Review: Star Trek goes back to basics with Strange New Worlds and it looks beautiful

Character poster for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on the Paramount + network.

I have not been been a big fan of all the new Star Trek series on the Paramount + network. Discovery was a time travel flip-flop that didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up while Picard gave a beloved character another chance by rehashing old storylines. Sorry, boring.

But then, I started watching the new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God, they found a way to hack into Gene Roddenberry’s brain and pulled out a winner. THIS is what Star Trek was meant to be.

I think the biggest complaint from nerds like me is that writers don’t stick to the source material. They stray from the storyline that we, as the experts (nerds, geeks, fanboys) know is supposed to be (or should be) canon. They try too hard to incorporate modern issues into science fiction storytelling, and to do that, they stray into multiple tangents that ruin the source material. That’s been the problem with every reboot, upgrade, and reimagining done in TV and movies over the past 20 years.

But I digress . . .

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is everything I want in a Star Trek series rolled up into a neatly packaged weekly episode. No drawn out storylines, no complex back story to deal with. This is what Gene Roddenberry envisioned when he first started his trek more than sixty years ago (God, that makes me feel old) and its what’s been missing from these new series.

The casting is absolutely brilliant. Anson Mount is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. I loved him as Black Bolt in the very, very bad Inhumans TV series AND WAS ECSTATIC to see him reprise the role in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. His portrayal of Christopher Pike is spot on, on par with—if not better than—Jeffery Hunter (original Trek) and Bruce Greenwood (reboot J.J. Abrams movies). Watching him is like Kirk and Picard had a baby and it grew up to be the best captain in Star Fleet. Add Rebecca Romijin, Ethan Peck, and a host of others that fill out one of the most diverse crews in the Star Trek universe. The little twists of adding new characters like the blind, telepathic alien Hemmer and La’an Noonien-Singh (a descendant of KHAN, no shit!) with early reveals at how Uhura and Nurse Chapel came aboard Enterprise makes for a complete, well-rounded cast.

Then there’s the writing. First and foremost, they have updated things to modern standards by bringing in more sexual banter and uncomfortable situations, along with diversity and social justice issues, BUT the writers are not force-feeding it to the viewers (think Chris Chibnal and Doctor Who) rather integrating it in a way reminiscent of Roddenberry’s original storytelling. It’s woven into the storyline like a maestro conducting a symphony of science fiction. These stories are poignant and yet heartfelt and uplifting in the simplest of ways. Plus, they are telling us stories where we know the characters but never got to know who they truly are. I mean, we had an entire episode on the Gorn and it was better than the original introduction of the alien race in TOS (The Original Series for any noobs out there reading this).

USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Sailors of the Year for the Year meet cast members of the “Star Trek: Enterprise” television series. Pictured here on the set of the series are (from left) Conner Trinneer, who plays Chief Engineer Charles “Trip” Tucker, III; Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Robert S. Pickering, Sailor of the Year; Personnelman 3rd Class Sarah E. Pizzo, Blue Jacket of the Year; Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Timothy J. Whittington, Junior Sailor of the Year; and Scott Bakula, who plays Capt. Jonathan Archer.

I have had an ongoing love affair with the Star Trek universe, especially since the last ship I served on was the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and I got to meet the cast of Star Trek: Enterprise and see actual production of the series. Here’s a hint: Watch the episodes “Desert Crossing” and “First Flight” to see U.S. Navy Sailors of the Year as background characters. It was fun to watch the multiple takes necessary for just one scene in an episode. Plus I got to sit in the captain’s chair, bonus for me! That’s why I don’t get into the “Star Wars is better than Star Trek” BS argument. Not just because I love them both, but to me, Star Trek will always be the original OG. Roddenberry created a universe based on the human race, with all our flaws but also highlighting the best things about us. From broaching cultural boundaries (the kiss between Kirk and Uhura) to hidden commentary on the Vietnam War and the Cold War (i.e. the episode “The Omega Glory” where Kirk recites the Pledge of Allegiance and reads the U.S. Constitution. In 2015, Entertainment Weekly highlighted the scene where Kirk reads the United States Constitution as one of the most important moments in that character’s life.) I see the same spark in watching Strange New Worlds.

We know where this is heading. From episode one, and from the original series, we know what Captain Pike’s fate is (watch “The Menagerie” if you don’t know what I’m talking about). It’s enticing to see how this will progress as the series moves on. But I can say, without a doubt, that if your a “Trekkie” then you need to be watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It’s the series we’ve been waiting for.

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for The River of Souls fantasy novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid Publishing along with the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky PiratesThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of his current fantasy book series, coming soon.

Con or not to Con? That is the question for independent authors everywhere

This weekend, I attended Katsucon 2022 at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, MD. I picked it because (a) it was close to home, and (b) fantasy is a big part of anime. I figured I would fit right in with my fantasy books . . . I was wrong. It seems people who cosplay as elves, knights, and wizards don’t really want to read about them in books.

First off, my sales barely covered the cost of my booth fee, parking, and food costs for the weekend. I took a loss for something I thought would be a major convention. Second, my location in the vendor hall really sucked. My booth was not in the artists alley, as promised, but between an earring and toy vendor, just two spots down from the Hentai booth affectionately known as the “Smut Hut” (their words, not mine!) Not a good place to be. I was told they wanted to “sprinkle” the authors amongst the rest of the vendors. Hide us was more like it.

On the positive side, I met and spoke with a lot of great people. I love attending events like this where people are excited about all things fantasy, steampunk, and sci-fi, and Katsucon was no exception. I mean, a lot of the younger people just walked by, more interested in anime plushies, statues, and posters, but there were several who bought my books or just picked up a bookmark or postcard with my website and other social media on it. I will have to wait and see if the convention translates to other online sales in ebooks or audiobooks. It’s still great when somebody stands at your table and keeps repeating “Wow! Wow!” as they read the synopsis on the back cover.

I think multiple day conventions like Katsucon are not for authors. I’ve been to more single day events and sold more books at those events than during my three days at a big convention like Katsucon. I need to focus on conventions and festivals specific to my genre and/or books in general. I know many people from my generation who are fans of anime, comic books, and movies are also avid readers. I think that gets a little lost with some, not all, of the younger generation. They are more visual with their books, like comic books, graphic novels, and manga.

I will stick to my upcoming steampunk festivals (Watch City in Waltham, MA) and the Imaginarium Fantasy Book Festival in Washington, D.C. My fellow fantasy authors also turned me on to a Facebook Group, Author Events Around the World, for various book festivals supportive of independent authors. This group is a great resource for various book events across the country.

So, word of advice to self-published independent authors looking for venues to sign and sell their books… Pick and choose your events carefully. Not all conventions are made alike and, before you pay for that booth, make sure your know all the details. I know that these things cost an independent author, and maybe it will result in more attention to your books or social media. Only time will tell…

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, coming soon from Revolutionary Press; and The River of Souls novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid PublishingThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of my current fantasy book series, coming soon.

This is a great winter season for geeking out on live-action anime, new fantasy series and movies

I love the holiday season! Not just for the joy of family, friends, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, but also for the new tv series and moves that premiere this time of the year. We have movie releases (Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home) and tv series streaming (Cowboy Bebop, Hawkeye, The Wheel of Time) it is a great time to be a fantasy/sci-fi nerd.

The big issue with the remakes and adaptations is how accurate is it to the comic or book series. Take the live action Cowboy Bebop on Netflix. First and foremost, the look is incredible. Great casting and set design that is so accurate to the anime. Now, is it perfect . . . No, it’s not. They are changing how the story is presented to make it fit into the shortened Netflix series. Spike’s backstory with the Syndicate is mixed in with each episode, which suits me fine. The fighting scenes are as animated as in the anime, so is the comedy banter. It’s not as good as the original anime, but it’s still fun to watch.

On a more serious note, Robert Jordan’s epic The Wheel of Time was finally made into a tv series. It’s hard to imagine this series laid out logically as a TV series, and watching has proven that. Instead of teenagers, the five dragon candidates are young adults, and they changed how they get from their village to the White Tower. When you’re taking 14 books and putting them into a shortened series, it makes sense. It still flows good and is watchable to me. I can’t help but enjoy it because I love these books and seeing them come to life is a dream come true. It’s a lot like when Game of Thrones was brought to television. You can’t follow the exact dimensions of such a rich story, but if it remains true to the essence of the novels, then it’s worth watching.

Rosamund Pike is great as Moiraine in the series. She is commanding, fierce and dedicated to her cause. Her magic is so powerful, flowing from the one source in such a beautiful visual effect. The first battle scene against the Trolloc’s was intense. It’s great that Amazon is taking a chance on this series, and they’ve already confirmed season 2.

And now, Disney Plus is coming out with Hawkeye as part of its ongoing MCU television series. I can’t say I’m overly excited for this series. It just doesn’t excite me like Loki, Wandavision, What If, or Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I will watch it, though, because it helps set up the next set of series coming out in 2022.

Speaking of the MCU, we’ve gotten three films in less than four months. Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings was a great introduction to a new hero, and the Eternals reset the cosmic powers of the Marvel Universe. Both of these movies set up new powers and heroes in the MCU coming in the next phase. I mean, the Black Knight, Blade, and others are coming our way. Then we have Spider-Man: No Way Home which brings us into the multiverse by setting up Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. I think just bringing all the villains from the other Spider-Man movies completes the transition from the “Sony-verse” to the MCU. Plus, it brings together the Sinister Six for the first time and that is just freakin’ awesome to see!

The Spider-Man movie not only completes Tom Holland’s trilogy, but it sets up so much more. Will he finish his run as the webhead or just prepare for the New Avengers in the next phase? Maybe we’ll get to see Miles Morales for the first time in a live movie! The possibilities are there, but we’ll have to wait and see!

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, coming soon from Revolutionary Press; and The River of Souls novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid PublishingThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of my current fantasy book series, coming soon.

Star Wars and anime is something we’ve all been waiting for and “Visions” does it flawlessly

I just binge watched all ten episodes of Star Wars: Visions on Disney+. Couldn’t help it because they were just that good! Not only was I impressed with the visuals and the stories, but I even recognized some of the voice actors from my favorite anime shows. This was a match made in heaven with new content that brought me the Star Wars universe in a completely new light. The anime style differed from each episode, and the stories were completely different too. In fact, I even think they changed some canon with this anime series (I’ll explain later). In any case, I was completely enthralled by this series and I hope they do more of them in the future.

Similar to the Animatrix short stories that came out around the same time as The Matrix: Revolutions movie, Star War: Visions brought anime storytelling to the popular universe of the Jedi and the Sith, which makes sense since the look of these force users have a Japanese-vibe to them. According to Kathleen Kennedy, “Star Wars: Visions will be a series of animated short films celebrating the Star Wars galaxy through the lens of the world’s best anime creators. This anthology collection will bring ten fantastic visions from several of the leading Japanese anime studios, offering a fresh and diverse cultural perspective to Star Wars.”

For the most part, these shorts focused on the constant war between the Jedi and the Sith, with one exception, and that’s what many Star Wars fans look for in storylines. I mean, even The Mandalorian TV series focused on “The Child” and the Jedi. There’s nothing wrong with that but honestly, I thought there would be more diverse content. The one episode that didn’t go that route was Tatooine Rhapsody. Gotta love a Padawan escaping Order 66 by becoming a rock star with a droid guitarist, tri-bodied drummer and a Jabba family outcast on bass (nose ring and all). That was awesome!

My favorite had to be The Duel because it felt like an old Japanese samurai film but with aliens and lightsabers. The rogue Sith hunting down other Sith was a shocker, which made it even more enjoyable. Plus, the R2 unit wearing a straw hat was totally in character for this anime. The changes I mentioned to canon (which every Star Wars nerd swears by) was in the episode The Ninth Jedi. The “saber smith” (love that name) said that the kyber crystal projects the color of the lightsaber depending on the force users will and abilities. Hence, in this episode, when the Sith wielded the lightsabers, they were all red. However, previously we were told that each crystal has its own color and when a Sith kills for the first time and the kyber crystal is soaked in blood, it becomes a red lightsaber. So, in essence, Star Wars: Visions has changed canon to the Star Wars universe.

Speaking of lightsabers, all ten episodes had different versions of the legendary weapon. Some looked like they do in the movies while others looked like a katana or bladed-version of a lightsaber. There was even an spinning umbrella lightsaber . . . Talk about deadly! The style of animation differed in each episode, but you tell the anime influence from the stylized drawing of the characters to the way they animated it all together. I mean, The Twins reminded me of Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill while TO-B1 had the style of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo. It made each episode unique as they told their story.

I hope that this is the first in anime storytelling from the Star Wars universe. I want to see more! These are definitely ones to watch.

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers. Get ready for The Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series, coming soon, and the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates.

Is “Krull” the most underappreciated science fiction and fantasy movie of all time? YES! Yes it is!

Krull Movie Poster #2 | Fantasy movies, Movies by genre, Movie posters
Movie poster for Krull (1983)

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for some time but I never got around to it. I know I’ve mentioned Krull and shown my love for this movie in previous blogs, i.e. Top sci-fi/fantasy movies of the 1980s, etc., but I’ve never focused in on just how AWESOME this movie is. You had an all-star cast (by today’s standards), a fantastic storyline, and great special effects (okay, by the 80’s standards anyway!) So, why has this movie been relegated to the back shelves of video stores, streaming services, and the dustbin of many dvd collections. The fact is it shouldn’t be. This movie is a gem that should be watched and often. It’s binge worthy in more ways than one.

Krull is a 1983 science fiction/fantasy swashbuckler film directed by Peter Yates and written by Stanford Sherman. It followed the journey of Prince Colwyn and a group of outlaws on the planet Krull who are attempting to save Princess Lyssa (Colwyn’s bride) from the Beast and his army of Slayers from her captivity in the Black Fortress, an impregnable citadel that teleports to a new location at dawn. To aid in his fight, he seeks soothsayers, sorcerers, a cyclops, and a mystical weapon called the Glaive.

The film stars an ensemble cast: Ken Marshall as Prince Colwyn, Lysette Anthony as Princess Lyssa, Trevor Martin as the voice of the Beast, Freddie Jones as Ynyr, Bernard Bresslaw as Rell the Cyclops, David Battley as Ergo the Magnificent, Alun Armstrong as Torquil, the leader of a group of outlaws (including early screen roles for actors Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane), John Welsh as The Emerald Seer, Graham McGrath as Titch, and Francesca Annis as The Widow of the Web.

The first thing you need to understand that this is the early 1980s, when everyone was trying to match the popularity and box office bonanza that Star Wars brought with it. So, it had a big budget for special effects, marketing, etc. I mean, Krull had an arcade video game, not something they did for every movie. They really thought they had a box office hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the critics were not on their side.

Critic Janet Maslin found Krull to be “a gentle, pensive sci-fi adventure film that winds up a little too moody and melancholy for the Star Wars set”, praising director Yates for “giving the film poise and sophistication, as well as a distinctly British air”, and also “bring[ing] understatement and dimension to the material.” Baird Searles described Krull as “an unpretentious movie … with a lot of good things going for it.” A retrospective review by AllMovie journalist Jason Buchanan hailed it as “an ambitious sci-fi/fantasy that even in its failures can usually be forgiven for its sheer sense of bravado.” Ryan Lambie, reviewing for Den of Geek in 2011, called it “among [t]he most visually creative and downright fun movies of the enchanted 80s” and “a well-made film, and an entire galaxy away from other cheap, quickly made knock-offs that showed up in the wake of Star Wars.”

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Krull | 411MANIA
Ken Marshall as Prince Colwyn and Lysette Anthony as Princess Lyssa in Krull (1983)

Everything sci-fi that came into the movie theater megaplexes of the 1980s was compared to Star Wars or considered a Star Wars ripoff, but Krull was different. It had one thing that other movies did not… Magic! This was a full-bore fantasy genre movie locked into a world of science fiction. Yes, Star Wars has some fantasy elements in it with “the force” and other abilities, but in Krull, we are talking swords and sorcery. I mean, there are three certifiable “Gandalf-type” wizards (and one “not so much”) in the mix here. Krull blends the two together so perfectly that you don’t know what your watching, and by the time you do, the movie has already sucked you in.

Then there’s the weapon… The Glaive. It’s a bladed, flying metal starfish that, in truth, reminds me of Xena’s Chakram in how it flies through the air and returns to his hand. We are told in the beginning of the movie that the Glaive was just a myth, but the old wizard Ynyr knows where it is and that Colwyn will need it to defeat the Beast. My one complaint about this movie is that we don’t get to see him use it until the very end. Granted, the final fight between Colwyn and the Beast and Slayers is fun to watch, but it’s not enough. I mean, this weapon is what sold the movie to many fantasy fans like myself, and we didn’t see enough of it. You have to wonder how many D&D Dungeon Masters tried to recreate this weapon in a game (hint, I did!)

This movie also has your various fantasy tropes including magical beasts (Fire Mares or “Clydesdales on Steroids” running across canyons without stopping), magical beings (Changelings that kill with a touch) and an ancient, albeit bad ass soothsayer, living in the heart of a spider web (the Widow of the Web, aptly named). Not to mention a cyclops with a tragic back story, a great overhand throw, and a heart-breaking death (sorry for the spoilers but it’s true!) This is a true fantasy world invaded by a space-faring megalomaniacs hell-bent on destroying one world, then the next. You get this from the end of the movie when the narrator (Ynyr) proclaims they (Colwyn and Lyssa) would rule Krull, and their son would rule the galaxy! Really? I’d like to see that sequel!

Krull
Spider guardian of the Widow of the Web, Krull (1983)

The special effects were, without a doubt, some of the best to come out of the 80s. It’s not CGI, but the different sets combined with brilliant costumes, make-up, and effects blended well together. The fighting was a little staged and rigid in places, but it was overall well done. I loved the weapons of the Slayers, firing off a laser blast from one end before turning it around to use as a sword. The main magic we see used by the wizards in this movie was foresight and shapeshifting. There was no fireballs or lightning bolts, but transformations into everything from a tiger to a puppy (yes, a cute little puppy!) With all that, it was laid out brilliantly in the story.

Like I said, this movie is not Shakespeare and it’s nowhere near Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or other big movie genres. Krull is just plain fun, from start to finish. It’s a great story to follow along, interesting characters to laugh and cry with, and keeps you in your seat from beginning to end. Krull is a movie that should be part of a film festival, not relegated to the back row of your dvd collection. If you haven’t seen it, watch it today! If you have seen it, but not in a while, pull it out and watch it again! See what you’re missing!

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers.

A new Steampunk Anthology from Crystal Peake Publishers to include “Corsair and the Sky Pirates”

Back in October, I entered a steampunk writing contest through Crystal Peake Publishers. I entered a short story Corsair and the Sky Pirates for their consideration. For the first time, my hard work and imagination paid off. My story was selected to be included in a Steampunk Anthology to be published by Crystal Peake. I am honored and blessed to be considered for this. This is the first time, as an independent author, that I’m being published without all the trappings of paying to be published. It’s just so amazing, I am on “Cloud 9 3/4” right now!

Corsair and the Sky Pirates tells the story of a chance meeting between Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne that led to a world powered by steam generated not from coal or fuel, but a meteor fragment. Tesla discovered a comet named Uriel was raining pieces of these powerful meteorites across the globe. It led to an industrial revolution years ahead of its time, along with an unparalleled rivalry between Tesla and Thomas Edison, but progress has a price. While the rich and powerful lived in luxury in this new world, the everyday people groveled beneath the boot of their corporate masters. One man brought hope to the downtrodden. His exploits were legendary, his crew infamous, and his airship a vision of the future. Corsair and his Sky Pirates flew around the world, carrying out deeds that spurred the imagination. These modern-day “Robin Hood” bandits stole from the robber barons and corporate elites and returned the spoils to the people.

I will make more updates on the other authors I’m honored to join in this anthology as well as where you can purchase this collection of steampunk short stories. Thank you for your continued support of this independent author and crazy dreamer. 2021 is starting out as a great year!

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers.

The new Doctor Who specials are still missing the mark with fans like me

Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks Preview | Den of Geek

After a dismal 2020, the 2021 new year kicked off with the now “New Year” tradition of Doctor Who, instead of the Christmas Day special we all love AND MISS (hint, hint, Chibnall!) and it was not a home run. I really think they are trying too hard after their early experiments with new ideas “hit and miss” during the first two seasons. They bring back Captain Jack Harkness, the Master, and the Cybermen after the first season with new Doctor Jodie Whitaker proved underwhelming after many “social justice” themed episodes. They even decided to rewrite the history of the Doctor with this whole “Timeless Child” shenanigans, the reveal of another Doctor, but even that was left at the wayside for this special.

I don’t want to jump around too much. I’ve voiced my displeasure at the writing under Chris Chibnall since he took over. He views Doctor Who as a platform for change, not entertainment. The Doctor has always been a character who makes statements about society and humanity as a whole, but it was done better under Moffat, even the original writers and caretakers of the mythos, but not Chibnall. His “in your face” way of storytelling does not have the subtleties that the Doctor requires. Such was the case in “Revolution of the Daleks” on New Year’s Day.

This was, without a doubt, a slam on 2020 and those in power. Chris Noth’s portrayal of Jack Robertson, who closely resembles the media’s ideal of President Donald Trump, was more of a villain than the actual Daleks. The same with the new Secretary/up-and-coming Prime Minister who is a stark reflection of former PM Theresa May. These two come together, after stealing the destroyed pseudo-Dalek from last year’s special, to make Dalek drones for combating rioting and social unrest, like say, people protesting lockdown during a pandemic. Like I said, without the science fiction, this special was 2020 in a nutshell.

Now, beyond that, the rest of the special had plenty of good things we love about Doctor Who. Imprisoned, the Doctor shared cells with a Weeping Angel, the Silence, and other creatures from past episodes. It was interesting to see her day-to-day life, and then Jack shows up. He does what he does best… Breaks her out of jail. Then the fun begins.

Doctor Who Revolution of the Daleks Captain Jack Daleks

I was hoping for more sexual banter and tension between Jack and the Doctor, seeing that she’s a woman now, but they never went there. It was more dismissive than provocative, as in Jack’s encounters with 9 and 10. There was more chemistry between Jack and the companions than with the Doctor herself. So, for all the hype, there was not a lot to Jack being in this episode save for the little tidbit at the end when he mentioned the old Torchwood gang.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the episode itself, as it plays out as planned… Daleks built as security drones, Daleks reborn and take over the drones, Daleks begin rampaging across Great Britain. It gets fun when the Doctor brings in a Dalek death squad to deal with the “mutated” Daleks, as they are not pure, and then things come full circle and end. However, there are so many wholes in the plot I doubt a ton of Earth would fill it. I mean, why do the people of Great Britain keep forgetting about the Daleks. They have invaded time and time again, and when the Prime Minister unveils them as “security drones” you would think someone would say, “Hey, that’s an alien! It tried to kill us before!” I know Wilfred would!

I also have a couple of issues with the characters. I have complained about Jodie Whitaker’s portrayal of the Doctor. She still seems timid and not confident in her actions. Even when it comes to her “fam” — as she calls them — she seems unsure. I don’t know if it has something to do with this new regeneration or just a quirk in her portrayal, but it does bother me. Sorry, but I like a little swagger in my Doctor. Then, there’s the companions. Ryan was out of sync this episode, as he left at the end with Graham and leaving Yaz with the Doctor and introducing John Bishop as the new companion next season. Changing companions is nothing new, but this one seemed botched.

As I said, the special had its good and bad moments. The Dalek Death Squad vs. Dalek Drones on London Bridge was great. The Doctor sending said Daleks to the Void, also great. Robertson’s getting away with it in the end, no so great. And again, they seem to set aside the while Timeless Child/Master destroying Gallifrey plot from the end of last season. So, overall, this Doctor Who special was not one of my favorites. I will wait and see how the new season pans out.

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers.

Soar through the sky “Steampunk” style

I have always been a fan of steampunk. It is an eclectic style of modern technology with Victorian sensibilities. To me, the novels of Jules Verne are the bible of steampunk. To think that he imagined submarines, nuclear power, rocket ships and more in the 1800s is just remarkable.

So I took inspiration from the imagination of Jules Verne and the genius of Nikola Tesla to create a steampunk world. Let me introduce you to a new concept for a new work in progress… Corsair and the Sky Pirates!

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A brilliant inventor… A prolific writer… A chance meeting between Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne led to a world as you could never imagine. A world powered by steam generated not from coal or fuel, but a meteor fragment. Tesla discovered a comet named Uriel was raining pieces of these powerful meteorites across the globe. It led to an industrial revolution years ahead of its time, but even progress had a price. While the rich and powerful lived in luxury in this new world, the everyday people groveled beneath the boot of their corporate masters.

One man brought hope to the people. His exploits were legendary, his crew infamous, and his airship a vision of the future. Corsair and his Sky Pirates flew around the world, carrying out deeds that spurred the imagination. Known as modern-day “Robin Hood” bandits, they stole from the robber barons and returned to the oppressed.

The swashbuckling Corsair was as handsome as he was cool and calculating. His crew was an assortment of renegades many authorities considered lowlifes and criminals, but they were all dedicated to Corsair’s mission… Working with Tesla to bring an end to the corporate rule that was strangling the planet. They came from every corner of the globe… From the outback in Australia to the American Southwest into the skyline of New York City, across Europe and the Far East. The crew of the airship Galeru, named for a mythical rainbow serpent, never faltered and never wavered.

While Tesla made his inventions to ease everyday people’s day-to-day burden, the Edison/Röntgen/Parsons Corporation or ERP used their power and influence to ensure people paid for their modern miracles. World governments bent over backward to appease ERP to ensure they got their hands on the most potent weapons known to man.

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I entered my first draft of Corsair and the Sky Pirates in Crystal Peake Publishers Steampunk Writing Contest, so wish me luck in getting this concept published!

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.

The best fantasy/scifi movies you never watched, but you should

There are plenty of inspirations when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. Most people have their favorites, i.e. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. Me, I’m a little old school. My obsession with the fantasy and sci-fi genre began with movies many people today either haven’t seen, forgot or ignored. In any case, each one of these movies has a unique charm about them (for lack of a better term) making them a must-see for any fan or geek. These are my personal picks, so I would love to hear whether you agree or disagree. Either way, I hope you’ll take some “COVID19 down time” to watch some or all of these classics.

The Final Countdown (1980) — This is a kick-ass, “Red, White, & Blue” Hell-yah,  U-S-A, movie with a simple science fiction twist. The nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is sent back in time to days before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It has an all-star cast ( Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katharine Ross and Charles Durning) but the real star is the U.S. Navy. As a young man, looking to his future after high school, this movie made me want to sign up.  The filming from the flight deck to the sky above, seeing two F-14 Tomcats take on Japanese Zeroes, was epic. This is not your average science fiction movie, but the whole time travel aspect was so well done and wrapped up nicely at the end.

The Black Cauldron poster.jpgThe Black Cauldron (1985) — This is a Disney film, but its one of the darkest Disney films they ever made. The plot is your basic boy becomes hero by defeating the evil sorcerer, your usual fantasy genre yarn, but the visuals of this film are stunning. Something I didn’t know was that it was loosely based on the first two books in The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, a series of five novels that are, in turn, based on Welsh mythology. Set in the mythical land of Prydain during the Early Middle Ages, the film centers on the evil Horned King who hopes to secure an ancient magical cauldron that will aid him in his desire to conquer the world. He is opposed by a young pigherder named Taran, the princess Eilonwy, a bard and a wild creature named Gurgi who seek to destroy the cauldron. This was Disney’s 25th animated feature, the first animated film to receive a PG rating, and it doesn’t get the props like Disney’s other animated films because of the dark storyline. No matter what, this is a great fantasy movie to see.

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) — In the age when every movie wanted to look like and have the success of Star Wars, this movie fits the bill to a “T” and then some. Staring Richard Thomas (John Boy from The Waltons TV series) and produced by the genius Roger Corman, this movie had every science fiction movie trope in it, including the kitchen sink. Corman intended this movie to be a remake of the classic The Magnificent Seven but set in outer space. It had a stellar cast, from the legendary John Saxon and George Peppard to Robert Vaughn, and the effects were as expected for 1980, pre-CGI. The story follows the expected plot… The farming world Akir is threatened by the tyrannical warlord Sador (Saxon). Sador’s huge dreadnaught has a “Stellar Converter”, a weapon that turns planets into small stars. He demands that the peaceful Akira submit to him or he will turn his Stellar Converter on their planet. They want to hire mercenaries to protect their world, but since Akir lacks valuable resources, its people can offer just food and shelter in payment. Shad (Thomas) volunteers for the recruiting mission. It is a strange movie, full of Corman’s classic sci-fi tropes,  including a Space Cowboy, half-dressed Valkyrie warrior, an elite assassin, and a reptilian slaver, but it is well laid out and fun to watch.

The Black Hole.jpgThe Black Hole (1979) — Yet another Disney film that  has been relegated to the void that is the Disney vault due to its dark and violent nature. Another great cast ( Maximilian Schell, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine) fills the screen with astounding visuals of a black hole in space, before Interstellar. The Palomino, nearing the end of its deep space mission, discovers a black hole in space with a large spaceship nearby, somehow defying the hole’s massive gravitational pull. The ship is identified as the long-lost USS Cygnus. Deciding to investigate, the Palomino encounters a mysterious null gravity field surrounding the Cygnus. What they find on board is far worse… Dr. Hans Reinhardt, a brilliant scientist, and what appears to be a crew of robots. They are not faceless drones, but are in fact the human crew who mutinied when Reinhardt refused to return to Earth and had been lobotomized and “reprogrammed” by Reinhardt to serve him and his floating murder-bot Maximilian. Again, a very dark movie for Disney that was not well received by critics but earned two Academy award nominations for cinematography and visual effects.

Dragonslayer (1981) — This movie is very familiar to anyone who played Dungeons and Dragons in the 80’s, but it is not seen as a top-rated movie like LOTR and others. It should be. Dragonslayer gave us our first look at a dragon, an honest to God dragon and all its power and glory. Before there was CGI, there was GoMotion, created by Industrial, Light and Magic for The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and other classic movies of the 80s. In this movie, we got a dragon named Vermithrax that was everything you expected it to be… Evil, deadly, and downright terrifying. Another great cast (Peter MacNicol, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam and Caitlin Clarke) fills out this epic tale of a young apprentice taking on the beast to prove himself worthy as a sorcerer against a King who for years has placated the dragon with a virgin sacrifice. This is a worthy fantasy epic and a must see movie!

Deathstalker (1983) - Rotten TomatoesDeathstalker (1983) — The last movie on my list is another 80’s Roger Corman classic, filled with your favorite fantasy genre movie tropes just like he did in Battle Beyond the Stars. It’s a very Conan-esque movie, with buff men in leather, scantily-clad women, swords and sorcerers. It spawned four sequels, but this is the one to watch. Against, a basic storyline of sword-wielding mercenary on a quest to retrieve four magical items to stop a sorcerer from destroying his world. Along the way, he meets other warriors entering a tournament to find the greatest warrior and gain control over the kingdom. It’s not Shakespeare but it has all the qualities of a sword/sorcerer movie of the 80’s. It fits right in with The Beastmaster, Conan the Barbarian, and other fantasy movies of that time. Corman is a genius of the screen when it comes to movies like these.

So again, these are far from the Oscar-worthy movies you normally think of in the fantasy/sci-fi genre, but they have all the elements you think of when you watch these movies. I would love to hear about your favorites that I might have missed in my list, please comment and let me know.

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.

Star Wars novels are better than the movies (except the original trilogy)

Star Wars – The New Jedi Order: Dark Tide: Ruin Cover by Tsuyoshi Nagano.

This being International Star Wars Day (#Maythe4thbewithYou), I thought it best to reflect on one of the best epics in science fiction. The problem is, the books are better than some of the movies, video games, and television series out there.

How many of us wanted to see movies made from Timothy Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire” trilogy? Or salivating at seeing the Yuuzhan Vong and their bio-engineered weapons on the screen. These stories are some of the best out there, but not all are canon. This makes them just a memory, not part of the mythos that is Star Wars.

The first Star Wars book I ever read was “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” and it was a gem. After seeing the original, I wanted more and couldn’t wait for more. This book have us fans more insight into the workings of the force, before we heard about midi-chlorians. It was also the first time we heard about a kaiburr crystals, which is weird because it’s not related to kyber crystals (i.e. lightsabers) but it’s close.

I am a huge fan of the man series, from the New Jedi Order through Fate of the Jedi. I mean, in this series we had the death of Chewbacca, Anakin Solo and the journey of Jacen Solo from Jedi to Sith. It was an amazing series and, to be honest, it brought me closer to the Star Wars universe.

Novels expanded our knowledge, from characters, planets and races to the new insights into characters we barely knew anything about. The best example of that is Boba Fett. We barely knew anything about him after The Empire Strikes Back, and now we have the entire legacy of the Mandalorians to go with his legend. And it’s all from the books.

The Star Wars universe may have started as movies, but its canon… It’s TRUE canon is written by the authors who have taken us to “a galaxy far, far away” and beyond! It’s one of those many reasons why I became a writer.

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.