Wednesday, February 29, 2012

As it turns out

Star Trek isn't as much fun to pick on.  Star Wars, you've got a long road ahead of you.

Because I may have been picking on Star Wars too much

Well, it's not my fault that there's so much more interesting Star Wars apocrypha in comparison  to Star Trek, is it?  I mean, don't get me wrong, I have read some Trek books, even recently but-- they weren't very good.  And, I mean, it's not like I read one or two, closer to about seven or eight, Klingon books and Titan books.  They read like particularly poor episodes, they had technology problems, but by and large they were just kind of boring, nothing like Kevin J. Anderson level of outrageous.  Not to me, not of what I've read anyway.

Star Wars just has so much more out there that is so much more compelling.  It has the advantage of not having been explored by the source material really deeply.  At the time of most of the books I read and enjoyed out of Star Wars, there were only three films and lots of time left over to explore what's going on.

So, to be fair to Star Wars, I'm going to beat up the other kid for a while like the internet bully that I apparently am.  Alright, Star Trek, here's a short list of things that everyone everywhere has already hit on.

1. The Deflector Dish

This bleeding thing is the running joke of all of Trek.  Have a problem that you aren't apparently prepared to deal with?  Ship doesn't have the equipment it needs to deal with an unexpected problem?  Well have I got a solution for you!

We'll start off by increasing your level of technobabble by four hundred percent!  In order to do this, we'll need some inane bullcrap that may mean something in the real world, but doesn't actually mean anything here.  For instance,

Now, all we need to do is reroute power through the main/primary deflector dish!

What can't this thing do?  I mean, I know, the subject has been beaten into the ground, but I have two points I want to make here.  This is the first, it's a navigational deflector, and apparently the primary one.  So, presumably, and keep in mind that nobody ever says this I'm just extrapolating from its name, it exists to deflect items and debris out of the ship's way while it's traveling.  Okay, I'm good with that.  So, there's more than one of them?  Why do we need several?  And why is it capable of being used for everything else that it seems to get shoehorned in to?

Second point, after we use this thing for a purpose that seems like it would be wildly useful to have again, we never do.  I kind of understand that we don't want to break the universe, but it's the writing staff's fault.  They wrote up a situation and didn't know how to deal with it so they added the primary deflector plot device.  But that leaves this question lingering for the rest of time.

Again, here's an example.  In everybody's favorite two-part, best of both worlds, the crew develops a plan to destroy a Borg Cube with a beam that channels all of the energy out of the warp system through the deflector and ought to destroy the ship.  Yes, it should also destroy the Enterprise, but at the end of the day, it's a prototype, it can be refined later.  Why would we not start building craft that have that as standard weapon?  I mean, slap two warp cores in a ship, give it a couple deflector arrays designed for this distinct purpose and get after it!  How quick would that have solved the Dominion War?

2. Data

Just Data, period.  I used to like Data, he was like a benign version of Spock, he just wanted to fit in!  Sure, he has his quirks and we get the joy of seeing him develop of the course of the series and it's great!  But my issue isn't with Data in the series, although God knows we have to have one episode a season where we deal with this whether we want to or not.  No, my issue is with Data in the movies.

Okay, there are four TNG films.  I don't particularly like any of them except First Contact.  Of the others, in ascending order of how much I dislike them, Insurrection, because it's boring (not awful and I don't hate it, heck I'll even still watch it from time to time), Generations, because it's pointless, and Nemesis, because it burns me like I just took a swig out of a bottle of bleach.  Three of these movies, strangely including the one that I liked, have a major plot element that includes Data and him trying to become more human.  Which I wouldn't have a problem with if it weren't for the fact that they did it three times and rather pointedly ignored so many of the other characters that hadn't been explored in the series!

Troi, Crusher, Worf, Riker, none of these characters get much more than acknowledgement of the fact that they are part of the crew and that they are still performing their functions.  I mean, come on, Worf isn't even part of the crew for half of these!  He just gets inserted in for poorly explained reasons!  Fine, give us a Data movie, but give us one Data movie!  Make it Nemesis, at least there he makes a valiant sacrifice!  In Generations he's just annoying!  In First Contact his role doesn't make a whole lot of sense and there's no real tension to his conflict!

Just because I like you, you get a list of three

3.  Super-luminal Velocity Reconciliation

Alright, let's talk about FTL.  Faster than light travel is a necessity in interstellar Sci-Fi, otherwise you're reading the Forever War or Rendezvous with Rama.  You need it.  If I were to pick out the three most popular American Sci-Fi series, I'd say Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.  Now, yes, there are others, but I'm not talking about those.

All three of these series have some kind of FTL ability, and they are at least a bit explained to the audience.  BSG's drive is separate from propulsion and is essentially instantaneous travel from one place to another with a limited range and a long cooldown time.  Star Wars has entering a different plane of reality in which it easily capable of traveling much faster than is easily possible otherwise.  Star Trek gives us the warp drive, which creates a subspace bubble around the ship in question that distorts space time within it in order to artificially change the speed of light within it.  With that ability, you can move at much higher speeds without having to have a nearly infinite amount of energy.

Now, I'm going to throw some physics around here, but keep in mind it's the kind of thing you pick from watching Discovery Channel documentaries about space travel, so it's not too hard to follow.  Just don't ask me to explain too much.  The reason that all of these drives are necessary is because light is the speed limit of the universe.  You can only travel at speeds equal to that of light or slower.  Einstein's theory of relativity says that Energy is equal to mass multiplied by the speed of light (universal constant) squared.  What that means is that the energy required to travel at a certain speed increases exponentially and eventually infinitely until you reach the speed of light, at which point any appreciable mass would have to be fueled by the energy and mass of the entire universe.  So, we develop fictional ways around that like the warp drive.  It raises the speed of light in the bubble so that you can go faster than light travels outside the bubble.

Here's where the issue starts.  Alright, let's build a weapon.  Let's build a highly effective weapon with a very long range and very high damage potential.  Let's do it in Star Trek with established weaponry.  Have you ever been shot with a Nerf dart?  Maybe it stung a little?  Have you ever been shot with a bullet?  I doubt it.  At the end of the day, the bullet weighs about as much as the nerf dart, depending on your bullet.  It has the same relative mass moving at much higher speeds so it deals much more damage.

What if we built a torpedo with a small warp drive, a navigational system for targeting and that was it.  You use it as a purely kinetic device.  It's the same concept that we see today with the use of rail guns, an object moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light deals enormous damage.  A bb suddenly hits like a SCUD missile.  A torpedo the size of your average photon suddenly deals way more.

But there's a problem.  Sure, we could probably use that kind of technology against the Borg and ruin their whole afternoon.  How do warp-speed objects interact with normal objects?  Refer back to my explanation for the need for FTL in sci-fi, speed of light means infinite or all of the energy of the universe.  These objects are traveling faster than that.  You might be willing to say that they don't interact, but remember that they exist in the same dimension as other objects and that they can't occupy the same space at the same time.

How does a warp-speed object, a ship or a torpedo, impart a portion of its energy into a sub-light object?  If it works the way it seems like it ought to, you literally destroy the entire universe.  If it were two objects moving at warp velocities, sure, warp bubbles merge and the issue becomes irrelevant.  But an object colliding with another object always transfers kinetic energy through impact.  That's why small things explode when you shoot them, the energy of the impact has destroyed them.

How do the physics of Star Trek reconcile an object moving faster than light colliding with a stationary object?  Suddenly the state of the warp field doesn't matter because the object that it is colliding with isn't in one, the energy is imparted into it of an object moving several times, perhaps several thousand times the speed of light.  Shouldn't this release the energy of the collision and the FTL object into the universe?  Doesn't that mean that the object in question is imparting more energy than exists?

I'm not a physicist.  Heck, at the end of the day I'm not good at basic high school algebra.  If you can explain it, do it.  Otherwise, I end Star Trek forever with my evil warp torpedoes!

Monday, February 27, 2012

99 Problems, but a Sith ain't one.

A List of things from the EU that bug me but not enough to warrant their own post

            Okay, so far you’ve seen me go on tirades that have been as long as five single spaced pages in Word.  This time I’m going to try something a little bit different, instead of railing against a particular author or book or even book series, I’m going to talk about some things that bug me that are on the smaller end of the scale.
            Now, most of these are going to end up being fairly inconsequential, but in the end it won’t matter because it’s my list.   They aren’t throw away bits, though.  Some of these issues are going to be ones that actually have had long standing consequences in the world of the EU.  There may even be some complaints that have no bearing whatsoever on things, but again, my list, my rant.

#1. The Hapes Consortium

            I imagine that at this point, if you’re reading this, you’ve read some of my previous entries, you might know where this is going.  As I said before, the first book that I ever read in the Star Wars EU was The Courtship of Princess Leia, which actually did a few things very well.  I want to say this right up front, I don’t hate everything.

            Stop laughing.

            Seriously, Dave Wolverton’s work in this novel helped establish a few things that are really very important to the EU at large.  The one that really sticks out in my mind is the fact that although the Jedi and Sith represent the most common traditions of the Force, they aren’t the only ones.
This book really gave us the first experience with alternative Force tradition, it’s a little unfortunate that it turns out that to have been the Witches of Dathomir.  They ride rancors…  sigh.  That’s not the point!
            The point is this, in the course of the book, we are introduced to a government that is so important to the galaxy that we’ve literally never heard it mentioned.  Fine, whatever, it’s an early EU book, we’ll let it slide.  Except they talk about this being an outrageously rich kingdom that somehow existed beyond the Empire.

            So, let me ask you this.  If you were the Emperor and this kingdom existed within your reach and it had lots of money just ripe to be taxed, would you leave it alone, or would you move in with your literally thousands of battleships and support craft?  Because apparently the Emperor decided to leave it alone.  We never really know why he did that, by the way.

            It just doesn’t make sense why the Consortium exists and that really bothers me.  It wasn’t part of the Republic, either.  For the record, this is the same Republic that was so vehement about not letting systems secede from it but no, they were fine with the Hapes Consortium being around?

#2 . The Hapan Battle Dragon

            That last entry was nitpicking, but this next one really does bother me.  So, the Hapes Consortium, since it exists outside of the Empire and is responsible for its own defense, it has its own fleet.  Makes sense, right?  Alright, that works, they have their own capital ships and fighters

            One of their primary ships is the Nova-class cruiser, a fairly conservative looking craft, it looks like a space combat ship ought to.  However, that craft is not the primary ship of the fleet.  No, the backbone of the Hapan fleet is the Battle Dragon!  Sounds rad, right?  Okay, here’s where the problem starts.

            Instead of being a conventional ship with gun emplacements, the Hapes use a design with two disks and a spindle connecting them.  The spindle is lined with turbolasers, which you might think sounds like a good idea, you can fire in all directions and maybe protect the guns easier, right?  Well… it also has its functional drawbacks.  While a gun emplacement like is on a Star Destroyer would be able to rotate them and pitch them up and down.
This pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking

            Beyond that limitation, there’s another issue.  The point of the cannons being on the spindle is so that they can rotate weapons into position.  Now, later on they explain this as a problem with Hapan turbolaser technology.  They recharge much more slowly that Imperial guns, so this is their method of overcoming that limitation.

            Note that I said that happened later on.  That was something that cropped up in the RPG.  No, originally the entire idea was simply to raise the rate of fire.  Mr. Wolverton includes no further explanation, the spindle just rotates and fires because it’s faster!  I guess.

There! Shoot it in the thin bit!
            The tactical problem with all of this is that the spindle is, as you can see, isn’t a small thing, it’s humongous.  Here’s all it takes to overcome a Hapan Battle Dragon, attack the spindle.  What does it take, one good shot with a laser cannon or missile and suddenly, their terribly over-engineered piece of trash is stuck.  One good blast and thing shouldn’t be able to rotate anymore.  Suddenly it’s a Hapan Battle Gecko, and that’s not scary.  The worst it can probably do is try to sell me car insurance.

#3. The Corporate Sector

            Now, you might look at me and say, Parallax, this is clearly the same complaint you had about the Consortium.  And to you I say, so what?  The basis is more or less the same, giant, enormously rich faction that is apparently under no authority at all from the Empire or later on the Republic.
            Now, I had been under the impression that after the Prequels were released that they would retcon this, but I checked Wookieepedia.  Nope.  If I hadn’t checked, I would have thought it was the remnants of the CIS.  So, no, instead, the old Republic just decides that the biggest businesses are allowed to buy up a whole arm of the galaxy and the Empire lets them self regulate.  According to the Wookieepedia, the Corporate Sector gets to the point that it is made up of 30,000 systems.

            Wha…. What?

#4. One Planet Resources

            Now, in the real world, there are some resources that only exist in certain areas.  For instance, if you’ve ever heard of a material called Damascus steel, it’s a good example.  In the far flung past, this was a type of steel was found pretty much in the middle east, hence its name.  The best weapons of Islamic territories during the Crusades were made of Damascus steel.
As time has passed, the method for crafting Damascus steel was lost.  Everyone thought it was a process that worked by folding the metal and then etching layers back off of it with acid.  Many modern smiths make it by forge welding steel cable and leaving it a bit unpolished so you can see all of the layers.
Well, it turns out that the real Damascus weapons may have had nothing to do with the process, it may have been the material.  Recent mining and metallurgy studies have found that the iron for the process may have been the source, and it was found mostly in a region of Afghanistan.  All that said, it was a material that mostly existed only in the highest quality weapons and luxury items.  That would probably explain why the process got lost.
Now, in Star Wars, we have at least two materials that are found in only one place.  The first one is spice.  In a previous post, I mention this.  It comes from Kessel.  And it’s made by spiders. From space.  >:( Frustrated face ):<
The other one is bacta, made on Thyferra.  Bacta is the miracle treatment for all injuries and diseases.  It seriously cures anything.
Now, if either of these items existed as luxury items or the rarest, most expensive treatments in the galaxy, that would be one thing.  Bacta is perhaps the most common treatment for anything in the universe.  Even the Rebellion had access to bacta.  And spice is the most commonly abused drug we ever hear referenced.
            Let’s just focus on bacta.  How the heck does one planet supply all of the medical supplies for all of the galaxy!  This  is a quote from Wookieepdia

“The Galactic Empire's territory at its peak consisted of some one and a half million member and conquered worlds, as well as sixty-nine million colonies, protectorates and puppet states spread throughout the entire galaxy, stretching from the borders of the Deep Core to at least Wild Space.”

            One planet produced all of the bacta in the galaxy and supplied almost seventy-million worlds.

#5. Palpatine

            I have not read Darth Plagueus.  I probably won’t, so I want you to know that this is one of those things that I’m actually going to depend on the films for.  Now, the Emperor pops up in four of six movies and in all of that, we don’t ever get a real motivation.  Some of you might say that his goal was power, but that’s a goal, not a motivation.

            Seriously, the Emperor in the original trilogy was a guy who was in power and we didn’t have to think about why.  He was there and lots of things sucked.  So, let’s get rid of him, right?  But when we look at the prequels, he’s the puppet-master, he’s orchestrating the fall of the Republic, the start of the civil war and the weakening of the Senate and the strengthening his own position.

            I can’t argue with his methods, but at the end of the day, we’re left with a guy who wanted all of the responsibility of leading the galaxy and all of the power that came with it.  But why is this what he wanted?  Does he have a goal that can only be met by taking over the galaxy?  Does he need to be in control in order to get revenge or to destroy his enemies?  Nope, not really.

            Palpatine is more or less only in power because he’s evil.  Don’t ask why, he’s just evil!  And wants all of the power!  Not to kill people, not get rich, no, Palpatine seized power so he could be a jerk to aliens and deal with limitless amounts of stress.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Part 2! In which the author becomes unhinged.

Jedi Academy trilogy, I’m bristling over how much I hate this.

            So, I’ve told you about the Maw, it’s apparently complete level of self-sufficiency and the newest addition to the Imperial Super-Weapon Club.  But I’m not done with it yet!

            Alright, so we’ve established that this is the place where the Death Star was developed, right?  A weapon like that is outrageously expensive, right?  You wouldn’t want to pay for it more than once, or if you did, you’d probably start at small scale and increase it later on.  So of course there’s still a full-sized, fully functional prototype.  In the Maw.  Complete with propulsion system and targeting equipment.  In fact, it has everything but the extraneous crew housing and launch bays.  In fact, it consists entirely of the laser, propulsion system and the spherical space frame.

            [Fume] It’s Darksaber.  [/Fume]

            So what happens after our valiant heroes run off with shiny new toy?  Daala goes after them!  Not with her Star Destroyers, because They flew the Sun Crusher through them.  Yeah, apparently the engine in this thing are so powerful that it can overcome the friction of crashing through the hull and dozens of decks and through hull again.  And it’s not as though this thing is shaped like an armor piercing bullet!  Well, actually it is, but it flies as if it were that bullet standing on its point and the side of the bullet was the front.  So, rather the opposite of an armor piercing bullets.

            Daala takes off after them through the outrageously hazardous and difficult to traverse Maw, which I remind you was a big enough issue that they were scared of doing it with the Falcon, in the Death Star prototype.  Oh no, it’s still the size of a small moon, but apparently its propulsion and navigation systems can totally handle this.

            Meanwhile, back in the namesake of the trilogy, Luke’s students have been succumbing to the Dark Side pull of the building that they live and work in.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  The entire conflict of this story line is based around the fact that Luke didn’t do his bleeding homework!

            The spirit of Exar Kun is possessing the students and trying to kill Luke, who’s in a coma for some reason.  Don’t ask, I don’t remember.  I think a vessel in his brain may have burst from the sheer amount of stupid taking place in this book.

            Anyway, Luke’s strongest student goes all dark side on them.  Kyp Duron, a guy I will never be able to separate from the tiny Micro Machine figurine I have of him wearing a purple jumpsuit and a black cape, is stronger in the force than Luke.  Kyp blows his stack and pulls the Sun Crusher out of the heart of the Yavin gas giant and climbs in and goes forth to singlehandedly kill more people than Palpatine did in thirty or forty years!

            Meanwhile, back at the Jedi ranch, Luke is still sleeping off his aneurysm.  The Jedi tots band together with the power of love or something, I tend to forget, and beat the specter of Exar Kun.  Then Luke wakes up.  Plot line closed.
            So, Han manages to find Kyp, talk him down off the ledge, but before he does, he blows up the prototype Death Star and wedges himself into a vending machine plastic ball and launches himself into the void of space so that he can put the technological marvel that is the Sun Crusher into a black hole in the Maw.

            Han picks him up and everyone lives happily ever after.

            And Kyp Duron manages to commit genocide against an entire star system because his underwear was wedged too far up his own butt and is never charged with anything like the war crime that it was.

            This series ended up so bad that Michael Stackpole came back years later and had to fix it with retcons in I, Jedi.

            AND ANOTHER THING!  I left this out of my Darksaber rant because I thought it was in these books, but apparently Anderson’s books are so incredibly bad that they all just kind of blend together!

            At one point,  Four Star Destroyers show up at Yavin 4, apparently under the command of a decent character, Gilad Pellaeon, who apparently got shanghai’d by author caveat.  So, they’re going to destroy the academy!

            You want to know what Pellaeon was doing at the start of this book?  He was about to lead a fleet of TWO HUNDRED Victory-Class Star Destroyers into battle against an opposing warlord’s fleet of TWENTY Imperial-class Star Destroyers.  And apparently those were about even odds.  Why?  BECAUSE ANDERSON WROTE IT THAT WAY, THAT’S WHY!  Who needs logic when you simply get demand things!  Andeson doesn’t even bother to familiarize himself with his setting half the time, does he?  He just sees something and parrots it!

            So, four Star Destroyers!  Enough fire power to level an entire world!  So what happens?  The apprentices hold hands, stand in a circle and use the temple as a focus for their abilities so that they can push them out of the system.  All four.  Out of the star system entirely.  Where they don’t just jump back in and comment about how cute that was and launch all their bombers and fire all their turbolasers and pound the planet to dust!

            So, they can do that.   I guess they read that LITERALLY NOWHERE.  I have no idea how they come up with this idea that they could just do this!  I imagine in the back of my mind that it’s something like, “Star Destroyers, in my orbit?  *Yawn*  I’ll just push them with my giant force pusher.”

            And this ability is so powerful, so incredibly useful that it is never used again.

            It gets worse!  Apparently Daala, who just kinda showed up and took over because shut up she just did, appropriated a Super Star Destroyer from Imperial Warlord no-name because he doesn’t matter and only exists as a vessel for Daala to get another SUPER WEAPON.  By the way, it’s no ordinary Super Star Destroyer.  No, in fact, it’s a stealth Super Star Destroyer.  Because the element of surprise is so bloody important when you show up with a craft 19 kilometers long.

 So Han Solo and one Republic cruiser blow it up.

The End.


Another book series that has it coming.

Kevin J. Anderson, I’m naming you as the first official villain of this blog.  Last night I wrote up the Darksaber rant and you know what, I’m still going!  But I haven’t read Darksaber in fifteen years, so I’m ranted out on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I am certain that there’s more there to rage about, that post was just what I remembered.  This is a new rant.  It’s still a Kevin J. Anderson rant, but it’s now about a different series that he wrote, the Jedi Academy trilogy.

I would like to go ahead and preface this by saying that while I loath this book, I must also give it some respect if for no other reason than it had to exist and that it established some very important things about the Star Wars Expanded Universe that shaped the future of the series.  The best thing I can say about this series is that Michael Stackpole gave it some help with everybody’s favorite Mary Sue, Corran Horn. 

Now, are you ready for a rant that might even be more vitriolic than the Darksaber diatribe?  Again, too bad!

Jedi Academy… guess what this one’s about!  Luke decides, you know, it has been literally five years since the Jedi, apparently, Returned.  So in his opinion, he really ought to get around to making sure that there are more than one “master” and one half assed padawan (because apprentice is just too darned silly of a title, amirite?), Luke and Leia respectively.  So he finally gets off his mystical rear and decides that he’s going to establish himself a school for Jedi, an Academy, if you would!

But how does he determine who has potential?  Why, he finds a piece of technology that shows him the visual aura a force wielder has and he uses that!  So, after an exhaustive search of set pieces from across the galaxy, including an abandoned skyhook on Bespin.  You know, where Cloud City was.  One guy, chillin’, by himself, on a city sized skyhook.  Just him and his space vultures, because, you know, animals that evolve on a planet with literally no land mass would develop with a need for a place to roost, right?  By the way, how does he sustain himself?  Does he have a skyfarm?  Did he have dirt imported to his abandoned skyhook from a neighboring planet so he could make the aerie garden?

I’m not even wound up yet…  Anyway, Luke scours the universe and finds about twelve dudes.  Staggering, right?  Whatever, he’s one guy without much support (aside from the backing of a galactic government…) he found a starting class.  Start small, sure.  Anyway, if you were Luke, where would you want to establish your base?  Somewhere with a close support structure?  A place he has a history with and a strong tie to the force?  Dagobah sounds good to me.  Nope, the old rebel base on Yavin 4.  Because apparently when the Empire made their counterstrike against the Rebellion for destroying the first Death Star, they didn’t scour these ruins from the face of the moon.  Whatever.

Anyway, he seems to think there’s a really strong tie to the force here so it’s a natural place to establish the base.  I dig that, it makes sense.  Just one problem, it turns out that the entire series of pyramid-esque temples were established by an ancient (now dead) race that was controlled by a Sith Lord, Exar Kun, back in the age before everyone and their brother was a ‘Darth,’ it just seemed like a name to us.  So, apparently Luke’s ability to sense a place’s taint from the Dark Side, a la Dagobah, is only in effect when it’s convenient.  Entire system of temples built specifically to draw and focus dark energies?  No, I didn’t notice, should I have?

            Okay, I’m getting there, this is all wind up for the knock out, remember that this is three agonizingly stupid books long.  Meanwhile, IN SPAAAACE, someone accidently discovers that deep within the Maw near Kessel, a series of closely spaced black holes that spell instant doom to anyone dumb enough to get close them, the Empire established a secret base twenty years ago.  Alright, I can deal with that, too.  Grand Moff Tarkin placed a young admiral in charge of it and made it a research base for the development of the Empire’s favorite thing ever.

            “What’s that?” you might be asking.  Well, I’ll give you a hint, it’s an early Star Wars book written by Kevin J. Anderson.  Of course the answer is that this is a base that exists for the sole purpose of creating… SUPER WEAPONS!!!!  Again.

            I would like to add that Han and Chewbacca literally accidently find the place after the run away from Kessel.  Kessel, where the drug spice (original, right?) is mined.   By the way, it turns out the spice comes from SPACE SPIDERS!!!  So they run away and just happen to follow the one, single, incredibly treacherous path through the singularities that literally cannot exist in the physical universe without collapsing in on the themselves and creating a single super giant black hole.    

            So, after stumbling upon the Maw facility, our heroes find the aforementioned young admiral, Daala, running the institution.  Now, Daala gives us a new problem.  According to Wookieepedia, Daala was assigned to the Maw eleven years prior to the story of this book.  So that sets her assignment just prior to the Battle of Yavin.  When she is depicted on the cover of the books and comics, Daala is an attractive young woman who looks to be maybe in her late twenties or somewhere in her thirties.  Hmmm, she’s been there for eleven years and been an admiral the whole time.  Tarkin must have been darned confident in her.  I’m not kidding you when I say that all the backstory we get on this woman is that she enlisted in the Imperial academy in Carida, was discriminated against for her gender until Tarkin decided he liked the fit of her breeches and took her under his wing.  And by wing, I mean sheets.  And then she was an admiral.

            That’s it!  No, That is IT.

            Okay, that was dumb, but, sure, favoritism and whatnot, right?  It’s a good thing there’s no oversight or accountability in the Empire, like a well informed leader who has his hands in all the pies that has a vested interest in having experienced and proven commanders, right?  Like some kind of Imperial leader, an Emperor you might call him.

            So, how old is Daala?  No idea, never established, not important.  We know that she continues to be active in the Expanded Universe for literally the next thirty years when she becomes the leader of not just the Empire but also the Star Alliance (don’t get me started).  So, what, did Tarkin decide this broad he was railing at the age of eighteen really had what it takes to be in charge of a fleet of Star Destroyers and a facility creating the most dangerous weapons in reality?
            Fine, whatever, Admiral with no experience leading the research facility.  Whatever.  The Maw, let me tell you about the Maw.  So, apparently, when Tarkin died on the first Death Star, he was secretive about the existence of this station where the Death Star was developed, nobody knew about it.  Nobody knew about it, not even the Emperor.  Okay… it’s a secret facility that nobody knows about continues working without any knowledge of the outside without ever wondering why nobody ever comes by to check on their progress.  It has enough material not only to continue to function but to continue all of its research and development of new weapons.
            Heck of a thing, ain’t it?  I mean, aside from the station itself, there are four, not one or two or three but four Star Destroyers defending this place.  The personnel here have no idea that the Empire has fallen, the crews of these ships haven’t had any shore leave in better than a decade.  Put all of this together, do you know what we can extrapolate from all of this?  There are no supply runs being made to this incredibly remote station.  It’s entirely self sufficient.  Food, water, fuel, Max Reebo .mp3’s, blue milk, they have everything they need.  Apparently.

            So, what all is in the Maw?  A new super-weapon, of course!  The Empire being the Empire, the name of the new weapon tells you exactly what it does.  The Sun Crusher!  It crushes suns! 

            Alright, the Sun Crusher…  Let me tell you about the **** Sun Crusher.  It’s a ship, not a capital ship, not a corvette, it’s a ship about the size of the Millennium Falcon if it’s that big.  Tiny little ship relatively speaking.  What makes it a super weapon?  Well, the ship itself really isn’t the weapon.  The Sun Crusher carries some torpedoes that it can launch in a system that are launched at the local stellar body and cause it to immediately go nova.  It’s a glorified fighter than can blow up entire systems.  Geez, overachieve much?

            You know what, fine, it’s science fiction, I’ll accept the existence of these torpedoes, that’s a hell of a thing.  This is where my problems start with the ship.  Now, a normal person would say to themselves, “Self, we have a torpedo  that blows up stars, all we need to do is plop it into a plain looking, not suspicious at all looking ship.  We get ready for a hyperspace jump, let the computer run all of its calculations and, right before we leave, we launch the torpedo.”  You know, that way nobody ever knows what’s coming and you don’t have to worry about a special delivery system and the weapon is outrageously more flexible.

            So, what do we do instead?  We build a ship that has armor on it that can withstand the force of an exploding star…

            What?  They can do that?  Now, I’m not going to go the obvious route and say, “Well why don’t we just plate everything with this armor?”  Let’s assume it’s really expensive and move on from that.  It’s got really rad armor!  It can withstand that kind of force!  It’s so awesomely 90’s!

            What about heat?  Is it the perfect insulator?  No heat passes through the armor and literally bakes its crew (by the way, you can pilot this thing with on person.  Real good way to make sure nobody ever goes rogue with it, right?).  No radiation passes through and kills everyone from instant overexposure to a sudden, stupid amount of cosmic rays?

Why does this thing exist?!  Why did the Empire need this easily stolen and misused weapon?  By the way, that’s exactly what happens, the heroes steal it and fly off!  The Maw administrators decided that the best way to store this thing was fully armed, fueled and ready to freakin’ go!

So, the heroes get the thing and fly off.  If you were in charge of this piece of technology developed by an enemy, what would you do with it?  Reverse engineer that armor!  Figure out how it works and find out how to mass produce it!  Unstoppable fleet!

Therefore, Anderson writes in the obvious course of throwing it into the heart of a gas giant.

Call this the end of part one, this is getting ridiculous.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Because Some Books Have It Coming

Darksaber.  The Wookieepedia has this to say about this book:

"Darksaber is a 1995 bestselling novel written by Kevin J. Anderson and published by Bantam Spectra."

This is what I have to say about it.

I began reading Star Wars Expanded Universe books when I was in the fourth grade at the tender age of nine.  I marveled at seeing some of my favorite characters have new life breathed into them and how the novels seemed to add layers of depth to them.  Suddenly Luke Skywalker wasn't just what he had seemed to be in the films, defined almost solely by his role; naive kid off to fight the evil empire, the fighter ace of the rebellion or the lone Jedi warrior standing against the tyranny of his father and the Emperor.  He'd become the guardian of a nearly dead tradition and was trying to bring it back as best as he could.  Han Solo was just the same as he'd been in the films, only he was even more snarky at times, but still struggling with his growing responsibilities and the weight of his position.  It was an incredible experience!

All of that said, I also became acutely aware of the gulf that separated the good from the bad, but not as aware as I am now.  Hindsight is, after all, 20/20.  I still was able to tell the difference between a title by Timothy Zahn and a title by Dave Wolverton.  My first Star Wars book was The Courtship of Princess Leia, so I didn't really have a benchmark to measure that particularly sad venture to, I quickly moved on to the Thrawn Trilogy, a series that still represents some of my favorite fiction to this day.

I went on to read the 'next' series, Jedi Academy by Kevin J. Anderson which helped lead to my growing contempt for this author.  No joke, I read the Name of the Wind last year and decided not to continue that series after I read the forward that couldn't stop thanking Anderson.  Now, to be fair, I stopped reading most of the Star Wars books by the time I was fifteen, excepting Zahn, so I know there's a lot of material out there now I haven't read.  Regardless of that, I can still say that Kevin J. Anderson wrote up some of what I consider the worst of the early novels, but even the rest of his work pales in comparison to how monumentally dumb that Darksaber is.

Now, if you're reading this blog, then you already know what I'm going to tell you about this book.  Well tough stuff because I'm not stopping for you, skip ahead.

The eponymous Darksaber is a weapon, this being an early Star Wars novel and especially one written by Anderson, it's a SUPER weapon!  As if the Sun Crusher wasn't dumb enough (oh, and it was dumb), the Darksaber is the dumbest thing I've seen this side of the Eye of Palpatine.  Don't look that up, you'll have an coronary.

I can even deal with those two easier than this, though, because at least they were developed by a government which has access to nigh infinite resources.  Darksaber, on the other hand, was created and funded after the fall of the Empire by a Hutt.  It's not even worth remembering his name, we might as well call him Jabba Jr.  So, Jabba Jr. is the, wait for it, head of a crime syndicate and apparently has all the currency in the bleedin' galaxy!

Lil' Tykes Jabba hired out to a bunch of space contractors, people he could trust, I guess, to build his weapon.  Now, if this were a starship and not what it is, I'd be fine with that, but I'm about to tell you what it is.  Darksaber is the Death Star, minus all the bits that aren't the super laser.  Just to be clear, we're not talking about one of the component lasers, the whole bleeding thing.  

So, who built it?  No, I don't mean who paid for it, who did Jabba the mutt pay to build it?  Are there crews of construction workers out there that were so unscrupulously corrupt and unethical that they looked at the plans he gave them and said, "Crime lord with a super weapon capable of annihilating an entire world?  Sure, anything for a buck!"

Okay, so having established that we move on to my next problem.  If I'm doing this, I build this monstrous starship somewhere remote but safe, like you would, right?  I mean, there's a lot of uncharted and simply empty space out there between world.  The Empire can't patrol it all, or at this point the Republic.  They check out the trade lanes and the populated worlds, why not build it in an unpopulated system that's easy to get to but nobody has any real reason?  So where does Junior the Dope decide to break ground on this now enormously fragile, defenseless mobile station?  Why, in an asteroid field of course!


Yeah, that's a thing that Anderson wrote down, gave to his editor and they both nodded their heads and said, "Yup, that looks good."

Now, this is all so stupid, I feel like you can't really appreciate it.  No, I'm going to help you out with this, alright?  Here is a real world example.

Starting in the 1980's, the US Navy began developing plans to help offset the country's reliance on bases in foreign countries.  The plans were drawn up for what amounted to an enormous floating base that was supposed to be able to be set up in a matter of two weeks anywhere in the world thirteen miles off the coast of an offending country that would serve as a launching point for any attacks without worrying about having the permission of international states between a base and the offender.

The mobile base was essentially a series of enormous barges that would be towed into place and secured together to allow for a base to house personnel, materiel and airstrips.  They were even planned to allow for the individual barges to flex to deal with waves.  It was a smart idea, but it was deemed unnecessary because the nation already HAS bases all over the world for power projection, and even aside from that, we have this whole other thing our naval strategy has been built on for the past fifty years, super-carriers.

So, imagine for a minute the Navy did build it.  When the plans were finalized, the Joint Mobile Offshore Base (JMOB) was going to cost about eight billion dollars.  It was deemed too inefficient for the cost.  Now let's compare that to the what is essentially that idea pared down to the next lowest level, the Nimitz class super carrier, which tends to run about four and a half billion dollars.

In this imaginary world where the US has JMOB's ready to attack anywhere in the world when suddenly, the Chinese Triad suddenly comes into possession of a Nimitz carrier.  Substitute any other organized crime group you'd like, the Yakuza, La Cosa Nostra, Russian Mafia, whatever.  This, this is what Anderson wanted you to believe was going on!

Would you like to know the dumbest part?  Yeah, absorb that for a minute, it gets dumber.  The former Imperial officer that was in charge of the construction decided to cut the corner of putting a Commodore 64 in for the primary computer.  So, Jabba the Dolt spent what is likely to have been ALL THE MONEY IN THE GALAXY to build a super weapon with the power to threaten a galactic government and THAT was when he decided, "Ya know, this stuff is really expensive, I think we might want to take some cost cutting measures.  Computer?  How important could that really be?"

THIS IS A THING THAT SOLD.  It hit #3 on the New York Times Bestseller list and sold copies world wide!  I'm not even kidding, this is what Starlog had to say on the back cover blurbs, "Anderson has all but assumed the title of chancellor of the Star Wars University."

With statements that dumb, Starlog deserved to sink...  RAGE!!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Star Wars and Stagnation

No, no I'm not talking about how it might appear that the longer the series seems to go on, the worse it gets, although that argument can certainly be made.  No, what gives me pause is the recent popularity of the Old Republic series, the old RPG's (KOTOR and KOTOR 2) and the new MMO.

I want to go ahead and make the statement that I have only played a touch of KOTOR and none of the MMO at all.  This is not a critique of the gameplay or even the plot of the games.  All of that is fine.  This isn't even a statement regarding the continuing breakdown of complexity in the expanded universe, where we once had characters like Thrawn that were not simply evil for the sake of being evil and all we seem to have left at this point is new Sith Lord with really stupidly evil name. 

No, I'm talking about the kind of stagnation we talk about when we mention it historically.  To be succinct, what I'm referring to is a state in which a culture ceases to develop in meaningful ways, culturally and technologically.  Culture stagnation generally occurs when no new material is being introduced and instead all that seems to appear is derivative of already existing works.  Technologic stagnation is essentially the same.

So, Star Wars, the prequels and the trilogy, there is an established setting that has a diverse population of humanoid and completely alien life and two different ruling bodies, one a tyranny and the other an ostensible democracy with a single legislative and executive office combined into a senate, so essentially a parliamentary body instead of a separation of powers.  There's a lot of history regarding a body of enforcers that are separate from the government (and apparently derive their authority from a genetic mutation and have no oversight).  Faster than light travel not only exists but is easily obtained by civilians and what is likely to be plasma based weaponry, again easily obtained and common technology.

This is where my problem starts.  The Star Wars setting gives us a huge, interconnected galaxy related through conflict and trade.  Now, if we're willing to set a few things aside, like how does Thyffera supply literally thousands of worlds with a miracle drug, we end up with something not altogether outlandish considering the technology.  Except for one thing.

What is that issue?  Alright, I don't have a problem with the Clone Wars or Galactic Civil War eras, it's the KOTOR era stuff that's causing all the problems.  All of the technology seems to be the same, the FTL, the weaponry, lightsabers, Jedi, everything, it is all the same.  And here's the real kicker, this setting is supposed to be 5,000 years prior to the events of the movies.

So, nothing has changed in 5,000 years except governments.  What is wrong with this galaxy?