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.

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.

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.

Violence in media… Escapism or instigator?

I never try to get political in my blog, nor in my own novels, as I think it alienates people who might enjoy my stories. That said, I need to say something about the violent mass shootings this past weekend. A lot has been said about gun control, mental health, violent video games, social media inciting violence, etc. I think there’s a lot of good points on both sides of the issue. I just wanted to take the time to put my own thoughts down, as someone who plays video games, watches violent movies, and writes stories filled with intense battles.

First and foremost, I want to send my thoughts and prayers to all those impacted by the mass shootings this past weekend. I know that’s not politically correct, but I really don’t care. People affected by tragedy need to be comforted at times like this and offering my sincere condolences is all I can do.

I grew up in a time where mass killings were far and few in between. Although the frequency has ramped up as of late, I can’t blame guns. Guns are just the tool. In my opinion, evil will always find a way. Look at London. They have strict gun laws, so instead, people use knives to commit murder. It’s not the weapon, its the person behind the weapon. Yes, we need better background checks and open communication between law enforcement and mental health professionals to keep these weapons out of the hands of unstable individuals.

As for the argument that violent video games are to blame, sorry but no. In my day, they blamed Dungeons and Dragons for poisoning kids minds when one went cuckoo and killed his friends thinking they were goblins. Video games are just another medium being attacked. Remember, they said the same thing about rock n’ roll music, comic books, certain movies and TV shows, even authors like J.K. Rowling and Kurt Vonnegut were co soldered a bad influence. It’s not the medium, it’s parenting. If parents take the time to talk with their kids and work with them when it comes to media like video games, you can create a better environment for them.

When my son was little, I limited how much time he could play on his video game system and what games he could play. If he wanted to play a rated “M” game, I would play it first to see if it was something he could play. I limited him to fantasy violence. He didn’t play Grand Theft Auto until he was a senior in high school. I just didn’t see a game like that as being productive for a young mind (my opinion).

Social media does play a part. I think social media is being abused by people to incite violence and lash out because they can do it from behind a keyboard. They think it makes them anonymous and, in some cases, invincible; but they soon find out that there can be repercussions. People are losing their jobs and anonymity through violent social media posts. We need better regulatory constraints on these social media companies to make social media more secure, and so that people think about what they type before they click send.

In any case, it’s not the medium that causes these violent acts. Whether its books, movies or video games, these are vehicles of escape. I play video games, watch anime, and write fantasy stories to escape from the doldrums of every day life. I don’t do this to act out violent tendencies that I have dormant inside me. Granted, there are some who do, but as long as they don’t hurt anyone else or themselves, then it’s fine. The key here is individual responsibility.

That’s why we have to look at the individual. We are so focused on other things (i.e. guns, video games, etc.) that we ignore individual responsibility. When did we stop blaming the person for the crime? Yes, mental health does play a part but its not an excuse in every case. Evil is evil and we need to recognize it. Did we excuse Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy for what they did? There comes a time when you have to see if that person lacks morality or remorse for what they did, and if so, they deserve the punishment they get.

There are so many opinions on this matter. What’s important is that all voices be heard and we come together to make informed decisions. LEAVE POLITICS OUT OF IT! I don’t want to see politicians blaming one another or fund raising off these tragedies. That’s a slap in the face to the victims and their families. Set the bullshit aside and work together to make people feel safer when they go into a Wal-Mart, school, or night club. It’s the only thing that matters.

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

A Lombax, a racoon, a bandicoot and an ottsel walk into a bar…

I will admit I am a video game fanatic, of sorts. I’ve played video games since the days of Asteroids, Defender, and Donkey Kong in the local bowling alley in my hometown. I would spend more time dropping quarters into these games than actually bowling. I bought the original Nintendo game system, blowing into the cartridges to ensure a clean connection. I progressed to an N64, but then switched to a Playstation and every PS console since then. I’m not an Xbox guy, I don’t like the controller, so I stick to Playstation (hint, you can friend me at “ChiefLombax63” if you want).

This is how I relax. I play to chill out, even though it can be quite frustrating when I get stuck at a certain level. My wife likes to tease me that, when I get stuck, I can get my son to help me (and he usually does). The thing you don’t realize is just how great some of these stories are.

As a writer, I love the intricate stories they come up with, even for the most basic of games. My favorite, if you can’t already tell, are what I call the “old school” style of video games. Rachet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and even Crash Bandicoot are my favorite games that I play all the time.

Even the most basic of characters have a detailed backstory in the game. That’s incredible, when you think about it, but also vitally important. It’s necessary for the story you’re being led into through your gameplay. It can be as simple as Sly Cooper’s family tree to something intricate like the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana. There are great writers in everything, even video games.

The other thing I love about my favorite games is the comedic banter. Everytime Captain Qwark opens his mouth, you just want to slap some sense into him (not that it’ll do any good). And whenever Daxter throws out a sexual innuendo, you can’t help but laugh, no matter how inappropriate it is. It’s what makes the games relaxing and fun to play. For me, it’s perfect.

Every writer has their own way to relax and refocus the mind for the next chapter. For me, it’s picking up a controller and battling the Blarg, an army of Warbots, and the occasional carnivorous snagglebeast. What’s yours?

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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.