Steampunk is the future of science fiction, from the past

Steampunk Paris | Steampunk artwork, Steampunk art, Steampunk airshipSteampunk is defined as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.” To me, it’s modern technology with a Victorian twist. This genre has been on the rise with its push in video games with the award winning Bioshock or The Order franchise, TV series like Steampunkd, and in books, starting with the Godfather of Steampunk, Jules Verne, to authors like Cherie Priest and Michael Moorcock.

Some people view it more as a fashion style, combining Victorian-era sensibilities with brass fittings, gauges and gears. Weird optics, mechanical arms, airships and powerful weapons of steam, chemicals, and electricity are the backbone of steampunk style, but again, it’s the story behind the style that makes it appealing.

Jules Verne is the undisputed father of the Steampunk movement. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea will always be the epitome of steampunk. I always imagined a meeting in France between Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne in the spring of 1882, discussing the possibilities of Verne’s creations using Tesla’s technology. Wouldn’t that be something? It’s actually the basis for a steampunk novel I’ve been working on, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, but that’s another story for another time. To me, this would be the ideal setting of where it all began. The birth of Steampunk as we know it today.

“Steampunk is an eclectic world of cogs and rivets. It is airships and goggles and steam. It is romance. It is travelling on clouds and diving beneath rugged waves. It is adventure.” ― Aether Emporium

I felt the Steampunk desire today, So I watched "Steamboy" and ...One of the best representations of Steampunk in film is the Japanese animated film, Steamboy. Though most of the Steampunk technology in the film was represented by weapons, it is still a wonderful tribute to the genre. Steamboy tells the story of Ray Steam, a British boy in 1863 England, and how the invention of a “steamball” pitted Robert Stephenson, the first master of the steam engine, against Ray’s father, Edward, and his “Steam Castle” at the London Exposition. It’s style, look and feel could make any Steampunk aficionado jump for joy. Another great example of Steampunk is the Japanese TV series, Fullmetal Alchemist. It combines the style and look of Steampunk with alchemy and magic.

Steampunk inventor/author/mechanic Jake von Slatt said, “To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catch all term. To me, it is essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” That’s quite an opinion. I think Steampunk does have a bit of a romantic flair, especially in the wardrobe. Men’s attire is very masculine in Steampunk while the women are sexy and feminine. In both cases, the trend is very fashion forward, evoking strength and power while being strangely attractive.

“Steampunk is…a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!” ― George Mann

I’ve started to bring some Steampunk into my own writing. Though the Forever Avalon novels are more medieval fantasy, in contrast, through my stories, they are moving forward in look and technology. Like Fullmetal Alchemist, I am trying to weave those elements together with things slowly coming of age. In my new novel, The Outlander War, I am leaning more towards the Renaissance while keeping some of the medieval fantasy elements there.

I created weapons I call GunStars, named after the ships in The Last Starfighter movie (one of my favorite sci-fi movies of the 80’s). They look like oversized flintlock pistols, using cartridges containing alchemical mixtures that, when combined with the magic within the GunStar, fires explosive rounds. From fireballs and ‘magic missiles’ to acid rain and hail, these weapons make even the more novice warriors more formidable.

I realize that these creations of mine are not 100% Steampunk, but they were inspired by it. Steampunk is as Jake von Slatt said, “an intersection” of technology and whatever your imagination brings to the table.” Don’t think of it as outdated, but rather a futuristic twist on history. That’s some that can spark the curiosity of any reader.

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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.

WTF did I just watch? Has Doctor Who gone off the deep end or am I exaggerating?

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Okay, it’s taken me a week to digest the season finale of Doctor Who and I’m still banging my head against the wall as I try to understand the twisted mind of Chris Chibnall. This has been one of the weirdest seasons in the 56 year history of Doctor Who. I don’t know where to begin. By the way, SPOILERS AHEAD, so you’ve been warned.

Let’s go back to the beginning… It’s a very good place to start… (God, now that song is stuck in my head!)

Anyway, from what we’ve been told, the Timelords were a race of the most technologically advanced beings in the universe. They discovered the secret to time travel, dimensional engineering, etc., etc. They even found a way to live for thousands of years through regeneration. This has been time tested for the entire run of Doctor Who… until now.

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Now, as we are told by The Master (which, by the way, as played by Sacha Dhawan, has been the highlight of this season) it seems we were lied to. A scientist from Gallifrey discovered the “Timeless Child” from another dimension. This child could regenerate, so the scientist tried to transfer this ability and tried it on herself. This gave birth to the Timelords, but to keep it a secret, they limited it to 13 regenerations and enforced the secret through an organization called “The Division”. Oh, by the way, the so-called Timeless Child is, in fact, the Doctor. She has been alive and regenerating for countless millennia, and she was part of this secret organization.

Now, as creative as this is, it wipes away everything we know about the Doctor. I mean, it might explain how the first Doctor had a granddaughter and why he left Gallifrey, why the 11th Doctor had to be given another set of regenerations, the existence of the Valeyard, the “other”Doctor that was stranded on Earth, and more. But, it just doesn’t feel right. It changes everything we knew about the Timelords, not to mention this episode wiped them out of existence after the Master turned them into the Cyber Masters (Cybermen capable of regenerating) so it’s pretty twisted.

I want you to think about this… Where do we go from here? I mean, the show ended with the Doctor ending up captured by the Judoon (think back to the episode “Fugitive of the Judoon”) and locked away for some odd reason. Plus, the other Doctor (also brilliantly played by Jo Martin) made an appearance and we still don’t know where she came from. This kind of intrigue is why I love Doctor Who.

Look, I am not the biggest fan of Jodie Whittaker’s take on the Doctor. She has her moments, both good and bad. I love her little rants where she talks to herself, but she doesn’t have the presence of the Doctor. Whenever the Doctor walks into the room, you know automatically they’re the smartest person there, but not with Jodie. She tries to pull it off but she just can’t do it. Even Jo Martin showed more confidence in being the Doctor, and she was only in two episodes. I hope in the next season Jodie can develop the “swagger” that comes with being the Doctor.

Chibnall has changed everything we know about Doctor Who in one season finale, so what do we do now? We can’t go back, but I think it needs to be developed more and not just shuffled on screen. The Doctor needs to go deep into those memories she’s recovered and show us the meaning behind the “Timeless Child” and why she is who she is and what it means for the future.

I truly believe next season may be the last for Chibnall and Whittaker, so I hope they can tie things up with a bow and give it to us on a silver platter. It’s too important to the fans and the legacy that is Doctor Who.

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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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.

The new season of Doctor Who has one foot in the Tardis, and one out!

The new season of Doctor Who started with a bang, a big bang! I mean, in Spyfall 1 and 2, we had the return of the Master, the world population being converted into computer harddrives, Nazis (never go wrong with Nazis), spies, and other dimensions. It was great. I thought Chris Chibnal was finally listening to the fans. But…

Then, in the next two episodes, it was the same old Chibnal trying to give us “teachable” moments about climate change (Orphan) and the evils of capitalism (Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror). We were back to square one… And then, a breakthrough.

In Fugitive of the Judoon, we got the return of Captain Jack Harkness, the foreshadowing of the return of the Cybermen, and another version of the Doctor. Wait, what? (I know, I can’t believe it myself). Here was another version of the Doctor, played wonderfully by Jo Martin, supposedly from the past, locked away in human form by the chameleon arch. And once she was unleashed, she was a bad ass. She reminded me a lot of the War Doctor. She even disregarded and mocked the sonic screwdriver, a tool for nearly every man/woman who has worn the mantle of The Doctor. Crazy, right?

So, here Chibnal has given us a proper mystery for the series. This I like. This is what I want. Not only the Judoon, who continue to display their absolute ferocity for the letter of the law, but also another look through the keyhole into the mystery of Gallifrey. Now, I have a theory here, so bear with me. If you’re new to the series, you may not understand this, but you only have to Google one word… Valeyard.

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My theory is that the Jo Martin version of the Doctor is actually from the timeline of the Valeyard. The Valeyard, from the Sixth Doctor’s time, was the prosecutor during The Trial of a Timelord arc. He was a darker amalgamation of the Doctor’s persona, somewhere around his 13th regeneration. However, his plot was uncovered and the Valeyard was supposedly killed but he was seen, at the end of the episode, disguised as the Keeper of the Matrix. Since then, there have only been mentions of the Valeyard, here and there, but nothing more.

Now, we know that this  supposed timeline changed when Matt Smith’s Doctor got a whole new set of regenerations at his finale, The Time of the Doctor. So, did that change the future and the destiny of the Valeyard? If so, how? I think that is the story behind this fractured timeline that Jo Martin’s Doctor comes from. We’ll have to wait and see if it turns out that way, but it’s a definite possibility.

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No then, back to my rant. I want Chibnal to stop preaching to us about social issues. Yes, we’re all afraid that the world may be affected by climate change, but I’m old enough to remember the “second ice age” predictions in the 70’s and Al Gore’s 10 years until Florida is underwater in 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth. We have had dire warnings about the future from every dystopian book and movie for the past 100 years. Remember George Orwell’s 1984? How about Mad Max or Waterworld? I will admit, that Doctor Who has done it’s share of dire warnings about the future in stories (global warming mentioned in Doomsday Cybermen episode for example) but not “in your face” like Chibnal does.

We know we’re going to get taught a few things in Doctor Who… The horrifying deaths in the destruction of Pompeii, how the banana daiquiri was invented in France during the reign of Louis XV, and how the Empire State Building was built by mutated pig men and Daleks. Seriously though, Doctor Who was created to help teach kids about history with a few aliens thrown in from time to time. The Daleks themselves are a living metaphor for the aftermath of nuclear war. It’s been a great plot turn for more than 50 years, so don’t stop now. Leave the “social justice warriors” to the news networks and keep the Doctor  as the witty, time travelling, Earth-loving alien with two hearts for double the fun!

Teach us about the possible and the impossible!

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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 coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is worthy of the legacy

It’s a Christmas tradition (at least in my house) to watch a Star Wars movie over the holiday. First, I spent the holidays thrilling over The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. Then, on Christmas Day, I got to see the end of the original series with Episode IX.

My son called me before I saw it to let me know he really didn’t care for it and I may be disappointed. I wasn’t fazed by his review. After all, he liked The Last Jedi.

BTW, NO SPOILERS HERE!

In any event, I think people seeing this movie will either like it or hate it. It’s that polarizing. The way the story of Rey, the Resistance, the First Order, the Jedi and the Sith, and the Emperor all came to a conclusion was a bit clunky. It was all over the place, from beginning to end, not sure which way was up or down, light side or dark side, etc. But even through all that, the story came to a close with a bang, not a whimper. It was brilliant.

The way this all started out, I thought they were taking Rey down the dark side, learn to control her emotions or end up like Vader and Kylo Ren. We all got that vibe from images in the trailer. Luckily, there was more to it than that. Rey’s story is the most complex within the movie, and I wish it didn’t take the whole movie to sort it out, but I’m glad it finally did.

The Rise of Skywalker ticked all the right boxes for a Star Wars movie… Epic battle scenes, beautiful vistas, balanced comedic and tender moments, and “edge of your seat” suspense. It was quintessential Star Wars.

One of the things I tend to hate about Star Wars movies is the over/under use of characters. Rose, who played a big role in The Last Jedi was so under used here. Likewise was Dominic Monaghan. You don’t bring in someone like him to Star Wars and give him four lines. I am thrilled they were able to work in the last scenes of Carrie Fisher. It was an appropriate end for “our” princess!

I loved the various cameos and the nods to characters from film, television, books and comic books. That’s one of the things that made this movie great for me. They didn’t forget where the story began and brought it to a close.

We can now look forward to new stories from the Star Wars universe, or so we’re told by our Disney Sithlords. Let’s hope we get more like The Mandalorian and less like The Last Jedi.

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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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

I miss my Doctor Who Christmas specials

I know its Christmas when we put up our Christmas tree and I hang my Tardis ornament on its branches. This year, I got a K-9 ornament to hang right next to it. For geeks like me, it’s not Christmas without Doctor Who. But lately, that’s been missing.

When Jodie Whittaker took over as the 13th Doctor, some changes came (as usual) along with new showrunner Chris Chibnal. One of then was the end of the annual Doctor Who Christmas specials, replaced with a New Year’s Day special instead. Now, I enjoyed last years special (you can never go wrong with Daleks) and the new season debuts this year on January 1, 2020. But something is still missing.

It’s just not Christmas without aliens attacking Great Britain, a “space Titanic” threatening to crash into Buckingham Palace, or a trip to Frank Sinatra’s Christmas party with Marilyn Monroe. All done with the subtle humor and great storytelling Doctor Who is known for.

My favorite episodes are the Matt Smith specials, specifically “A Christmas Carol” and “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe.” Matt Smith had the best comedic timing and was great at making you laugh and making you cry.

The Doctor: “Ah. Yes. Blimey. Sorry Christmas Eve on a rooftop. Saw a chimney, my whole brain just went ‘What the hell!’ Don’t worry, the fat fellah will be doing the rounds later. I’m just scoping out the general chimney-ness. Yes! Nice size. Good traction. Big tick.

Father: “Fat fellah?

The Doctor: “Father Christmas. Santa Claus. Or, as I’ve always known him, Jeff.

It was amazing and heartwarming in “A Christmas Carol” when you hear the beautiful singing voice of opera singer Katharine Jenkins singing the song to calm the shark (long story, watch the special) and at the end when she opens the clouds. It was equally incredible when you see the Doctor spend Christmas with the Ponds after two years apart at the end of “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe.”

That’s what sets these Christmas episodes apart from the regular season episodes of Doctor Who. They not only bring the humor and action we fans expect from Doctor Who, but they also accentuate the spirit of Christmas. It’s the total package.

So, we dont know what awaits us in the new season, but I hope the folks at the BBC will listen to the fans and bring back the Christmas specials. It would be a shame to end traditions here.

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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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

Do your research when it comes to weaponry, both medieval and modern

Whether you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, the accuracy of the weapons being wielded is as crucial as the characters and the setting. You wouldn’t take a long sword on a dungeon crawl (for a visual, watch the first episode of the anime Goblin Slayer) nor would a U.S. Special Forces carry an AR-15 in combat. This is where your research as a writer is critical.

You can be flexible when you mix in science fiction, like steampunk or dystopian, when you mix and match weapons together. Even in some fantasy aspects, weapons have been creatively produced, like “Stormbringer” from the Elric saga or Xena’s chakram… Functional weapons but not easily wielded.

I can honestly say that my years of playing Dungeons and Dragons gave me an edge in fantasy writing. When you have calculate the length of your weapon to wield it in a dungeon, it makes you think. (Remember, in these instances, size does matter!) Add to that, my military career gave me some much needed knowledge in military weaponry, from automatic weapons to aircraft and missile technology. I know the difference between an F/A-18 Hornet and an E-2C Hawkeye, a Sea Sparrow and a CWIS.

This was my problem while I was writing my latest novel, The Outlander War: Book 3 of the Forever Avalon Series. The story begins in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in the heart of a naval exercise, when Avalon suddenly reappears, causing disruptions on both fronts. The U.S. Navy, now circling the mysterious island, wants answers. The tensions build as modern technology faces off against ancient magic, on an island where the laws of magic supersede the laws of science, as military forces continue to surround the mysterious island, bringing both sides to the brink of war.

I have already written two books with people using various medieval weapons, so that wasn’t the issue. Now, I had to incorporate the medieval fantasy world of Avalon with the U.S. and Russian Navy as well as special forces. This took a lot of research on my part. As a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, I served on three aircraft carriers so I was quite familiar with the aircraft, weaponry, and terminology. It was a little different in researching Russian ships, weapons, and aircraft, but necessary for my story.

Here’s an excerpt from The Outlander War demonstrating an exchange between modern military forces and medieval weaponry.

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His voice trailed off as his eye caught something different on the horizon. Hunter knew how keen the eyesight of an Elf was and tried to see as well. It was a clear night, the moon waning as a small sliver of a crescent high in the sky.

“What is it?” Hunter asked. “What do you see?”

“There’s a new ship out there, one I’ve never seen before.”

“Are you sure, Feredir?” Eadric asked. “Those metal contraptions look all the same to me.”

“I have observed all the same ships for the past few weeks, that one is new.”

Try as he might, Hunter could barely make out the ship in the darkness. “Can you describe it?” he asked. “Do you see any writing on it?”

“It looks like the other large warship… the aircraft carrier, I believe your father called it, but the front of the ship is curved upward like a ramp,” Feredir said. “There is some writing on the side of the main structure but I’m not familiar with the language.”

“Show me!” Hunter demanded. Feredir took a dagger and wrote a few letters in the dirt next to the fire. Hunter didn’t understand the words, but he recognized the language. “That’s Russian, I think,” he said. “It must be a helicopter carrier of some sort.”

“Are those the machines with the spinning blades on them?” Feredir asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Because there are four of them headed our way!”

Feredir drew his bow. Hunter turned to two of the younger knights standing with them. “Pass the word down along the coast that invaders are coming toward Avalon,” he commanded. The two men took off in opposite directions to warn the other outposts. “Henri, go tell my father what’s going on! We need him here immediately!” Henri dropped the teapot and he took off running toward the main encampment.

Hunter reloaded his Lancer with two new spellshots as he and Sir Eadric crouched low behind the protection of some rocks. Feredir acted as lookout.

“How far out are they?” Hunter asked.

“Three of them are holding their position about six furlongs off shore,” he said, scanning the horizon. “I’ve lost the fourth one.”

“What?” Hunter exclaimed and jumped up to look. Eadric followed suit.

“Where did it go?” Eadric asked. Before Feredir could answer, the three men heard a whirring sound from just off the cliff. From below the edge, a helicopter rose up in the air in front of them, threatening them with a rotary mini-gun.

The three took cover as the helicopter opened fire, pelleting the ground around them with rapid-fire spray. Feredir notched an arrow and readied himself. The firing stopped for a moment and the Elven warrior stood up and fired off an arrow. The aim was true, a perfect shot at the helicopter pilot, but it ricocheted off the front windshield. Feredir got a second arrow off, but it had the same result. He dove behind the rock just as the pilot began firing again.

Feredir cursed. “My arrows won’t penetrate that infernal machine!” Hunter weighed all the options and he came up with an idea.

“I think I can help you there,” he said. He pulled up his Lancer, ready to fire. “After I shoot, hit him again. Your arrows should penetrate this time.”

Hunter took a deep breath before he popped up and fired his Lancer at the helicopter. His spellshot—a combination of magic and alchemy loaded into a cartridge the size of a shotgun shell—fired a freezing spray at the helicopter, coating the front of the aircraft in a layer of frost. The windshield froze instantaneously, and the pilot stopped firing.

Feredir quickly popped up and fired another arrow at the windshield. This time, his arrow shattered the glass and pierced the pilot through the chest. The aircraft pitched to the side and the co-pilot tried to regain control. Feredir didn’t give him a chance and he fired another arrow, killing the co-pilot instantly with an arrow through the throat.

The helicopter spun out of control as it flew over the three warriors and careened toward the ground. The engines shut down just before impact, then it crashed, exploding in a giant ball of fire. Sir Eadric and Hunter roared loudly at their victory. Feredir just stood there silently, there was a hint of a grin on his face.

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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 iUniversepublishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

These anime need a second season… PLEASE!

Anyone who follows my blog knows I am a huge anime nut. If I wasn’t married with kids, you’d probably see me as an “otaku” for sure. Anime has been a part of my life since the 60’s. I mean, I watched the original anime in Speed Racer, Gigantor, and Astro Boy. It helped form my own imagination, my views on fantasy, science fiction, and storytelling as a writer. You can’t watch a Hayao Miyazaki movie and not be moved by the visuals, the music, and the story. That’s how much anime has influenced me as a writer.

That said, there are a lot of great anime series out there that only got one season. For some reason or another, the studios decided to stop after just 12 episodes. I think it’s a shame that these anime didn’t get a few more under their belt, especially for their fan base. Here’s my top five choices for renewal into a second season.

Image result for in another world with my smartphone In Another World with my Smartphone — This is really a “guilty pleasure” anime but it’s also quite imaginative in its design. Fifteen-year-old Touya Mochizuki is accidentally killed by God. As an apology, God allows him to be resurrected, but since he cannot send him back to his old world, he instead reincarnates him into a fantasy world along with a single special request. Touya uses his request in order to bring his smartphone into the new world with him. The premise sounds ridiculous, but the storytelling is infectious. You have an awkward 15-year-old thrust into life as a adventurer, engaged to four cute, yet very resourceful girls, and one his way to becoming one of the most powerful beings in his new world. Like other anime, I have been reading the light novels associated with this series, and I would love to see it brought back in anime. It’s witty and full of fantasy. Yes, Touya is OP (over-powered) but his naivety brings him down to Earth, as does his relationship with his four (nine by the end of the novel series) wives.  It’s just a delight to watch and I wish they’d make some more episodes.

Image result for knights and magicKnight’s and Magic — Most of my favorite anime’s are “isekai” or where the main character is transported to another world. This one is no exception. Knight’s & Magic is set in a world where medieval knights use giant robots called Silhouette Knights to fight against demon beasts, magical ravenous animals that devour everything on sight. The protagonist is Tsubasa Kurata, a mecha otaku from Japan who gets killed in a car accident. Tsubasa is reincarnated in this new parallel world as Ernesti Echavalier, a boy born into a noble family. Tsubasa’s previous otaku memories inspire Ernesti into creating his own Silhouette Knights in order to defend his kingdom. This one doesn’t have the sex appeal of In Another World with my Smartphone, but it does have giant robots. It’s actually weird how all the girls fall for talented genius Ernesti, but he ignores them all. He only loves his giant robots. I love how this anime infuses technology with magic, something you don’t see a lot. Most standard fantasy stories stick to the straightforward fantasy yarns, but magic and mechs is a great plot twist. They even explain how it works using scientific principles. It’s astounding. I want more, please!

Image result for Restaurant to Another WorldRestaurant to Another World — This is one of the more unusual anime, and to be honest, I only watched it recently but I enjoyed it tremendously. The Western Restaurant Nekoya is a restaurant situated in a mundane corner of an undisclosed Tokyo shopping district which offers a lot of Japanese versions of Western dishes. It opens during usual business hours though closed during holidays and weekends. But secretly it is also open on Saturdays, as on this particular day it creates doorways to another world inhabited by elves, dragons, animal men and other fantastic creatures, who enter the restaurant and partake of its exotic food, with many of them becoming regular patrons. It’s really an exotic idea, introducing Japanese cuisine using a fantasy genre to tell the story. I mean, serving Tofu and Nattō to Elves because they’re vegetarians? It’s brilliant. I don’t get into the cooking anime prevalent in Japan, but this one got to me. It’s interesting how the cook knows exactly what to make them, and it brings the different races together to visit their favorite restaurant.

Image result for log horizon Log Horizon — Okay, technically, this series has had two seasons, but it needs a third really bad, so I’m including it in my list. Log Horizon revolves around the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Elder Tale. During the release of its twelfth expansion pack: Homesteading the Noosphere, thirty thousand Japanese gamers who are logged on at the time of the update suddenly find themselves transported into the virtual game world and donning their in-game avatars. In the midst of the event, a socially awkward gamer named Shiroe, along with his friends, Naotsugu and Akatsuki, decide to team up so that they may face this world, which unfortunately has now become their reality, along with the challenges and obstacles ahead of them. There are quite a few “ikekai” anime series that revolve around video games becoming a real world to the players (Overlord, Death March to a Parallel  World Rhapsody, How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, etc.) but they are not Log Horizon. This one is the whole package with smart characters (Shiroe), cute characters (Akatsuki) and the coolest character (Chief Nyanta). I also like how it’s not just about going on adventures, but how they have to live and survive in a real world based on a video game. I mean, they have to worry about money and food, not just fighting monsters. It’s really broad in its scope and the characters make it fun to watch.

Related imageChivalry of a Failed Knight — My final entry is, without a doubt, my favorite anime that I’m desperate for a second season. The story is set in an Alternate Earth world where humans called “Blazers” have supernatural abilities. These Blazers can materialize weapons known as “Device” which are made through a person’s soul. At Hagun Academy, Blazers are selected as representatives for the Seven Star Sword Art Festival, an annual tournament event held by the seven Mage Knight Academies in Japan to determine the strongest Apprentice Knight. Ikki Kurogane is the academy’s “F-Ranked” Blazer and is considered “The Worst One” for his low magical abilities, but Stella Vermillion, the princess of the European country Vermillion, is one of the top “A-Rank” Blazers. The series follows their adventures as they train to qualify as the school’s representatives for the festival. This series is the whole package… Romance, fighting, magic, adventure, intrigue, you name it. Everyone discounts the underdog hero who wins through skill, grit and determination, not power alone. There are great sub-stories within the series that makes this even more exciting to watch.

There are a few others I could mention here, like Trinity Seven, Hundred, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and The Irregular at Magic High School, although a couple of them had follow-on movies and another season is said to be coming. If I missed any that you want to see a second season of, tell me in the comments below. Until then, keep watching!

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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 iUniversepublishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

R.I.P. Rutger Hauer, one of the best actors fans loved to watch

Related image“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” — Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Blade Runner (1982)

There are many actors remembers for their performances in sci-fi and fantasy films, but to me, there was no one better than Rutger Hauer. His performance in Blade Runner is, without a doubt, one of the greatest scenes in the history of science fiction films. Sadly, he passed away on July 19 at the age of 75.

Rutger Hauer was a Dutch actor, writer, and environmentalist. In 1999, he was named the Best Dutch Actor of the Century by the Dutch public. He has been in more than 104 film (three of which are currently in post-production and will be released posthumously) and 38 various television productions, as well as voice talent in two video games (he was the voice of Master Xehanort in the 2019 video game Kingdom Hearts III, replacing the late Leonard Nimoy). He has had many roles, but some, like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, are what he’s well known for.

He played the villain so very well, and yet, there were times that we felt sorry for or compassion for his character. He had a way of making you understand why his character was that way, whether it was good or bad. It was said he only took roles that interested him, so this makes his various roles a sight to see. Another interesting aspect of Hauer was that he was a pacifist, and yet he played very violent characters at times. He was born in the Netherlands during the German occupation in World War II. He stated in a 1981 interview, “I was born in the middle of the war, and I think for that reason I have deep roots in pacifism. Violence frightens me.”

Next to Blade Runner, my other favorite movie of his is LadyHawke.  Whereas Roy Batty was the villain, although a sympathetic one, Etienne Navarre was the consummate hero. He fought for his love, his friends, and his people, everything you would expect of a knight. And yet, he had many flaws that Hauer brilliantly brought out. The scene where Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer (playing his love, Isabeau) see each other briefly at dawn before they transform is one of the best scenes in a fantasy movie.

He had roles in a variety of films just as memorable, such as The Osterman Weekend (1983), The Hitcher (1986), Escape from Sobibor (1987), The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988), and Blind Fury (1989). In the 1990’s on, Hauer moved into low-budget films, and supporting roles in major films, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Batman Begins (2005), and The Rite (2011). He also made a return to Dutch cinema, and won the 2012 Rembrandt Award for Best Actor for his lead role in The Heineken Kidnapping.

Outside of acting, he founded the Rutger Hauer Starfish Association, an AIDS awareness organization. He also supported the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and was a member of its board of advisers. In 2013, he was made a knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion.

Hauer was one of those actors that fans love to watch, not for his physical prowess or amazing stunts, but rather for bringing his characters to life. I remember the roles he played because they were inspiration for me, as a writer. He gave life to characters just from the written word, and he did it better than anyone else (in my opinion). God bless you, Rutger Hauer, and rest in peace.

“Good guy or bad guy, hero or anti hero; doesn’t matter to me, what role I play, only the character have something magical.”–Rutger Hauer

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SKU-000941753

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 iUniversepublishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

If you haven’t watched Cowboy Bebop yet, you should!

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You can’t mistake the look, the sound, and the story behind one of the best anime’s ever made… Cowboy Bebop! And, to my own shame (hanging my head low), I never watched it before… until now. When I heard they were making a live-action version of Cowboy Bebop, I knew I needed to watch the original. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the series, I knew the backstories of some of the characters, but I never really watched an entire episode. Now that I’ve binged on it, I wondered “WHAT THE HELL, ARE YOU STUPID? WHY DID YOU WAIT SO LONG?”

This is an amazing show, in more ways than one. You can’t deny the dark colors in the animation, the fluid fight scenes, great character development throughout the series, and the music. Oh my God, I love the music. It is some of the best music in anime with an infectious blues, jazz beat that you just can’t stop. This anime combines sci-fi and gangster genres with a western flare better than any “spaghetti western” or “space opera” could.

Set in the year 2071, the series follows the bounty hunters of the spaceship Bebop as they travel the solar system, catching crooks for cash, as it were. The crew are Spike Spiegel, an exiled former hitman of the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate, and his partner Jet Black, a former ISSP (Inter Solar System Police) officer. They are joined by Faye Valentine, an amnesiac con artist; Edward Wong, an eccentric girl skilled in hacking; and Ein, a genetically-engineered Pembroke Welsh Corgi with human-like intelligence.

Beyond the various stories of the crew and the criminals they hunt down, the main story arc of the series focuses on Spike and his deadly rivalry with Vicious, an ambitious criminal affiliated with the Red Dragon Syndicate. It is this story line that takes us through the entire series, and what makes it so interesting. The relationship these two had as former partners in the syndicate, the woman they both loved, and the fight that ensues between them.

To me, this is a great “starter” series for those new to anime. It brings in the “fantasy” element you expect from anime, but still has the gritty realism of a drama series. That’s what makes Cowboy Bebop so great. That realism brings you into this dark, futuristic world where the vices of today still plague society. It really hits you right from Episode 1 (or sessions as they’re known) when the targets being chased down by Spike head into a police blockade. The woman kills her psycho boyfriend, then herself, instead of falling into police custody. The blood spatter over the inside of the cockpit of their spaceship really hits it home.

Cowboy Bebop is the penultimate of what an anime should be. It’s funny, romantic, action-packed, and more. This anime makes you want to see more. It’s a shame they ended it after 26 episodes. The live action series will be an interesting take on the anime. It has been reported that John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, Daniella Pineda and Alex Hassell have all been cast in lead roles as Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine and Vicious respectfully. Unlike other “live-action” versions of animes, there is hope that this version will be faithful to the series. We can only hope.

But that doesn’t matter. Don’t waste time like I did. WATCH THIS SERIES NOW! It’s worth the weekend binge, I guarantee it!

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SKU-000941753

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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

FROM SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO TO STAR BLAZERS How the story changed, yet still remained the same!

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I began watching anime as a little kid in the 1960s. We’re talking Speed Racer, Marine Boy, Gigantor, and Astro Boy. The original anime, as it were. In the 1970s and 1980s, I graduated to Captain Harlock, Star Blazers, and Robotech. Today, its Sword Art Online, Fairy Tail, and A Certain Magical Index. I just wanted to lay all that out to demonstrate that I am a lifelong “Otaku” from New Jersey.

That being said, I have been obsessed with Space Battleship Yamato. As a veteran U.S. Navy Sailor, I love the “old school” aesthetic of the space battleship. It is a spaceship I would put up against the Enterprise, Millenium Falcon, Serenity, and any other sci-fi spaceship in the history of movies and television. Beyond that, it’s the characters that make the story.

After the original Star Blazers went off the air, I discovered Space Battleship Yamato and its infinite movies and companion shows. It made it even better. Although the live action movie didn’t live up to my expectations, the rebooted series has.

In the new Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and 2202, we got an in depth storyline, new characters, a more diverse crew and aliens, as well as backstories for Gamilas, Gatlantis, and other characters. As a fan, it’s been overwhelming and exhilarating. Captain Okita is a leader to look up to, Kodai and Yuki a romance to envy, and I wish I had Dr. Sado’s tolerance to alcohol.

First, the crew of the Yamato is finally more than a ship full of men, one woman and one robot. The crew is now a mixture of men and women, each with their own stories. They added some great new characters, from the Mars-born pilot Akira Yamamoto to the Gamilas Lower Storm Leader Melda Dietz. At the same time, there’s even more romance, intrigue, excitement and adventure, just like the original but better.

There is a lot of undertones about the dangers of mass warfare, using power to gain peace, something more prevalent than in the original. In the original, I thought it was more about saving the planet, a stern environmental statement about our future. But now, the series has taken a more serious approach to modern warfare and its consequences.

Image result for space battleship yamato 2199 desslerEven the villains are more complex. The Gamilas Leader Dessler is still a megalomaniac, but he cares little about Gamilas and more about consolidating his own power base with Iscandar. And yet, some of the Gamilas officers are more honorably, trustworthy and don’t follow Desslar like dogs on a leash. At the same time, Emperor Zwordar and the rest of the Gatlantians of the Comet Empire (sorry, I can’t call it anything else) are a clone race bent on the destruction of humanity. They can even self-destruct upon command from the Emperor.

Watching Space Battleship Yamato is like watching a soap opera, but with inter-galactic battles and aliens mixed in. Besides that, it has heart that you find in many anime, but in this one, it never changed. Just listening to the opening theme song makes you stand at attention, or the dark organ from the depths of the Comet Empire quiver in fear.

To be honest, I won’t call it anything but the Yamato anymore. I grew up with it being called the Argo, but all that’s changed. I respect and honor this show by staying true. It’s the Yamato, always has been and always will be.

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SKU-000941753

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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.