the names sort of went in one ear and out the other. They also didn’t seem to use them in dialogue very much, so that part made it even harder to catch them. If you don’t know a character’s name, I think it’s a little harder to sink your teeth into them, figuratively speaking.

– The Beginning of the Film. It felt slow and overly complicated. To be fair, there were a bunch of characters to introduce, but it seemed like a lot of explaining on a theme that we likely already know going in. We get to Jedha and things pick up, and then sort of fades again at Eadu. Scarif is pure joy and awesome, however.

– This is kind of a weird one, but important to me nonetheless: I know that having the Rebellion do shady and horrible stuff is a way to make it more realistic, but I like the clear dichotomy between the good guys and bad guys in this franchise. I generally prefer more morally ambiguous stories…just not in Star Wars. It’s for all the same reasons why the ‘Section 31’ episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 don’t work for me. Yeah, that’s great for another sci-fi property, but keep it out of this one.

– A Nerdy Nitpick: I realize that Diego Luna was using his normal speaking voice in his portrayal of Cassian Andor. While he is from Mexico, his accent came off as French (which struck me as on-the-nose considering he’s in the resistance against a jack-booted fascist regime). We’ve never had much variance of accents in Star Wars, just the occasional British accent, so that was a little distracting from his performance.

– A REALLY Nerdy Nitpick: Galen’s farm at the beginning bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Owen’s farm on Tattooine. The equipment, the interiors, even the layout all have a similar look. The thing is, Uncle Owen wasn’t into growing crops — he was a moisture farmer. Tatooine has so little moisture that a whole industry had to spring up around coaxing moisture from the air and turning it into usable drinking water. The planet Lah’mu, however, is wet. Really wet. So wet that Krennic walks through a puddle to get to it and it’s sprinkling while they are talking. So what kind of farming was Galen doing?

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Questions you have. Resolution to them we have not.

Unresolved Questions:

If anything, Rogue One does a pretty good job of tying up loose ends, especially with its rather Shakespearean ending. If Galen thought that the Empire would never find the hidden weakness he installed, why was it found so easily in A New Hope, leading to Tarkin’s “moment of triumph” speech? Also, why would Leia even pretend to be on an ambassadorial mission when it was clear that she had just been at Scarif? Vader would be like, “Dude, I saw you take off from that Mon Calamari ship like 30 minutes ago.” Deny it to the end, I guess. And would Leia be surprised that Darth Vader was on her tail when she says, “Only you would be so bold.” Or was that, again, for some sort of deniability?

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So what’s your point, Matt?

Conclusions:  I realize that it might be hard to know whether or not I liked this film based on what I stated above. I like this movie, I really, really do. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was far better than any one-off film had any right to be. Believe it or not, it reignited my love for the franchise far more than did last year’s The Force Awakens. While I still worry that the anthology stories may overstay their welcome in the future, this was a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe, and a pleasant surprise to this very jaded and cautious fan.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Life, Death, and Avatar: The Last Airbender

I’m late to the party on Avatar: The Last Airbender, as in a full decade late. I finally finished the series. (To be clear, this is the animated series, and not the M. Night Shyamalan movie.) Riding high on the incredible culmination of that storyline, I immediately started up The Legend of Korra.

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But I believe Aang can save the world…*cues the music*

Something struck me as I got into the next series: When we last see Aang in the show, he is thirteen, just barely a teenager. In the intro to Korra, we learn that Aang has died.  That’s certainly no surprise; both Korra and Avatar are predicated on the idea that when the Avatar dies, that he or she is immediately reincarnated into the next life. We knew that’s part of it when we were following the adventures of Aang, since he was preceded by Avatar Roku.

But with Korra, it’s a little different. Aang is already dead when she comes along, and if you dig into the lore, he died at the relatively young biological age of sixty-six. Bear in mind that this is in a setting where some characters live to be well over a hundred. Avatar Kyoshi lived to be well over two hundred.

Why does this matter? Well, we don’t normally follow a protagonist to the grave if they live to the end of the story. There are exceptions, of course, but think about it like this: Do we know how Captain Malcolm Reynolds dies? Or Scotty? Or James Bond? Or Luke Skywalker? (I’m really hoping the new Star Wars movies don’t inform me of that last one.)

Even if we know on an intellectual level that these characters don’t live forever, there’s a certain kind of immortality that we grant them if they just ride off into the sunset, or if they’re lucky enough to get a ‘happily ever after’ ending.

Avatar doesn’t play that way. Characters are born, they live their life, and then they die. We don’t get the standard fictional insulation from the real-world cycle of life and death.  And should there be another series set after Korra, we’ll have to resolve her death as well.

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This blog post has a soundtrack. Just click here.

But there is a certain honesty in that idea that I find both sad and refreshing (which is also one of the rejected slogans for New Coke, BTW). We all like to think of the time in which we live as ‘the’ time, rather than just a single point on a very large timeline. Thousands of generations have come before us, and (we can hope) thousands of generations will come after us. We have our time in the sun, and then the sun sets.

I’m not saying anything we don’t already know, and neither am I trying to bum anyone out. Quite the opposite, in fact. So where am I going with this? Well, there’s a short sidebar first.

Story time: So, a few weeks, I was coming home from a dinner with a bunch of friends. I was alone and on a stretch of highway with very few cars around, none of them close to me. In less than a second, that changed. A car zoomed in from behind at close to a hundred miles an hour. The headlights went from being a distant sparkle to nearly on my rear bumper in less time than it takes for you to read this sentence. The driver turned right to avoid me, but in that moment it didn’t look like he would make it. I swerved left and almost hit his buddy who was in my blind spot. Somehow we avoided hitting each other, though I still don’t know how. Had he hit me, it I almost certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog post.

The worst part was not that sudden bolt of sick terror that went through me, but that both of the cars in question kept on going, weaving in out of the traffic ahead of me. They were racing. RACING! I might have lost my life due to someone else’s poor judgement, a causality of nothing more than an automotive pissing contest.

Yeesh.

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Included for no other reason than because the art is AWESOME!

I’ve had some close calls in the past.  One nearly got me at age nineteen, but I’ve never had one quite like this before. The whole thing had me rattled for a while. It still rears its ugly head from time to time, the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens. Those suck, especially now that I have a family of my own.

But, if anything, this experience has shocked me out of the weird funk I didn’t even realize I was in. Knowing that my life almost ended has made things more vibrant, more beautiful. I feel a deeper empathy to others now, and I am more motivated to be better than I was before. I know it’s trite, I know it’s cliché, but it’s no less true.  In that sense, maybe the upfront candor of Avatar and Korra came into my life at precisely the right time.

Look, we all face down our own mortality at some point in our lives. 2016 has been the year for realizing that death comes for everyone, even Alan Rickman and David Bowie. Sure, we know that already on some level, but it’s a lesson we have to keep relearning during our lifetime.

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For it is the doom of men that they forget.

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that we have a limited time on this Earth, no matter how long we live. It’s not always feasible to live life like there’s no tomorrow (we still have to pay our bills, mortgage, whatever), so let’s do this instead: Enjoy your time in the sun. Live a lot and love a lot.

Be someone’s hero.

Go save the world.

It’s what Aang and Korra would do.

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My Love/Hate Relationship with Transformers: The Movie

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Transformers: The Movie, which premiered in U.S. theatres in August of 1986, I thought I would comment on what was simultaneously one of the fanboy landmarks of my childhood AND perhaps the movie that scarred me the most as a kid. No really, the emotional scar tissue is still there. First world problems, yeah?

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I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

If you’ve been with me on this blog for any length of time, you know that I love Gen 1 Transformers. It is both my favorite toy line of all time as well as my favorite ‘80s cartoon. Of course, the cynical adult side of me sees the cartoon for what it was: a half-hour commercial designed to sell more toys. But there’s also the kid in me that remembers when I could come home from school to be greeted by Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz, Hound, Prowl, and the irascible Ironhide. They were friends of mine, and in my mind’s eye I rode shotgun with them through a hundred adventures.

I remember well when I first saw the teasers for Transformers: The Movie. It looked incredible, with some of the slickest animation Sunbow has ever produced. “Two years in the making,” the TV spots proclaimed, “an incredible adventure and spectacular wide-screen animation with an original story that will shock and surprise you!”

Boy, did they have that right.

Before we get to the crying-so-hard-I-had-to-be-taken-out-of-the-theatre part, there are some things I genuinely love about this movie. Let me spell those out first.

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I may or may not have a replica of this sitting on my writing desk.

1.) The Lore – In the comics, the Matrix of Leadership was just a computer program in Prime’s head. The movie is where we first see the iconic, semi-mystical talisman, and find that the one who carries it is the anointed Prime, AND that it has a will and power of its own. Throw on top of that the Universal Greeting (say it with me: Bah-weep-grah-na-weep-ninni-bong), Unicron the Chaosbringer, Autobot City, and the saying ‘Till All Are One! We meet the Quintessons for the first time, along with the Junkions and the ill-fated Lithonians. The Transformers universe expanded well out of its TV cartoon roots with this movie.

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Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!

2.) The Soundtrack/ScoreYou got the Touch! You got the Pow-wwwwer! Yeaaah! From the mindblowing hard-rock reimagining of the main theme by Lion, to both of Stan Bush’s classic TF anthems (The Touch and Dare), this soundtrack is great throughout every track. At times it almost gives the movie a kind of Heavy Metal feel to it. That’s Heavy Metal in a ‘one-way ticket to midnight’ kind of way with rock paired with animation. There’s also Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way, Hunger, and Instrument of Destruction. And did I mention that Weird Al Yankovic has a spot on this album? That’s right, Dare to be Stupid. And my hat’s off to Vince DiCola on his scoring the movie itself. It really added some emotional weight to a certain scene I’ve yet to discuss.

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The man himself.

3.) The Voice Cast – I met Peter Cullen once at a convention. It was less than a minute, and I was just one fan out of a hundred waiting to get something signed. Even though it was only a few seconds of my life, I will remember it always. Always. These names, now so familiar, like: Scatman Crothers, Jack Angel, Chris Latta, Frank Welker, and many others, are the ones who really brought the characters to life with their voice work. This dream team of actors was then joined by the likes of Eric Idle, Robert Stack, Susan Blue, Leonard Nimoy, and friggin’ Orson Welles as the voice of Unicron. I think even the much-maligned Judd Nelson did a fine job as Hot Rod and Rodimus. All those talents under one roof…it’s amazing.

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Gorgeous. Simply Gorgeous.

4.) The Animation – Once again, this is some of the most beautiful animation that Sunbow ever created. The coloration, the cell-shading, the grace with which characters move through the frame, all of it is beautiful. The characters seem to take on a new life and vitality, and look better here than just about anywhere outside of Transformers: Retribution.

And here are the parts that left their mark on me as a child:

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Pretty much the look on my face, too.

1.) The Casual Deaths of Supporting Characters – The first scene, the destruction and subsequent consumption of Lithone, really set the tone for the movie. But then we get the credits sequence, and we’re back to the Autobots that we know and love. Previously, we’ve seen the Autobots get hurt or shot up, but they were all better by the end of the episode. The one ‘perma-death’ they had in the cartoon, Skyfire, was later undone by Wheeljack and an ice jackhammer.

I still remember the battle on the Autobot starship. Prowl, one of my favorite characters, takes a direct hit in the opening shots. Fire comes out of his eyes and mouth, and he falls over dead.

Let me say that again: Fire came out of his eyes and mouth.

I remember trying to explain why I was so upset by this to my mom and she didn’t get it. She thought that was just one of his special features or powers, like he had fire breath or heat-ray eyes or something. Nope, that was the Autobot version of blood coming out of his mouth before he died.

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Wut?

But it didn’t stop there. In a scene that takes less than a minute of screen time, we see Ratchet riddled with holes and die, Ironhide is given a contemptuous coup de grace by Megatron, and Brawn charge the Decepticons only to take a hit in the shoulder and fall, presumably finished off afterwards (though he does make an appearance in Season Three, so perhaps not all was lost.) In a word: Brutal.

Then we get to Autobot City. We see RC dragging the corpse of Windcharger, which she dumps next to poor old Wheeljack. We don’t even know how they died. We don’t see them make some heroic sacrifice or stand their ground against impossible odds. We just see their dead bodies, discarded and sad. By this point in the movie, Kid-Matt was mighty uncomfortable with how things were going in that movie theatre in Athens, Texas. But none of those deaths prepared me for the emotional gut-punch of what was to come.

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Worst. Marketing. Decision. EVER.

2.)  The Death of Optimus Prime – Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? Remember those TV spots I mentioned? Well, as an adjunct, there was a Transformers toy commercial tie-in. It featured Frank Welker in his Megatron voice introducing the heinous Galvatron toy, and Peter Cullen’s Prime introducing Ultra Magnus. At the end, there’s a movie tag that shows Optimus being shot up pretty badly and the announcer asks “Does Prime die?” I remember watching that in my grandfather’s living room and thinking, “Naah, they’d never kill off Optimus Prime.”

Right?

But, as Kid-Matt watched several of his favorite bots terminated with extreme prejudice, a gnawing suspicion began to dawn that his favorite of favorite characters was about to go down. We get the glorious fight with Megatron, Prime at his fighting best, and then the idiot Hot Rod gets in the way. Way to go. Perhaps just saying “Hey, watch out! He’s reaching for a gun! Shoot him!” would have been better, yeah?

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Way to go, Hot Rod. Tool.

But with one final, mighty uppercut, Prime ends Megatron’s reign of tyranny before collapsing. As Kup says, he turned the tide in the deadliest battle us little’uns had ever seen these characters fight. Not content with that, the sadistic bastards making this movie make us watch as Prime slowly slips away on life support to a musical score that STILL hurts to listen to. He gives the Matrix to Ultra Magnus, tells us not to grieve, and then the bright blue light fades from his eyes. And in case that wasn’t enough to show us that Prime is finally, irrevocably dead, we see his iconic red and blue color drain away to a grey-black, and then his head lolls to the side.

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😥 *buckets*

 

At this point, my godmother had to take me into the hall because I was crying so hard. Like snot-coming- out-of-my-nose-with-my-bottom-lip-quivering-uncontrollably kind of crying. I missed the next 10 minutes of the movie, and didn’t see that part until a few years later when I chanced to watch it again on VHS.

So, seeing my favorite childhood character die hurt pretty bad, but what hurt worse was when I learned the real reason that had Prime died. Hasbro wasn’t going to sell the Optimus toy the next season. They were clearing the way for new characters to sit on the shelves, and killing them off in the story was the perfect way to get them out of the way and explain their absence at the storefront.

Ouch.

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“…”

Even as a kid, I knew that the cartoon was just a way to promote sales, but I was okay with it because I was already sold on the toys. But to cynically kill off a fan favorite just because he wasn’t being sold anymore? What. The. Hell? Worse, this set the precedent for Prime dying in other interpretations of the character. Revenge of the Fallen, anyone? Transformers: Prime?

But in a twist of what I guess is karma, I wasn’t the only kid who had a freakout moment in the theatre. Lots of parents complained, and there was so much fan outrage over Prime’s death that Hasbro brought him back six months later in the two-part episode aptly named The Return of Optimus Prime. Of course, that was right as Transformers as a cartoon was sinking into the morass of “Seasons” 4 & 5, but at least Hasbro did the right thing in the end.

But the scars remain. #thankshasbro

3.) A Whole New Cast – Take a look at the official movie poster. Go ahead, take a look.

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Despite it all, I have this framed.

Notice anything? If you aren’t familiar with the characters, here’s a hint: All of them are new. Every character displayed here, with the exception of what might be Laserbeak in the background, is first introduced to American audiences in this movie. I remember seeing this poster hanging in the lobby of the movie theatre and wondering why Bumblebee, Prime, Jazz, Prowl, and the others weren’t on it. Sure, these new guys looked cool, but who were they?

So, if you had been watching the cartoon for two years, and then went into the movie thinking the main story would revolve around those guys (as I naturally assumed it would), that’s a negatory, Ghostrider. Only the Dinobots play any significant role, and live. Old characters die and are replaced, or are reborn as other characters, complete with new voice actors. It’s a bit of a cinematic bait-and-switch when you think about it, like going into the next Avengers movie to find that all the main heroes have been replaced with Squadron Supreme. Nothing against Squadron Supreme, but that wasn’t exactly what I thought I was getting.

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Eh, not so much.

4.) Rodimus Prime – To be fair, Optimus Prime is a tough act to follow. But since Prime dies, the Powers-That-Be apparently had to have another Prime. Instead of picking Ultra Magnus, who shares a lot in common with Prime, including a fancy name made up of superlatives, and an identical base toy, the Matrix instead goes for the punk kid, Hot Rod. Because…reasons. There is an admittedly cool transformation scene where we see Rodimus grow in size and the ghostly voice of Optimus saying, “Arise, Rodimus Prime.” He quickly kicks Galvatron’s butt and goes on to declare an end to the Great War. Roll credits.

But then we get Season 3 of the cartoon, now with the new guys in lead roles, with little of the old guard remaining. Rodimus is now the Autobot Supreme Commander, and it’s clear that he’s no Optimus Prime, either in the strength of his leadership abilities, his ability to inspire others, or his lackluster combat skills (especially compared to Galvatron who seems waaaaay more powerful by comparison). Worse yet, Rodimus knows he’s not nearly the leader that Optimus was. And he’s right, he isn’t. So it goes.

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I much prefer this version, even if it’s a tad misleading. I also have this one framed.

Conclusions: 

As you can see there’s a lot to love and hate about this movie. In only 85 minutes, it embodies both the best and worst of what Transformers had to offer in the 1980s: callous disregard for what fans wanted based off of changes in a toy line, mixed with incredible jumps forward in the universe of Transformers, given to us with animation that looks like visual candy.

So when it comes to the cinematic vomit/explosion orgy offered up in the new series of Transformers movies, I honestly can’t say that Michael Bay is stepping all over my childhood. Transformers: The Movie did that during my childhood. And yet, there’s still a part of me that can’t help but smile when I hear Stan Bush belt out The Touch.


An Open Letter to Bethesda Game Studios from a Humble Fanboy, Concerning the “Contraptions” DLC

Dear Bethesda Game Studios,

Let me start by making my position clear: I LOVE YOU GUYS. You have given me two of my favorite games of all time, and you can bet your bottom bottlecap that Fallout 4 is one of them. This letter is not meant to be abrasive, mean, or to otherwise throw shade in your direction. I merely want to ask some questions, knowing that in all likelihood I won’t receive answers. But if Socrates has taught me anything, aside from that I know nothing about everything, it’s that I should ask questions anyway, even if there is no clear answer.

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That said, let’s talk about your Contraptions DLC. This feels the most ‘unlike’ you so far, and I can’t really see the point to it. I enjoy building my settlements, but I do so either for role-playing reasons (e.g. literally rebuilding the Commonwealth), or as way stations to give me a safe haven when I need to rest, repair, and resupply. Do I indulge in a little trophy building? Sure. You should see my Power Armor museum in Sanctuary. Boy, is it ever self-aggrandizing.

But what I don’t want is to build just for the sake of building or to see what ‘clever’ things I can cook up using Settlement mode. This is what perplexes me so much about Contraptions: it seems that this is for players who couldn’t give two shakes about the game’s story and just want to use the game as high-res version of Minecraft. A lot of thought and energy went into things like the ball tracks, new switches, mortars, and logic gates, etc.

Why? (No really, that wasn’t rhetorical. I really want to know why.) Was there that much call for it? Is this just for Twitch and streaming players to show off?

What’s more, those things that do appeal to a more utilitarian player like myself seem oddly executed or not thought out completely. Some of them really have me baffled, because this is not like you. Even though Wasteland Workshop was panned by some, we still got fusion generators, concrete structures, and the contamination arch out of the deal, which I have made extensive use of in my Survival run.

Maybe you’ve spoiled me, but I’m used to your products being polished and well reasoned, maybe a little buggy sometimes, but I am pretty forgiving on that last score. Contraptions, however, feels more than a bit frustrating. Thus begins my list of questions to you:

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Workshop Link-up? — Was there some reason we couldn’t link manufacturing machines up to our Settlement’s Workbench? Carting resources back and forth, and worse yet, scrolling through hundreds of items trying to find items that contain fiberglass is a bit of a pain. I’m not sure why this couldn’t work like armor and weapon workbenches, that draw resources directly from the main workbench’s pool. If you were worried about accidentally depleting certain resources, particularly if you have supply lines to other settlements, could we have set a limit for our factories to produce? So, a Vault-tec lunchbox costs 3 steel. I could potentially make 10,000 of them, but I don’t want to utterly deplete my steel reserves, so I instead a put on cap of 50 on the production run. It prints off 50 and then stops, regardless of how many more it could create.

Factory Automation? — Why are factories limited to producing goods only when I’m present in the settlement? Isn’t the point of automation that it does its thing while you’re away, so you can come back and collect? It is cool to watch the conveyor belts and all, but when I’m creating 30 sets of 2mm EM cartridges, I don’t necessarily need — or want — to watch them roll off the assembly line. I know that settlements do at least some resource bookkeeping while I’m away, so wouldn’t it make sense for this to be a part of it?

Dress Dummies/Weapon Racks — I hope I don’t sound like an ingrate when I say this, so here goes: why are we just now getting these? I’ve been wanting to display weapons and armor since the game premiered in November. So, why did you wait until the fourth DLC to finally give them to us? Not to make too many comparisons here, but Skyrim had this in the base game. Also, what gives with the ‘corkboard’ weapon displays using so much space to display just one weapon? The game’s title sequence shows several weapons and add-ons together in a fairly tight area. Is there no way to be a little economical with the wall space?

Fireworks – Misc Tab — Was it necessary to have these guys live on the ‘Misc’ tab of the inventory, instead of, say, the Weapons tab? The Misc tab is likely the longest of all of them. It’s not too bad to scroll down to ‘F’ for ‘Fireworks,’ but it is quite a chore to scroll down to ‘W’ for ‘Weather Control’ whenever I want to get rid of a rad storm.

Armor Forge — Okay, this is a big one. Why would you randomize the armor pieces that are produced? Why can I not specify that I want the right leg of Sturdy Combat armor? Or the left arm or Heavy Leather armor? Why can’t I tell the machine exactly what I want on the terminal? It feels like the cost in terms of resources is the equivalent of convenience store prices for an unmodified piece of armor, so why must I then waste even more resources waiting for it to produce a full set? You see, I wanted to build a museum of the different armor types because they look so cool and distinctive. Doing so is surprisingly difficult and wasteful with the armor forge as it stands, when it should just be point-and-click.

Also, where is the Synth armor? Or the Trapper armor from Far Harbor? Or the Robot Armor from Automatron? It feels like if you have completed these DLCs you should be able to produce those armor types as well. Possibly more than other aspect of Contraptions, the Armor Forge is the one that leaves me scratching my head. Honestly, how did all this get past you? Surely, you didn’t make it almost unusable on purpose, right?

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Mark it on my map, will you?

Ammunition Plant — In contrast, the Ammunition Plant is perhaps the most useful thing I’ve found in this DLC. It fills a gap that seems long overdue. I use a Gauss Rifle, so ammo is always rare, and this allows me to do something about it. But I have to ask…why are there ammo types missing from the line-up? We’re already paying a premium cost in terms of resources to use this, so where are the mini-nukes? The rockets? The fusion cells? The flamer fuel? Heck, where are the railway spikes? Those are literally iron or steel spikes. Why were those ammo types left out, along with many others?

Food Processor — I think I can sum up my confusion with this facet in just one word: Cram. It takes mongrel dog meat, Brahmin meat, and radstag meat to make a single Cram. In terms of healing, each component is comparable or far better than the end product, and the bonus 25 to carry weight for grilled radstag is really too valuable to waste. Why would I do this for anything other than novelty purposes? I don’t understand. The same could be said of the Builder. Other than the Vault-tec lunchbox, why would I want to pay more to produce a teddy bear/Jangles the Moon Monkey/etc. than what I can scrap it for?

Explosives Mill — Maybe I’m missing something here, but we could already make explosives at the Chemistry station. If automation is not a thing, why would I use choose to produce grenades at the Explosives Mill and receive no XP for it, when I could just as easily do it at the Chemistry station gain XP for every one? You basically gave us something we already had, though with no XP reward and more complicated. What gives?

Autoloom — It’s interesting to be able to make new, clean clothing. I like putting my settlers in new clothes rather than the rags they rolled in wearing. Still, and this seems like a no-brainer, but where is the ability to make Vault-Tec jumpsuits? It would be so cool to make jumpsuits from any of the vaults that we’ve visited, even ones like Vault 118 that didn’t have a jumpsuit you could pick up. That’s an iconic part of the game, so why was this overlooked?

Okay, so I could go on and on, but those are the major points. If you’ve stuck with me, kudos to you. Now let me hit you up with my wish list of things I’d like to see for settlements and general gameplay convenience. Submitted for your consideration:

More Reasons to Have/Make Settlements in the First Place — My first run through I built all sorts of stuff in more than 20 of the settlements, and I tried to make sure I built each one with the idea that people would actually live there. Much of it was just RP, of course, but it dawned on me that there was really no point other than to have them as a convenient place for various workbenches, to store stuff, and to sleep. Settlements take on a whole new dimension in Survival mode, but with a lack of fast-travel abilities, it’s better to never set up that recruitment beacon. If there are no settlers, they don’t get attacked at random intervals.

To me, settlements should be more than just blank canvasses to build wacky or over-the-top stuff, they should have some reason for being. Right now, they really don’t.  Even if you set up a robust set of shops, it takes far too much effort, perks, and caps to get them going properly, and even longer for them to start making money to justify their existence. If caps are what you want, you can do more with a couple of perks in Fortune Finder and then just wandering the wasteland.

So why not give us something in Settlement mode that we can’t get anywhere else? Say there’s a key ingredient in something we want that only grows at one or two farms. What if one settlement had a power switching station that could provide power to settlements around it, using the existing and still-standing power lines, if you made extensive repairs? What if there were Settlement perks that we get if we bootstrap the Commonwealth back up to a certain point? Not just achievements, but something worthwhile, like unlockable upgrades that benefit the player personally, but also help the settlements out. Really, what I’m trying to say is here is: give us an incentive to care about these settlements beyond just the basics.

Vault-boy12

You made it this far? You are awesomely awesome with that unmistakable air of mystery and danger! Read on!

Fixed Level 4 Vendors — Speaking of the shop system, could we get a fix for Level 4 vendors? Smiling Larry and the Scribe continue to be bugged beyond repair. I play on the Xbox One, so I don’t have the console commands to teleport them to my location. And really, I shouldn’t have to. This has been a problem since day one, and none of the patches have thus-far fixed this.

New Unique Items — If you can get the top tier vendors to work correctly, it seems that they have only a single piece of unique gear in their inventory. If you want to spice things up for a workshop DLC, how about giving us new unique items in all of the named vendors, across the Commonwealth? Perhaps this is a tall order, but it might give us a reason to revisit some of the guys that are no longer really relevant just to see what they have.

Named/Unique Settlers — You guys are all about immersive play, which I adore. So when I have to sort through 20+ men and women who are just called ‘Settler’ it gets a little stale after a while. Why not give us the ability to name them ourselves, or have them come with randomized names (or both)? Also, it would be great to find unique settlers that did something extra. I wooed Sheffield to my side with a Nuka Cola, but he does not do anything more than any other settler. Maybe we find a badass mercenary who alone raises the our defense score by 25 or more, or a gardener that can tend far more food than normal, or make it produce more often. Perhaps there’s a negotiator that brings prices down in whatever settlement he’s assigned to, or a chef that improves the quality of the food that you bring to him. The possibilities are endless here, and you haven’t even scratched the surface of it.

Permanent Item Placement — This goes back to a gripe of mine about Skyrim. I would like to place objects on tables or shelves and have them stay there. I don’t want to leave and come back and find my carefully placed items on the ground or knocked over. Again, this goes back to immersion. Let us set up a bar with a myriad of different bottles, or place sentimental items together without them going all over the place.

An “Opt Out” Clause for Settlement Attacks — My version of Sanctuary Hills has a defense of over 300. Only the wildest, most unthinking beast or the most stupid Super Mutants would ever consider attacking it. Yet, Raiders, Gunners, and the Brotherhood do, even though it’s suicide. Perhaps they will slightly damage a few of my turrets before they are cut down, but it makes no sense and is just sort of mindless. Plus, Settlement attacks have the worst timing. I once got a notice that Tenpines was under attack just as I was going through Kellogg’s memories. Sorry, Tenpines…it’ll be a minute before I can make it. Another was Oberland Station while I was deep in the depths of the Mechanist’s Lair. Ugh. In Survival Mode, it really sucks to hear that the Abernathy Farm is under attack when I’m hanging out at the Castle. So, give us the option of either turning that functionality off, or give us some in-story way to avoid or stop it. Pretty please, with sugar on top.

Sort Items In the Order They Are Picked Up — This is more of a convenience thing, but while I’m wishing, here you go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a holo-tape and then can’t find it again because I don’t remember the name. It gets lost in the tons of keys, notes, and other miscellany of that tab. Is it possible to get a sorting protocol that can show me the last thing I picked up? Even if it’s only for the ‘Misc’ tab, that would be a HUGE help.

Increased Stability in Survival Mode — Again, nothing to do with settlements, but just for my own sanity. I’ve noticed a dramatic uptick in game-terminating bugs while playing on Survival mode. Since you have limited save points to beds (and for some reason you can’t carry a bedroll around with you), nothing chaps this player’s hide like getting through a long section of the game, where there are no beds to save along the way, only to have the game freeze up before I can save. Too much of that makes me think ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’

Fallout-4-Power-Armor

Whew…

Okay, so if you made it this far, you are a darling. Thanks for listening, or reading as the case may be. If anyone from Bethesda does read this, I hope you will think about what I’ve said here. Food for thought, at least. I have spent more hours than I care to count in the world of Fallout 4. It is a titan of a game, and the DLCs don’t fall far from tree. Automatron was a bit light on story, but the Robots! Holy cow, the ROBOTS! Wasteland Workshop had some useful things in it, and I always appreciate more lighting options. Far Harbor was beyond awesome, with a story that was incredibly engaging and morally ambiguous. Love it!

But then there’s Contraptions, which has some of the Sesame Street vibe of “which one of these is not like the others?” It wasn’t meant to have a story, but the utility it does have seems half-hearted and half-baked at best.

Now I don’t say these things to tear you down. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m used to getting a certain ‘plussed’ experienced from you, to use a Disney term, and Contraptions is lacking that. It’s like a friend who is super extroverted becoming suddenly withdrawn and anti-social. It just doesn’t fit the pattern of behavior I’ve come to expect. You have to stop and ask, “Are you all right?”

I hope that you are. All right, I mean.

And here’s hoping that the upcoming Vault-Tec DLC will put you guys back on the top spot.  Not to blow too much smoke here, but you guys are the best.

Respectfully,

– Matt Carson


Galaxy Quest – Why I Love It Like Wrath of Khan

In honor of the late, great Alan Rickman, I watched Galaxy Quest again the other night. In my mind, I know that it’s a fantastic movie, but seeing it again always surprises me at just how good it is. Not only is it infinitely quotable on the order of Big Trouble in Little China or The Princess Bride but I think it’s one of the greatest Star Trek movies ever made.

Galaxy-Quest

Ooooooooh Yeeeeeaaaaaahhh! *said in a Kool-Aid Man voice.

No really, I love it in many ways as much as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and for those who may not know me, let me tell you that’s saying something. The bagpipes at Spock’s funeral and Kirk’s voice catching when he says “His was the most…human” still bring tears to my eyes. True story.

So why do I love Galaxy Quest so much? Good question, I’m glad you asked.  Here’s the rundown of my top 3 reasons:

#3 It Understood Star Trek Better Than Star Trek Did:

StarTrekNemesis-poster

Nope.

Galaxy Quest arrived right between the rather ‘meh’ offering of Star Trek: Insurrection and the soul-numbing death knell of the TNG movies, Nemesis.  The Next Gen movies were often a bitter pill for Trek fans back then. Yeah, First Contact was quite good, and certainly the best of the bunch, but I never cared for the idea of a Borg Queen, or at-will time travel (again), or their portrayal of Zefram Cochrane. But I digress…ahem.

In truth, Galaxy Quest seemed to have a better understanding of Star Trek and its fans FAR and away better than the people who were in charge of the actual franchise at the time. From the fans who seem painfully familiar on the convention floor, to the tropes of the Original Series (and straight through the chompers…), all of these things told me that it was a parody made with utmost love for the source material. The elevator scene where the actors see the NCES Protector in space dock, glowing like an angel, could have been the Enterprise clearing its moorings to the sweep of a James Horner score.

Dean Parisot, David Howard, and Robert Gordon knew what we wanted to see in a Star Trek movie, and in so doing, gave us a parody that was better than the thing it was imitating. You know, like a cinematic Weird Al Yankovic.

#2 Brandon & Quellek:

Galaxy_Quest_2_67263

Yeah, I was totally this guy.

There are two characters that deeply capture what it means to be a Trek fan (no, I’m not using ‘Trekkie’ or ‘Trekker’ here. Debate the usage elsewhere, please). The first is Brandon, the nerdy teenager played by Justin Long. He totally echoes my 15-year-old self who dreamed that my incredible Trek nerdiness and knowledge of the official tech manuals might one day come in useful when William Shatner or Patrick Stewart showed up and needed my help. When Brandon exclaims, “I knew it!” it speaks to the hope that somewhere, out in the vastness of space, the Enterprise is a real ship, a real place you can go, and not just a TV set made of wood and Christmas lights.

The other is Quellek, the Thermian who idolizes Dr. Lazarus. Ask yourself this: How many real-life scientists were inspired by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock? A great deal, I’m sure. The characters that actors portray can mean something to us deep down. Really mean something. They can inspire us in ways the actor may have never imagined. Quellek says, “Even though we had never before met, I always considered you as a father to me.” That really sums up the actor-fan relationship, especially for that one character that really speaks to you. Galaxy Quest understood that, embraced it, and made it part of the story.

#1 Alan Rickman:

large-screenshot2

😥

The cast of this movie (including the Queen of Sci-fi herself, Sigourney Weaver) really shines, no doubt about it. Alan Rickman, however, is off the chain as Sir Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus. For an actor so celebrated for his villainous roles, it’s refreshing to see his comedic side as an actor who feels trapped by the role of Dr. Lazarus, and constantly upstaged by his rival, Jason Nesbitt.

But as funny as he is, it’s during those serious moments in the film that Rickman really brings it all home. Going back to Quellek’s death, we see that Alexander, who has never liked his character’s oft-repeated tagline, says “By Grapthar’s Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged.” And we know that he means it thanks to Rickman’s masterful dramatic delivery.  I think this is the most powerful scene in the movie. It gives the movie, which is mostly parody, a dose of real gravity. It would be like getting a full-on “Live Long and Prosper” from Leonard Nimoy if we thought he was, in fact, Spock. Oh, the feels. THE. FEELS.

Conclusion:

This movie has a special place in my heart, not only because of the reasons I listed above, but because as a whole, it just works. To me, it’s about hard reality intruding on fantasy, which makes watching it bittersweet since Alan Rickman is now gone, along with his character’s real-life analogue, Leonard Nimoy.

You know, writing that last sentence, putting it into words, really hurt.

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“…”

Being a Star Trek fan is in my blood. I was blessed to grow up with two parents who both liked the Original Series, and embraced Next Gen immediately when it came around. I went to Star Trek conventions when it was actively uncool to do so, but I met a lot of my fellow fans. For a kid who was incredibly shy and introverted, it was such a relief to strike up a conversation with a total stranger on the convention floor just because we both loved something.

The fans are, and shall always be, one of the greatest things about Star Trek. That is what Galaxy Quest included that other actual Star Trek films just can’t. This is why a parody like this rates right up there with Wrath of Khan. It taught me that if you truly love something you should…

…say it with me…

Never give up! Never surrender!


Letters from Vault 111

[Note: This is partially a bit of Fallout 4 satire, but also an ‘in character’ way to clear things off my chest that the game left unresolved. I almost always play female characters in Bethesda games, and this one is no different, so take note. There are MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, so if you don’t want to know about the story and characters of Fallout 4, opt out now.)

From the desk of Evelyn Weir (née Moore), Sole Survivor of Vault 111, Director of the Institute, and General of the Minutemen:

[ Personal NoteI’m not sure what’s wrong with me. I don’t know if I was always this conversationally stunted, or if my long stint in cryo storage has somehow affected my brain. Maybe Nate was just too polite to point it out to me, but these days it seems that I can only respond to any talking point in four basic ways. I’m not sure why.  

Oftentimes what actually comes out of my mouth is different from what I intended to say, or I am unable to articulate certain feelings, nuances, or even share basic information. I’ll attempt to be funny and come off as hurtful; I’ll misinterpret what is being said and respond with something I would normally never dream of. I don’t remember being this limited in law school, but the person who emerged from Vault 111 is quite different in many ways from the person who went into it.

Regardless, this ‘limit of four’ does not appear to affect my ability to write, and so I pen these letters to my friends, family, and the people I’ve met along my travels in the Commonwealth. ]

To Shaun Weir, Former Director of the Institute:

Shaun

From the moment I set foot out of Vault 111, you were my driving concern, the reason behind my every thought and action. I wanted revenge for your father’s murder, of course, but more than that, I wanted my baby back. I did some things in my desperation that, looking back, I’m not proud of. I used people for information. I carved out Sanctuary Hills on the blood of many raiders, ghouls, and supermutants. I turned myself into something I could barely recognize in the mirror. But, I did what I had to. I needed the resources and allies to find you.

And then, when the moment arrived (with you staring down the barrels of my minigun while I stood there menacingly in red power armor), I realized that I had missed your whole life. Not only were you physically old enough to be my father, but you were dying to boot. And we were perfect strangers. We had no relationship, and you acted curiously detached from me at all points. Would a simple “I love you, mom” or a hug have been too much to ask?

I still think that you should have read Descartes and applied a healthy dose of cogito ergo sum to your conduct towards the Synths. They deserved better than what they got from you. They are your children, and my thus my grandchildren. I intend to treat them as such. I also think that what you asked me to do the Underground was not necessary, and horrible. That was a mistake, and one I wish I had never been a party to.

But even with the Underground’s blood on my hands, the loss of life was kept to a minimum. I can only imagine the carnage that would have come to pass if the Underground or the Brotherhood ever had their chance to destroy the Institute. I promise that I will continue your work with the Institute, albeit on a different trajectory. Too bad you were never able to fully articulate your vision of the future to me (which is still pretty nebulous, I have to admit). Regardless, I count myself lucky to have known you for the brief time I did, even if it was only to lose you again. You can’t know how much that hurt.

To Jack Valentine, Private Eye:

Valentine (Clipped)

I know you feel that you are merely a pretender with dead man’s life in your head, but I urge you to consider that our memories, our will, our personality…those are the things that make us who we are. I don’t see you as an android pretending to be Detective Jack Valentine of the BPD. No, I see you as Jack Valentine reborn. One day maybe you will, too. You didn’t choose this situation for yourself, of course, but you’ve done well with the hand of cards you were dealt. You and Ellie have helped countless people who were down or desperate, and I know you didn’t do it for the caps.

You were instrumental in helping me find my Shaun, and you stood with me through so many dangers and hardships to get to that point. I know you were unhappy with me when I sided with the Institute, and I don’t blame you. I would be in your place. Somehow, though, I couldn’t tell you that the son you helped me find was, in fact, the Institute’s leader. It seems like that might have cast my decision in a different light for you.

But, I am glad you haven’t abandoned me. Rest assured that I will use the resources of the Institute to determine why you were discarded, if you want, and to ensure the fair treatment of Synths of all types. Also, I hope you will consider staying on in Sanctuary Hills as its resident sheriff. The town needs it, and there is no one I would trust more in that position. The badge is yours if you want it.

To Piper Wright, Editor-in-Chief of Publick Occurrences:

Piper (Clipped)

Piper, you are my best friend. Some of my best memories of my time in the Commonwealth are when I donned the signature coat and fedora of the Silver Shroud. You looked the part of the side-kick in your dashing red trenchcoat. I loved those times. You hunt the truth, even when it’s hazardous to your health (shall we say especially when it’s hazardous to your health). But you never give up, and you help people, and not just when it’s convenient or easy.

Like Jack, you felt betrayed by my decision to join the Institute. I can’t seem to convince you with words (certainly when we speak face to face), so I hope that actions will suffice instead. I have already decreed that all Synths that want to live on the surface, freely and without further contact with us, may do so. The abduction and replacement program has been terminated (along with the troublesome scientist at the helm of it). You have my solemn and most sacred vow to use the technology and resources at my disposal to help rebuild the Commonwealth. You’ve put your trust in me before, and I hope that you will do so again.

So how about this: You want the real story of the century? How about an all-access press pass to the Institute itself? No restrictions, no censorship, just you and the inside scoop. What do you say? Oh, and you called it on Mayor McDonough, just FYI. Yep, totally a Synth. Again, not sure why I couldn’t tell you this before, but there it is.

To Codsworth:

Codsworth

You are the only living family I have left, my one link to my old life before the war. You remember Nate and Shaun just as I do, and the happy little home in the suburbs that we all shared together. You were there when we first brought Shaun home from the hospital. You cared for him, and us, tirelessly ever after.

And it is because of that, that I owe you the biggest apology I’ve ever given out. We didn’t take you to the vault when the alarms sounded. I should have tried, but I was scared. When the alarms went off, I ran. You deserved better than to be abandoned to that uncertain fate. I can’t tell you what it means to me that you remained around Sanctuary Hills for two centuries waiting for our return, or that we were reunited.

Like the others who had a stake in me finding Shaun, I couldn’t tell you that I had found him, and that he was alive. But he’s gone now, having died from a vaguely defined disease that the Institute, in all their knowledge, was powerless to stop. I know you would have wanted to see him again. He had Nate’s eyes, bright and clear and intelligent. Looking into them was like seeing a window to the past.

With his passing, however, I know that I can’t reclaim the past; I have to move forward. I used to think that family was only blood, only human, but I was wrong. You, Jack, and Curie have shown me that family transcends mere flesh and circuitry, and I’m glad you are here to help build a future with me.

[Personal Note: There’s so much more to say. I’m still reeling from all the ramifications of what my actions have brought about. “War never changes,” that’s what Nate used to say, but lives are something else, something different. If my time in the Commonwealth has taught me anything, it’s that Life is Change. We’ll just have to see where these changes take us. ]


The Golden Age of the Geekosphere

Tonight, I’m going to see Avengers: Age of Ultron (the movie I’m most excited to see this summer). That got me to thinking about the multitude of things that make being a geek/nerd/fanboy/fangirl just so cool these days.

Yes, we’ve got it pretty good, and here are 5 of my favorite reasons why:

1.) Nerd/Science Culture Acceptance

Bazinga!

What he said.

Let’s start with the most general of them. Over the last few years, what has been traditionally ‘nerd’ culture has leaked over into mainstream. Game of Thrones has been instrumental in this shift, along with shows like The Big Bang Theory and Sherlock. While the former has given us our share of fantasy and dragons (historically in the purview of geeks), the latter two have shown us that intelligent characters can carry a narrative, going far beyond the tape-around-the-glasses/pocket protector stereotypes of generations before.

We also have TV shows like Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, where we can see the beauty of science, and why it’s useful. We have websites like Geeks are Sexy and IFLScience. We can watch the livestream of the ISS, see sunsets from the surface of Mars, and use brand-new images of planets from Mercury to Ceres as our computer wallpaper. We may not have starships (yet), but little by little science is spreading into the public consciousness.

Maybe we’re a long way from mainstream or wholesale acceptance, but it’s a start. I’ll certainly take it.

2.) The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Assemble!

A triumph of the human spirit.

Okay, so you might think this is a big step down from #1, but go with me for a moment.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe did the impossible – it wove individual movie franchises into one big story. Despite its name, it isn’t just about the cinema anymore. We now have TV shows like Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Daredevil, not to mention comic books and cartoons, all of which take place in the MCU.

While this by itself makes the comic book fanboy in me want to do the Snoopy dance, the MCU showed audiences and studios alike that this is viable way to make movies. Marvel has plans for more movies in the MCU through 2020 and beyond.

That means that we will wind up with at least two decades of superhero movies, if you start the clock with X-Men in the year 2000. And the current generation of movie-goers will have had the privilege of living through this era, of seeing all this unfold in the theatre. That’s pretty exciting.

One of these days the MCU might play out, but right now it’s going strong. Even if others try to emulate the MCU badly (*cough* DC *cough*), we at least got Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy out of the deal, so go us!

3.) The Regeneration of Doctor Who

Vale Decem

You don’t have to go.

The years 1989 to 2004 were a dark time for Whovians. The only Who we got back then was that pretty awful TV movie that was a weak attempt at a reboot. I do admit to liking the style and charisma that Paul McCann brought to the character, and this was the first time we saw Who with more ‘modern’ effects. But… the Seventh Doctor got a punk death, Eric Roberts played the Master, and the story was just plain bad, and clearly written by people who were not invested in the franchise.

In 2005, however, Russell T. Davies rekindled the series with Christopher Eccleston as the title role. Steven Moffat took over as showrunner after David Tennant’s run, and the show is still going strong. I hope the BBC will learn from its mistake in 1989 and keep the show going indefinitely. Now that the ’12 Regeneration Limit’ issue has been addressed, there’s no reason why Doctor Who can’t continue to move forward with new adventures.  Doctor Who is something that science fiction fandom needs, and for the foreseeable future, we have it.

4.) Netflix & YouTube (& All the Social Media)

<3

I laughed, I cried, I rebuffered.

This is a pretty broad category, to be sure. Netflix and other video streaming platforms have given fans an unprecedented access to episodes of our favorite shows, past and present. Previously, fans had to make do with a library of DVDs or VHS tapes. Though there is often a delay between when a program is broadcast and when it ends up streaming, it gives fans nowadays the ability to binge watch whole shows. It’s just as easy to watch the original G1 Transformers as it is to watch the Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

YouTube has made a great addition to fandom as well. Here you can share fan theories and lateral content, parodies, song covers, and cosplay advice. Some of the fan-made trailers for movies and TV shows are in many ways better than the actual thing. It’s a wide-open canvas for fans to express their creativity. If that weren’t enough, social media sites bring fans news and information with unprecedented speed, as well as giving us a way to connect with the people who make the TV shows, movies, and music videos unlike ever before. You could tweet to Neil Gaiman, Lindsey Stirling, or Emilia Clarke and they might actually Tweet back.

TECHNOLOGY!

5.) ThinkGeek

Hey, listen!

With or without a promo code.

What’s the surest way to know that geek fandoms are doing well? Merchandising. Manufacturers wouldn’t make a pizza cutter in the shape of the Enterprise, or plush facehuggers if they didn’t think there was a market for them. Turns out there is.

Marketing licensed merch and cool gadgets is nothing new, but no one, and I mean no one, does it better than ThinkGeek. There are endless places online to find fan-based T-shirts, but ThinkGeek goes above and beyond. They have collectibles, apparel, gadgets, toys, and things you didn’t think anyone would make but you are sure glad that they did.  Seriously, folks, there is a spotlight small enough to sit on your desk that is a miniature Bat Signal.

Beyond that, it feels like the people at ThinkGeek actually get these licenses. They know what these properties mean to the fans because they are fans of them themselves. Do yourself a favor and go sign up for their email newsletter. When it comes in, read it. Does is it sound like you are being pandered to by people who wouldn’t know a Wookie from a Dalek? Nope, not at all. It’s more like walking into a meet & greet at a local convention. They’re the friends-in-fandom you never knew you had. If you haven’t already, go check them out.

A Final Word

There are many more things I could list about the awesomeness of modern geekery, but that would take more than a humble blog post to even scratch the surface.  The upshot of it is: there has never been a better time to be a fan, and I’m glad to be a part of it all.

May this emerging golden age of the Geekosphere Live Long and Prosper.